Before the children of Israel entered the Promised Land, God spoke a series of stern warnings to them through Moses, their leader and prophet. The warnings are recorded in Deuteronomy 28 and 29.
These chapters constitute God's Land Covenant with the Jewish people. In this covenant, God made it clear that although He had given the Jewish people an everlasting title to the land, their enjoyment of it would depend on their obedience to the laws He had given them in the Mosaic Covenant.
The Hope of Blessings
The Land Covenant begins with promises of blessings if they are obedient (Deuteronomy 28:1-2):
Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the LORD your God...
Moses then proceeded to enumerate the blessing in detail. They included such things as agricultural abundance, defeat of enemies, financial prosperity and abundant rain (Deuteronomy 1:3-13).
The Warning of Curses
But then, Moses started issuing warnings about curses that would come upon them if they were disobedient to the Lord (Deuteronomy 28:15ff). The variety of these curses was breathtaking — cities in chaos, youth in rebellion, an epidemic of divorce, confusing governmental policies, defeats by their enemies, rampant disease, drought leading to crop failures, foreign domination and even exile to a foreign land.
Moses concluded the list with a detailed explanation of what would be the ultimate judgment of God should they become entrenched in rebellion and refuse to repent (Deuteronomy 28: 64-67):
Moreover, the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known. Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, "Would that it were evening!" And at evening you shall say, "Would that it were morning!" because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see.
In summary, the ultimate punishment the Jewish people would receive for willful and unrepentant rebellion against God's Word would be ejection from their land, their scattering worldwide and their persecution wherever they went.
The Curse on the Land
Nor would that be all. Moses further stated that God would put a curse on their land, and as a result of that curse, the land would become filled with diseases and plagues (Deuteronomy 29:22), and the land itself would become "a burning waste, unsown and unproductive, and no grass [growing] in it..." (Deuteronomy 29:23).
The curse would be so terrible that when foreigners came to visit the land, they would cry out, "Why has the LORD done this to the land? Why this great outburst of anger?" (Deuteronomy 29:24). And the answer will be: "Because they forsook the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers...[and] they went and served other gods and worshiped them...Therefore, the anger of the LORD burned against that land, to bring upon it every curse which is written in this book; and the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger and in fury and in great wrath..." (Deuteronomy 29:25-28).
The Promise of Hope
Fortunately for the Jewish people, Moses did not leave it there. He continued on to speak some words of hope. He assured them that if they were ever scattered all over the world, a day would come when God in His compassion would "restore them from captivity" by regathering them to their homeland (Deuteronomy 30:3). "If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back" (Deuteronomy 30:4 ).
The prophet Ezekiel picked it up from there, prophesying what would happen to the land when the Jewish people were regathered to it (Ezekiel 36:34-35):
The desolate land will be cultivated instead of being a desolation in the sight of everyone who passes by. They will say, "This desolate land has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste, desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited.
What an incredible panorama of future events that have been fulfilled precisely in detail!
After the Jewish people occupied their Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua, they immediately began to stray from God's Word. They violated God's command not to intermarry with the pagan peoples of the land. As they did so, they began to worship the false gods of these peoples.
God responded by sending prophets to call them to repentance. When they refused to repent, God began to afflict them with the very curses that Moses had outlined in his warnings. Finally, just as Moses had prophesied, they were taken into exile. After God allowed them to return, they persisted in their rebellion, consummating with the rejection of the Messiah God sent to them.
It was at that point that God allowed the Romans to destroy Jerusalem in 70 AD, including the Jewish Temple. This began the process of their ejection from the land and their worldwide scattering, a process that was accelerated after the Second Jewish Revolt in 132-136 AD.
Over the next 1800 years the Jews were literally scattered to the four corners of the earth, in fulfillment of Moses' prophecy. And in further fulfillment of prophecy, they were persecuted wherever they went, and their homeland became utterly desolate.
In the second part of this series on the restoration of the land of Israel, we'll look at some first-person historical accounts demonstrating just how horrific the Deuteronomy 29 curse found fulfillment.