"Has Ezekiel gone mad?" This may have been the reaction of some after they watched Ezekiel shave his head and beard, weigh the hair, divide it into thirds, and then burn a third, strike a third with a sword, and scatter the remaining third to the wind. However, Ezekiel was not mad, but he was signifying the punishment soon to fall on Jerusalem, a punishment which would pave the way for the salvation of the world (Ezekiel 5:1-12).
When Ezekiel tossed his hair into the wind, he was not telling God's people anything new. In giving the blessings and curses of the Law (Deut. 28-30), God had sworn that if Israel disobeyed him, he would scatter them among all the peoples from one end of the earth to the other (Deuteronomy 28:64; Psalms 106:26-27). Soon after Ezekiel's hair was swept away by the wind, Jerusalem fell and the Diaspora or Dispersion began.
Against the Word of the Lord through Jeremiah, a remnant from Jerusalem went to Egypt, taking Jeremiah with them (Jeremiah 43). When the Persians gave the order that those taken captive by the Assyrians and Babylonians could return to their homes, only a small proportion chose to do so. The sons of Korah wrote that God had scattered them among the nations (Psalms 44:11). Haman described the Jews to the Persian king as "scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom" (Esther 3:8).
In the 400-year period of silence between Malachi and John the Baptist, the dispersing of the Jews continued both by force and free will. Ptolemy I of Egypt (322-285 B.C.) captured Jerusalem and took home captives, adding greatly to the Jewish population of Alexandria. Antiochus the Great of Syria (223-187 B.C.) removed 2,000 families from Jewish communities in Mesopotamia and Babylon and settled them in Phrygia and Lydia. Pompey captured Jerusalem in 63 B.C. and carried away hundreds of Jews to Rome. During the period "between the Testaments," the Jews also voluntarily emigrated for the purpose of trade and commerce, as well as colonization, which was encouraged by the Greek kings who sought to "Hellenize" or to bring Greek culture to all of the peoples under their control. The Sibylline Oracles (mid-second century B.C.) say of the Jewish people, "every land and every sea is full of thee."
God promised Abraham that he would bless all nations through his seed (Genesis 12:3). In his providence, he used the punishment of dispersion as part of the "fullness of the time" (Galatians 4:4), so that the good news of salvation through his Son might be readily presented and accepted throughout the world.
The large Jewish population in Alexandria led to the translation of the Old Testament in Greek. The Septuagint or LXX (named so because of its 70 translators), began to be translated between 300 and 200 B.C. and was the "Bible" of Jesus, the apostles, and the first Christians. More importantly, this translation made what was once only a Jewish book, not only accessible to the world, but an influence upon it.
Wherever the Jews went, if ten men were present in a city, they set up synagogues for the teaching of the Old Testament. Some Gentiles were proselytized to the Jewish religion. Other Gentiles became "God-fearers," those who accepted Judaism, but were not fully proselytized. As Paul and others evangelized throughout the Roman world, they first sought out the synagogues (Acts 13:14-15; 14:1; 17:14; 10-12 etc). In the midst of the desert of an idolatrous and immoral world, the preachers of the gospel found an oasis, an audience who believed in the one true God, who believed in the Scriptures, who had concern for moral living, and who had Messianic hopes.
Tacitus, Suetonius, and Josephus, all wrote of widespread expectation that from Judea would rise a ruler whose dominion would be over all the world. Therefore, as the result of teaching in the synagogues, many converts were made, especially among the Gentiles.
The gospel had its beginning when the dispersed had gathered from around the world for the feast of Pentecost (First-fruits) (Acts 2:9-11). That the gospel was preached on this occasion was no accident. The first-fruits were gathered unto God from those around the world, who later would scatter because of persecution and take the gospel home with them (Acts 11:19-20). The Diaspora certainly was the key to the spread of the gospel to all the nations, leading to the obedience of faith (Romans 15:26).
As Christianity was accepted by the Diaspora and they received the blessings of the gospel, God fulfilled in a spiritual way his promise "to bring His scattered ones back together, to give them the land of Israel and a new heart and a new spirit" (Isaiah 11:11-12; Ezekiel 11:16-20; Zephaniah 3:9-10; Matthew 24:31). And, this restoration of Israel was too small. Through God's use of the Diaspora, his Servant became a light of the nations so that his salvation might reach the end of the earth (Isaiah 49:6). Aren't we thankful for the fulfillment of Ezekiel's hair scattered to the wind?