Question and answer 10 of the Heidelberg Catechism needs to be considered again and again in a day and age when even many people within the visible church want to make the love of God incompatible with His righteousness. After all, there is just too much biblical evidence, the catechism tells us, proving that the Lord will not permit “disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished.”
Deuteronomy 27:26 is one proof text for the question’s focus on the righteous wrath of the Lord. In its immediate context, the verse applies to the original Israelites and their accountability to the Mosaic law. By not keeping the commandments, Israel actualized this curse, bringing upon itself the just wrath of God in the form of exile. Banished from the blessed presence of God, covenant-breaking Israel was sent off to places where they would experience desolation (2 Kings 17:7–23; 25:1–21).
Yet as so much of old covenant Israel’s history is typical of greater, more universal realities, the curse on Israel exemplifies what has happened to all mankind in Adam. Israel was like a “new Adam,” given the same task our first parents were given—to multiply and rule over creation and make it submit to God—with the same guarantee of success for obedience (Gen. 1:26–31; 2:4–25; Lev. 26:1–13). It was inevitable that Israel would fail, of course; otherwise, the Lord would not have instituted a sacrificial system to atone for sin. Thus, God never intended for the Israelites to save themselves by keeping the Mosaic law. Still, it is one thing to fail and seek God’s forgiveness and grace, which is what true old covenant believers did, and quite another thing to fail so miserably as to be blind to sin and to think the Lord owes us something. This is what the nation of Israel, considered as a whole, did. In so doing, Israel repeated the sin of Adam, who was blind to his own guilt, blaming Eve for his sin and thinking that the Lord owed him something better than “the woman” given to him (Gen. 3:11–12).
Israel’s fall, as a repetition of Adam’s fall, is yet one more proof of our desperate plight before a holy God. The Israelites’ fall and curse points to our fall and curse, proving that the only Adam who can undo what the first Adam did is not the “new Adam” of Israel but the “last Adam”—Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:45).