The Reason Why
For centuries people have wondered why the Diaspora exists. After all, it wasn’t where God wanted His people to live.
Surrounded by 10 million busy South Koreans in a city teeming with skyscrapers and Forbes Global 2000 companies sits a humble house used by the Chabad of Korea.
It’s an outreach of a Hasidic Orthodox branch of the Jewish community. Chabad houses give Jewish people who live in non-Jewish cultures a place to practice their faith. The Chabad rabbi hosts weekly Sabbath services, celebrates annual Jewish festivals like Passover and Hanukkah, holds lectures and events that serve kosher food, and so much more.
In Seoul, South Korea, Rabbi Osher Litzman, a 36-year-old native Israeli, serves at Chabad Korea. He told The Jerusalem Post about 200 Jewish people live in South Korea, a country of more than 50 million. Most of those who come to his Chabad house are U.S. military, English teachers, engineers, and students from the United States or Canada studying abroad.1
Interestingly, these Jewish centers can be found in some of the most unlikely places, such as Uganda, Morocco, Thailand, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Argentina, and even Iceland, which tells us that Jewish people are spread around the world. And that has been the case since the days of the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel.
A Look at the Plan
Jewish people outside Israel live in what is called the Diaspora, a Greek word meaning “dispersion.”
In 1948, 99 percent of the world Jewish population lived in the Diaspora, while fewer than 1 percent lived in the newly created State of Israel. Today, a mere 72 years later, roughly 49 percent of the world’s 15 million Jews call Israel home. Yet, more than half still reside elsewhere.
Was this how God intended His people to live, scattered throughout the nations, far from the land He promised them?
It wasn’t. In Deuteronomy, a Bible book written by Moses reiterating the Law to the generation of Israelites about to enter the Promised Land, God revealed He would bless the Israelites for obedience to Him in the land and send curses for disobedience.
The first 14 verses of Deuteronomy 28 outline the blessings:
→ He would make them a great nation (vv. 2–3).
→ He would give them innumerable children and an abundance of crops, livestock, and food (vv. 4–6, 8).
→ He would protect them from their enemies (v. 7).
→ He would faithfully provide rain for their crops, so they would never need to borrow from other countries. Instead, Israel would lend to other nations (v. 12).
→ Israel would be the nation all countries looked to for guidance, wisdom, and leadership because God would be their Leader (vv. 1, 9–10, 13).
It’s always been God’s desire to bless Israel because, through the Jewish people, He would bless all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:1–3).
A drastic shift appears between verses 14 and 15 in Deuteronomy 28, as Moses switched from describing the blessings for obedience to enumerating the curses for disobedience. The next 54 verses warn Israel of its destiny if it fell away from the Lord.
Israel’s sons and daughters would be given to other nations (v. 32). Crops wouldn’t grow, livestock would be slaughtered, and the Israelites would never enjoy the fruits of their labor (vv. 30–33). Their enemies would conquer them (vv. 25–26); and instead of leading the world, they would be ruled by foreign kings (vv. 36–37).
God wanted His people to grasp the magnitude of the consequences of not following Him in the land He was giving them. These curses can be boiled down to three major areas designed to grab Israel’s attention and draw it back to the Lord:
1. Drought. “And your heavens which are over your head shall be bronze, and the earth which is under you shall be iron. The LORD will change the rain of your land to powder and dust; from the heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed” (vv. 23–24). No rain means no food. No food means starvation. Starvation means sickness and death.
Lack of rain is what plagued the Israelites during the reign of King Ahab. Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel worshiped the false god Baal and consequently led the Israelites astray spiritually.
In the divine battle between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, Yahweh proved Himself the one true God; and Elijah told Ahab to return home to eat and drink, “for there is the sound of abundance of rain” (v. 41). The severe drought would be over.
2. Defeat. Nations would threaten, attack, and subjugate Israel. Instead of leading the Gentile nations, God would judge the Jewish people by allowing the Gentiles to rule over them. He would attempt to get His people’s attention by robbing them of their freedom.
After the tribes of Israel split into two kingdoms during the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, the majority of the kings who ruled both Israel and Judah failed to honor the Lord, bringing God’s judgment as stated in Deuteronomy 28. Both kingdoms shrunk in size and grew weaker, as other nations became more aggressive.
The Assyrian Empire launched an expansion campaign that bled into Israel and Judah, and some kings were forced to pay tribute to the intimidating foreign powers (2 Ki. 15:19–20). Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, Muslim empires, and even the British Empire eventually ruled over the land God promised to Jacob and his descendants as an “everlasting possession” (Gen. 17:8; 48:4).
3. Dispersion. God would scatter Israel. If Israel persisted in disobeying and refusing to repent, the last straw would be exile, the Diaspora, the scattering of the nation:
Then the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known—wood and stone. And among those nations you shall find no rest, nor shall the sole of your foot have a resting place; but there the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and anguish of soul (Dt. 28:64–65).
In 722 BC God exiled the northern 10 tribes through Assyrian captivity. The same fate befell the southern kingdom of Judah in 586 BC when the Babylonians captured and destroyed Jerusalem and the first Temple. The Jewish people eventually returned, only to be dispersed again between AD 70 and 135 when Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the second Temple and banished them from entering their capital city.
Fast forward 2,000 years. The fact that Chabad houses around the world reach out to Jewish people in some of the most unlikely places indicates the words of Deuteronomy 28 still matter.
God never wanted the people He chose and set apart and placed in the land of Israel to be scattered abroad. The Diaspora is associated with His judgment; it temporarily disconnects His people from the purpose He determined for them.
Thankfully, Deuteronomy does not conclude with words of judgment. Despite Israel’s disobedience, God will never renege on the promise He made to the forefathers. His desire and intent are to reunite, resurrect, restore, and return His people through repentance:
Now it shall come to pass, 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 drives you, and you return to the LORD your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, that the LORD your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the LORD your God has scattered you (30:1–3).
God will return His people to the land!
The Diaspora is the result of a temporarily broken relationship between Israel and God. For this reason God sent His Son, Jesus. Jesus came to remedy the spiritual condition that not only plagues Israel but every human heart.
Someday Israel will become fully reconciled to God through repentance and faith in its Messiah. Then true and lasting restoration will come—spiritually, physically, and nationally (Zech. 8:8; cf. Acts 3:19–21).
- Alan Rosenbaum, “The Jews of South Korea—Finding a Jewish Soul in Seoul,” The Jerusalem Post, May 17, 2019 (tinyurl.com/yydpc9tx).