Before Moses renews the covenant made at Mt. Sinai in Horeb, we get the promise of blessings following obedience to the Law, but then we get another round of curses. Unlike the curses before, which seem focused on the behavior that will bring the curse, we get a graphic description of what “will” happen to the nation if it is disobedient.
49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, 50 a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. 51 They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine or olive oil, nor any calves of your herds or lambs of your flocks until you are ruined. 52 They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land the Lord your God is giving you.
53 Because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the Lord your God has given you. 54 Even the most gentle and sensitive man among you will have no compassion on his own brother or the wife he loves or his surviving children, 55 and he will not give to one of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating. It will be all he has left because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of all your cities. 56 The most gentle and sensitive woman among you—so sensitive and gentle that she would not venture to touch the ground with the sole of her foot—will begrudge the husband she loves and her own son or daughter 57 the afterbirth from her womb and the children she bears. For in her dire need she intends to eat them secretly because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of your cities.
Deut. 28:49-57. Within the limits of my layman’s exposition, this seems to be the vivid cultural memory of what conquest prior to exile was like, of the horrors of siege warfare in the first millennium BCE. The terrifying presence of a foreign power speaking a language you do not understand. The reference to cannibalism and the complete suffering that destroys even familial love strikes an intense tone.
Perhaps more so that the intervening centuries of evolving language and culture, this gap of shared experience makes Scripture difficult for the modern American reader. I watched the movie Lion this week. It is an amazing film that works hard to put you behind the eyes of a helpless one from the unthinkable poverty of India. It is a worthy but unsettling practice to project oneself into such places, I think.