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D'varim/Deuteronomy 27:18 Cursed [is the] one leading astray a blind person on the road; and all the people shall say, 'Amen.'
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This is fourth of twelve curses to be proclaimed by the Levites and endorsed by all the tribes of Israel on Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal once the people have crossed the Jordan river and have started the process of possessing the Land. Six tribes - on this occasions, Ephraim and Manasseh are treated as one tribe, Yosef - are to stand on Mt. Gerizim and six tribes on Mt. Ebal. The Levites then proclaim (in a loud voice) each of the curses in turn and all the people are to shout back for each one, "Amen! May it be so." Largely derived from the Ten Words (Shemot 20:2-14, D'varim 5:6-18) - our text corresponding to the ninth: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour" (Shemot 20:13, D'varim 5:17, NJPS) - four of the twelve curses specifically concern types of sexual misconduct. In this case, a closer fit for the underlying commandment is probably, "You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your G-d: I am the L-RD" (Vayikra 19:14, ESV). All twelve curses start with the word , the Qal passive ms participle from the root . to curse or to inflict with a curse. This matches the word , fortunate or blessed, used in Psalm 1:1 and other places and has a similar jussive meaning: may the one doing 'this' be cursed (or blessed, respectively).
In this particular case, there is some debate about whether this curse is to be taken literally or whether it is figurative.Ibn Ezra follows the p'shat meaning and comments that "the blind person would be unable to make public who it was that had misdirected him" because he could not see the one who had advised him. This, says Ronald Clements is "furtive unprovable misconduct."1 Rashi, on the other hand, says that the blind man is "one who is blind in this [particular matter] and he gives him bad advice." Josephus explains that there is a duty to help people: "One must point out the road to those who are ignorant of it and not, for the pleasure of laughing oneself, impede another's business by misleading him" (Antiquities 4.276).
TheBaal HaTurim points out that the second word in the verse, , "appears twice in the Tanakh: here, 'one who misleads a blind person'; and 'one who misleads the upright to an evil way' (Proverbs 28:10)." He suggests that this explains "the Sages' interpretation as one who advises him to sin, for he is upright, but the other is giving him advice that makes his path crooked." The Zohar goes further, saying that "by giving evil advice he causes the other person to stumble on his path to the World to Come" (Kedoshim 85a). Jeffrey Tigay reports that halakhic exegesis of our verse, "took the prohibition to include misleading uninformed people with incorrect information or bad advice, or abetting sinners and criminals, who are blinded by their desires."
Walter Brueggemann comments that this curse, together with its underlying command, is "a characteristic way of protecting the vulnerable in the community."2 The Torah identifies someone who is blind as being vulnerable or at risk of being easily exploited and, while it cannot prevent this happening, it prescribes a divine curse upon the perpetrator as a strong - if not compelling - deterrent. Peter Craigie explains that "the spirit of the covenant law prescribes just and humane treatment for all fellow Israelites; hence the curse is invoked on the one who offends against the spirit of charity and justice implicit in the covenant."3 Without disagreeing with Craigie, we should point out that "blind person" is not qualified by any mention of origin, age, gender or colour; it is entirely non-discriminatory and such is an offence no matter on who it is inflicted.
Yeshua is very definite that - although the context in Mark suggests that He is talking primarily about children - "whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea" (Mark 9:42, NASB). Matthew, still with children in view, refines the picture to those who actually believe in Yeshua: "whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6, NASB). Luke, on the other hand, reports Yeshua talking to the disciples and doesn't mention children explicitly: "It is inevitable that stumbling blocks should come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble" (Luke 17:1-2, NASB). Anyone who causes anyone else to sin carries a big responsibility. Perhaps this is why Yeshua is so negative about the Pharisees when His disciples report that they have taken offence at something He had said: "Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit" (Matthew 15:15, NASB). Not only are the people being guided blind, but those try to help are also blind, so between them, ending up in the ditch looks like a foregone conclusion - how could they avoid it?
Now we need to ask the question what sort of advice do we give to others and when. Rav Sha'ul warns that by "sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Messiah" (1 Corinthians 8:12, ESV). How do not only our words but, more importantly, our attitudes and behaviour counsel and guide others? What sort of example do we set to those around us or to for those for whom we are responsible. Parents teach their children almost everything about life, particularly in their pre-teen years. What do your children or grand-children see you doing or saying, often without you being aware that you are influencing them, and how do they respond? Friends and wider family, workmates or colleagues - what do they read in your attitudes and words when you are under pressure or stress? Of course we all have our moments, just ask any family, but what is the overall trajectory - the majority impression - of our witness? Do we generally take care to ensure that we show a positive portrait of our Master and how highly we esteem Him?
Well aware of these issues, Yeshua told the disciples, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15, ESV). That sounds very black and white, very cut and dried, but then He added, "And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you" (vv. 16-17, ESV). The disciples were not going to be alone in this; the Spirit would be with them, in each one of them. He would help them, give them joy and peace, and that in turn would radiate out in everything they said and did. No, Yeshua says to them, you're not on your own; "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you" (v. 18, ESV). We see this in action in the following months. Yeshua had said, "And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning" (15.27, ESV). When, after Yeshua's resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit, Peter and John were teaching in the Temple, Luke tells us that the "rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem ... saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Yeshua" (Acts 4:5,13, ESV). Do you see that?
Peter told the crowds in Jerusalem at Pentecost that they should, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38, ESV), immediately emphasising that "the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the L-rd our G-d calls to Himself" (v. 29, ESV). That means the promise is for us too in these days. We have been promised the gift of the Holy Spirit - in fact, we cannot believe in Yeshua and say "Yeshua is Lord" without the Holy Spirit. We are all equipped, right here and right now, wherever you are and in whatever circumstances you find yourselves, so that everyone will know that we have been with Yeshua. Will that be easy? No, perhaps not. Will it be comfortable? No, perhaps not that either, but it will be possible and if we allow the Spirit freedom, He will fulfill His mission of pointing everyone to Yeshua. He will not mislead the blind man on the road, but will give him true directions from heaven. And from that, blessing and not curse will flow!
1. - Ronald E. Clements, "Deuteronomy" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 1024.
2. - Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy, Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), page 253.
3. - P. C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, NICOT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), page 333.
Further Study: Isaiah 44:3-5; John 7:14-15; Acts 22:14-16
Application: Are you worried that you are too like the Pharisees, too often tripping over the ditch and bringing others crashing in with you? Then you need to speak to the Master today and get a fresh burst of confidence and filling with the Holy Spirit so that He can keep your feet dry and give others the directions they need on their road.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2022
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