Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”—in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Galatians 3.13-14
Paul in Galatians 3 quotes Deuteronomy, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” In the Old Testament there are many examples of cursed people hung on a tree. Perhaps foremost of those hung in the Old Testament are the Canaanite kings hung in the conquest. When Israel conquered the city Ai, they hung the king on a tree. They didn’t do this to every joe-schmo. Instead they hung the king at the gate who represented the city and brought a curse on them, and they heaped up stones over him. Later on when Israel was attacked by the 5 Canaanite kings, they hung the 5 kings on 5 trees. Then they bury the kings at sunset in a cave and put large stones over the mouth of the cave. We also should add the observation that these kings were under the ban in the land of Canaan. God had ordered Israel to destroy their cities and people.
So as we come to the New Testament, it stands out how Jesus stands in the same line of these Canaanite kings. He was hung on a tree, and he was entombed with a stone. Jesus was rejected just like these kings, and he was hung on a tree and was cursed. This is no light thing. It was something reserved for the great leaders of the Canaanite states. In our day the deaths of these men are like the infamous deaths of Gaddafi or Hussein. It is not pretty company to share. Even though his death was similar in kind, it was different in quality. Where the Canaanite kings opposed the rule of Yahweh, Jesus was the rightful and true ruler. He was the Christ. Where the Canaanites kings conspired against the Lord’s anointed, Jesus being the Lord’s anointed did the unthinkable: he gave up his life as a ransom for many. He became a curse for us so that the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles. We have salvation because he was cursed.
This is quite the thing to meditate on: it was the grand plan of God to redeem man, but it was necessary for his Son to be cursed for us. Consider the gravity of this. We were under the curse of sin and death, and in order for us to be freed from such a curse, someone else needed to endure it. It couldn’t be just another person, though, because they had a destructible life. No other human besides the Son of God incarnate could have endured such a curse and lived. But though Jesus died and endured the full extent of Adam’s curse in Genesis 3 to the point of death, this wasn’t the end of it. Joshua says that the Canaanite kings are still buried in the caves or under the heap of stones ‘to this day.’ On the third day, however, Jesus rose from the dead. His burial stone was rolled away, and he was raised to new life. His life was indestructible and he alone was powerful to overcome the grave.
According to Galatians, one goal of Jesus’ death and resurrection was to bring the blessing of Abraham to all nations. God promised that through Abraham’s seed, God would bless all the families of the earth, and now through Jesus this blessing has come. Jesus’ being cursed means that others will be blessed. Those who repent and believe will receive God’s great blessing of salvation, and one day in the future, those who have put their trust in Jesus and his gospel will see it more fully: even now we can shout with Paul, ‘O death where is thy victory, O death where is thy sting? Thanks be to God who gives victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!’ For those who have repented and believed, the curse of death is relinquished and the promise of life through the gospel of Christ is a sure foundation. May we rejoice in this truth and may we anticipate the day when we will see him face to face.