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43 The stranger that is within thee shall get up above thee very high; and thou shalt come down very low. 44 He shall lend to thee, and thou shalt not lend to him: he shall be the head, and thou shalt be the tail. (Deuteronomy 28:43-44)

My question pertaining to these verses is who are the strangers that are within the land of Israel that would rise above them and have power over them? Are these the remnant of the former inhabitants of Canaan who the Israelites enslaved? If not, who would these strangers be?

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"Strangers" in the OT are non-Israelites living in the land of Israel. The term is גָּר (gār). Although normally translated as "stranger," Strong's gives its primary definition as "sojourner." They could be remnant Canaanites, but often they were citizens of foreign countries with temporary residence. If one holds to a late date for the composition of Deuteronomy, then they were certainly foreigners. This is probably the best explanation in any case whether one sees Deut. as written at the time of Moses or the time of Josiah.

The statements in the OP should be understood as prophetic warnings, not definite prophecies. This is apparent from 28:15:

If you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command you this day, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.

However, as the text makes it clear that they were many moments in which the statutes were not kept, it is reasonable to think that there should be some evidence of the warnings coming true. An example may be seen in the dominance Syria over Israel during the reign of the wicked king Ahab:

And Ben-ha′dad said to [Ahab], “The cities which my father took from your father I will restore; and you may establish bazaars for yourself in Damascus, as my father did in Samar′ia.” And Ahab said, “I will let you go on these terms.” So he made a covenant with him and let him go. (1 Kings 20)

Here, Ben-hadad is portrayed as clearly having the upper hand. If his agreement with Ahab allowed Israelites to open markets in Damascus then it is more than likely that Sryians would do likewise Samaria and other cities. Thus Syrian citizens would be in a position to fulfill the prophecy. However, other kings of Judah and Israel were also known to have paid tribute to foreign powers. Significant trade with foreign nations dates back to David's cooperation with Hiram of Tyre. (2 Samuel 5:11) Such trade provided opportunities for foreigners to prosper at the expense of native merchants, forcing them to go into debt. Thus the prophecy may have come true several times without notice in the biblical text.

We may presume that there were foreigners residing in both Judah and Israel to conduct trade or acting as royal agents. As Israel and Judah failed to retain God's favor, they would have grown weaker financially, and thus the foreigners residing in their cities would have been able to take advantage of the situation, thus fulfilling the prophecies.

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The entire chapter of Deut 28 outlines the blessings and curses of the Israelite covenant; specifically:

  • Deut 28:1-14 lists the blessings of obedience (V1)
  • Deut 28:15-68 lists the curses of disobedience (V15)

In both cases, each of the blessings and curses can be seen a natural social consequence of obedience and disobedience to God's covenant. That is, the outcome is dependent on the local obedience (or otherwise) of the community at hand. Note V46:

These curses will be a sign and a wonder upon you and your descendants forever.

Note the mirror-like application for (some of) these promises:

Obedience:

V13: The LORD will make you the head and not the tail; you will only move upward and never downward, if you hear and carefully follow the commandments of the LORD your God, which I am giving you today.

Disobedience

V44: He will lend to you, but you will not lend to him. He will be the head, and you will be the tail.

Thus, these promises are simply that - promises of what would happen depending on how the Israelites conducted themselves, either in obedience or disobedience to God's covenant.

Deut 28 is parallel to a similar list of covenant blessings and curses as recorded in Lev 26.

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