Relationship between spiritual performance and material blessings in Old and New testaments

As I read Deut 28 recently, what struck me was the association between spiritual performance and earthly blessings in terms of wealth, health, miltary strength, childbirth, etc. God did this to show the surrounding nations that he is superior to their gods as in Deut 28: 8-10. In the new testament however, there doesn’t seem to be a relationship between material blessings and spiritual obedience for believers set apart as holy for God. What believers are guaranteed are spiritual blessings for obedience (1 Peter 2:9, 1 Peter 1: 3-8, Eph 1:3). From Hebrews 11:16, we learn that both Old and New testament saints’ ultimate goal is the heavenly city. I am wondering why this difference in Old and New testament with regards to the relationship between material blessings and spiritual obedience? I am interested in understanding this concept more because a common prevalent belief in other religions like Hinduism is that our lot in life is related to spiritual performance in this life or our past lives. In my conversations with hindus, I am often told that the principle of relationship between spiritual obedience and material blessings got lost through time because of new interpretations in Christianity.


Hi @lakshmi

What an interesting observation! I had never really thought of that before. As I was reading over Deut 28, I looked at verses 9-10 again which say:

Deuteronomy 28:9–10 (HCSB): if you obey the commands of the Lord your God and walk in His ways. 10 Then all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by Yahweh’s name, and they will stand in awe of you.

Here, obedience to all God’s commandments is required. The blessings and curses for obeying or disobeying are obvious signs of physical prosperity or lack of. For the nations around, these would have been key signs that they were favoured by their God, and that their God was powerful. Farming, food and physical safety was the common language of all the cultures of that time, and these signs would have made sense to them.

I was immediately struck by the similarities in the words of Jesus in John 13:

John 13:34–35 (ESV): A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Here, Jesus is marking that the new sign that will reflect covenantal relationship with YHWH is that of the disciples’ love for one another. This seems to be the language that will be understood by cultures around them. It’s a relational outworking instead of a mechanical one.

I think the thing that distinguishes Christianity from every other religion is that deep relational connection with God. It’s a deeply personal one. I’m reminded of another conversation about the overarching theme of the Bible in which God is continually working to redeem humanity by bringing his presence back to dwell with us. No other religion has a meta narrative like that. Our goal is not physical prosperity in this life or eternity, although I think it may be a by-product in the New Heavens and Earth. Our goal is to dwell “in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6) because that was what we were made for.

Also, I think in the comparison of the 2 verses I’ve highlighted above, there’s a clear emphasis on witnessing to other nations. In the NT, emphasis of loving one another is the way in which the people of God can share the Gospel to those around them. Especially in the western culture where prosperity is assumed and strived for, prosperity would not really set apart the Christians from anyone else. Instead, loving one another with integrity, truth and selflessness, not seeking gain or reciprocation seems to be rare these days. Perhaps that is why the spiritual blessings are emphasised in the NT?


Amen to that. Rare as hen’s teeth.


Hi @alison ,

Thanks for your thoughtful response. The two points you made about cultural context and God’s desire to have a deep relationship with humanity were very helpful in further understanding Deuteronomy 28.

In the ancient near eastern culture where gods were believed to control the forces of nature, if God blessed Israel for walking according to His covenant relationship with them, I can see how the surrounding nations would attribute Israel’s prosperity to Yahweh. For example, the land of Canaan practiced worship of Baal. The world history encyclopedia states that “Baal (also given as Ba’al) is a Canaanite-Phoenician god of fertility and weather, specifically rainstorms”.

The idea of cultural context also reminded me to take into consideration the literary style in which Deuteronomy was written. An article by a messianic bible scholar Tim Hegg, Blessings and Curses: Redeemed from the “Curse” of the Law -Some Background from the Ancient Near Eastern Covenants explains how Deuteronomy is a covenant patterned after the Ancient Near Eastern treaties between a Great King (called a Suzerain) and his Vassal.

In the civilizations of the Ancient Near East, it was common for nations to expand their territories through conquest. A Great King was one who had command of a well-equipped and trained army, able to conquer smaller, weaker nations, and annex their lands to his. When the Great King would conquer a neighboring nation, he would most often enthrone a lesser King, called a Vassal, over the conquered region. The Vassal was obligated to rule in the absence of the Great King, and to do so in such a way as to give glory and honor to the Great King. The Vassal was to be, in every way, a representative of the Great King. It was in light of this governing relationship that the Great King would enact a covenant with the Vassal that would insure his faithfulness. This is because it was always possible that the Vassal might consider his own strength sufficient to eventually rebel against the Great King, and attempt to establish his own, sovereign rule. The covenant, or treaty, between the Great King and his Vassal, was therefore written in language that would remind the Vassal of his obligation to the Great King, and even instill fear in him if ever he should entertain the idea of rebellion.

The fact that Devarim (Deuteronomy) is given to Moses in the form of a Suzerain-Vassal treaty speaks volumes as to its meaning and interpretation. God is the Great King, and Israel is His Vassal. Thus, Israel is to govern and rule upon the earth as His representative, constantly upholding His glory and ultimate rule. It is in this context that Israel is to be a “light to the nations.”

While God blessed Israel with material blessings, they were meant to point the world to the greatest blessing of having a relationship with Yahweh and help other nations join in that blessing. It was not a blessing based on their own strength but one that came by faith in God through grace. Tim Hegg explains it this way -

Left to herself, Israel is without hope. This reality demonstrates the primary purpose for the blessings and curses: they indicate God’s assessment of His covenant partner. When Israel labored under the curses of the covenant, she was constantly reminded that she had acted in disobedience. Thus, the curses were the Great King’s call for her to return—to repent. “Whom the Father loves, He reproves” (Proverbs 3:12, cf. Hebrews 12:5–6). When, however, the blessings of the covenant were evident, this was a call for Israel to praise her God, by Whose covenant faithfulness the blessings were given.

Though Jesus says he gives a new commandment in John 13:34-45, he also says all of the OT commandments are summed up in love for God and neighbor in Matt 22: 37-40. That leads me to think not only material blessings but love enabled by covenantal faithfulness played a role in demonstrating God’s glory. Ruth’s story comes to mind.

Finally, the blessings and curses of Deut 28 seem to apply to the nation of Israel as a whole, living in a loving covenant with God. Individually, if someone was out of covenant with God, they would not be able to share in the blessings of the whole nation of Israel. For ex. God reserved only a remnant of Israel who didn’t bow to Baal (1Kings 19:18). It may be incorrect to assume God was promising individual material blessings in OT for walking in spiritual obedience, because of bible verses like Prov 16:8 which talk about the righteous poor.

To conclude, I think I now have pretty good evidence to say that Deut 28 does not support a relationship between spiritual obedience and material blessings as some reincarnationists may understand. First, Deuteronomy is written in the form of a treaty that applies to nation of Israel as a whole. Second, all blessings and curses were based on God’s grace not spiritual performance. The treaty was meant to deter them from walking out of the covenant. Third, material blessings in Deut 28 are not to be understood as a formula that anyone can claim to have received or hope for because of their faith in God. There seem to have been righteous poor in the OT as well. What God always cared about is our spiritual blessing.

Finally, I’ll sum with your words @alison about God’s heart in Deuteronomy and our hope in Jesus,

Thanks again for your response which gave me ideas for further study.


@lakshmi, thank you for sharing some of the cultural background and genre of Deuteronomy! That really helped to bring out both the role of faith in Old Testament blessings and the communal nature of many of the promises for me.

@alison, I also love the way you’ve captured the differences between Deuteronomy 28 and John 13!

I think those differences really get to the heart of the matter. It’s both about God redeeming a people for himself that he may dwell with them and about his accomplishing his purposes through covenantal relationship.

In Christ, we are no longer under the old covenant, but a new one (Luke 22:20), one that does not emphasize a physical kingdom, but instead the kingdom of God (John 18:36; John 17:15-24).

Though this kingdom may not be marked by the physical abundance of the land which came with the covenant blessings (Deut 28:3-12), it is marked by spiritual abundance even now (Gal 5:22-23; Col 3:12-17) as well as the contentment that flows from such abundance (Philippians 4:4-11). Not only did the nature of the kingdom change, but as you noted, the sign of the covenant has changed too so that it is our love for one another that marks us as belonging to Christ (John 13:34-35).

There is, however, still a lot of continuity between the kingdom blessings of the Old and New Testaments. While the arrival of kingdom of God began in Christ, it won’t be fully realized until the age to come (Eph 2:7, Matt 25:34). Yet it was ultimately to this eschatological kingdom that even the prophets in the Old Testament looked.

They longed for the eternal reign of David’s Offspring (Isaiah 11:1-9) and of the Son of Man (Daniel 7:8-14), that the kingdoms of this world would be defeated and God would reign in peace and justice.

While there may still be blessings in this life that come from following the Lord, such as Christian community as discussed here (Mark 10:29-31), or consequences for not walking in a manner worthy of God (1 Cor 11:29-31), such is not guaranteed, as Ecclesiastes poignantly points out (Ecc 8:14). Importantly, this is true even in the Old Testament - as the Ecclesiastes passage and the righteous poor that @lakshmi pointed out in Proverbs illustrate.

So, while physical blessings may come in this life as a result of following Christ, they are not guaranteed. And, as @alison summed up nicely, they are not the goal; I would argue that’s the case both in the Old Testament and the New. Finally, whether such blessings come or not, the eternal inheritance we will receive is far greater than any passing thing (2 Cor 4:17-18). As such, we look toward the eternal, storing up treasures in heaven (Matt 6:19-21) and longing to be with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8-9).