What the Bible says about
God's Scattering of Israel
(From Forerunner Commentary)
These passages all have a similar context: They were written just prior to the fall and scattering of either Israel to the north or Judah to the south. Each shows a wealthy people unblinkingly focused on their pleasure. Giving no thought to God, they are casually uninterested in the moral welfare of their nation that is crashing into utter depravity. Shame for sin has disappeared. The Interpreter's Commentary of the Bible states that the Bible shows that, in the period before these nations fell, their societies show significant breakdowns in two vital areas: in political and business leadership and in family life, with specific blame falling on women.
In these passages, the following characteristics are either directly named or strongly implied: rebellion, obstinacy, betrayal, distrust, shamelessness, and greed, comprising an audacious self-centeredness against God and fellow man. These are not the characteristics of a nation that would bring honor to God. At one time in the history of this nation, the overwhelming majority of people expressed a strong sense of shame when they sinned. Sin was an ugly thing, and due to this sense of shame, they did whatever they could to hide their moral flaws from others.
Some of that still exists. The period of the late 1950s and early 1960s, however, was probably the beginning of the end of that attitude. Sin has gradually carried less of a stigma, and the sense of shame has been slowly replaced by a growing boldness of attitude, a flaunting of sin. Much of that sense of shame has disappeared from the American psyche. Some remains in a small percentage of the population, yet increasingly, bold immorality has become the way of life so that sin is now blatantly committed. Civility is becoming a thing of the past. Rudeness and open, brazen misconduct is becoming the normal way of doing things.
This is the kind of conduct the "whore's forehead" pictures. It represents the blatant, audacious sin of the streetwalker who is out in public, openly displaying what she is, promoting herself, and tempting others to engage in sin with her. The whore's forehead represents obdurate practice of sin done overtly with no attempt to camouflage. This attitude is reminiscent of the story of righteous Lot dealing with the homosexuals in Sodom just before God dropped the fire and brimstone on the people of that vile city (Genesis 19).
This relaxed and careless public acceptability of sin did not happen overnight. It gradually became tolerated over decades. Its growth was significantly aided by a so-called Christian church that abandoned its responsibility to "cry aloud and spare not" and show God's people their sins (Isaiah 58:1). We must be very careful to guard ourselves from succumbing to the temptation of being drawn into the same casual approach. It is our responsibility to overcome sin.
The last phrase of verse 28, “as is clear today” (New English Translation [NET]) is an important time marker. The GNT renders it, “where they are today.” The New Living Translation [NLT] has it, “where they still live today.” Translator Robert Alter puts it, “as on this day.”
In the light of that phrase, consider that the people to whom Moses spoke were not then scattered, not uprooted. Their land was not one of “brimstone, salt, and burning debris.” Nor does that description fit the lands to which the Assyrians exiled the ancient House of Israel, for the areas south of the Caspian Sea are reasonably well-watered. Further, the terminology of the passage cannot describe the lands to which Israel migrated, lands that are among the most favored on earth: the productive lands of Northern Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
By using this short phrase, Moses indicates that he speaks of a “generation to come” (verse 22), one in the distant future, even beyond Israel's circumstances today. He is seeing into the time of Jacob's Trouble, when Israel's land, ravaged by war, would become environmentally degraded in the extreme. Only then, in this period of extreme distress, will the lands Israel occupies come to resemble ancient Sodom, destroyed by God long ago (Genesis 19).
Those of the “generation” of which Moses speaks, whether Israelite or Gentile, understand that the vast desolation they witness is the result of Israel's idolatry, in violation of the covenant (verses 25-26). Moses describes a time beyond our present circumstances when God will have “uprooted” apostate Israel from the lands to which He scattered her centuries before, the lands to which ancient Israel migrated. In short, Moses sees a land that has “vomited out its inhabitants” (Leviticus 18:25).
The verb “uprooted” (verse 28) evokes the striking image of pulling up plants from their roots. It virtually always appears in contexts of God's wrathful action against a sinning people, as in Ezekiel's lamentation for the princes of Israel, recorded in Ezekiel 19:10-14:
Your mother was like a vine in a vineyard planted by the water, fruitful and full of branches by reason of abundant water. Its strong stems became rulers' scepters; it towered aloft among the thick boughs; it was seen in its height with the mass of its branches. But the vine was plucked up in fury, cast down to the ground; the east wind dried up its fruit; they were stripped off and withered. As for its strong stem, fire consumed it. Now it is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty land. And fire has gone out from the stem of its shoots, has consumed its fruit, so that there remains in it no strong stem, no scepter for ruling. (English Standard Version [ESV])
In verse 12, God angrily plucks up the vine whose stems have grown into “rulers' scepters,” towering above others. The image of the highly productive, well-watered vine—perhaps “influential” might fit as well—transplanted into a “dry and thirsty land” (verse 13), is reminiscent of the Sodom-like land Moses mentions in Deuteronomy 29:23.
It is clear, then, that Deuteronomy 29 describes God's future scattering, His uprooting of Israelites from their burned-out land during the time of Jacob's Trouble.
Scattering and Gathering: Images of History and Prophecy (Part One)
Deuteronomy 30 contains the premier discussion of the restoration of Israel in the Scriptures. While there may be passing intimations of Israel's restoration earlier, it is in this passage that God first introduces most of the significant themes that accompany later treatments of that restoration. The historical setting is Moab, probably about sixty days before the children of Israel crossed the Jordan River, entering the Land of Promise after almost four decades of wandering. Moses died shortly after he delivered this message from God, and after thirty days of mourning, the people obeyed Joshua's command “to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess.” See Deuteronomy 34 and Joshua 1.
It is vital to remember, however, that Moses' message is not merely historical but prophetic; the great leader here introduces the concept of a future restoration of Israel. Note well: He clarifies that his audience is “you and your children.” He understands that he is addressing not only those standing before Him that day on the east side of the Jordan River, but all the descendants of the children of Israel as well. This prophecy pertains to today's descendants of Israel.
In verse 1, Moses establishes the timeframe of the prophecy: When Israelites come to consider the things that have happened to them, “the blessing and the curse which I have set before you.” In the time of Jacob's Trouble (Jeremiah 30:5-7), the folk of Israel will reflect, he says, upon both—that is, both the blessings and the curses. Importantly, it will not be just the agony involved in the afflictions that Israelites will consider in their distress during the Tribulation, but they will contemplate the blessings as well. Israelites will reflect upon the blessings of liberty, prosperity, and peace they enjoyed for decades in the lands of their exile (Northern Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, etc.), generation after generation, comparing those blessings against the curses of disease, deprivation, slavery, death, and scattering they are experiencing wholesale in the land of their enemies, where they are held captive.
This prophecy explains why God has determined to prosper Israel in this time of her seemingly boundless decadence, blessing her today despite her high indebtedness, her deindustrialization, and the unprecedented prevalence of her peoples' failing health. It appears to us an unseasonal prosperity, irreconcilable with the depth of America's current depravity.
Does God reward sin? Why is Israel experiencing this prosperity now? One reason is undoubtedly that, during the Tribulation, God wants to ensure that the blessings enjoyed by this last generation of Israelites stand out in their minds from the curses they experience in the Tribulation—and stand out in all the starker relief, as day differs from night, light from dark. This is an application of what psychologists call “Treatment Learning.”
God will use both—blessings and curses—to send Israelites a powerful message. At the end of Isaiah 10:22, God makes an essential point in this regard: “The destruction decreed shall overflow with righteousness.” The destruction God has proclaimed for Israel will be like an overwhelming flood, uniquely vast and deep. Overpowering. Unescapable. Unstoppable.
But for all that, it will be in righteousness. It will be just. Isaiah means that God will fulfill all righteousness, the blessings and the curses of Deuteronomy 28. In fact, this is another way of saying He is faithful to the terms of the covenant—all aspects of the covenant, positive and negative. In Jeremiah 16:18 (New English Translation), God says He will punish Israel “in full” for her sins. But afterward, the blessings He will offer repentant Israel will be beyond belief.
In Matthew 3:15, Jesus tells John the Baptist that it is proper for him, John, to baptize Him in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” At least in part, this phrase means that Christ does not take half measures, but fully loves and obeys God. He takes action to meet God's standards of justice while, at the same time, acting in mercy. He does everything right, punishing in justice, healing in mercy. In the context of His end-time dealings with Israel, God makes this principle explicit in Jeremiah 31:10: “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock.”
God's scattering and then His gathering of Israel is yet another application of, respectively, His severity and His goodness. Interestingly, Paul enunciates the concept of God's goodness and severity in the same passage where he writes of God's restoring Israel, Romans 11:19-27.
Israel's Restoration and the Zeitgeist of Zeal
Israel's apostasy and the resulting furious uprooting in Deuteronomy 29, forms the context of Deuteronomy 30:2-4. Here, however, by referring to “you and your descendants” in verse 2, Moses expands his audience to include the people standing before him as well as those of a future generation.
Deuteronomy 30:3 lists three actions God will take upon Israel's repentance, only the last of which involves any regathering:
1. He reverses, that is, backs out or turns around, the people's captivity.
2. He “turns” (that is, returns) to His people.
3. Once back with them, He (re)gathers them.
The Hebrew text uses the verb shûb twice in verse 3, the translators rendering it “reverse” the first time and “turn” the second. It means “to turn back,” “to return,” or “to go back.” Its first use appears at Genesis 3:19, where God tells Adam he will return into the dust from which he came.
The point is this: To God, gathering is a purposeful and overt reversal of the current situation. Upon seeing Israel's changed (or changing) attitude—her repentance—God reciprocates by altering His own course, backing out the scattering He imposed earlier. Additionally, God's is not a timid response to Israel's repentance: As He says in verse 4: “If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will fetch you” (Revised Standard Version [RSV]). He will go where He needs to go to gather them.
For emphasis, Moses uses two verbs at the end of verse 4: “gather” and “fetch.” “Gather” is qâbas, the most frequently used verb for “gather” in the Old Testament. Of its 127 occurrences, not surprisingly, almost half (60) appear in the Major and Minor Prophets. Qâbas' first use is in Genesis 41:35, where Joseph recommends to Pharaoh that he “gather all the food” during the seven years of plenty against those years of famine to follow. God sees gathering as a carefully planned action, diligently, systemically, and methodically executed with sustained discipline. In this case, the gathering is implemented by Joseph, a type of Christ.
The second verb, “fetch,” is quite interesting. It is lâqah, which means “to take,” “fetch,” “lead,” “conduct,” or “carry off.” When combined with the concept of scattering, it carries the notion of assuming active leadership of the returnees. The Hebrew lâqah and English “fetch” share much the same meaning. When a dog fetches a stick, he actively runs after it, seeks it out, and then carries it back posthaste. Likewise, in the first use of lâqah (Genesis 2:15), God “took” the newly created Adam and put him into the Garden of Eden, as if He led him there. Importantly, this first use carries the notion of leading a person to the best of lands, in this case, the Garden of Eden.
The Complete Jewish Bible conveys this notion of active pursuit, saying that God will “go there and get” the people of Israel, restoring them to the Land of Promise. The Message carries the same idea: God will “come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered.” Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, will not delegate the work of regathering, nor will He gather from a distance. Rather, He will go to the nations and lead the remnant back, assertively participating in the gathering process. This “hands-on” aspect of involvement is reminiscent of God's ongoing and never-failing leadership of the Children of Israel in the wilderness by cloud and pillar (see Exodus 13:20-22).
Scattering and Gathering: Images of History and Prophecy (Part One)
“Gather” and “scatter” make a couple frequently encountered in the Scriptures. In Matthew 12:30, Christ clarifies that, from His viewpoint, gathering and scattering are opposites and are therefore mutually exclusive: “Anyone who is not for Me is really against Me; anyone who does not help Me gather is really scattering” (Good News Translation [GNT]; see also Luke 11:23). You cannot do both at once.
However, as Ecclesiastes 3:5 avers, it is possible to scatter and gather at different times. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God announces that He does just that—scatters today and gathers tomorrow: “I scattered My people, but I will gather them and guard them as a shepherd guards his flock” (Jeremiah 31:10, GNT). God “scattered over the whole earth” the descendants of Ham, Japheth, and Shem (Genesis 9:19, New International Version [NIV]). Later, He scattered the House of Israel, using the Assyrian as His agent (II Kings 17:7-18). Still later, He employed the Babylonian to scatter the folk of Judah—all but the “poorest of the land” (II Kings 25:12), a pitiful remnant.
Finally, He hired the Romans to disperse the Jews from Jerusalem and surrounding territories. In doing so, they “destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city” (Matthew 22:7). They carried at least some of the accouterments of the Temple service to Rome. Someone disassembled the altar. The blood sacrifices ceased. The diaspora commenced in earnest. Yes, indeed, yesterday, God did plenty of scattering.
Scattering and Gathering: Images of History and Prophecy (Part One)
We should tie this directly to the truth of verse 1: “There is a time for every purpose.” The key word, of course, is “time.” In life's challenges to our faith, in which God is involved with us, some purpose is being worked out. In verse 11, we learn that both the timing and what is being worked out are “beautiful.” The event might be challenging, but God, who is involved in the Christian's life and in this challenge, calls it “beautiful.” With that hopeful knowledge, what should our attitude be?
The root of the Hebrew word translated beautiful literally means “bright.” The Hebrew word can be translated “fair,” “comely,” “beautiful,” “suitable,” “appropriate,” and “timely,” depending on the context. In Job 42:15, the same Hebrew word is translated “beautiful” when describing Job's daughters. It indicates something good and admirable, a blessing.
What an encouraging truth! God's timing, His oversight of events, and what He wants them to accomplish are something good! They are not merely broadly good but also suitable, fitting, appropriate, and timely.
Was the scattering of Israel and Judah beautiful in its time? If we read Lamentations without considering God's entire purpose, the situation appears very ugly indeed. However, over the long haul, the answer is undoubtedly, “Yes, it was beautiful and good!” It was suitable for that occasion.
What about the scattering of the church? Was it beautiful? The same is true. Our going through it may have been stressful, requiring painful adjustments while enduring to the end, but in the long term, it will most certainly be beautifully good.
Is correction good? Do we really want to continue doing things wrong? If God had not done what He did when and how He did it, how many serious spiritual character and attitude flaws would have gone uncorrected? How disastrous would they have been to the salvation of many?
How many nice people have we fellowshipped with in the past but who have seemingly been swept overboard and appear lost? The reality may be that they were “nice tares.” They indeed may have been fine people with many social graces but completely unconverted. Perhaps they no longer fellowship with us because God delayed their true calling, sparing them from the Lake of Fire.
Peter states clearly that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9). There used to be a television program called Father Knows Best. Yes, He does! And because of the way God has acted, many more will enter His Kingdom in His image than if He had not intervened. It is even possible to consider that we may all have been lost except for His rough intervention!
It is critical for us to keep in mind always that God knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). His overview captures the entire span of events; He sees the entire picture. We, though, live in a time-bound, material universe, and all we have is a mere point of view (I Corinthians 13:12). For the most part, we are restricted to grasping things from our narrow perspective. This is why faith is required of us and why Solomon states in verse 11 that we cannot “find out the work that God does from beginning to end.”
So how can we meet life's challenges in the right spirit?
If we think the scattering of the church has been difficult to accept in a good attitude, we need to be patient because prophecy reveals that things will become much worse as time moves on! I am personally becoming ever more aware that time is moving on for me. My mother, who lived to be almost 93, said to me once, “Getting old is not for sissies.” She was saying in her unconverted way that, regardless of age, the trials of life never do really end. As one ages, they simply morph into another form.
To help us through our current spiritual trials as well as the intensifying times ahead, we must come to know God through a personal relationship and trust Him to work things out. We must use our faith, knowing that we do not see the entire picture.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Three): Time
This description of Judah is given just before God drove them into captivity to Babylon. God's pattern, beginning back in Genesis 15, is to scatter, to destroy when the iniquity is full. God determines what "full" is, and it might be different for the Amorites than it is for those who have made a covenant with Him. Nonetheless, when God judges that the people's iniquity has reached a certain point, He scatters. This description shows that they were filled with iniquity from top to bottom.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part One)
This is one place among several where God calls Israel His son. This is an unfulfilled prophecy of the "second exodus," when God re-gathers the nations of Israel and Judah. Notice that God will bring back a remnant—all that remains of decimated Israel. They return with weeping and supplication to God. These are the ones who have survived the sword (verse 2). They have been humbled and returned to God, who returns them to His land.
Why will God humble His son in such a way? The answer is in Proverbs 3:12 (NET): "For the Lord disciplines [corrects, chastens, punishes, scourges] those He loves, just as a father disciplines the son in whom he delights." God confirms this in Jeremiah 46:28 (NET): "Though I completely destroy all the nations where I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will indeed discipline you, but only in due measure. I will not allow you to go entirely unpunished."
In Jeremiah's day (and before), God loved the Judeans so much that He would not allow them to continue on their path of self-destruction. They resisted Him strongly, but He loved them far too much to allow them to continue without a course correction that they could not ignore. It was painful and bloody. Yet, it resulted in their being humbled enough that the survivors were at least somewhat more inclined to listen to God.
The same thing is playing out in the nations of Israel and Judah today. God loves His people, and He plans a bright future for them. But He does not love their disregard of Him. He loves them too much to allow them to self-destruct fully. He will allow them to make terrible decisions and reap the wretched consequences. He will also intervene to get their attention with pain that will only get worse when they try to ignore it.
Either way, conditions will continue to deteriorate as we approach Christ's return because they must. If God allowed the nations of Israel to turn away from Him without consequence, their hearts would be fully set in them to do evil (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Rather than allow that to happen, God will cause many to die, knowing they can be resurrected and given a new heart. He loves them too much to allow them to become incorrigible.
We have tremendous hope, but our hope is not in the brotherhood of man becoming less dysfunctional on its own. Our hope is in the Creator God who is making man in His image (Genesis 1:26), despite that effort involving pain, death, resurrection, and thousands of years in between. Our hope is in the One who will cut short the days ahead, for the sake of—for the love of—the elect. He loves His creation more than we can comprehend, but that love is sometimes demonstrated in ways that we also do not comprehend.
David C. Grabbe
The verb “seek” has much the same force as “fetch” or “gather.”Its first use, in Matthew 2:13, refers to Herod's seeking Christ as an infant to kill Him. In that passage, the ESV uses the verb “search,” indicating Herod's level of commitment to destroying Christ.
Ezekiel 34, where the prophet contrasts the self-indulgent prophets with the selfless One, the Good Shepherd of John 10, focuses on both ideas—seeking and searching:
Ho, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat . . . but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, . . . the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As I live, says the Lord GOD, because My sheep have become a prey, and My sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd; and because My shepherds have not searched My sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: . . . Behold, I am against the shepherds. . . .
“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I Myself will search for My sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out My sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. . . . I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed . . .” (Ezekiel 34:2-13, 16; RSV)
This passage stresses the importance of seeking and searching to the gathering process. The Hebrew verb for “gather” appears only once (in verse 13). But, two different verbs for “seek” appear four times and two different verbs for “search” also appear four times—in aggregate, eight searchings and seekings in the passage. God clearly looks for responsible shepherds to seek actively for stray sheep, to the point of searching them out. This is what Christ will do when He sets His hand to gathering His sheep: “After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him” (John 10:4, NLT).
Scattering and Gathering: Images of History and Prophecy (Part One)
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