3.59 Deuteronomy -- Israel's Destiny
So we have this stark dichotomy, and it all depends upon obedience. The emphasis throughout Deuteronomy is upon two principles: first, human responsibility to obey God. Second, human ability to obey the law. Neither of these is in doubt. The question is whether Israel will choose to do what it can and ought to do. Yet, God knew what Israel's choice would be, and in several passages told them that they were going to rebel. This makes Deuteronomy a very deterministic and pessimistic book -- the good guys lose.
a. In Deut 4:25-31, Moses spoke prophetically about Israel's future. He warned Israel that if they committed idolatry in their new land, God would scatter them among the nations. But even then, they could return to Him if they sought Him with all their hearts, for God would not abandon them or forget the covenant. There is a fascinating interplay here of divine predestination and human choice. Israel could choose to turn away from God, and if they did so, judgment would be severe and inevitable.
"Only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the Lord will drive you" (Deut 4:27).
Nevertheless, those few who were repentant could reclaim covenant status with God. If they turned again towards God and began to obey His commands, He would reinstate His favor towards them, because the former covenant had not been annulled or abrogated. It was merely held in abeyance until the time man fulfilled his side of the terms of the agreement.
b. The threat of being scattered among the nations occurs several times: Deut 4:27 (above), Deut 28:64, Deut 30:1, Deut 32:26. The prophetic vision is seeing far down the corridor of history. If the events of Deuteronomy occurred around 1400 BC, the Assyrian captivity was nearly 700 years later, and the Babylonian exile was over 800. As we have noted earlier, Israel was subject to the same behavioral standards as those by which the Canaanites were judged. If Israel forsook the knowledge of its new identity as the people of God and instead "played the harlot" as the nations around them did, they would be treated exactly as the Canaanites -- destruction and exile. Yet, unlike the Canaanites, this would not be a permanent exile: if Israel repented and sought God, He would restore them spiritually and geographically. The hope of restoration is given twice:
When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath (Deut 4:30-31).
See also Deut 30:2-10.
This open door of repentance cannot be considered a general principle. In this context, it applies only to Jews under the Mosaic covenant. It is because of the oath God made to the patriarchs (Deut 4:31).