The Bible contains many warnings from God about the consequences of disobedience and unfaithfulness. When God made a covenant with Israel, He promised great blessings if they obeyed, but also curses if they turned away and broke the covenant. Here is an overview of some of the main curses found in Scripture that God said He would bring upon Israel for their disobedience:
Exile from the Land
One of the most frequently repeated curses was that Israel would be exiled from the Promised Land if they persistently broke God’s laws. They were warned that disobedience would lead to destruction and captivity by foreign nations. For example:
“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you…” (Deuteronomy 28:15)
“And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other…” (Deuteronomy 28:64)
Tragically, the people did not heed the warnings, and the curse of exile came to pass when the northern kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria in 722 BC, and the southern kingdom of Judah was conquered by Babylon in 586 BC. The exile was the fulfillment of God’s promised judgment.
Famine and Drought
God repeatedly warned that turning away from Him would result in famine, drought, and failed harvests in the land. For example:
“I will break the supply of bread…I will send famine and wild beasts against you, and they will rob you of your children.” (Ezekiel 5:16-17)
“The Lord will make the rain of your land powder and dust. From heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed.” (Deuteronomy 28:24)
Throughout Israel’s history, cycles of obedience and rebellion led to times of prosperity and times of want. Famine was one of God’s main curses to call the people back to faithfulness.
Plagues and Disease
Pestilence and contagious diseases were another curse Israel was warned about if they rejected God. He would remove His hand of protection and allow plagues to afflict the people. For example:
“I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.” (Leviticus 26:22)
“The Lord will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew.” (Deuteronomy 28:22)
Disease outbreaks such as those mentioned took place at various times as judgment for sin, such as the plague after the rebellion of Korah (Numbers 16) or the plague that came after David’s census (2 Samuel 24).
Military Defeat and Invasion
One of the most commonly mentioned curses was that Israel would be defeated in battle, conquered, and ransacked by enemy armies and nations as punishment for unfaithfulness. For example:
“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord…the Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies.” (Deuteronomy 28:15,25)
“I myself will strike you seven times for your sins. I will bring the sword on you to avenge the breaking of the covenant.” (Leviticus 26:24-25)
This curse was fulfilled on numerous occasions starting with oppressions by the king of Mesopotamia (Judges 3:8) and king of Moab (Judges 3:12), defeats by the Philistines, and later the conquests by the Assyrians and Babylonians.
Oppression and Captivity
God warned Israel that turning from Him would make them suffer oppression, captivity, and slavery under foreign powers. Other nations would subjugate and rule over them. For example:
“The sojourner who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower. He shall lend to you, and you shall not lend to him.” (Deuteronomy 28:43-44)
“Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and fail with longing for them all day long.” (Deuteronomy 28:32)
This curse was partially fulfilled during the time of the judges when Israel was oppressed by nations like Moab, Midian and Ammon. But the ultimate fulfillment came first by Assyria conquering the northern kingdom and then Babylon conquering the southern kingdom and taking many captives.
Lack of Success and Prosperity
God promised that if Israel turned from Him, He would curse everything they put their hands to, so that they labored in vain. Their crops, livestock and all efforts would be cursed rather than blessed. For example:
“Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field…Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground.” (Deuteronomy 28:16,18)
“You shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.” (Leviticus 26:16)
“I will turn the rain of your land into powder and dust; it shall come down from the heavens upon you until you are destroyed.” (Deuteronomy 28:24)
Throughout their history, Israel experienced these curses of barrenness, wild animals, and raids whenever they turned from God. But they also experienced great abundance and prosperity when they followed Him faithfully.
Reversal of Blessings
The curses of disobedience were essentially a complete reversal of all the blessings God had promised Israel if they obeyed. He warned He would literally turn the blessings into curses as judgment for their unfaithfulness. For example:
“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord…all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.” (Deuteronomy 28:15)
“I will punish you myself seven times over for your sins. I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze.” (Leviticus 26:28-29)
The curses were the exact opposite of what God had promised. Instead of blessings, prosperity, health, and victory, Israel’s rebellion brought curses, failure, disease, and defeat.
Restlessness and Anxiety
God said that breaking covenant with Him would lead to restlessness, anxiety, and despair as His presence was withdrawn from Israel. For example:
“The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues.” (Leviticus 26:36)
“You shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you away.” (Deuteronomy 28:37)
Instead of stability, hope, and peace in God’s promises, the curses brought fear, uncertainty, and loss of vision for Israel’s future when they turned from Him.
One of the most severe curses mentioned was cannibalism – parents would eat their own children due to the severity of famine caused by God’s judgment. For example:
“You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters.” (Leviticus 26:29)
“The tender and delicate woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because she is so delicate and tender, will begrudge to the husband she embraces, to her son and to her daughter, her afterbirth that comes out from between her feet and her children whom she bears, because lacking everything she will eat them secretly.” (Deuteronomy 28:56-57)
This horrific curse came to pass during the sieges of Samaria and Jerusalem when severe famine set in (2 Kings 6:28-29; Lamentations 2:20; 4:10).
Destruction and Ruin of the Land
God said the land itself would suffer destruction if Israel broke covenant. Cities would be ruined, the land made desolate, and the people perish. For example:
“I will lay waste your cities and will make your sanctuaries desolate…And I will make your land desolate, so that your enemies who settle in it will be appalled.” (Leviticus 26:31, 32)
“Your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.” (Leviticus 26:33)
“He has kindled fire in Zion, which has devoured its foundations.” (Lamentations 4:11)
This desolation of the land was fulfilled in the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests, leaving Israel empty, ruined and depopulated by exile.
National Weakness and Shame
Disobedience would lead to Israel becoming weak, insignificant and contemptible in the eyes of other nations. They would become helpless before enemies rather than being the head. For example:
“The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies…you shall be a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all peoples.” (Deuteronomy 28:25, 37)
“I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze…I will turn the rain of your land into powder and dust.” (Leviticus 26:19, 24-25)
This loss of superpower status, prominence and esteem among nations happened progressively after the united kingdom under Solomon unravelled and declined. It culminated in the defeats and exiles by Assyria and Babylon.
Lack of Joy in Life
God warned Israel that rejecting Him would lead to lives missing out on joy, gladness and blessing. Even the basic joys of family life would be taken away. For example:
“Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart…therefore you shall serve your enemies.” (Deuteronomy 28:47-48)
“I will devastate the land, so that your enemies who come to settle in it shall be appalled.” (Leviticus 26:32)
“The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning.” (Lamentations 5:15)
The curses meant Israel lost out on the joy, freedom, and blessing of serving God and instead experienced sorrow and slavery under oppressors.
Duration of Curses
Some of the curses involved durations that would extend for long periods even generations to emphasize their severity. For example:
“And they shall be upon you as a sign and a wonder for ever.” (Deuteronomy 28:46)
“Seven times more for your sins…seven years of famine.” (Leviticus 26:21, 26)
“This is a nation that does not obey the voice of the Lord their God or accept correction. Truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.” (Jeremiah 7:28)
The length of some judgments indicated Israel’s faithlessness was not just a brief lapse but a deep rejection of God’s ways.
The sobering curses described in the Bible highlight the seriousness of sin and its consequences. Israel was meant to be an example that rejecting God’s ways leads to judgment, while obeying leads to blessing. The curses emphasize that we reap what we sow. If God’s people turn from Him, they cannot expect to enjoy His blessings and protection. The goal of the curses, like any discipline, was for Israel to awaken, repent and return to the Lord. God always restores those who turn back to Him with sincere hearts.