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Deuteronomy 28 shows the blessings of obedience and the curses of the law for disobedience to God. When a nation discards God's laws and substitutes man's imperfect laws, sin and injustice begins to increase in the land until the nation finally disintegrates from within or is destroyed by invading armies. We will begin our study with Deut. 28:48, for this is the final, maximum judgment in the law of tribulation.
Deut. 28:48 reads,
48 Therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD shall send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put AN IRON YOKE on your neck until He has destroyed you.
A yoke is what the farmers used to place on the neck of the ox in order to plow a field. An ox is man's servant. So a yoke upon a man signifies his coming into servitude. While Jesus' yoke is light (Matt. 11:30), man's yoke is heavy, for man's rule is always oppressive in some manner.
In the next verses (Deut. 28:49-57) God gives us His definition of an iron yoke. It is the most severe form of servitude. It means being put under an unjust and tyrannical master who does not follow God's laws, but makes his own and enforces them rigorously. When God puts an iron yoke upon the neck of the nation, He brings a foreign nation to lay siege to them until they destroy the whole infrastructure of the nation. Verse 64 says,
64 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.
It is clear from the Scriptures that when Israel or Judah continues in sin and refuses to repent, God promises to destroy the nation and scatter the people. God does not refrain from judgment just because Israel is "chosen." In fact, God requires more of a "chosen" people, because " from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more " (Luke 12:48).
The iron yoke is the discipline of last resort. It means the destruction of the nation and its cities. It means many of the people are killed without mercy. It also involves the deportation of the surviving citizens into other countries, either to be sold as individual slaves or to be resettled as a group to be subservient to foreign rulers and man-made laws. Any nation that experiences such devastation will certainly know that they are in great tribulation.
When Assyria destroyed Israel and deported the remaining citizens to the area around the Caspian Sea (2 Kings 17:6, 18-23), it was because God had imposed the iron yoke upon Israel. A century later when Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and deported the nation of Judah for a 70-year captivity, it was an iron yoke that God put upon them. This iron yoke was imposed upon Judah a second time in 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and scattered the remaining Jews, selling hundreds of thousands into slavery.
These are brief examples of the iron yoke that God has employed in the past. But as we stated earlier, this is the discipline of last resort. There is a milder judgment that God has placed upon His people in the past. The most important is what Jeremiah calls the wooden yoke.
Long before the days of Jeremiah, during the time of the Judges, God put Israel into captivity to various nations a number of times. Each time, these captivities occurred within the borders of Israel. That is, the nations came to Israel and put them into servitude, making them pay tribute. Even so, the Israelites were allowed to remain in the land God had given them.
In each case the book of Judges tells us that God put Israel into servitude in order to judge them for their sin. If Israel had not become lawless, God would not have allowed the foreign nations to put them into servitude. About the first captivity, Judges 3:5-8 says,
5 And the sons of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; 6 and they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. 7 And the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot the LORD their God, and served the Baals and the Asheroth. 8 Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the sons of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.
God sold Israel into this captivity. It was NOT because the king of Mesopotamia was so powerful that they were able to defeat God's people by force of arms. It was because Israel had cast aside the laws of God and had begun to follow the precepts and laws of other gods. God then sold Israel into the hands of the king of Mesopotamia.
After an eight-year captivity, the people repented, and God sent Othniel to deliver them and throw off the yoke. This yoke was not the iron yoke that Deut. 28 threatened, because the nation was not destroyed, nor were the people deported to another land. It was merely a wooden yoke, as Jeremiah later described. It was a yoke where the people were allowed to remain in their land, grow their crops, do business as usual-but they were required to pay tribute (taxes) to the foreign conqueror.
But the next generation again forsook the divine law, so after a forty-year period of peace, God raised up the Moabites to put Israel into the wooden yoke once again. Judges 3:12 read,
12 Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the Lord.
Once again, God took the credit for doing this. It was not the devil who strengthened Eglon. The king of Moab would have had no power to put Israel into captivity had it not been that God strengthened him. Nor did God strengthen him because Eglon was such a righteous man. No, God strengthened Eglon to judge Israel for their sin. And when Israel finally repented, God sent a judge named Ehud to deliver them from the wooden yoke of Moab (Judges 3:15).
The same type of story is repeated each time Israel forsook God and His law. Judges 4 speaks of Israel 's third captivity, this time to Jabin, king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor, a northern fortress. The fourth captivity was to the Midianites for seven years (Judges 6:1). When the people cried out to the Lord, God sent them Gideon to deliver them-but this time the deliverer was sent only after God had sent a prophet to give them a history lesson. We see here the first sign of reluctance on God's part to set Israel free. He wanted them to repent, not merely to cry out to Him.
The fifth and sixth captivities are recorded in Judges 10, first to the Ammonites and then to the Philistines. Each time the cause of captivity was the same-the people had forsaken God and His law. Judges 10:10 then tells us,
10 Then the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, We have sinned against Thee, for indeed, we have forsaken our God and served the Baals.
But this time God seems to have had enough of their temporary repentance and emotion-based revivals that had no depth or substance. His reply is very significant:
11 And the Lord said to the sons of Israel, Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians, the Amorites, the sons of Ammon, and the Philistines? 12 Also when the Sidonians, the Amalekites, and the Maonites oppressed you, you cried out to Me, and I delivered you from their hands. 13 Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods; therefore I will deliver you no more. 14 Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.
The people put away their false gods and confessed their sin, so God did deliver them by the hand of a judge named Jephthah. However, it was not long before they again fell into sin, and God delivered them once again into the hands of the Philistines for forty years (Judges 13:1). During this time God raised up Samson as a judge, but God did not permit him to actually deliver Israel from their captivity. Samson, in fact, finally was captured by the Philistines, who put out his eyes and forced him to grind at the mill.
Meanwhile, Eli was the high priest at the tabernacle in Shiloh. Eli's sons were corrupt, and the future of the priesthood looked bleak. The people attempted to free themselves from the yoke of the Philistines, but without success, for they did not repent of their lawlessness and did not receive any help from God. The corrupt sons of Eli then came up with the idea of bringing the Ark of the Covenant into battle to fight the Philistines. Instead of simply repenting of their lawlessness, they thought they could use God to their advantage. They remembered Num. 10:35, which said:
35 Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said, Rise up, O Lord! And let Thine enemies be scattered, and let those who hate Thee flee before Thee.
They thought that they could follow the same formula. After all, it was a "proven" tactic, and it was certainly biblical. And so we read of a battle between Israel and the Philistines in 1 Sam. 4:2-4,
2 And the Philistines drew up in battle array to meet Israel. When the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines who killed about four thousand men on the battlefield. 3 When the people came into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us take to ourselves from Shiloh the ark of the covenant of the Lord, that it may come among us and deliver us from the power of our enemies. 4 So the people sent to Shiloh and from there they carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts who sits above the cherubim; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant.
No doubt, when they took the Ark from Shiloh, the two sons of Eli shouted, "Rise up, O Lord! And let Thine enemies be scattered. And let those who hate Thee flee before Thee."
Their prayer was answered. 1 Sam. 4:10 says, "... So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent. " What they did not realize in their blindness was that God considered Israel to be His enemy, as long as they were in rebellion against His law! Ex. 23:22 says,
22 But if you will truly obey My voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.
On the other hand, whenever Israel was in rebellion against God, the reverse would be true, as we read in Is. 63:10,
10 But they [Israel] rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore, He turned Himself to become their enemy; He fought against them [Israel].
This was the moral and political situation when God raised up Samuel as a prophet and judge. The Philistines had defeated Israel in battle and had captured the Ark of the Covenant. They had killed the priests (Ps. 78:60-64) and destroyed the city of Shiloh. The priests who survived had to move to the town of Nob (1 Sam. 21:1) just north of Jerusalem.
The Philistines held the Ark for just seven months before returning it (1 Sam. 6). But the Ark could not return to Shiloh, where it had been since the days of Joshua, because that city had been destroyed. It was kept, instead, at Kirjath-jearim for about twenty years (1 Sam. 7:2). After the Ark was returned, Samuel led the people into a prayer of repentance (1 Sam. 7:3-6). Only then did Israel defeat the Philistines in battle (1 Sam. 7:13).
So ended the final "wooden yoke" of that historical period in Israel 's history.
It is important to note that from God's perspective, Israel does not have an inherent right to be free. Their freedom is a privilege under God and is given only when they are obedient to His law and refuse to follow other gods. This is as true today as it was in biblical days.
The people of Israel finally began to recognize this in the days of Samuel. After all, in the three centuries of their existence since the days of Joshua, the people had spent over a third of that time under the wooden yoke of foreign domination. Yet, instead of deciding once and for all to remain obedient to the divine law, they reasoned that God was too strict with them. They decided that they really did not want to be ruled by God, for He seemed to be a tyrant to them. They needed to be ruled (they thought) by a man who was more like them, one who would be more tolerant of their sin, one who would not put them into captivity every time they began to worship other gods. So they came to Samuel and asked for a change of government. 1 Sam. 8:4-7 says,
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; 5 and they said to him, "Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations." 6 But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to judge us." And Samuel prayed to the Lord.
The people did not understand that there is no freedom apart from God. And there is no true justice or mercy in the land apart from the divine law. They thought that men could substitute for God, and that men would be more just and more merciful than God. So God gave them Saul to be their king. He was the best in the land, but he became Israel 's oppressor, little better than the foreign kings who had put Israel into bondage.
So now, instead of being ruled by foreign oppressors, they were ruled by their own Israelite oppressor.
Saul reigned forty years, and then David reigned another forty years. When David died, his son Solomon ruled another forty years, and during his reign, the great temple was built. The Ark of the Covenant had found a home once again, and God placed His name upon Jerusalem.
The divine law says in Deut. 16 that the only lawful place where one can keep the feast days is at the place where God has put His name. It says nothing about any particular location, because God knew that He would change the location of His name from time to time. Deut. 16:1, 2 speaks about the place where the people were to observe the Passover:
1 Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, for in the month of Abib the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night. 2 And you shall sacrifice the Passover to the Lord your God from the flock and the herd, in the place where the Lord chooses to establish His name.... 5 You are not allowed to sacrifice the Passover in any of your towns which the Lord your God is giving you; 6 but at the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name.
We find the same is true with Pentecost, called the "feast of weeks" in the law. Deut. 16:10, 11 says,
10 Then you shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God... 11... in the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name.
Finally, the same is true with the Feast of Booths, or Tabernacles, for we read in Deut. 16:13,
13 You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat; 15... Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord chooses.
God first placed His name at Shiloh, where Joshua set up the tabernacle of Moses within the territory of his own tribe of Ephraim. But because the priesthood of that place-Eli's priesthood-became corrupt, God removed His name (and the Ark) from that place and moved it to Jerusalem in the days of Solomon. Psalm 78 tells of this:
58 For they provoked Him with their high places, and aroused His jealousy with their graven images. 59 When God heard, He was filled with wrath, and greatly abhorred Israel; 60 So that He abandoned the dwelling place at Shiloh, the tent which He had pitched among men.... 67 He also rejected the tent of Joseph, and did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, 68 But chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which He loved. 69 And He built His sanctuary like the heights, like the earth which He has founded forever.
So we see that God first placed His name at Shiloh, but later abandoned that location because of its corrupt priests. The Ark of the Covenant later was placed in the new temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem under a new dynasty of priests who were of the family of Zadok (1 Kings 2:27, 35). This means that God established His name in a new location- Jerusalem. But even this place was not the final place where He would place His name, for Jerusalem, too, became corrupted, and God's presence left that place as well. Jeremiah told the people of Judah and Jerusalem that because they had continually violated the divine law, God would forsake Solomon's temple and destroy it. After listing the reasons for this, Jer. 7:12-16 says,
12 But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I made My name dwell at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. 13 And now, because you have done all these things, declares the LORD, and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you but you did not answer, 14 therefore, I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. 15 And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brothers, all the offspring of Ephraim. 16 As for you, do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me; for I do not hear you.
This sentence upon Jerusalem was repeated in Jeremiah 26:4-6, where we read:
4 And you will say to them, Thus says the LORD, If you will not listen to Me, to walk in My law, which I have set before you, 5 to listen to the words of My servants the prophets, whom I have been sending to you again and again, but you have not listened; 6 then I will make this house like Shiloh, and this city I will make a curse to all the nations of the earth.
The people did not repent. In fact, the priests condemned the prophet to death (Jer. 26:11) and would have killed him as a false prophet. But the people and the princes saved the prophet's life (26:16). The Word of the Lord through Jeremiah was not popular theology. Neither in his day, nor in ours. And so God has indeed made Jerusalem " a curse to all the nations of the earth." This is virtually the OPPOSITE of the Abrahamic promise, whereby his seed would be a BLESSING to all the families of the earth.
When Jeremiah received this Word, it was God's verdict being rendered in the courts of heaven. From this point on, Jeremiah was not allowed to pray that judgment might be averted or that God's name might remain in Jerusalem. Even repentance could not set aside the judgment of God, once the verdict had been handed down. From this time on, Jeremiah had to pray in a different manner. He could only pray that the judgment might be lessened by repentance, but not cancelled.
Jeremiah himself did not see God's glory depart from the temple. This vision was given to Ezekiel. We read in Ez. 10:4, 18 and 19 say,
4 Then the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the temple, and the temple was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord. 18 Then the glory of the Lord departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim. 19 When the cherubim departed, they lifted their wings and rose up from the earth in my sight with the wheels beside them; and they stood still at the entrance of the east gate of the Lord's house. And the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them.
The final mention of the departure of God's glory is found in Ezekiel 11:23, which says,
23 And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, which stood over the mountain which is east of the city.
The mountain where the glory went was the Mount of Olives, situated east of Jerusalem. The glory departed no further than the Mount of Olives at that time, because Jesus was yet to come. Jesus Christ is the glory of God. When He was born about 600 years later, He lived, He died on the cross, and He rose again from the dead. Then He taught the disciples for forty days before finally ascending on the fortieth day (Acts 1:3). At that point, Jesus brought His disciples to the Mount of Olives and ascended to heaven. Acts 1:12 says of the disciples,
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away.
Jesus Christ is the glory of God. That glory was last seen in the days of Ezekiel on the top of the Mount of Olives in a partial removal from Jerusalem. Jesus' ascension to heaven from the Mount of Olives completed that departure. The glory had now fully departed from the old city of Jerusalem. Ten days later, the glory returned on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1). But this time it did not fill the second temple, but rather it filled the 120 disciples in the upper room. They were filled with the Spirit, and the glory of God appeared as tongues of fire upon their heads. The glory of God had found a new location. God had chosen a new place in which to place His name. This is confirmed in 1 Cor. 6:19,
19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
And again, we read in Rev. 22:4,
4 And they shall see His face, and His name shall be upon their foreheads.
The progression is clear, then, where God has chosen to place His name. He first placed His name at Shiloh, then at Jerusalem, and now in the Christian believers, who are the temple of God. If any man attempts to keep a feast in any other location than where He has placed His name, he is being unlawful. Many Christians today travel to the old city of Jerusalem for various feast days, thinking that God's glory is soon to return to that old city. They do not understand that the glory departed from that place even as it departed from Shiloh. "Ichabod" has been written on that place, even as it was written on the place called Shiloh (1 Sam. 4:21).
God said through Jeremiah that He would make the old Jerusalem "a curse" to all families of the earth. If someone wants to find the city of blessing, he must find the New Jerusalem. That city is not the old city. The New Jerusalem-like its temple-is made of PEOPLE, not wood and stone. The Old Jerusalem has become a cursed city-not cursed by men, but under God's curse (Jer. 26:6, quoted earlier).
Worse yet, those who go to the old Jerusalem in an attempt to keep the feast may be violating the divine law, for the feast is not to be kept in any other location other than the place where He has placed His name. If anyone says, "I went to Jerusalem to keep the feast," he may be violating the divine law. However, it is not a sin simply to go to Jerusalem (or to any other location) at the time of the feasts. It should be clear, though, that one does not KEEP the feasts by going to some geographical location on earth.
The Feast of Passover must be KEPT in one's own temple by faith, for one is justified by faith in the blood of the only Lamb of God who can take away sin. The Feast of Pentecost must also be kept in one's own temple by being filled with the Spirit, even as we see in Acts 2. The Feast of Tabernacles (Booths) must also be kept in one's own temple by being changed fully into His likeness and image, a bodily change into the immortal, incorruptible body ("house") which is currently reserved for us in the heavens (2 Cor. 5:1-4). For a complete study of this, see The Laws of the Second Coming.
Some people believe that the glory of God is going to be manifested in Jerusalem. This is contradicted by Jer. 7:14. If God's glory never returned to Shiloh, then it will never return to Jerusalem. "Ichabod" has been written on both cities. The glory has found a new resting place in a New Jerusalem temple made of living stones. This was the desire of God from the beginning. This will be discussed more thoroughly in Chapter Eight.