Imagine being told from the beginning you were going to fail at something. Imagine if someone showed you a vision of coming pain and suffering that would go on for generations. Imagine if your idealism was, from the beginning, conditioned to be put off, delayed until a great, unknown future.
This is what God did through Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses the Great One.
Moses is the first prophet in the full sense. I know Genesis 20:7 speaks of Abraham that way, but it was only in a limited sense. Moses was more than a lawgiver. He was more than the mouthpiece for his generation. He was the one to whom God gave the prophecy of prophecies, the foundational prophecy, the pattern. Like that heavenly sanctuary that was the model for the earthly, Moses’ final vision was an ultimate paradigm.
To deal with this prophecy, we first must understand the honesty of God with regard to pain, suffering, and cruelty.
The fact is, God has a higher tolerance for pain than mere mortals. In fact, to us, he seems more than a little callous and uncaring. Don’t worry, I’m not blaspheming. I’m agreeing with the psalmist who asked, “How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?” I’m right there with Job, who said, “The arrows of the Almighty are in me; my spirit drinks their poison.”
So, before Moses’ great final vision, he saw what the pain of Israel’s future would be. There are things in Deuteronomy 28 too horrible to relate. Some of them might sound bearable when we simply read of them. Starvation. It doesn’t sound so bad. It has happened a lot and is happening around us. We who’ve never experienced it can be callous about it. But the experience, the horror of it. If we were going through such a time, we might imagine the sacrifices we would make for our children. We would torture ourselves, trying to get a little something to the little ones to eat. They would suffer most. And in spite of our own gnawing hunger, the greatest pain would be when, in spite of our self-sacrifice, we watched their bright eyes dim and leave this world.
I could go on about the horrors of Deuteronomy 28. I hope you are satisfied to know it gets worse.
The blessings and, even more so, the curses of Deuteronomy 28 are the background of the prophecy of prophecies, the paradigm of the ages. The prophecy was part of Moses’ last great message before his concluding song and soon after his death on Mt. Nebo:
And 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 has driven you,
and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today,
with all your heart and with all your soul,
then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you,
and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.
If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you,
and from there he will take you.
And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed,
that you may possess it.
And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers.
And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring,
so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
The generation Moses spoke to may have been an idealistic generation. They were the sons and daughters of those who came out of Egypt. They were the conquering generation, ready to take the lowlands and maybe even the highlands from the Canaanites and inherit their possession in the land of milk and honey. They were on the edge of greatness.
And Moses said, “When all these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse . . . .” Right there the history of the tribes of Jacob was foreshadowed. Assyrian slaughter, Babylonian exile. Roman oppression. Christian anti-Semitism. Nazi extermination.
I do not believe God devised these cruelties to punish his people. I believe he endured them along with Israel. I believe he wept for the murdered children of Rachel. Nonetheless, he did not step in to save. He allowed evil beyond imagination, and not just for Israel, but among all peoples in the world.
Rightly we would cry out, “How long, O Lord?” Many people have rejected God specifically for this reason. I think of all the reasons to reject God, this one has the greatest part of his sympathy. God has never been one to punish lamenters.
And God gives the tribes of Jacob something to hold on to. He gives them hope.
Today we have a fuller picture but the same paradigm. Messianism. The days of Messiah. The Olam HaBa, the World to Come.
These all come from the prophecy of prophecies. This is the paradigm. All else is the filling out of the paradigm.
Coming soon: In Part 2, we will begin looking at the prophecies of delayed hope that follow the pattern set in Deuteronomy 30. We will see that the prophets expanded on Torah more so than they innovated. God gave the paradigm to Moses and further revelations through the prophets generally expanded on ideas already found in seed form in Torah.