The Curse of the Law
Galatians 3:13 - Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:
One of the many fascinating concepts in God’s word surrounds the issue of how Christ was made a curse for us. Specifically, Paul says that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). The curse in the passage belongs to every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them (Gal. 3:10), and it is evident that anyone seeking to be justified by the law in the sight of God (Gal. 3:10) will ultimately fail and experience the curse that law promises.
The context of the passage, of course, concerns the means and method of justification unto eternal life and how that it has been provided for in the work of Christ on the tree as our all-sufficient, substitute-redeemer. The blessing of eternal life promised in the seed of Abraham is ours by faith in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26) because of the faith of Him (i.e. his faithfulness in the provision of the redemption work) (Gal. 3:22). How wonderful it is to be heirs of this promise by simple faith in the free gift of God in Christ!
When we dig a little deeper, however, and pair the law cursing concept in this passage with some things that we can understand about the law from God’s program with Israel, we get quite a bit of understanding related to the nature of the things Jesus suffered for his nation while on the cross. In understanding the glories of the cross and all that it means for us Gentiles today in the dispensation of the grace of God, we need not neglect the aspects of it that pertain directly to Israel and what Christ was doing in their stead (nationally) while He suffered there.
The Bible makes it overwhelmingly apparent that the things Jesus Christ came to minister in the days of his flesh pertained to Israel and the promises made to the Hebrew fathers. Christ’s earthly ministry was a confirmatory, covenantal ministry (Rom. 15:8). He came unto his own (John 1:11). He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt. 15:24), and repeatedly affirmed that it was not meet for him to take the children’s [Israel] bread and cast it to the dogs [Gentiles] (Mt. 15:26; Mk. 7:27).
Isaiah, a Jewish prophet, declared that it was for the transgression of my people [Israel] that he was he striken (Isa. 53:8), along with the fact that he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him…and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:4-6).
Jesus himself, as the good shepherd, spoke a laying down his life for his sheep (John 10:15), and so many OT passages make it undeniably clear that the sheep of the LORD is none other than the house Israel (2 Chron. 18:16; Ps. 95:7, 100:3; Jer. 31:10, 50:17; Eze. 34:8, 31, 37-38; Mic. 2:12; Zech. 9:16, 10:3, 11:11; et. al.). When the angels announced His birth, they spoke not of how he would save the world, but rather that he shall save his people from their sins (Mt. 1:21).
A third witness to this reality is Caiaphas, though he knew it not.
John 11:49-51 – And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.
By the spirit of prophecy, Caiaphas spoke concerning the nature of Christ’s crucifixion for the Israel of God; both for that nation which was in the land, and for those of that nation which were still scattered among the Gentiles yet to be regathered and reconstituted in one fold with one Shepherd (Eze. 34:23, 37:24; John 10:16).
In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established (2 Cor. 13:1).
Recognizing, therefore, the reality that Christ’s crucifixion had national implications for Israel and God’s purpose with her in the earthly kingdom, we are in a position to appreciate what it meant in relation to the curse of the law that they were under nationally. In Leviticus 26, we get a detailed explanation of what the law curse involved. The law was a conditional covenant based upon external performance in which the subject was rewarded or punished based upon what he did or did not do. If the law was kept, blessings were automatic (Lev. 26:1-13), but if not, the blessing was exchanged for the curse (Lev. 26:14-46).
Due to the fact that the sin in the flesh of man makes it impossible for him to live up to the standard of righteousness required by the law, it is not hard to understand that what national Israel merited under that system was unrelenting punishment, relieved only intermittently by capricious acts of kindness from their merciful God. Israel’s history under the law is one of continual and repetitive failure, and in accordance with God’s faithfulness to His word, Leviticus 26 has served as the prewritten history of that nation experiencing the curse. The great bulk of the word of God is concerned with the outworking of this curse with that nation, and the studious Bible reader can utilize Leviticus 26 with its five courses of curses to track the progress of those things coming to pass with Israel.
(See the Survey of Israel’s Program page to get more details on the breakdown including specific verse references with examples. You can access it here: Survey of God's Program with Israel
There is also an audio study available on this subject located here: 5 Courses of Punishment)
Course 1 – Lev. 26:14-17 (Judges, Ruth, I Sam. 1-15)
Sorrow of Heart
Slain before his enemies
Mercy – God gives a period of undeserved mercy in the reigns of David & Solomon based on the reserve clause of Exo. 33:19 (I Sam. 16-I Kings 11).
Course 2 – Lev. 26:18-20 (1 Kings 12 – 2 Kings 2:22)
Break Pride of Power
Heaven Iron; Earth Brass
Powder & Dust (Deut. 28)
Land not yield increase
Course 3 – Lev. 26:21-22 (2 Kings 2:23 – 2 Kings 10:31)
Wild Beast Robbing Children
Few in Number
Course 4 – Lev. 26:23-26 (2 Kings 10:32 – 2 Kings 16:20)
Walk contrary unto you
Delivered into the hand of the enemy
Course 5 – Lev. 26:27-46 (2 Kings 17:1 – Acts 7; Heb. – Rev.)
Walk contrary unto you in fury
My soul shall abhor you
Your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it
Ye shall perish among the heathen
In the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away with them
If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers...with their trespass which they trespassed against me
Accept of the punishment of their iniquity
Out of the land
Now when you see the specific curses listed in Leviticus 26 historically arriving as you read through the Bible, you will come to a greater appreciation for all that is involved in the curse of the law. Israel experienced that curse on a national level until they were finally scattered out of the land and came under the power of darkness that was operational among the Gentiles. They became the lawful captive (Isa. 49:24) of the mighty, the adversary (Isa. 50:8), Satan himself. The hedge was taken away (Isa. 5:5) and Jacob became the captive slave of the enemy. Such a predicament Israel found himself in as a result of the curse of the law, and now had great need for the LORD to contend with that adversary on his behalf (Isa. 49:25) and ransom him from the hand of him that was stronger than he (Jer. 31:11; Ps. 106:10). All of this information concerning the need for Israel’s ransoming is talked about by Isaiah leading up to Isa. 53 where the ransom price is described in detail. No passage is all the OT more clearly details the horrors of the ransom work of the cross than does this passage. This ransoming work (on Israel’s behalf) is precisely what the Lord said He came to do (Mt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45).
It is not surprising to me, therefore, that when I study the details of His crucifixion, I find the Lord experiencing, to one degree or another, every aspect of the curse of the law that his nation had born as a result of her transgressions. After all, this is only fitting for a full identification with them as He who was wounded for [their] transgressions and bruised for [their] iniquities. The chastisement spoken about in Leviticus 26 was upon Him, for it would be by his stripes that [they] are healed (Isa. 53:5).
Note then how we see Him suffering, the just for the unjust, that He might bring them to God (1 Pet. 3:18).
Raids - Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 27:47, 55; Mk. 14:43; Lk. 22:52)
Sorrow of Heart - Garden of Gethsemane, Scourging, Crucifixion (Mt. 26:36-46; Ps. 22:2; Isa. 53:3-4)
Blindness - Blindfolded, Darkness over the earth (Luke 22:64; 23:44-45)
Slain before his enemies - Romans, Jews (Matt. 27:39-54)
Break Pride of Power - Body broken, garments parted (Ps. 22:17-18; I Cor. 11:24)
Heaven Iron; Earth Brass - His parched lips, hung between heaven & earth (Jn. 12:33, 19:28)
Powder & Dust (Jn. 19:28; Ps. 22:15)
Land not yield increase - Disciples (His fruit) forsook him (Mt. 26:56; Mk. 14:50)
Wild Beast Robbing Children - Gentiles (Beasts) Attacking Him (Mt. 27:26-34; Mk. 15:15-37; Lk. 22:63-65, 23:25-38); the Lion (Ps. 22:13); Dogs compassed me (Ps. 22:13, 16, 20-21)
Few in Number - Mary & John only at foot of cross (Jn. 19:27)
Highways Desolate – His soul was poured out (desolate) unto death (Isa. 53:12; Ps. 22:14)
Walk contrary unto you - "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34)
Delivered into the hand of the enemy - Judas betrays him to Jews (Mt. 26:47-56; Mk. 14:43-50; Lk. 22:47-53; Jn. 18:3-11)
Walk contrary unto you in fury - "the cup" (Mt. 26:39, 42)
My soul shall abhor you - Forsaken of the Father (Mt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34)
Your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it - Enemies gaping upon him (Ps. 22:13; Matt. 27:39; Mark 15:29)
Ye shall perish among the heathen - dies among the Romans (Matt. 27:39-54)
In the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away with them - Christ as the sin bearer of the nation (Isa. 53:8, 11)
If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers...with their trespass which they trespassed against me= "Father forgive them" (Lk. 23:34; Ps. 22:24)
Accept of the punishment of their iniquity - "Thy will be done" (Mt. 26:42)
Faintness (Ps. 22:14)
Out of the land (Isa. 53:8)
There are doubtless, many other aspects of this to be cross-referenced. Mine is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but hopefully is sufficient to make the point that in order to redeem from the curse of the law, He Himself was made a curse.
The cross, then, is quite significant for Israel and the fulfilling of her covenants. Without the ransoming of the nation from Satanic bondage, Israel is unable to inherit her covenantal glory in the kingdom promised to the fathers. This is why Christ must first suffer these things, and then enter into his glory (Lk. 24:26; I Pet. 1:11). He must save his people from their sins by ransoming them from the enemy, and only then would He possess legally the redeemed rights to that nation for the establishment of his kingdom with them (i.e. his glory).
The great significance of what it means for him to be made a curse and the understanding gained by knowing all the horrors involved in it from Israel’s perspective, ought to teach us all the more how immeasurably valuable and precious His cross-work is. How great was the price He paid to secure eternal redemption for them (Heb. 9:12)!
When we learn in due time, through the revelation of the mystery committed to the Apostle Paul, that this cross-work not only secured a ransom for Israel in view of the earthly kingdom, but also secured a ransom for all to be testified in due time (1 Tim. 2:6), we too can understand the great price given for us Gentile in order to deliver us from the power of darkness (Col. 1:13). In the secret hid from men of other ages, we learn that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself (2 Cor. 5:19) and providing for the word of reconciliation whereby He would form a new creature of Jew and Gentile for a heavenly purpose. It is by the cross (Eph. 2:6) that all the wisdom and power of God’s master plan for the ages comes together for the reconciling of all things (Col. 1:20). His cross ransomed Israel from lawful captivity under the power of darkness for His use of them on earth, and His cross ransomed the Gentile body of Christ from the power of darkness for His use of us in heavenly places (Eph. 1:3, 2:6). In exact accordance with the Father’s will, in all things, Christ shall have the preeminence (Col. 1:18)! He bore the curse of law for us with all of its immeasurable horrors, He redeemed us from it, and to Him forevermore be glory!
Galatians 6:14 - But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
Published by Joshua Edwards
Joshua Edwards is an ambassador for the Lord Jesus Christ who is dedicated the to the communication of sound doctrine as set forth in the pages of God's word. He desires to have all men to be saved by believing the gospel of the grace of God, and thereafter to come unto the knowledge of the truth by establishment in the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery (Romans 16:25).