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Curse God and Die

Category Articles
Date August 15, 2003

If Saul the blasphemer could be welcome at the Lord’s Table, so can you and I.

by William Smith

Reading: Leviticus 24: 10-23

After Job lost his wealth, his children, and his own health, his wife advised him: "Curse God and die" (Job 2:9). In a curious way, it was not bad advice to give to man who was suffering excruciating physical and emotional pain and who was fast losing his understanding of God’s ways. If Job took his wife’s advice, perhaps God would administer the coup de grace, taking his life and putting him out of his misery. As the text we read this morning makes clear, death is the penalty for blaspheming and cursing God. If a man like Job, all but out of hope, did not want to go on, perhaps the penalty would be inflicted and his life ended if only he cursed God.

What we read this morning is another one of those events in the Old Testament that strikes the modern mind as unduly harsh. Why, we wonder, does God have to respond so strongly to something like blaspheming and cursing Him in the heat of a fight? Let’s find out.

I. The Seriousness of Blasphemy

A man, who had an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father, went out walking in the camp. Whether he had trouble on his mind or found trouble when he went, he got into a fight with an Israelite man. As they fought uttered some words against Israel’s God, the LORD. The Scripture says that "he blasphemed the Name and cursed." We do not know exactly what he said. But we should not think this is an instance of just the use of earthy or strong language. He did more than use barnyard language or angry words.

The people who heard it knew immediately that what he had said was very serious. The knew the third commandment: "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain." They knew the supplementary command, "You shall not revile God’ (Exodus 22:28). They knew it was serious, but they did not know what to do with him, so they put him in custody until they knew what the LORD’s will was in the matter.

We do not know the words he said, but we can get some idea of the significance of the what he said from the two Hebrew words used to describe it. The word blaspheme literally means "to pierce." What he said was an attack on the LORD with the intent to injure Him and perhaps to destroy him. What he may have had in mind was to utter words which would make the LORD powerless so that the LORD could not come to the aid of the Israelite man in the fight. The other word, curse means to say that a person is without significance. He said something to the effect that The LORD is nothing, that the LORD is powerless.

He spoke these kinds of words against the Name. That name is the special name of God translated LORD (Lord with all capitals) in our Bibles. It represents the most personal and self-revealing name of God. It tells us of his eternal self-existence and his perpetual faithfulness. It is name that is used when the Bible wants to emphasize that God has entered into a covenant of salvation and friendship with His people. This was the name the man attacked and demeaned.

To know the name of a person is a special thing. It allows you to get the person’s attention and to establish a relationship with the person. A name, moreover, stands for the whole person, who he is and what he does. Suppose you came to church today as a newcomer. On the way out you stop and ask my name. I answer, "Bill Smith." Then you say loudly to me and all who are near, "Well, Bill Smith I think you are a real lightweight (of course you are not referring to my physical size!). I don’t know why these people put up with you. You’re a big nothing. I’ll never listen to you again. They ought to get rid of you." You just used my name which stands for me, and which knowing allows you to address and identify me, to attack me and to belittle me.

That is what blaspheming and cursing God does. You take the most revealing of God’s names and you use it to attack the Creator and Ruler of the Universe, the Holy One who sits in the heavens, and the gracious God of the covenant. It’s not that you say, "God damn!" (as awful as that is); but that you say "Damn God!" Perhaps now we begin to sense how serious blaspheming and cursing God is.

We may find this convicting in that we know we have used God name in exactly this way. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones told the story of a man who came to faith in Christ when he was 77 years old. But one sin the troubled his conscience even after he became a Christian was this one. Once when he was a young man, he had been drinking in a pub with friends when the subject of religion came up. And he said, "Jesus Christ is a bastard." Perhaps you have spoken words like those.

It may be that this concerns us little, for we remember saying no blasphemous words. But perhaps we will not dismiss it so easily if we think about the attitudes expressed in blasphemy. There is the blasphemy of rebellion. In our hearts there may be, even if no words are used, a desire to pierce God. We would like to take a stake and drive it through His heart in order to get Him off our backs so that we can do what we want. And there is the blasphemy of indifference. We may have never said the God counts for nothing but the way we live our lives says that we think God is really not significant and important. For all we are concerned, He could go away and we would be fine. This, too is blasphemy, and it is serious.

II. The Sentence for Blasphemy

When the will of the LORD was made known, it revealed a stern and harsh penalty for the sin. The man must be taken outside the camp. The LORD dwells with His people inside the camp. The LORD is holy, the people are holy because they are the LORD’s, and the camp is holy because there the LORD dwells with his people. Nothing unholy can remain in the camp. So he must be taken outside where all unholy things belong. Outside the camp is away from God’s presence and blessing. For a person to be taken outside the camp means that person is cut off from the LORD and His people.

All those who heard what the man said must place their hands on his head. We tend to think that we are defiled only by personal sins and that we have no corporate guilt. This seems to us to be the only "fair and American way" to look at sin. But the Bible teaches us that we can incur guilt from the sins of others. Suppose you were standing with a group who were witnessing a dispute between two men. Eventually one of the men picks up a handful of mud and hurls it at his opponent. But the mud does not just hit the opponent. Some of it hits you and others in the crowd. Though you were not in the fight, you got dirty nevertheless. These men had been defiled just by hearing the awful words the man spoke, and they must lay their hands on the man symbolically transferring their guilt onto the man who spoke the words.

The LORD then directed Moses to declare to His people the way this and every other case of its type must be handled. This is the case law:" Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. (The guilt remains. There is no escaping it.) Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. (The penalty is death.) All the congregation shall stone him. (He is to be condemned and executed by the people acting as one, taking God’s side against the one who attacked and demeaned Him.) The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death. (There is one law on this for all who dwell among the LORD’s people, whether an Israelite or not. All who commit this sin must die.)"

Then the LORD explained the basic rule of justice. The punishment must fit the crime, neither too lax nor too severe. Injuries to animals and people do not deserve death. Killing an animal does not deserve death, but killing a person make in God’s image does. But in the case of the LORD an attack on Him by blasphemy and cursing deserves death. It reinforces the seriousness of the sin that, as the LORD teaches the principle of fair justice and fair punishments, He requires that those who blaspheme must receive the death penalty.

With that the execution was carried out. The man was taken out of the camp. And they stoned him to death. Large stones were hurled against the man’s body and head. It was a gruesome, disfiguring death that he died. And as people looked at his disfigured remains and remembered his agonized crowds they understood that this is what blasphemy and cursing deserves – death and just this kind of death.

Curse God and you will die. Perhaps not swiftly as did this man. Perhaps not as ugly a death as this man died. In this age, not by the power of the church or the state. But if you curse God, you will die. And after that something far worse than this man’s death – hell. "The LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain."

III. The Solution for Blasphemy

We all deserve to die for our blasphemies. But can we be spared? Is there a solution for us? The good news of the Bible is that we can be spared the death we deserve through the life and death of the only Man who never blasphemed God in thought, word, or action, but who nevertheless was executed for blasphemy. I speak of Jesus Christ.

Early in His ministry Jesus healed a paralyzed man and declared his sins forgiven. The Jewish scribes and Pharisees who were present wondered, "Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Luke 5:21). On another occasion, as His controversies with the Jewish authorities intensified, Jesus claimed that anyone who kept His word would never see death. This angered them, for father of the Jewish people, Abraham, had died. Did Jesus claim to be greater than Abraham? Jesus told them that Abraham had rejoiced that He would see Jesus’ day. This puzzled them. Jesus was not fifty years old and Abraham had been dead for centuries. How could Jesus claim to have seen Abraham? "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am" (John 8: 58) That got them. Jesus was using the same language the LORD Himself had used when he told Abraham that His name was "I AM THAT I AM." This was a clear case of blasphemy for a man to use the name of God to refer to Himself. He deserved to die. So they picked up stones to throw at him, as the people had thrown stones in Moses’ day at a blasphemer.

Still later in another conflict, the Jews asked Jesus to declare plainly who He claimed to be. When He said, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30), they were sure He was guilty of blasphemy and again picked up stones to hurl at Him. When He asked if they were stoning Him for His good works, they replied, "It is not for good works that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, make yourself God " (John 10:33).

At His trial the charge was blasphemy. When the High Priest said, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ the Son of the living God", Jesus replied, "You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matthew 26: 63, 64). The priest cried, "He has uttered blasphemy…What is your judgment?" The other judges answered, "He deserves death" (Matthew 26: 65, 66).

Here is One who always spoke the truth about God and about His unique relationship with God. Here is One who always honored the Father and who in everything submitted Himself to the overriding concern of the Father’s glory. And He is condemned as a blasphemer.

The next day He was led outside the city to the place of the condemned. There His beaten and mangled body was nailed to a cross. There the other criminals cursed God and Jews hurled blasphemies at Him, Jesus died the death of a blasphemer that all of us blasphemers might be forgiven, spared, and reconciled. That’s the solution for our blasphemy. It is the only solution, but it is all the solution we need.

You may be wondering how you a sinner and a blasphemer can come to this Table and eat the crucified body and drink the poured out blood of Jesus. There was once a man who attacked and degraded Jesus Christ after His resurrection. He said things like, "Jesus is no Messiah. He’s no Son of God. He’s nothing. He couldn’t save Himself, much less anyone else. He’s dead. The Romans crucified Him, and good riddance." He devoted his life to wiping the name of Jesus off the face of the earth. But later, near the end of his life he wrote this: "…formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and the love that are in Christ Jesus. This saying is trustworthy and deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost" (1 Timothy 1: 13, 14).

If Saul the blasphemer could be welcome at the Lord’s Table, so can you and I.

WILLIAM SMITH

Westminster Presbyterian Church, Huntsville, Alabama

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