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One of the most important keys to understanding Bible prophecy is to know the difference between Israel and Judah. The name of "Israel" was given to Jacob in Gen. 32:28, and later, when blessing the two sons of Joseph, he made them custodians of that name. Gen. 48:16 says, "The angel which redeemed me from all evil bless the lads; and let my name be named on them."
He was referring to the angel Peniel who had given him the name "Israel." This name went with the birthright, for we read in 1 Chron. 5:1, 2,
"Now the sons of Reuben, the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but forasmuch as he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel; and the genealogy [of the kings leading to Jesus Christ] is not to be reckoned after the birthright. For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler; but the birthright was Joseph's)."
As long as all the tribes were united in one kingdom, they all benefited from the callings of the others. Judah could benefit from Joseph's birthright, Joseph could benefit from the kingly line of the House of David. However, after the death of Solomon, there was a dispute over high taxes, and the tribes of Joseph refused to be ruled by Solomon's son, Rehoboam (1 Kings 12).
Thus, the Divided Kingdom began. The northern ten tribes (including Ephraim and Manasseh, sons of Joseph) retained the name of "Israel," which Jacob had given to them. The southern two tribes were forced to choose a new name, and they chose the name of the dominant tribe, Judah.
This brought about a very significant situation, because the birthright was now in the northern House of Israel, while the sceptre was in the southern House of Judah. The King and the Kingdom was split. Yet this was God's doing, because of the sins of Solomon (1 Kings 11). God sent Ahijah the prophet to tell Solomon:
(11:11) "I will surely rend the kingdom from thee."
(11:31) "Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and will give ten tribes to thee" (Jeroboam, of Ephraim).
(11:35) "But I will take the kingdom out of his son's hand and will give it to thee" (Jeroboam).
In other words, "the kingdom" was resident in Israel, not in Judah. This is extremely significant, because of all the kingdom parables in the New Testament. The northern House of Israel was carried into captivity by Assyria in the 8th century B.C. They never returned, because God had divorced them (Jer. 3:8; Hos. 2:2), and it would have been unlawful to take her back in that condition. So God put up a hedge and a wall to prevent her return (Hos. 2:6).
Judah was then the only nation left in biblical history. Though Judah was worse than Israel (because of her hypocrisy; see Jer. 3:11), God did not divorce Judah, because Jesus yet had to be born of that tribe. Jesus was not to be born illegitimately. So God merely took Judah to Babylon for 70 years and then allowed a remnant to return. This included Jesus' forefathers, and so Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
The tribe of Judah thus fulfilled its national destiny, bringing forth the King who was to rule not only Judah, not only Israel, but all nations as the King of the whole earth.
But what about the House of Israel? Was the birthright lost forever? Was the divorce permanent? It seemed so, and the answer was hidden from the rabbis for many centuries.
The law in Deut. 24:1-4 said that if a man divorces his wife, and she remarries, he cannot again claim her as his wife. The bill of divorcement is final--not a mere separation in the eyes of God. Thus, many rabbis assumed that the birthright had fallen to Judah, because Judah was the only visible candidate to receive it. And yet other rabbis disputed this, because the prophets clearly speak of the restoration of the House of Israel in the latter days. Isaiah 40-66 is about Israel, as is the whole book of Hosea.
This theological dilemma was not solved until Jesus died on the cross. When a man dies and is raised again, he is a "new creation" in the eyes of the law--a different person.
Thus, when Jesus rose again, He was eligible to remarry the House of Israel.
The only obstruction at that point was the fact that the House of Israel was still married to (worshipping) other gods. Israel was not ready to marry Jesus Christ. The King and the Kingdom thus remained separated. Thus, Jesus "went into a far country to receive for Himself a Kingdom." In other words, he ascended to the Father to petition for the Throne over Israel.
Jesus will yet remarry the Kingdom of the House of Israel, but He will not do so in an Old Covenant marriage. This marriage will be under a New Covenant, because He desires a "free woman" Bride who is in agreement with Him--not a bondwoman who is a mere servant. He married a bondwoman at Mount Sinai under an Old Covenant marriage, and that marriage failed. This next marriage will not fail.
Genealogically speaking, the lost House of Israel was scattered from Parthia into Asia, and into Europe by the time of the New Testament. Josephus tells us precisely where they were: "beyond Euphrates" and that they were a multitutude that could not be numbered. Peter wrote his first letter to them, saying in verse 1,
"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ to the elect foreigners of the dispersion scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia."
James also writes "to the twelve tribes which are in the dispersion." Neither Peter nor James were writing to Jews, but to the twelve tribes of the dispersed House of Israel. By this time they were known by other names, because God stripped them of the birthright name of Israel when He divorced them.
Yet it is not difficult to locate them. The Black Obelisk of Shalmanezer identifies them as Gomer, or Ghomri (or Gimirri). "Gomer" was the wife of Hosea, and she played the prophetic role of Israel, the harlot wife of God.
Church theologians confused Gomer, Hosea's wife, with Gomer, son of Japheth (Gen. 10:2), and so they assumed that these people were from Japheth, rather than from the lost House of Israel. It was a simple mistake, of course, and God certainly engineered it in order to fulfill the prophecies of their being "lost sheep" (Ez. 34:16). Thus, Dr. Bullinger's notes in The Companion Bible comments on Gen. 10:2, saying,
"2 Gomer. In Assyrian Gimirri (the Kimmerians of Herodotus). Progenitor of the Celts."
He should have used this notation in Hosea 1:3, rather than in Gen. 10:2. The fact is, the lost sheep of Israel immigrated throughout Europe and to other parts of the earth. Because many of them passed through the Caucasus mountains, they are generally known as Caucasians.
However, no one can be part of that New Covenant Bride company--regardless of genealogy--unless they fulfill the terms of the birthright and come into Sonship. Everyone is on an equal footing here. The only advantage that the dispersed Israelites have is that the Gospel went to them first. But in the end, the provisions and terms of Sonship are applicable equally to all men.