Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Deuteronomy 28:15-68) transports me to 1996, the year Kim and I had a commuter marriage, as she was finishing up a degree at UNC-G and I had just started a job at Mars Hill. I lived with my Dad during that year, and I remember it as a season of salmon patties, peach shakes, horseshoes, and lots of Braves games on TBS (and lots of weekend driving on I-40 to Greensboro!). It was also a year of early morning prayer. Daddy had been in the habit, for I don’t know how many years, of getting up around 5:00, reading a passage from Psalms and Proverbs, and getting on his knees to intercede for people who were on his heart. During that year, that became my habit, too. We prayed for sick and suffering people in the family, the community, and the world. And Daddy always had a special prayer for people who were either unsaved, or had backslidden, or were causing some kind of trouble or unnecessary grief to others. He would call them by name and fervently pray for God to trouble their sleep until they got right with the Lord. In other words, he put a holy curse on them, invoking a mojo of manic nights, with peace not coming until their hearts and lives got right and they found themselves back in God’s will.
If we had been reading Deuteronomy instead of Psalms and Proverbs during those early morning devotion times, Daddy might have gotten some more ideas for his troubling prayers. Holy Moses could flat unleash some curses on the folks when they backslid, or were causing some kind of trouble or unnecessary grief to the covenant community. I mean, he gets on a roll and you can just feel the momentum building, as he starts out with curses of frustration, panic, and pestilence, goes on through Egypt-like plagues, donkeys getting stolen, fiances sleeping with other men, all the way through such severe drought and famine that the cursed people resort to eating their young (in secret, so as not to have to share the meal with others in the family). It’s no wonder that there are so many great curses found in the Yiddish dialect in Jewish communities today. They get it honest. I kept reading to see if any of my favorite Yiddish curses were there in Deuteronomy. Got zol im bentshn mit dray mentshn: eyner zol im haltn, der tsveyter zol im shpaltn un der driter zol im ba’haltn (God should bless him with three people: one should grab him, the second should stab him and the third should hide him). Or, Ale tseyn zoln bay im aroysfaln, not eyner zol im blaybn oyf tsonveytung. (All his teeth should fall out except one to make him suffer). or Hindert hayzer zol er hobn, in yeder hoyz a hindert tsimern, in yeder tsimer tsvonsik betn un kadukhes zol im varfn fin eyn bet in der tsveyter (A hundred houses shall he have, in every house a hundred rooms and in every room twenty beds, and a delirious fever should drive him from bed to bed).
Seems like it’s easy to get carried away when you get to cursing the folks who’ve strayed outside God’s will and are causing trouble. Especially when we remember that the whole point is to bring the folks back to the fold, back into the covenant relationship. (It takes two more lengthy chapters in Deuteronomy before we get to that point, where God promises to restore the fortunes of the cursed if they repent.) The rationale is redemption. That end result was always foremost in Daddy’s mind when he prayed. And while I didn’t find any of the Yiddish curses there in the text, I think I found something akin to Daddy’s prayer: You shall find no ease, no resting-place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and a languishing spirit. Sounds kind of like troubling one’s sleep to me. These days, whenever I have nights like that, restless, fitful, troubled, mind racing, I wonder who it is out there on their knees praying for me and putting the insomnia mojo on me. And I wonder just what it is I might need to do to restore my fortunes of good sleep. Or maybe I just need to cut back on the coffee.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Fee free to comment.