Abraham was instructed to bring five different types of animals: a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. They were cut in half, and the halves being separated, were placed in front of Abraham. Normally, Abraham would have passed between the animals, and burned them with fire to seal the covenant. By this time, however, a day had gone by and the sun was about to set. God made Abraham fall asleep, and He passed between the animals, burning them with fire. He takes an oath, sanctioning Himself for Abraham’s benefit. Here are the ingredients of the next principle of covenantalism, the actual process of ratification. To cut a covenant, three elements are necessary: sanctions, oath, and witnesses.
All of these elements are present in the fourth section of Deuteronomy (27-30). Israel accepted the sanctions of blessing and cursing by dividing into two groups on Mt. Gerizim (blessing) and Mt. Ebal (cursing). They received the sanctions by sacred oath, saying “amen” to the curses of the covenant. Finally, the witnesses of “heaven and earth” verified the authenticity of the ceremony. This momentous occasion was the actual ratification of the covenant. [Emphases Sutton’s]
Ray Sutton summarizes the elements of biblical sanctions:
First, [they] are blessing and cursing. Blessing always has to do with the reception of inheritance (Gen. 48:1-22). This inheritance is personal and cultural, everything from holiness to financial and civilizational prosperity (Deut. 28:1-14)…
Second, the sanctions of blessing and cursing are actually promises. This promissory idea goes back to the garden. God promised the blessing of rest on the Sabbath Day (Gen. 2:1-3), and He promised the curse of death if the tree of knowledge of good and evil were eaten (Gen. 2:15-17). Because the sanctions were issued beforehand, they were promissory in character…
Third, the sanctions are judicial, involving a judgment before blessing…
Fourth, dual sanctions imply that there is one covenant with two sanctions of blessing and cursing. Both are applied, not just one. And because there are two sanctions, it is possible to break the covenant…
No grammatical arguments or rhetorical maneuvering of the Hebrew or Greek can change God’s cause-and-effect way of dealing with man. The entire biblical pattern bears out that external obedience brings external blessing. This is why some non-Christians can be so prosperous without taking advantage of others; they simply live by the terms of God’s commandments. They are either on the road to salvation, or God has granted them sufficient common grace to live relatively well for the sake of His Kingdom.
Rushdoony explains the concept of sanctions this way: God “has established certain returns in the form of rewards and penalties in the very nature of the universe as well as in moral law (Exodus 20:5, 6; Judges 5:20). Thus, any attack on the idea of rewards and punishment is an attack on God’s order.” No one can reasonably allegorize or disregard, for example, the blessings of Deuteronomy 28:3-6:
Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.
Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks.
Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
Nor can any honest and consistent Bible student claim that the many curses in the same chapter do not apply to now, unless somehow he can show that God was unjust in Moses’ day and is in New Testament times willing to excuse man’s sin. Moses is clear in representing Jehovah’s malediction:
Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country.
Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
Cursed shall be the fruit of your body and the produce of your land, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks.
Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. (Deuteronomy 28:16-19.
Our Heavenly Father would not be just if He only blessed; He would be some creation of many modern imaginations, a Santa Claus or doting American grandfather who sees no wrong. As Rushdoony writes, “[I]t is impossible to bless without cursing. To reward righteousness requires punishing evil. And the true God is the God of Scripture, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who blesses and curses.”
Responsibilities, Blessings and Curses
A review of Rushdoony’s list of parental responsibilities as per the Fifth Commandment would be helpful at this time: chastisement, a godly and practical education, responsibility, and family identity.
To highlight the importance of chastising children, Rushdoony quotes Derek Kidner and the book of Proverbs:
First, “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child”; it will take more than words to dislodge it (22:15). Secondly, character (in which wisdom embodies itself) is a plant that grows more sturdily for some cutting back (cf. 15:32, 33; 5:11, 12; Heb. 12:11)—and this from early days (13:24b: “betimes”; cf. 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it”). In “a child left to himself” the only predictable product is shame (29:15).
If parents teach their offspring diligently from Proverbs, the wise character of those children will grow as they grow in stature; of course, they also have to do what the book says. The blessing is wisdom, the curse is shame.
Secondly, as children are to obey their parents, the parents are to teach them the law and goodness of God. Hebrew children heard the entire law every seven years. Between the comprehensive readings, they were to receive thorough instruction by their parents and by the Levites. This was no set of abstract ideas; it was, as shown below in the twelve instances of specific curses, practical and useful. While to the Greeks learning was all ideas and to the Romans it was all doing, to the people of God it should be both. This includes a person’s learning to work with his hands, but it also includes being literate and able to engage the culture around him. As Rushdoony says, “A man who can barely read and write, and whose ability to organize and order his life is almost nil, becomes, when converted, a redeemed child of God, but a very ineffective one.” The ability to use knowledge in a godly way is a blessing; ignorance is a curse.
But godly and responsible it must be. Parents should first be responsible to show how a husband, wife, father, and mother should conduct themselves. They should pray for and model a willingness and ability to overcome the tests of life. They must not send the children into the world “without a value structure.” Unfortunately, the early part of the 20th century saw a massive familial escape from the education of children, trustingly turning them over to civil authorities:
In modern education, the state is the educator, and the state is held to be the responsible agency rather than man. Such a perspective works to destroy the pupil, whose basic lesson becomes a dependence on the state. The state, rather than the individual and the family, is looked to for moral decision and action, and the moral role of the individual is to assent to and bow down before the state. Statist education is at the very least implicitly anti-Biblical, even when and where it gives the Bible a place in the curriculum.
The state, which should be a defender and a blessing to the church and family, has become the curse.
Finally, children should learn that they are part of a family and will one day be part of one which they will either lead or help to lead. This involves boys learning to be godly men and girls godly women. In the 21st century the attack on biblical sex roles has been almost overwhelming. Sodomy is not only tolerated but seen in a positive light in American schools. Seventeen states have already approved homosexual marriage, and court cases overturning other states’ legislation have become increasingly common. As Romans 1 stipulates, homosexuality is the curse, not the cause of a curse. The litany of other modern curses is legion: births out of wedlock, divorce, absent fathers, rebellious children, criminal violence, adultery, fornication, and widespread theft to name a few.
One blessing, however, must be celebrated: the phenomenon of home education. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, between 250,000 and 340,000 children were home schooled in the United States in 2000-2001. These numbers include only students in grades 9-12. HSLDA President Dr. Brian Ray says that in the last two decades, home schooling has grown between seven and 15% annually. All these figures are conservative estimates since many families do not report to or belong to any organized educational or support group. While the civil government has become a curse, home schooling has been a reformational blessing.
Case Laws and Curses
To illustrate the specific and concrete nature of God’s law, below is a review of twelve curses discussed by Rushdoony from Deuteronomy 27:15-26. The reader should remember that this book covers the end of Moses’ life, after he had led God’s people for forty years in the wilderness; it is the second giving of the law. It is a reminder of how the Hebrews were to live after entering the Promised Land. These laws called for curses
- against secret breaches of the second commandment (Ex. 20:4), vs. 15;
- against contempt of or lack of due respect of parents (Ex. 20:12), vs. 16;
- against all who remove their neighbor’s landmarks (Deut. 19:14), vs. 17;
- against men who lead the blind astray (Lev. 19:14), vs. 18;
- against all who pervert the justice due to foreigners or widows, and orphans (Deut. 24:17), vs. 19;
- against incest with a stepmother (Deut. 23:1; Lev. 18:8), vs 20;
- against bestiality (Lev. 18:23), 21;
- against incest with a sister or half-sister (Lev. 18:9), vs. 22;
- against incest with a mother-in-law (Lev. 18:8), vs. 23;
- against murder (Ex. 20:13; Num. 35:17 ff.), vs. 24;
- against anyone who accepts a bribe either to kill a man outright, or to bring about his death by false witness (Ex. 23:7, 8), vs. 25;
- against any man who fails to put the law into effect, who does not make the law the model and standard of his life and conduct (Deut. 4:6), vs. 26.
These were twelve curses for the twelve tribes of Jacob. They were promises as sure as those of blessings for obedience. They were clear and precise in nature, with nothing nebulous or abstract about them; they were the type of civic education that serves well as a foundation for life.
Universal Applicability of the Covenant
Some critics of theonomy argue that the law of God does not apply to those who are not of the Hebrew race, and some claim that it does not apply to non-Christians. However, Moses quotes God as saying to Noah after the flood:
This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. (Genesis 9:9-15)
For those who will not accept God’s original covenant with Adam, they should know that God began again with man through His servant Noah. The passage above does not give any living creature an excuse for rejecting God’s covenant, since every human being came from Noah’s loins more immediately than from Adam’s. In Moses’ time, God repeated the idea before leading His people into the land of Canaan: “I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, 15 but with him who stands here with us today before the Lord our God, as well as with him who is not here with us today….” (Deuteronomy 29:14-15)
Yet still some will argue against applying the law of God to New Testament times, citing passages like Acts 15, where the apostles tell believers in Christ that they do not have to obey the law. The context was specifically referring to ceremonial laws, which of course the sacrifice of the Lamb of God has performed once for all. The Commandments are still in force. Consider the following passage from Ephesians 4 and 5:
4:25 Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. This echoes the Ninth Commandment.
4:26 Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath…. This echoes the Sixth Commandment.
4:28 Let him who stole steal no longer…. This echoes the Eighth Commandment.
4:28b but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. This echoes the Fourth Commandment.
4:29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. This echoes the Third Commandment.
4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. This echoes the First and Second Commandments.
5:1 Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. This echoes the Fifth Commandment.
5:3 But fornication and all uncleanness…. This echoes the Seventh Commandment.
5:3b or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints…. This echoes the Tenth Commandment.
Now, were these just suggestions born of Paul’s morality, or are they inspired commands of God’s Holy Spirit for men to obey? This apostolic interpretation and application of God’s laws can be found throughout the entire New Testament. Thankfully, God’s ways do not change.
As the Christian reawakening continues to open men’s eyes and hearts to the effectual nature of the law of God for all areas of life and all periods of human history, the enemies of God begin to scramble and search for their own answers. They begin to see the writing on the wall (Daniel 5), how they are being weighed and found wanting. As they push back, the righteous will stand firm. Though unruliness, war, financial collapses, skepticism, and misery abound in the world, a new age is dawning and time is the Christian’s friend. What Rushdoony wrote in 1961 is coming to pass:
[I]t is also an era of heightened challenge and creativity, and of intense vitality. And because of the intensification of issues, and their worldwide scope, never has an era faced a more demanding and exciting crisis. This then above all else is the great and glorious era to live in, a time of opportunity, one requiring fresh and vigorous thinking, indeed a glorious time to be alive.
 Sutton, That You May Prosper, 77-78.
 Ibid, 78, 79.
 Ibid, 80.
 Rushdoony, Roots of Reconstruction, 536.
 Rushdoony, Law & Liberty (Vallecito, California: Ross House Books, 1984), 127.
 D. Kidner, Proverbs, An Introduction and Commentary (Chicago: Intervarsity Press, 1964), 51. Cited in Rushdoony, The Institute of Biblical Law, 182.
 Rushdoony, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum, 122.
 Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, 184.
 Peyton M. Craighill and Scott Clement, “Support for same-sex marriage hits new high; half say Constitution guarantees right,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/support-for-same-sex-marriage-hits-new-high-half-say-constitution-guarantees-right/2014/03/04/f737e87e-a3e5-11e3-a5fa-55f0c77bf39c_story.html. March 4, 2014. Downloaded March 10, 2014.
 “Home Schooling Research: Frequently Asked Questions,” https://www.hslda.org/research/faq.asp, Downloaded March 10, 2014.
 Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, 661.
 Rushdoony, Intellectual Schizophrenia, 119-120.