I don’t really like these chapters. It reads like a fire and brimstone God. Harsh, wrathful, legalistic and threatening us into obedience.
Richard Rohr addresses this well in his book Falling Upward. (If I was further along in my cup of coffee, I’d dig the quote out for you.) He compares the first half of the Bible to childhood. Young children need a lot of strict rules to learn obedience. It’s how we learn right from wrong. Later, like Jesus does in the New Testament, we move beyond the rules. We realize following the rules won’t save us and they’re not ultimately what’s important. Yesterday I power-struggled with my toddler to get him to apologize to his cousin. Eventually he forced a mumbled “sorry”, faked a hug, and went back to playing. I don’t think he was truly repenting, but I want to establish the habits and rules of relationships now. My hope is later, when he’s older and gains more understanding, his heart will follow. He’ll apologize because he’s truly sorry and he’ll know how to do it.
This perspective has helped me immensely as I have grappled with the Old Testament over the years. God is establishing his relationship with Israel (and mankind), and he wants them to be set apart and special.
But just because they’re chosen as his covenant people doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed blessings no matter what. Something I have always admired about the Bible is it’s honesty. I grew up attending church my entire life and often heard about the free gift of Christ and how it doesn’t cost you a THING! All you have to do is raise your hand during this random alter call, pray some generic prayer with acoustic guitar playing in the background and you get into heaven forever. Later, as I started reading my Bible for the first time, I was really confused. Jesus insists that following him will cost you everything. The God I read about in the Old Testament, that was hardly mentioned in youth group, scared me. (I’ll set aside my youth ministry soap box for another time.)
God’s blessings must not be taken for granted. Read these chapters and remember that God is establishing himself with his people; telling them what it will look like if they step outside of their relationship with him.