Here’s the scene: Just outside of the Promised Land, with a long desert journey finally behind them and a triumph just ahead, Moses tells his people they’re going to fail. Dale Carnegie would be appalled. What kind of motivational speech is this? Blessings are part of the presentation: happy children, brimming fields, fat livestock, and national pride—but. The list of curses is twice as long, a parade of disasters in the home, in the pasture, on the battlefield, on foreign ground.
“And the heavens over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you shall be iron.” (Deuteronomy 28:23).
I wonder about the people’s reaction upon hearing this. They are, after all, Israel’s Greatest Generation, the ones who had outlived their parents’ sins and would soon sweep triumphantly through the Promised Land. But they haven’t outlived their own sins, and future generations unfurl in Moses’ mind like a bloody flag. He predicts centuries of self-deception during which men and women will say to themselves, “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart” (Deuteronomy 29:19).
But all Moses can do is warn them. Deuteronomy 27 describes a dramatic ceremony to take place after the nation has crossed over the Jordan: Half of the tribes are to stand on Mount Gerazim to bless the people while the other half confirms curses from Mount Ebal. Sins of idolatry, rebellion, sexual immorality, cruelty, theft, and deception are all to be pronounced and condemned by the Levites while the people shout, “Amen!” after each one.
Hold that thought. After Deuteronomy 27, turn to Matthew 27. More than 1,500 years have passed, including much of the calamity Moses warned of. But not all. God’s people have escaped His full judgment, learned some hard lessons, and returned from exile. They reassure themselves that they now know how and what to curse. Between two criminals a cross is hoisted up, and on it is a man so beaten and bloody He’s barely recognizable as human. Curses rain down on Him from onlookers who believe they are better than their ancestors. The man barely hears. From on high come curses far weightier, a stream of wrath that bends His head and pounds His mighty soul into the dust. The sky is bronze; the earth is iron. Every one of the hellish consequences named by Moses He is now experiencing. It forces a scream of anguish and abandonment from Him. And, finally, it is finished.
This is Good Friday: a day pinned so firmly to the scheme of time that all evil past and future slides into it. Our stubborn hearts are always forgetting, but God remembers. The curse is absorbed, with a shock that makes the earth shudder, and two days over the horizon waits a sunrise like no other.