Moses recognized the rebelliousness in the hearts of the Israelites, because they had nearly stoned him a few times out of the hardness of their hearts. So Moses related to them part of the judgment of the law which they would experience in captivity in the distant future. Deuteronomy 4:27, 28 says,
27 And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you shall be left few in number among the nations, where the Lord shall drive you. 28 And there you will serve gods, the work of man's hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell.
I find it incredible that Moses would speak of their scattering even before entering the land from which they were to be scattered! He prophesied the destruction of Israel 686 years before the fall of Samaria, when the house of Israel was deported to Assyria, and 821 years before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and deported the house of Judah to Babylon.
Israel remained in the land of Canaan for exactly 14 Jubilee cycles (14 x 49 = 686 years). They entered the land 2488 years after Adam, and Samaria fell in 3174. The number 14 is the number of deliverance or release. See my book on The Biblical Meaning of Numbers from One to Forty.
Israel did not receive deliverance from Assyria on their 14th Jubilee, because they had oppressed the land itself by refusing to give rest to the land. So God Himself released the land from Israel's oppressive lawlessness, according to the principle found in 2 Chronicles 36:21, “until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths.”
Israel Sentenced to a Life of Idolatry
Part of the sentence of the law (Deut. 4:28) was that Israel would serve false gods and graven images while they were scattered. Indeed, we see those lost Israelites adopting many false religions. This was a mark of captivity. As long as they worshiped false gods, they were still in captivity. This was true for both Israel and Judah in their respective captivities.
The prophet Hosea spoke of this, saying in Hosea 8:8 and 9,
8 Israel is swallowed up; they are now among the nations like a vessel in which no one delights. 9 For they have gone up to Assyria….
He continues in Hosea 9:17, saying,
17 My God will cast them away because they have not listened to Him; and they will be wanderers among the nations.
Hosea’s main theme shows that Israel’s time of captivity was spent playing the role of a harlot. This means that the nation itself would refuse to recognize God and His law. It would even reach the point where they would murder their own children, for he says in Hosea 9:13, “Ephraim will bring out his children for slaughter.” Verse 16 says,
16 Ephraim is stricken, their root is dried up; they will bear no fruit. Even though they bear children, I will slay the precious ones of their womb.
In other words, the practice of abortion is part of the judgment of God upon Israel during the days that they refuse to return to Him and to recognize His rights as their King. Many Christians today are told that legalized abortion is cause for the judgment of God, when in fact, abortion is the judgment of God for removing God from government and for refusing to abide by His laws.
Fortunately, God has also promised deliverance for Israel. That, too, is the primary theme of Hosea’s prophecy.
Judah's Babylonian captivity is normally said to have lasted just seventy years, but that was only the first phase of their captivity. That phase was their “yoke of iron” (Deut. 28:48), wherein they were taken off the land to serve out their sentence. Their wooden yoke, however, lasted much longer, for even when the people returned under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, they remained under the authority of Persia. The difference was that under the wooden yoke they were able to serve out their sentence in the land of Judea instead of in foreign lands.
That wooden yoke captivity lasted throughout the Persian rule, through the Greek empire, and into the Roman era—until the people revolted against Rome, the iron kingdom. Rome then replaced their wooden yoke with the yoke of iron once again and scattered them among the nations.
The scattering of the Jewish people continued until 1948, but their captivity has not ended to this day. How do we know? Because they yet worship graven images according to the idols of their heart. This is the case for all who do not turn to Jesus Christ, for only He has the power to end one's captivity in the real house of bondage—the bondage of sin.
Release from Captivity
Whether one is of Israel or Judah or any other ethnic group, there is only one way to end one's captivity. The great regathering of Israel and Judah, including the foreigners who are gathered with them (Is. 56:8), must all come by faith in Jesus Christ. He is the “one leader” that the people must “appoint” for themselves (Hos. 1:11) in order to fulfill the prophetic “day of Jezreel.”
Many individuals have already accepted Jesus Christ as their Leader and King throughout the years. But there is also a day yet future when a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit will complete this prophecy, as millions and billions of people are gathered into the Kingdom of God.
The point Moses was making, however, was that idolatry was a mark of captivity. Conversely, acceptance of Jesus Christ as the King transfers one's citizenship from the kingdoms of darkness into the Kingdom of His Son. Col. 1:13 says,
13 For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.
The release from captivity can come only through the New Covenant. Though many Jews today have attempted to accomplish this by the power of the Old Covenant, they cannot succeed, for that Covenant was broken and is now passed away (Heb. 8:13). It is a dead covenant, unable to save any man or to lift him from captivity. It matters not if a man changes his street address from New York to Jerusalem. His captivity follows him wherever he goes.
How to Seek the Lord
Moses continues, saying in Deut. 4:29,
29 But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.
In other words, while men are in captivity, they must seek the God of the Covenant in order to be released from captivity. The Hebrew text says that they must seek Yahweh, translated “the Lord.” Yahweh was later incarnated in Bethlehem to appear on earth as Yeshua (Jesus). Hence, Isaiah 12:2, 3 says (literal rendering),
2 Behold, God is my Yeshua. I will trust and not be afraid; for Yah Yahweh is my strength and song, and He has become my Yeshua. 3 Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of Yeshua.
Yeshua, or Jesus, understood that this prophecy referred to Himself, for he referenced it in John 7:37-39.
Hence, Moses prophesied that the Israelites had to seek Yahweh with all their heart and soul in order to “find Him” in the Person of Jesus Christ. But if they preferred to retain the idols of their own heart, they would remain in bondage to sin, regardless of the nation that they had chosen as their place of residence.
30 When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and listen to His voice. 31 For the Lord your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.
Because God had sworn an unconditional Covenant with Abraham—the precursor to the New Covenant—God committed Himself to turning the hearts of the people back to Himself. In other words, apart from God's action CAUSING the people to repent and accept Jesus Christ, the people might go on indefinitely worshiping the idols of their own hearts.
The law of God makes it clear that it is not in God's character to save men apart from faith and repentance. No man, regardless of genealogy, can be saved apart from faith in Jesus Christ and through His New Covenant which He mediated. The Covenant with Abraham did NOT say that He would save any of his descendants apart from faith. Instead, the Covenant promised that God would indeed turn their hearts, so that He could save them in a lawfully prescribed manner.
The vast majority of those Israelites—along with the rest of the world—did not possess such faith. Throughout history, most of them followed other gods or the dictates of their own heart idols. These will only be saved through divine judgments in a future age, as the New Testament clearly teaches. But meanwhile, in this present age God is working with the remnant of grace, as Paul explains in Romans 11:4-7, whether they be of Israel, Judah, the “others” prophesied by Isaiah, or the “nations,” as Paul interprets this.
God's plan of salvation, whether we speak of the remnant of grace or “all Israel” and “the world” elsewhere, is based upon the fact that God is a compassionate God. That is what Moses says in Deut. 4:31 above. Because God is love, everything that comes from Him is based on love.
Love is the divine plan.