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The Palestinian Covenant

The Palestinian Covenant

Dispersion and Persecution

As the children of Israel stood below Mount Sinai, and entered into the Mosaic covenant with God, He made one point very clear. Although He had promised the land, as an unconditional everlasting possession, their tenure within the land was conditional and based upon their obedience. If they proved to be unfaithful, He would uproot them from their land, and scatter them among the Gentile nations to receive the curses of the world. They would suffer great hardship with persecution, but He would not forget them. For their sake, He would remember the covenant that He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and He would one day return them to their land and restore their blessings (see Leviticus Chapter 26).

Approximately forty years later, on the Plains of Moab, Moses gave the same warning to the second generation. His words are recorded in the twenty-eighth through the thirtieth chapters of Deuteronomy where additional details are added to the curses and eventual blessings.

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 (see 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”.

A Desolate Land

The children of Israel were also warned that the land would become unproductive and lie desolate. In Leviticus, we read these words of warning. ”I will lay your cities waste and bring your sanctuaries to desolation, and I will not smell the fragrance of your sweet aromas. I will bring the land to desolation, and your enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished at it. I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste. Then the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies’ land then the land shall rest and enjoy its sabbaths” (Lev. 26:31‑34). The warning given in Leviticus is a general statement, and applies to the entire time the Jews are out of the land. The prophets, Hosea and Amos, made it clear that their land, the Northern Kingdom, would become unproductive because of their sins.

Approximately one hundred years later, Jeremiah repeated this warning to people who were living in Jerusalem. ” How long will the land mourn, and the herbs of every field wither? The beasts and birds are consumed, for the wickedness of those who dwell there, because they said, ‘He will not see our final end.’” “They have made it desolate; desolate, it mourns to Me; the whole land is made desolate, because no one takes it to heart.” “And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.” “For thus says the LORD: ‘The whole land shall be desolate; yet I will not make a full end.’” “I will make this city desolate and a hissing; everyone who passes by it will be astonished and hiss because of all its plagues” (Jer. 12:4, 11; 25:11a; 4:27 and 19:8).

The city of Jerusalem became a sign unto the world of the unfaithfulness of God’s chosen people and of God’s judgment upon His people. The city was desolate because no one lived there during the seventy years of Babylonian captivity. The unproductivity and barrenness of the entire Promised Land has also become a sign unto the world of the reality of a sovereign universal God. The land of “Milk and Honey” was given to the Jews as an everlasting possession, but it has never been productive in the hands of Gentiles. Leviticus 26:32 states that God will make the land so desolate that the Gentiles who settle there will be appalled by it.

After 1900 years, under the control of the Gentiles, the land largely consisted of rocky hills and valleys of swampland. Jews, who returned to the land during the early part of the twentieth century, worked very hard draining the marshes, planting trees, and restoring the fertility of the soil. With the Jews in control, the land has again become productive.

The writer of Second Kings speaking for God said: “therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Behold, I am bringing such calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whoever hears of it, both his ears will tingle ” (II Kings 21:12b). Today’s events in the land of Palestine have the attention of the entire world and millions of people are excited because we are seeing God’s word fulfilled before our eyes.

A Resurrected Nation

Deuteronomy 28:48 states that God will put a yoke of iron upon the neck of the nation Israel until He has destroyed them. This was fulfilled when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Jewish people were scattered among the nations, and were without a country that they could call their own homeland. Almost all the prophets make it very clear that God would not forget His chosen people. The dead bones of Israel will be raised from the dead, and will be restored to their land and their blessings. The resurrection of the nation Israel will be by the grace of God and will be based upon the shed blood of their Messiah – not upon the works of Israel. However, each member of the resurrected nation must accept Jesus as his or her Messiah, to enter into the promised kingdom.

Again, we go back to the teaching of Moses on the Plains of Moab. “Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God drives you, and you return to the LORD your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, that the LORD your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the LORD your God has scattered you. If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you” (Deut. 30:1‑4).

“Then the LORD your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. Also the LORD your God will put all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you” (Deut. 30:5‑7). Notice that God is going to give the people new obedient hearts, and He will remove them from under the Mosaic Law.

The prophet Hosea foresaw Israel being restored in the last days. “For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days.” (Hosea 3:4‑5). The reference to David is actually a reference to David’s son, the promised Messiah.

Isaiah said it this way. ” It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left, from Assyria and Egypt, from Pathros and Cush, from Elam and Shinar, from Hamath and the islands of the sea. He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Isa. 11:11-12). God has already recovered the first remnant from Babylon. Now, we are seeing reference to a second recovery from the Four Corners of the earth. In the first recovery, He only gathered a remnant of Judah, but in the second recovery, both Israel and Judah are included.

The prophet Amos added another dimension. “‘In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David, and wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; That they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by My name;’ declares the Lord who does this” (Amos 9:11‑12). The apostles made reference to this verse in the great Jerusalem conference as recorded for us in the fifteenth chapter of Acts. It was during that conference that the Holy Spirit led them to understand the mystery called “The Church”. Then they concluded that the restoration of Israel would be delayed until after the Church Age (see Acts 15:13‑18).

It seems that these words are being fulfilled before our eyes. Today, many Jews have returned to the Promised Land and the land is productive again. However, the words are not completely fulfilled because not all of the Jews have returned.

We will conclude our discussion with the words of Jeremiah as they add additional insights. “‘But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,’ says the LORD” (Jer. 23:3‑4).

Who are these shepherds? Perhaps they will be the twelve apostles of Christ. Notice what Jesus told his apostles about their jobs in the kingdom to come. “So Jesus said to them, ‘assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel”‘ (Matt. 19:28).

Now we see the role of the Messiah. “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS “‘ (Jer, 23,5‑6). No longer will Israel’s tenure in the land be based upon their ability to keep God’s law, but upon the righteousness of their Messiah. In His righteousness, they can and will be faithful.

“‘Therefore, behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘that they shall no longer say, ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘As the LORD lives who brought up and led the descendants of the house of Israel from the north country and from all the countries where I had driven them.’ ‘And they shall dwell in their own land’” (Jer. 23:7‑8). The gratitude of Israel will be far greater after the re-gathering than it was before they went into captivity.