Israel, The Divided House
Many think that Israel today is the complete representation of the twelve tribes of ancient Israel. That is not true. To better understand the book of prophecies, it is necessary to know the brief biblical history of Israel and be able to know the real identity of modern Israel. Israel today is one of the oldest nations on earth with her roots dating back to the Book of Genesis. And yet when we mention Israel today, it is just one-sixth of the whole story. That is because the Israel that we know now in the Middle East does not constitute the whole twelve tribes from which the whole nation originated. The fact that we call the people of Israel today as Jews, it already explains why they are not complete. The original Israelites were called Hebrews until they became a divided nation. Jews are also Hebrews but not all Hebrews are Jews.
The word "Hebrew" was mentioned for the first time in Genesis 14:13 to reveal Abram's (Abraham) ancestry. However, nobody knows where the word "Hebrew" came from. Some say the name came from their forefather Eber, the great grandson of Noah, or the grandson of Shem. Well, Abraham certainly came from Shem but we can't say for sure that the word Hebrew was derived from Eber since the Bible is silent about it. But the Bible is definite about the origin of Israel today. Most Bible student knows that Israel today is composed mainly of two tribes, The tribes of Judah and Benjamin. What happened and where are the rest? Let us have a brief history of Israel.
The Birth of the Nation Israel
The book of Genesis laid out the foundation of the whole plan of God culminating in the life of Joseph and his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. From then on, the plan to establish God's nation, wealthy and powerful had to be implemented through God’s chosen people without any bit of compromise. No promise is surer than God’s promises to Abraham. Those promises were sworn in God’s own name (Gen 22:16), for no one is greater than Himself.
God established His nation Israel through the patriarch Abraham. Abraham was already old when he was promised by God that he will become a father to a son, a father of a great nation which was to start in the land of Canaan, the land that we call the Promised Land, or the land flowing with milk and honey. Abraham had a wife Sarai, later changed to Sarah. She was old and barren but in spite of that, Isaac was born when Abraham was already 100 years old. Isaac became the father of Esau and Jacob. Jacob was also renamed Israel, the origin of the name Israel. Israel had two wives, Leah and Rachel along with two maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah. From these women, twelve sons who were to become the Twelve Tribes of Israel were born namely:
Israel’s sons to Leah were the firstborn Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun.
His sons to Rachel were the firstborn Joseph and Benjamin.
His sons to the maidservant Bilhah were Dan and Naphtali and to Zilpah, Gad and Asher.
So Israel had started with one man, then a family, then a tribe, group of tribes to become a kingdom. Through the great faith of Abraham, God blessed them both materially and spiritually, that is, to become numerous, to be powerful and wealthy, assuring them to become the greatest nation on earth. He also promised many times a spiritual blessing so that all nations will be blessed through them (Gen 12:3; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). That spiritual blessing redeemed mankind from the curse of sin for those who believe in the "seed" or offspring who shall come from Judah, one of the tribes. That seed is Jesus Christ (Gal 3:16) who fulfilled the spiritual blessing and the many prophecies about the coming great King of Israel and all creation.
The plan of God for them to really become a great nation is not yet finished even until today. Through the past, they have gone through ebbs and tides, incessant suffering and humiliation. But it was not how God had planned for their prosperity. They were so stubborn and stiff necked people who continually provoked God to anger which had caused their many miseries. Initially, they possess no land nor king. They were strangers in Egypt after a destiny took them to that kingdom. Joseph, one of the tribes became a high Egyptian official during the great famine that saw his father Israel and eleven brothers reunited with him in Egypt. For 430 years they lived in Egypt but after Joseph, their lives were no longer the same. They suffered four centuries of maltreatment from succeeding pharaohs until the time of Moses. Those people were not exactly that too bad nor good. Their only difference with other races was their rapid population growth as a result of God's blessing to become numerous like the sands in the seashore and as the stars in the sky. (Gen 13:16; 15:5). It brought fear of possible rebellion to the new pharaoh who did not know Joseph since their own Egyptian population was being slowly outnumbered.
Then God called Moses and commissioned him to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. The great God of the Israelites revealed His marvellous power unto Israel, the pharaoh and the Egyptians. The victory of the nation of Israelites culminated in the crossing of the Red Sea that parted in two. Never before, and the years following that, was God’s awesome power displayed among great numbers of people. God did that for a purpose so that His own people and their enemies would fear Him and trust in Him. They were in the initial stage of forming their own government. That government, as God emphasized, should be God centered, a nation whose king is the Lord or whose ruler is under direct guidance from God. He gave them His Ten Commandments and other laws and decrees by which the nation of Israel cannot survive without. The young nation of Israel had no king and they were wanderers in the desert. They were ruled directly by God in constant communication with the people through the high priest and Moses. High priests came solely from the tribe of Levi and ruled by succession. The tribe of Levi had no territory of its own. They were dispersed among the other eleven tribes of Israel.
After the death of Moses, Joshua succeeded him in leading the Hebrews to the Promised Land. The entry to the Promised Land was marked by the crossing of the Jordan River that dried up to give way to the people of Israel.
They conquered many territories, and thirty–one kings fell one after the other no matter how powerful they were. Israel’s only effective weapon was their obedience to their God. Their destiny depended solely on their relationship with God through the promises and His mercy. And so the people of Israel acquired the Promised Land (Ex 3:8, 17). They finally became a nation with a land of their own. From time to time, the God of Israel raised forth judges who will save them from the hands of their enemies (Judg 2:16). There were thirteen judges listed in the Book of Judges from Othniel to Samson and two more in the Book of 1Samuel, Eli the High Priest and the prophet Samuel. During the times of the judges, Israel had experienced long years of peace (Judg 3:11, 30; 5:31; 8:28). Israel flourished without a king and everyone did what he saw fit (Judg 21:25) and they eventually got tired of the judges.
The Zenith, Division and Fall of Israel
After many years and generations, the people of Israel complained to their King, the Lord God asking for a human king to imitate their neighbours (1 Sam 8:1–22) and God granted their request. It was a direct rejection of God’s leadership. So Israel’s kings and their works became the liability of the people. If the king was good, the whole land prospered; but if the king turned evil, the whole land suffered with him.
Saul was the first human king of Israel. He was a good king at first, but later on, he had sinned and was rejected by God.
David, a shepherd boy, succeeded him as king. During his time, the nation of Israel reached its pinnacle of glory as God promised to the patriarchs. It became a world power, militarily and economically. His son Solomon, considered to be the wisest and richest man who ever lived succeeded him as king and the Kingdom continued to flourish. Those were the golden age of Israel. He built the temple of God. However, after forty years of rule, Solomon also sinned against the Lord. This was the punishment of Solomon in 1 Kings 11:9–13–
The end of his rule marked the downfall of Israel. Now the kingdom was divided into two—the southern part consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. They became the House of Judah and they were called Jews. The northern tribes consisting of the remaining ten tribes became the House of Israel and its people retained their name as the Hebrews. The tribe of Levi having no land of their own were dispersed among the twelve tribes. The word "Jews was mentioned for the first time in 2 Kings 16:6 in the Bible. It was during the time when the Jews were at war against the Hebrews.
After Solomon, there were nineteen kings who ruled over the House of Israel. Then it was invaded by King Shalmaneser V of the Kingdom of Assyria, then, the greatest world military power. All its inhabitants were taken captives to Assyria, never to return. Their own native land was repopulated by the Gentiles (2 Kings 17:24), peoples who were non–Hebrews. Since then nothing was heard from them anymore except from the prophecies. They were completely lost including their language, their Sabbaths and their religion.
Many years after because of sins, Judah also fell in the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylonian Empire sometime in 587 BC. The Jews were taken captives to Babylon. After the conquest of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar proceeded south to conquer Egypt as well (Jer 46:13; Ezek 29:19–20). But unlike their northern brothers, the Jews were allowed to return home after seventy years of captivity to fulfill the prophecy of Jeremiah (Jer 29). The tribe of Judah must be preserved to fulfill God’s plan that the Messiah shall come from Judah (Gen 49:10) and the generation of the Jews shall continue until Christ’s physical birth and towards the last days.
Those returning Jews are the ancestors of Israel that we know today. They survived thousands of years of foreign rules. They were persecuted, sometimes massacred, driven out, returned and only to become like exiles in their own land. They did not enjoy any long lasting peace, can not freely exercise their own laws and religion because they never had a king of their own since then. That's why many of the Jews are scattered all over the world. The Jews living in Israel comprise only of about 40% of the known Jews the world over. They reclaimed their statehood status only in May 14, 1948. Please read What is Happening to Israel? about this.
Meanwhile, the ten lost tribes are still nowhere to be found. Since the time of Jesus, their whereabouts were unknown. As fulfillment to the consequence of total disobedience, they lost their identity, their language, their land and faith, and specially their Sabbaths by which we would have been able to identify them. They are actually what we refer to now as the Ten Lost Tribes or The Lost Sheep of Israel. They were the subject of Christ’s Great Commission to the twelve apostles when He said,
Note that “sheep” here is used in plural form (read also Matt 18:12). Apostle Paul, apart from the original twelve, was the one commissioned to the Gentiles, their kings, and likewise the people of Israel (Acts 9:15). Peter himself was a part apostle to the Gentiles (Gal 2:8). Know more about the Lost Ten Tribes in Who Are the Ten Horns of the Beast? - Part 2. It also helps to read What Is Happening to Europe?.
The Restoration of the Kingdom
Shortly before Jesus Christ’s ascension to heaven, He was asked by the apostles if He will start restoring the old Kingdom of Israel. They were under the rule of the Roman Empire. After all, He was prophesied to become their King, (Isa 43:15; 44:6) not by the Romans.
The apostle knew that their brothers were dispersed among the countries and among their missions is to bring them back to God. They expected Him to fulfill the prophecies at that point, but it was not the time yet; there was still lots of work to do before that. The lost sheep must first be found, know the Lord, and be saved. Later in the last days, these lost tribes shall all be gathered back to the Promised Land from all nations that they were scattered, and only then the old kingdom will be restored forever.
The prophecy in Jeremiah 30:3 promised the restoration of Israel during the end times––
These prophecies are still to come and we are seeing the events these days to be evolving towards the day of His coming as perfectly as prophesied.
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