The LORD shall bring a nation against you from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies…
A truly appalling description of the evils which would overtake apostate Israel; one, too, not more remarkable for the sustained vehemence and energy of its thought and diction, than for the minuteness and literality with which its predictions have been fulfilled.
I. THE PROPHECY IN THE LIGHT OF ITS FULFILLMENT. The wonderfulness of these predictions is not removed by any date we may assign to the Book of Deuteronomy. For:
1. It is certain that the Assyrian and Chaldean invasions - to which a reference is no doubt included (Jeremiah 4:13; Jeremiah 5:15) - fell far short of what was necessary for their complete fulfillment.
(1) The Babylonian Captivity was only of seventy years' duration.
(2) The Jews returned and remained long afterwards in possession of their land.
2. It is equally certain that, in the subsequent conquest of the nation by the Romans, with the dispersion that followed; the rod which lasts to our own day, every feature in the prophecy has been exhaustively fulfilled.
(1) The Romans agree better than either Assyrians or Chaldeans with the description or the foreign foes in vers. 49, 50.
(2) The sufferings of the siege (vers. 52-57) had their literal fulfillment in the Roman wars, and especially in the siege of Jerusalem under Titus (cf. Josephus, 'Wars of the Jews,' bk. 5:10, 3; 6:3, 3, 4; 6:8, 2).
(3) "Hundreds of thousands were sold as slaves" (cf. ver. 68); "and the whole people were cast forth as wanderers among the Gentiles; and they have ever since remained a nation of exiles, unsettled, harassed, and oppressed, in many instances most cruelly, not only by pagans and Mohammedans, but also (to our shame be it spoken) by Christian nations; and still remaining a distinct people, though without a home" (Whately, 'Evidences').
(4) "To serve other gods" may mean no more than to be banished from the territory of Jehovah, and to dwell in and be compelled to conform to the laws of a country where other gods are recognized (cf. 1 Samuel 26:17). It is also true that, to shield themselves from persecution, the Jews have too often been willing to dissemble and conform to worships which their hearts abhorred (saint and image worship: adoration of the host, etc.); while in idolatrous countries their religion is frequently so corrupted as to be scarcely recognizable. The Beni-Israel, near Bombay, eg. remain a distinct people, but, together with Jehovah, worship the gods of the Hindus. Predictions
(1) so minute,
(2) so extensive in their range, yet
(3) so exhaustively verified by events, cannot be ascribed to accident, but constitute an irrefragable proof of the inspiration that dictated them.
Their fulfillment converts the very unbelief and rejection of the Jews into a powerful argument for Christianity.
II. LESSONS FROM THE PROPHECY.
1. The severity of God. If the fulfillment of these predictions teaches anything, it is that God will not shrink from the punishment of sin. We shudder as we read the details of these curses - "plagues wonderful.... great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sicknesses, and of long continuance" (ver. 59), and ask ourselves, Can God really tolerate the sight of, not to say inflict, such incredible sufferings? Yet we find that not one of these curses failed of its accomplishment. So solemn a fact bids the sinner pause and ponder his chance of escaping in the great "day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (Romans 2:5).
2. The self-ruinous character of sin. The fulfillment of these threatenings was largely, though not wholly, brought about by simply giving sin scope to work out its own evil results. The bitterest element in retribution must be the feeling which the sinner has of self-wrought ruin. "He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption" (Galatians 6:8). Like water, which, left to itself, will not cease running till it has found its level; like a clock, which, left to itself, will not cease going till it has run itself completely down; like a tree, which, left to grow, cannot but bring forth its appropriate fruit; - so sin has a level to seek, a course to ran, a fruit to mature, and "the end of those things is death" (Romans 6:21). - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: The LORD shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand;