Just as there are “not right” events and happenings, there are other that do fit. For what situation does it fit? Wisdom will tell.
The two verses in our reading tell of opposite examples of “fit”. The first, of the curse that doesn’t fit because the baseless nature of it. The second, the accepted tools of discipline for the time and purpose. The first is also a promise where the second is a warning. Let’s see where the Spirit takes us with these opposites today.
When I think of a “curse” I think of magic, especially ‘black magic’. Witch doctors, Vudu priests, and the like spring to mind. It conjures up images of horrible things happening because of some slight done to someone else.
But GOD actually pronounced “blessings and curses” over Israel when He was setting them up for entry into the Promised Land. He gives them a ‘quick pick’ in Deuteronomy 11 and then spells out in detail the conditions and benefits/punishments for adhering to those conditions in Deuteronomy 28. This wasn’t the first “curse” God ever pronounced. The first was Adam and Eve after they sinned. The next one mentioned was on Cain after he killed Able.
So, what is a curse? Is it the Vudu doll with pins sticking in it? Is it bad luck if a black cat crosses your path? (If that were so I would be FOREVER cursed as I have two black cats in my home.) Is it someone uttering foul words at you? Marian Webster Dictionary defines it this way:
1: a prayer or invocation for harm or injury to come upon one : IMPRECATION
People believe that there is a curse on the house.
2: a profane or obscene oath or word
In an antechamber, his lieutenants suddenly heard the shattering of glass and angry curses.—Sam Moses
3: something that is cursed or accursed
“I … will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth.”—Jeremiah 26:6 (King James Version)
4: evil or misfortune that comes as if in response to imprecation or as retribution
… intolerance is the greatest curse of every land …—Kenneth Roberts
5: a cause of great harm or misfortune : TORMENT
His fame turned out to be a curse, not a blessing.
—used with the [punishment for Eve’s sin]
Curse (verb) cursed; cursing
1: to use profanely insolent language against : BLASPHEME
cursing his god
2 a: to call upon divine or supernatural power to send injury upon
He was cursed and fears he will die.
b: to execrate in fervent and often profane terms
cursed by future generations unless we act now
3: to bring great evil upon : AFFLICT
a land cursed with famine
Which definition(s) is Solomon speaking of? I think he could be referring at a couple of different definitions. The one I lean most to is the one “to call upon divine or supernatural power to send injury upon”. This one supposedly comes from God but is pronounced by one person/party against another. “God will strike you dead for the way you treated _____.” For this ‘curse’ to follow Solomon’s words, you must NOT have done ___, therefore God will not “strike you dead.” It is a “causeless” curse. It is an undeserved retribution.
When I was in sixth grade, we had a fieldtrip to a park that also housed caged animals. It wasn’t a zoo or a preserve. While there, I came upon a group of girls in a circle. As I approached, I noticed they were smoking. I don’t remember if I was led to this group or simply found them in my wanderings. Naturally they were afraid of being caught. To protect themselves from ME telling on them they wanted me to smoke with them. They also threatened me with violence if I told on them. I don’t remember if I was able to convince them they were safe or if I took one puff, but I didn’t join in their activity and soon left the group.
Somehow the teachers found out about their activities and they were punished. I wasn’t punished because apparently, I wasn’t with them when they were discovered. I had NOT alerted anyone to their activities and I knew nothing of their fate at the time. Later in the month I was jumped by a group of three girls and accused of “narcing” on them. There was noting I could do to convince them I didn’t do it. The original group’s ‘curse’ of violence’ was enacted upon me by some of their older friends. Their ‘superhero’s’ so to say.
Another definition Solomon may have been using is “evil or misfortune that comes as if in response to imprecation or as retribution.” It is pretty close to the first definition I chose but this one does not require anyone to pronounce a curse against someone. It is “retribution” for sin.
In the days of the Law, the people FIRMLY held to the blessings and curses God gave Moses. In that pronouncement, man’s fortune or misfortune was related directly to his actions. You remain faithful to God, you receive blessings. You disobey God, you receive curses. Even barrenness in a wife was considered a curse and therefore the result of some sin in the couple’s life. There were sacrifices to be made to atone for sin but any disease or misfortune was believed to be a punishment from God. Job’s case in point. “You MUST have done SOMETHING for God to be doing this to you! REPENT and live!!!”
Many people still cling to this concept today. They believe that, when something bad happens, God is punishing them. The death of a child, a horrible disease, loss of a home by circumstances beyond the owner’s control, … can all bring up doubts as to where one stands with God. It is especially hardest “when bad things happen to good people.”
The law REQUIRED ‘payment’ for sin. Jesus paid the FULL PRICE and therefore ‘bad things’ happening to ‘God’s people’ no longer proclaims them sinful. We live in a fallen world. Bad things happen because of that. SOME of those ‘bad things’ are brought on by our own actions. Not specifically as punishment but as consequences of our actions. God uses those ‘bad things’ to help us grow in Him. He DOESN’T always take them away when we pray but He ALWAYS gives us His BEST and His LOVE to walk us through them.
On to the second portion of our reading. The punishments/corrections mentioned here sound hard but they are only applied when necessary. A whip for a horse can be used gently or forcefully. It can punish, redirect, instruct, or prevent behaviors. A bridle also does that for a horse. A donkey is made out to be a stubborn animal. The bridle used on him can also be gentle or forceful. Simple turning him where he is to go, to dragging him by the head are activities a bridle can be used for with a donkey.
“A rod for the back of fools” is one that is hard for me. It sounds completely violent. But here too, there are degrees of use for such an instrument. My mind brought up the shepherd’s staff and how it is used. However, for one to be considered a “fool” they are probably beyond the ‘gentle applications’ of this instrument. It is a last ditch effort to get this person turned around. Nothing else has worked. This presupposes though that the one holding the rod is intending it for instruction and not retribution. The way slaves were treated was NOT ‘instruction’ but degradation, humiliation, and dominance. Even the “fool” was seen as someone worthy of one last effort at restoration.
Father God, THANK YOU for the time in history You placed me! I don’t know what my life would have been like had I been born in the age when slavery was considered normal and acceptable. Man’s inhumanity to man BREAKS my heart.
I also don’t know what my life would have been had I been born in the time of the Law. Worrying that every act I did might result in some kind of disaster falling on me or my family. Just reading about how fervently Job prayed for his children speaks of constant fear to me. I already have concerns for my children’s eternal future. I don’t know how I would act if I had to fear retribution for EVERY action they did.
Thank You also Father for protecting me from my own actions and those supposed by others. My life is in YOUR hands; NOT theirs! Help me learn the lessons I need without having to learn ‘the hard way’. I am sometimes the donkey who is being dragged by her bridle with my feet pushing against the path. THANK YOU for getting me through some of those difficult times and helping me KEEP the learning gained during those struggles! THANK YOU LORD for not giving up on me along the way!!!