Israel, The Horror, Proverb, and Taunt
In Deut. 28:35 Moses continues his speech, saying,
35 The Lord will strike you on the knees and legs with sore boils, from which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head.
This restates what Moses had already said in verse 27 about “the boils of Egypt.” We already identified those “boils” as elephantiasis, which is a mosquito-borne disease that blocks the lymph glands and causes swelling of the legs.
Israel and its King
Moses then begins to prophesy Israel’s captivity to foreign nations, which, of course, came to pass about 700 years later.
36 The Lord will bring you and your king, whom you shall set over you, to a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone. 37 And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a taunt among all the people where the Lord will drive you.
Moses never loses sight of the fact that Israel was to have a king at some point in their future. He understood that the king would come from the tribe of Judah, but makes no attempt to give them a king during his life time. Even when he was ready to die, he appointed Joshua to be his successor. Joshua was of Ephraim, not Judah. Though Moses never tells us the reason why they could not yet have a king, we understand that it was due to Judah’s sin in Genesis 38, which caused a ten-generation delay. David was the tenth generation from Judah.
This delay in giving Israel a king fit into the divine plan perfectly, because Joshua was a type of Christ in His second coming. When Jesus (Yeshua, or Joshua) came the first time, He came as the Lion of the tribe of Judah in order to die as the prophecy suggested in Gen. 49:10-12. This “dead lion” theme is again presented to us in the story of Samson, where we see that out of the dead lion came forth honey—the fruit of the Promised Land. (See Judges 14:8, 14.)
The second coming of Christ is identified as a Joseph work, where His robe is dipped in blood (Gen. 37:31; Rev. 19:13). Joseph’s son, Ephraim, was the primary holder of the Birthright (Gen. 48:14), so the second coming of Christ is through Joshua, the Ephraimite, who is shown to be the one leading us into the Promised Land.
Moses tells us that while Israel was being ruled by kings, they would be taken into captivity to a foreign land. He knew, therefore, that the curses of the law would be applied fully to Israel. These curses of the law, then, were not mere threats. They were prophecies of what was yet to come.
The Desolation of Judah
In that coming captivity, Israel was to “serve other gods, wood and stone.” Hence, when we contemplate the so-called “ten lost tribes of Israel,” one of their identifying marks was to be their worship of idols. This also distinguished them from Judah, which was not lost, although they too went into captivity. Judah (Jews) also went out of its way to put away idols of wood and stone, even to this day. This alone proves that they are not the House of Israel whose destiny is revealed by the prophets.
Moses also says that Israel was to “become a horror, a proverb, and a taunt.” The Hebrew word translated “horror” is shammah, “a desolation, a waste, astonishment.” The root word is shamam, which is the word used twice in Daniel 9:27,
27 And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate [shamam], even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate [shamam].
So in Deut. 28:37 we see a prophecy of that which Daniel 9:27 sets forth in greater detail. This, in turn, brings us to the application of the prophecy to Jerusalem in Matt. 24:15, Mark 13:14, and in Luke 21:20. Here Jesus prophesied of the day when Jerusalem would be destroyed and emptied by a foreign army. Jesus was speaking of Jerusalem when He said in Matt. 23:38,
38 Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!
The early church took heed to this warning, and when they saw the Roman army surrounding Jerusalem, they fled to Pella, a town in Perea (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III, 5).
The Desolation of Israel
A greater desolation had occurred a century earlier with the House of Israel. God raised up the Assyrians to capture Samaria, the capital city of Israel, and to deport the surviving Israelites to the area near the Caspian Sea (2 Kings 17:6, 18, 23). This deportation “desolated” or emptied the land of Israel.
The Desolation of Jerusalem
On a lesser scale also the city of Jerusalem was desolated, along with its temple. A second Jewish revolt in 132, known as the Bar-Cochba Revolt, resulted in a Roman decree forbidding Jews to set foot in the city. Professor H. Graetz writes in his History of the Jews, Vol. II, page 422,
“At the south gate [of Jerusalem] leading to Bethlehem, a swine’s head was erected in half relief, as a special annoyance to the Jews, and it was forbidden them on pain of death to pass within the outer wall of this city.”
It appears, then, that the “desolation” has more to do with emptying the city of its Jews, rather than being entirely desolate of all men. The image of the swine at the south gate symbolizes the “abomination” in the same prophecy, because one of the Hebrew words for abomination is piggul (Strong’s Concordance #6292), from which we derive the word “pig.” It literally means “to stink.”
So when Moses says in Deut. 28:37 that one of the curses of the law would be that Israel would be a “horror” to all nations, this prophecy has many implications. It is clear from Moses’ prophecy that the cause of this “horror” or “desolation” was Israel’s persistent lawlessness. The abominations of Israel, and later of Judah, were the cause of the desolations.
The word picture shows that their abominations stink so bad that everyone scatters, and the land is emptied quickly. Of course, God used foreign armies to accomplish this, but nowhere is it implied that those foreign armies were at fault, or that they were the ones who provided the stinky abomination that brought this desolation.
Moses also says that Israel was to become a proverb and a taunt to all nations. Solomon said the same in his prayer of dedication in 1 Kings 9:6-8,
6 But if you or your sons shall indeed turn away from following Me, and shall not keep My commandments and My statutes which I have set before you and shall go and serve other gods and worship them, 7 then I will cut off Israel from the land which I have given them, and the house which I have consecrated for My name, I will cast out of My sight. So Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. 8 And this house will become a heap of ruins; everyone who passes by will be astonished and hiss and say, “Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?”
In the Hebrew language, this is a direct quote from Deut. 28:37. Solomon obviously knew the warning of Moses and the curses of the law that would come upon Israel on account of their lawlessness. A proverb (Heb., mashal) is a way of saying things that provide some wisdom. A byword (Heb., shenena) is a sharp word or pointed saying that is “cutting.” So the nations will receive wisdom by observing how God treats lawless nations and will also be warned sharply about following Israel’s example.