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Jewish Dispersion and Persecution

From the beginning, God made it clear to the nation Israel that its continuing blessings and tenure within the Promised Land was conditional upon their faithfulness and obedience. On the eve before the final march across the Jordan River, Moses gave final instructions to the young nation camped on the Plains of Moab. There, he repeated God’s warning to the second generation of His chosen people. This generation was born and reared in the wilderness.

“But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your body and the produce of your land, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. The LORD will send on you cursing, confusion, and rebuke in all that you set your hand to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, because of the wickedness of your doings in which you have forsaken Me” (Deut. 28:15-20).

Moses continued to give details of his warning, and we will summarize this because of lack of space. He said there would be pestilence, consumption, fever, inflammation, and the rain upon crops would be as powder and dust. They would be defeated by their enemies, and be made an example of terror to all the kingdoms of the earth. Their carcasses would become food to the birds of the sky and the beast of the earth. The Lord would smite with madness, blindness, and bewilderment of the heart. They would be robbed of their homes, livestock, crops, land, and their wives would be violated as they looked on helplessly (Deut. 28:16-31).

Then Moses began to speak of the days when they would go into captivity. “Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, and your eyes shall look and fail with longing for them all day long; and there shall be no strength in your hand. A nation whom you have not known shall eat the fruit of your land and the produce of your labor, and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually. So you shall be driven mad because of the sight which your eyes see. The LORD will strike you in the knees and on the legs with severe boils which cannot be healed, and from the sole of your foot to the top of your head. ‘The LORD will bring you and the king whom you set over you to a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods—wood and stone'” (Deut. 28:32-36).

These prophecies were fulfilled when Assyria took the Northern Kingdom of Israel into captivity, and Babylon took the Southern Kingdom of Judah into captivity. We cannot comprehend the heartbreak and suffering these people experienced when families were torn apart, and taken hundreds of miles to unknown lands. Let us understand that these people were led away in leg irons and chains (the Assyrians used nose hooks). Can you imagine the damage those irons did to their skin? We need to also realize that not all the people were taken away at the same time, and that many families were separated forever. In the land of the Gentiles, the Jews suffered terrible religious persecution.

Now let us continue with the warning. “And you shall become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword among all nations where the LORD will drive you. You shall carry much seed out to the field but gather little in, for the locust shall consume it. You shall plant vineyards and tend them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes; for the worms shall eat them. You shall have olive trees throughout all your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself with the oil; for your olives shall drop off. You shall beget sons and daughters, but they shall not be yours; for they shall go into captivity. Locusts shall consume all your trees and the produce of your land. The alien who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower. He shall lend to you, but you shall not lend to him; he shall be the head, and you shall be the tail” (Deut. 28:37-44).

“Moreover all these curses shall come upon you and pursue and overtake you, until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you. And they shall be upon you for a sign and a wonder, and on your descendants forever. Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies, whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in need of everything; and He will put a yoke of iron on your neck until He has destroyed you” (Deut. 28:45-48).

These words which speak of the final destruction are difficult to understand, as it is clear that the Jews, as a people, have not been destroyed but have been preserved. It is equally clear from Scripture that God still has plans for the nation Israel. Now how do we interpret these words which seem to indicate that Israel will be completely destroyed? Commentaries show that many scholars do not address the meaning of these verses. But a careful study of other Scripture reveals some key insights into God’s plan for the ages and the role of Israel.

First, the reference may refer to individual Jews who died in a foreign land when they were taken into the Assyrian and Babylonian captivity. However, I believe that the words mean that Israel’s unique relationship under the Mosaic Law is to come to an end. This destruction came in three phases.

The first phase came after the kingdom was split, and the Assyrians took the people of the Northern Kingdom into captivity. All ten tribes were taken into captivity and never returned – they eventually were scattered among the nations.

The second phase took place when the royal throne of David came to an end, and the Jews who were living in the Southern Kingdom went into Babylonian captivity. It seems that Israel, as a sovereign nation, came to an end. A remnant, under the leadership of the priests, returned to Jerusalem, but their eyes were blinded and they never foresaw God’s complete program for the coming of the Messiah.

The third phase of the destruction of Israel took place when the Jewish leaders rejected their Messiah, and the Romans scattered the remaining remnant among the nations. The nation of Israel was completely cut off, and the Jews served many years under the Roman iron yoke. We may visualize the remains as a stump that is rooted in the covenant of Abraham. Then we see God grafting “The Church” into the stump as a new branch. After this dispensation is completed, God will graft into the stump a second branch – the restored nation of Israel. He will graft the Gentile nations into the restored branch of Israel. (See Romans Chapter 11).

Now let us return to the prophecy of Moses. “The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand, a nation of fierce countenance, which does not respect the elderly nor show favor to the young” (Deut. 28:49-50). These verses refer to the Roman Empire. The “eagle” was the ensign of the Roman army.

“Then the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known—wood and stone. And among those nations you shall find no rest, nor shall the sole of your foot have a resting place; but there the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and anguish of soul. Your life shall hang in doubt before you; you shall fear day and night, and have no assurance of life. In the morning you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were morning!’ because of the fear which terrifies your heart, and because of the sight which your eyes see” (Deut. 28:64-67).

More than three thousand years have come and gone and history has shown the fulfillment of Moses’ words. The Jews have been scattered among the Gentile nations throughout the world and they have had no land to call their home. They have endured unceasing persecutions in the form of being uprooted from homes, excessive taxes, restrictive trades and jobs, lack of religious freedom, forced military service, and massacres. The Holocaust during World War II is still fresh on our minds, but this was not the first time that thousands of Jews were massacred. Because of the hatred the Gentiles have for the Jews, there have been many recorded histories of holocausts.

It is ironic, but the “Historical Church” has been a prime persecutor of these homeless people. Many have been burned alive by leaders of the “Historical Church” because they believed and claimed that the Jews killed the Christ. Millions were also compelled to be baptized and be converted to Christianity. It is frightening how the “Historical Church” has misunderstood the teachings of Christ, and we wonder how much some of the writings and teachings of our church leaders have been influenced by anti-Semitism, prejudices, and overtones. Yet as Halley’s Bible Handbook puts it: “This 28th Chapter of Deuteronomy, placed alongside the History of the Hebrew Nation, constitutes one of the most astounding and indisputable evidences of the divine Inspiration of the Bible”.