GOD'S WARNINGS THROUGH MOSES
The truth of the matter concerning which we are inquiring can be
ascertained with certainty by a study of God's covenants with the children of
Israel (to which partial consideration has been given in the preceding
chapter), and of His messages to that people from time to time, given through
His servants, the prophets.
We have already seen that, by the covenant of Sinai, God offered them
the highest of all blessings, but upon the express condition of obedience; the
terms being, "If ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My Covenant" (Ex.
19:5,6). To this they all agreed, saying, "All that the Lord hath spoken, we
will do" (v. 8). And this pledge of obedience was twice repeated by them after
the ten commandments had been spoken to them (Ex. 24:3 and 7). Nevertheless,
that covenant was broken by them within forty days through the idolatry of the
golden calf ("Which My covenant they brake," Jer. 31:32).
Nevertheless, in response to Moses' intercession, God continued to
acknowledge them as His people, and consented to go with them into the land
that had been promised by Him to their fathers. But the covenant of Sinai was
annulled, and a substitute covenant was made with them at the end of their
wilderness journey, when they were about to enter and occupy the land of
Canaan. For we have seen that in the last chapters of Deuteronomy is the
record of another covenant, which, like the first, was accompanied by the
giving of the law.
The additional (or substituted) covenant was made with the next
succeeding generation following that which had broken the covenant of Horeb.
It is very different in its terms, particularly in that those great promises -
"ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me, ...and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom
of priests, and an holy nation" - are entirely omitted. (Those wonderful
promises reappear in connection with God's new covenant people, the true
"Israel," the "holy nation," I Pet. 2:9).
The covenant made at the end of the wilderness journey is limited to a
recital of the terms and conditions upon which the children of Israel would be
permitted to occupy the land of Canaan, which God had promised their fathers
that He would give to their children; and as has been already stated, the
children of Israel failed completely to keep the conditions of this covenant,
even as they had failed to keep those of the other. Moreover, though the Lord
God of their fathers sent to them repeatedly by His messengers, the prophets,
to warn them, and to recall them to Himself, "because He had compassion upon
His people, and on His dwelling place," yet "they mocked the messengers of
God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the
Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy" (2 Chr. 36:15,16).
It is recorded that both Israel and Judah "kept not the commandments
of the Lord their God"; wherefore "the Lord rejected all the seed of Israel,
and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until He had
cast them out of His sight" (2 Kings 17:18-20).
Nor was this national rebellion and apostasy ever repented of. For
Christ declared concerning the generation of His day that they would fill up
the measure of their fathers, and would bring upon them the wrath of God to
the uttermost (Matt. 23:29-36). And this was repeated by Paul a short time
before the final storm of judgment burst upon them (I Th. 2:14-16).
Close attention should be given to the last prophecy of Moses (Deut.
28-32) because of the clear light it throws upon the subject of our present
inquiry. It foretells the history of the children of Israel, down to the very
end thereof, showing that it would be a history of continued apostasy and
rebellion, and of stubborn refusal to hear the voice of Jehovah by His
servants the prophets; and it declares with marvelous exactitude and fullness
of detail what the end of that nation was to be (Deut. 28:49-68). This has
ever been accounted, by all who have given attention to it, one of the
greatest wonders of prophecy. For example, Keith on the Prophecies contains an
instructive comment upon this passage, from which I quote the following:
"The commonwealth of Israel from its establishment to its dissolution
subsisted for more than fifteen hundred years. In delivering their law,
Moses assumed more (much more) than the authority of a human legislator; for
he asserted that he was invested with a divine commission; and he who
founded their government foretold, notwithstanding the intervening of so
many centuries, the precise manner of its overthrow.
"While they were yet wanderers in the wilderness, without a city and
without a home, Moses threatened them with the destruction of their cities
and the desolation of their country. Even while they were viewing for the
first time the land of Palestine, and victorious and triumphant, they were
about to possess it, he represented the scene of desolation that it would
present to their vanquished and enslaved posterity, on their final departure
from it. Ere they themselves had entered it as enemies, he describes those
enemies by whom their descendants were to be subjugated and dispossessed;
though they were to arise from a very distant region, and though they did
not appear till after a millenary and a half of years: "The Lord shall bring
a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the
eagle flieth; a nation of fierce countenance, which shall not regard the
person of the old, nor show favor to the young' etc. (quoting Deut.
"Each particular of this prophecy has met its full completion. The remote
situation of the Romans, the rapidity of their march, the very emblem of
their arms, their unknown language and warlike appearance, the
indiscriminate cruelty they manifested toward old and young, could not have
been represented in more descriptive terms. The Roman Generals, Vespasian,
Adrian and Julius Severus, removed with parts of their armies from Britain
to Palestine, the extreme points of the Roman world."
And this writer proceeds to show, as many other commentators have
done, how, point by point, in the minutest detail, the judgments executed by
the Romans in the years 66-70 of our era, were prescribed by Moses.
Now the matter of chief interest for our present purposes is that,
from this national destruction by the Romans there was to be no recovery. And
in this, the prophecy of Moses is in full accord with that of Jesus Christ,
recorded in Matthew 24 and Luke 21. For Moses said: "God will rejoice over you
to destroy you, and to bring you to nought; and ye shall be plucked from off
the land wither thou goest to possess it. And the Lord shall scatter thee
among all people, from one end of the earth even to the other" (Deut.
28:63,64). This, according to this prophecy, was to be the end of their
history as a nation.
Nor is there any promise of God, by any later prophet, of recovery for
the earthly nation from this final destruction and dispersion at the hands of
the Romans. For an attentive reading of the prophecies concerning "Israel,"
"Zion," and "Jerusalem," leads to the conclusions that such as are yet to be
fulfilled relate to the heavenly people, country, and city, to which
respectively those names properly belong; and that all prophecies of recovery
intended for "Israel after the flesh" (I Cor. 10:18) were completely fulfilled
in and after the return from the Babylonian captivity.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A RIGHT UNDERSTANDING
OF THESE PROPHECIES
Some may think it a matter a small consequence whether the prophecies
of future blessing and dominion for "Israel" apply to the earthly or to the
heavenly people. But not so; for the matter affects the whole subject of
salvation and the hope of the gospel. It needs to be settled, and settled
according to the Scriptures, in order that the gospel itself may be understood
and its work properly accomplished. For so long as another hope, that is to
say "another gospel" (upon which, be it noted, the only anathema of the New
Testament is laid, Gal. 1:8,9) is presented for a section of the human race
(the scattered descendants of Jacob) and that a hope of earthly character,
just so long, and to that extent, will the work of the gospel itself be
obscured. It was so at the beginning, when the fixed notion of a restoration
of the earthly greatness of Israel made the Jewish people the implacable
enemies of the gospel, and of the Christ of the gospel, Who is also the Christ
Therefore I am impelled to insist in the strongest way, and to call
upon all friends of the gospel to do the like, that there is but one hope, one
gospel, one salvation, even as there is but one Saviour for all men. Israel
after the flesh was a nation under the law. As such, i.e., as being under the
law, promises were given them, all those promises being expressly conditioned
upon their obedience to the law; and as such, judgments were denounced upon
them as penalties for disobedience, which judgments mounted up to complete
national extermination, if their disobedience should be persistent- as it was.
And now the law has been superseded by the gospel, with its "better
hope." The economy of the law, with all its shadows - people, land, city,
temple, priesthood, sacrifices- has been set aside, and forever. Therefore, it
is needful, and is due to the glory of the gospel, and of Him Who died and
rose again in order that all men might have the blessings of the gospel, that
it should be clearly established and ceaselessly proclaimed that there is one
hope, and only one hope, for all mankind. For there is no room in the purposes
of God for "the hope of the Gospel" and for another hope for any. Whatever
promises there were annexed to the law were all conditional; and all have now
been forfeited and annulled. Its curses were what the nation earned for
itself; and hence there is, in this dispensation of grace, but one way of
escape from the curse of the law, and that is by accepting the mercy which God
freely offers to all men through "Jesus Christ of the seed of David raised
from the dead" (II Tim. 2:7).
THE KINGDOM FORETOLD BY MOSES
It is a remarkable fact that Moses foretold, in this last prophecy,
that the children of Israel would set a king over them; and he also foretold
what would be the consequences thereof (Deut. 28:36). That wicked act on their
part was to be the culmination of apostasy; for it meant the repudiation of
the sovereignty of Jehovah. We have His own word for this; for He said to
Samuel, when commanding that prophet to give them their desire, "They have not
rejected thee; but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them"
(I Sam. 8:7). That kingdom therefore was not "the kingdom of God," preached by
John and Christ. So far from its being the kingdom of God, the truth is that
its establishment involved the setting aside of the kingdom of God. And it was
not "the kingdom of heaven," for what the people demanded was a kingdom of
earthly character, "like all the nations." It is strange indeed, therefore,
that any Christian expositor should regard the proclamation of Christ and His
forerunner as the announcement of the restoration of that kingdom, born of
apostasy and rebellion; and the more so after God had plainly spoken
concerning it, saying, "I gave thee a king in Mine anger, and took him away in
My wrath" (Hos. 13:11).
Moreover, this ending of that odious kingdom in precisely what Moses
had foretold long before it came into existence. For his words were, "The Lord
shall bring thee, and thy king which thou shalt set over thee, unto a nation
which neither thou nor thy fathers have known" (v. 36). That, of course, was
the Babylonian captivity. The kingdom ended then, but not the nation. And in
agreement with this historical fact, the prophecy of Moses goes on to speak of
the subsequent experience of the nation, as an experience of continued
servitude to, and oppression by, other nations. It shows too that the
post-captivity period was to be an era in which they should have, not peace
and plenty in their land, but dearth, distress, and various other miseries and
afflictions (vv. 37-48). The fact that Moses speaks of the continued existence
of the nation after the Babylonian captivity affords strong reason for the
belief that his prophecy gives the history of the nation down to its very end.
From this alone we have warrant for the conclusion that from the national
destruction wrought by the Romans there was to be no recovery.
That, of course, was not the view of the Jewish teachers, who,
"because the knew not the voices of the prophets" (Ac. 13:27), and because
their thoughts and desires were carnal, interpreted the promises as pertaining
to a kingdom of the very same sort as their forefathers had demanded of Samuel
- one "like all the nations."