Deuteronomy 28-29: Reverse Encouragement Sandwich

Several years ago, I learned about a very effective teaching tool, the encouragement sandwich. An encouragement sandwich is a positive way to communicate corrective comments while continuing to build up the person to whom you are speaking. It works like this: say something nice and encouraging, like, “I love the way you drew the sun, it looks so colorful and bright” then say something corrective, like, “if you go slower, it’s easier to color in the lines”, then say something else encouraging, like, “this looks so good that I want to put it on the fridge right now!”

Bingo! Encouragement sandwich.

This works on situations both great and small, and the point of it is to ensure that what is intended to be constructive never turns into simple criticism.

Most of Deuteronomy 27, and the whole of 28, however, form a sobering reverse encouragement sandwich from God to the people of Israel. In 27:9-26, Moses speaks on behalf of the Lord, outlining the ways in which the Israelites may find themselves cursed, all of which are due to disobeying His commands. Chapter 28 verses 1-14 display the blessings that the nation will receive if they obey the commands of God. They will be fruitful in offspring and crops and they will conquer their enemies. Then from verse 15 until 68, the consequences of disobedience resume with a prophecy of the inevitable exile of the Israelites.

That’s 70 verses of cursing and only 14 of blessing. How is this helpful? Why would God spend so much time laying out what will happen if they don’t obey? Isn’t it better to provide positive reinforcement rather than negative?

Here’s what I have come to understand: God wants us to know exactly what we will receive if we obey Him. He tells us that we will receive Him! He will be our treasure forever. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but GOD is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” He is our reward. Above all the things of this world, God will be our ultimate treasure for all eternity. So, He does not dangle good things in front of us like a we do in order to get a dog to roll over. He shows us exactly what we get and says, “there is nothing better in all the universe, and it is free for you to receive.” How much more can He say?

However, there is no end to the ways in which our punishment can be described. This the same reason why Jesus talked so much about hell. We need to understand the seriousness of our sin because we forget too often and too quickly. God spends 70 verses laying out what will happen if the Israelites disobey so that they do not have an excuse to blame Him for their predicament. He warns them, and us, thoroughly. We need little reminder of the good things that we will get; we tend to think we deserve them. What we need is a reminder that we do not deserve the good things we get, in this life or the next.

We deserve death, but we are given life, and in Christ, we are given full, abundant and eternal life. These reminders of the consequences of sin are gracious gifts from God that we must cherish and learn from so that we might turn further from sin and closer toward the God who loves us and gave Himself up for us.

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