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 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, Moses warned the second generation on the Plains of Moab. 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 of Israel that its continuing blessings and tenure within the Promised Land were conditional upon their faithfulness and obedience. On the eve before the final march across the Jordan River to process the promised land, 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, NKJV).
Moses continued to give details of his warning; we will summarize them 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 speaking of the days they would go into captivity. “Your sons and daughters will be given to another nation, and you will wear out your eyes watching for them day after day, powerless to lift a hand. A people that you do not know will eat what your land and labor produce, and you will have nothing but cruel oppression all your days. The sights you see will drive you mad. The Lord will afflict your knees and legs with painful boils that cannot be cured, spreading from the soles of your feet to the top of your head. The Lord will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your ancestors. There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone.” (Deut. 28:32‑36, NIV).
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 some of 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 realize that not all 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, NKJV).
“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, NKJV).
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. So how do we interpret these words, which seem to indicate that Israel will be destroyed entirely? Commentaries show that many scholars do not to address the meaning of these verses. A careful study of other Scripture reveals some key insights into God’s plan for the ages and the role of Israel.
First, the above Scripture may refer to individual Jews who died in a foreign land when taken into the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. However, I believe that these words mean that Israel’s unique relationship, under the Mosaic Law, is being prophesied to end, and this destruction ultimately 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 eventually taken into Assyrian captivity and never returned – they were eventually 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. Israel, as a sovereign nation, came to an end. However, under the leadership of Zerubbabel, a descendant of the House of David, a remnant, returned to Jerusalem.
Their eyes were blinded, and they never foresaw God’s complete program for the coming of the promised Messiah.
Therefore, the third phase of Israel’s destruction occurred 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 for many years under the Roman iron yoke. We may visualize the remains of the nation, Israel, as a stump rooted in Abraham’s covenant. 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 later graft the Gentile nations, who will go into the Kingdom, either into the stump or into the restored branch of Israel. (See Romans Chapter 11.) They will all be rooted in Abraham’s covenant.
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, NKJV). 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, NKJV).
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 worldwide and have had no land to call their home. They have endured unceasing persecution by 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 some minds, but this was not the first time that thousands of Jews were massacred. Because of the Gentiles’ hatred for the Jews, there have been many recorded histories of a Holocaust.
Ironically, the “Historical Church” has been a prime persecutor of these homeless people. Many have been burned alive by the “Historical Church” leaders because they believed and claimed that the Jews killed Christ. As a result, millions were compelled to be converted to Christianity and be baptized. Sometimes we wonder how much some of the writings and teachings of our church leaders have been influenced by anti-Semitism, prejudices, and overtones, thus causing them to misinterpret the teachings of Christ. Yet, Halley’s Bible Handbook describes it this way: “This 28th Chapter of Deuteronomy, placed alongside the History of the Hebrew Nation, constitutes one of the most astounding and indisputable evidence 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, NKJV).
The warning 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.
Jeremiah repeated this warning to people living in Jerusalem approximately one hundred years later. “How long will the land mourn and the grass of every field wither? For the evil of those who dwell in it the beasts and the birds are swept away, because they said, ‘He will not see our latter end.’” “They have made it a desolation; desolate, it mourns to me. The whole land is made desolate, but no man lays it to heart.” “This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.” “For thus says the Lord, ‘The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.’” “And I will make this city a horror, a thing to be hissed at. Everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its wounds” (Jer. 12:4, 11; 25:11a; 4:27;19:8, ESV).
The city of Jerusalem became a sign unto the world of the unfaithfulness of God’s chosen people and 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 have 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; 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.
After 1900 years, under the control of the Gentiles, primarily the land consisted of rocky hills and valleys of swampland. Jews, who returned to the land during the early twentieth century, worked very hard draining the marshes, planting trees, and restoring soil fertility. 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 21:12, NKJV). 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 28:4 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, without a country they could call their homeland. Almost all the prophets clearly state that God would not forget His chosen people. The dead bones of Israel (see Ezek. 37:1-14) will be raised from the dead and be restored to their land and blessings.
The nation’s resurrection, 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, to enter into the promised kingdom, each member of the resurrected nation must accept Jesus as their Messiah.
Again, we go back to the teaching of Moses on the Plains of Moab. “When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back” (Deut. 30:1‑4, NIV).
“He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. The Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies who hate and persecute you” (Deut. 30:5‑7, NIV).
Notice that God will give the people new obedient hearts and remove them from under the Mosaic Law.
The prophet Hosea foresaw Israel being restored in the last days. “For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days” (Hosea 3:4‑5, NIV). The reference to David refers to David’s son, the promised Messiah.
Isaiah said it this way, “In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean.He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth” (Isa. 11:11-12, NIV).
God has already recovered the first remnant from Babylon. Now, we are referring 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 restore David’s fallen shelter—I will repair its broken walls and restore its ruins—and will rebuild it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name,’ declares the Lord, who will do these things” (Amos 9:11‑12, NIV).
As recorded in the fifteenth chapter of Acts, the apostles referred to this verse in the great Jerusalem conference. During that conference, 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 – the age of grace. (see Acts 15:13‑18).
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 entirely fulfilled because not all Jews have returned.
We will conclude our discussion with the words of Jeremiah and Zechariah as they add additional insights.
“‘I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,’ declares the Lord.” (Jer. 23:3‑4, NIV).
Who are these shepherds? Perhaps they will be the twelve apostles of Christ. Notice what Jesus told his apostles about their jobs in the future kingdom. “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”’ (Matt. 19:28, NIV).
Now we see the role of the Messiah. “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior’” (Jer. 23:5‑6, NIV).
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.
“‘So then, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when people will no longer say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ but they will say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ Then they will live in their own land” (Jer. 23:7‑8, NIV).
The gratitude of Israel will be far greater after the re-gathering than before they went into captivity.
The day will come when they will recognize their Messiah, whom they crucified on the cross. The prophet, Zechariah, gives us details, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son” (Zech. 12:10, NIV).
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible, copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked ESV are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® 2011 by Zondervan Corporation and used by permission. All rights reserved. Used with permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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