The Twelve Curses: Deuteronomy 27:15-26

 Everyone has heard of the Ten Commandments but have you ever heard of the “Twelve Curses?” Throughout the Bible, we see lists of the good we ought to do (like the fruit of the spirit, the beatitudes, various blessings, etc.) and sins that God abhors (woes against the Pharisees, seven abominations, etc).

In the closing portions of Deuteronomy, we find a list of twelve curses that have many similarities to the Ten Commandments. These specific curses were given to the Israelites alongside a lengthy description of punishments for breaking God’s law. While they function similarly to the Ten Commandments, they serve as an indictment against sinful behavior; warning what will happen if wrong is committed. 

This curse tablet was discovered on Mount Ebal, the same mountain where the Israelites pronounced curses. Its discovery was announced in 2023, with research findings published in May of 2023.

The Curses


“Cursed is the man who makes a carved idol or molten image—an abomination to Yahweh, the work of the hands of a craftsman–and sets it up in secret.” – Deuteronomy 27:15

The first and the last curse serve as bookends for the twelve curses, framing all the curses around God himself. The first curse is the lengthiest and most stern of them all, employing the strongest language. It refers to the practice of idol making as “an abomination” and as the “work of craftsman.” Both of these descriptions show God's hatred of it and its futility.“Setting it up in secret” concerns the heart—it is not improper public worship that is addressed but it is the private and secret kind that most intimately shows one’s heart before God.


The second and third curses concern respect for parental and property authority. 

“Cursed is he who dishonors his father or mother.” – v. 16

Deuteronomy 27:16 and Exodus 21:17 have the same Hebrew language, so it is not necessarily referring to the Ten Commandments but to the death penalty for dishonoring parents.

“Anyone who curses is father or mother must surely be put to death.” – Exodus 21:17

The one who curses his parents will themselves be cursed. 

The curse for moving a “neighbor’s boundary [stone]” originates from Deuteronomy 19:14, which uses the same Hebrew wording,

You must not move your neighbor’s boundary marker, which was set up by your ancestors to mark the inheritance you shall receive in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you to possess.”

This curse is not just about a subtle theft, but about a disrespect to God’s property allotments. Not only would moving a boundary stone steal from one’s neighbor, it would take from one family's property to increase another's, in violation of God’s prescribed territory for each tribe and clan. 

The Disadvantaged

The fourth and fifth curses are both related to the abuse of the disadvantaged.

“Cursed is anyone who leads the blind astray on the road.” – v. 18

“Cursed is who withholds justice from a foreigner, orphan, or widow.”  – v. 19

Allowing blind people to wander means they will get lost, hurt themselves, or even be attacked. Not granting justice to the foreigner, orphan, and widow is a catch-all for all social injustices — anyone who is in God’s “protected class”, those who cannot fend for themselves, all deserve fair treatment. Unfair treatment means they suffer with no one to defend them. God hates when the weak are abused because their helplessness adds to the cruelty of the mistreatment. 

Sexual Deviancy

The sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth curses (verses 20–23) pertain to deviant sexual sins. What is striking is that they encompass a third of the twelve curses. These curses are not adultery or general fornication but are all related to incest, except the one about bestiality — all are considered especially perverted because they are unnatural. In regards to incest, these curses seem to beat a dead horse, singling out incest with one’s mother (“father’s wife”), with one’s sister or sister-in-law, and with one’s mother-in-law as separate curses. 

The curse for incest with a father’s wife is particularly important because it is the only of the twelve curses that indicates why a person who does this is cursed.

“Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s nakedness [skirt].” – v. 20


The tenth and eleventh curses are about murder. 

“Curses be anyone who  strikes down his neighbor in secret.” – v. 24

“Curses be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.”  – v. 25

The first pertains to a secret murder. Even if a murderer were never discovered, the murderer would be still be cursed. God is the harbinger of curses when the community is unable to enforce the law. The second pertains to murder-for-hire. By taking a bribe to shed the blood of an innocent person, the murderer takes on a guilty conscience. This is distinct from murder out of pure rage, but murder for financial gain; the murdered person’s life is worth the price of a bribe.

So What?

The question to ask about these twelve curses is why were these particular curses chosen? As the final curse (verse 26) makes clear, these curses are not all encompassing but are representative of all accursed behaviors. 

“Cursed is he who does not put the words of this law into practice.”

It is not simply those who do the prohibited things that are cursed, but those who do not obey God’s law are cursed.

These curses may highlight sins the Israelites struggled with more than others or the ones God hated the most. Their relevance is primarily for the Israelites, but it begs a question for us today — what curses would be pronounced for our society? Perhaps the content would be different, but the heart would be the same.

Would we be guilty of disrespecting our parents? Yes. Would we be guilty of exploiting others? Yes. Would we be guilty of unnatural sexual behaviors? Yes. Would we be guilty of disregarding others’ lives? Yes. Would we be guilty of sacrilege? Yes.

Perhaps these curses were not meant for us. But should we expect God’s favor when we do what he called accursed thousands of years ago?

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 ESV


Popular posts from this blog

Soul-Searching: Psalm 139

Little Faith or Mustard Seed Faith?