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When Jacob divided the birthright among his sons in Genesis 49, he gave each son/tribe a specific calling. Only when the tribes were in unity could the provisions of the birthright be fulfilled as a whole.
There were three main divisions. The priesthood was given to Levi; the scepter was given to Judah; and the main portion—that of sonship—was given to Joseph. The latter two were mentioned specifically in 1 Chron. 5:1, 2,
1 Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph, the son of Israel; so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright. 2 Though Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came the leader [nagid, “ruler”], yet the birthright belonged to Joseph.)
Most Christians, from my observation, have never really studied the distinction between the Judah’s scepter (Gen. 49:10) and Joseph’s birthright (Gen. 49:22). They tend to give everything to Judah and presume that he held the birthright as well. This is the assumption most people make when they say that the Jews are God’s chosen people.
But Scripture teaches many things that are largely unknown in the church today.
Levi was given the priesthood through Aaron and his sons. This calling was temporary, because ultimately, it was to be given to the older Order of Melchizedek. Hence, the tribe of Levi lost the priesthood calling when John the Baptist was executed and the high priesthood was given to his nearest relative, Jesus Christ.
Likewise, Judah was given the scepter temporarily until the rise of Joseph. Recall Joseph’s two dreams in Genesis 37:5-10, where his brothers had to bow to Joseph. These were fulfilled some years later when Joseph was elevated to power in Egypt and his brothers all bowed to him.
Judah fulfilled its temporary calling with the rise of David. When Christ came the first time, He was denied the right to rule. This condition continued during the Pentecostal Age, which was an era of Saul’s kingdom. Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin, so it can be said that the so-called “church age” was dominated by the calling of Benjamin.
For this reason, most of the disciples were from Galilee, which had been settled by the tribe of Benjamin after the Babylonian captivity. Judas was a notable exception, being from Hebron (south of Jerusalem). Levi was also a possible exception, since his name denotes Levite ancestry.
The Tabernacles Age, in which we are now entering, can be considered the age of Joseph’s rule, because it begins with the manifestation of the sons of God. Jacob’s blessing upon Joseph in Gen. 49:22 says, “Joseph is a fruitful bough” (Heb. ben, “son”). The sons of God are the fulfillment of the birthright given to Joseph.
Judah: David to Christ
Benjamin: 1st coming to 2nd coming of Christ
Joseph: The rule of the sons of God in the Tabernacles Age
During the United Kingdom of Israel under Saul, David, and Solomon, all of the tribes, being in unity, shared in the callings of all the tribes. But the kingdom was divided after the death of Solomon. The bulk of the tribes united around the sons of Joseph, of whom Jacob had said in Gen. 48:16,
16 The angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and may my name live on in them…
The angel Peniel had given Jacob the name Israel (Gen. 32:28). This name was passed down to Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph, and so the northern kingdom was called Israel. The southern kingdom was called Judah.
This great “breach” between Israel and Judah could only be repaired by the Messiah Himself. So Isaiah 58:12 says,
12 Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; and You will be called the Repairer of the breach, the Restorer of the streets in which to dwell.
This is a messianic prophecy, but it also includes the body of Christ who are included in this work of repairing and restoring.
In Christ’s first coming, He repaired the breach between Judah and Levi by uniting the scepter with the priesthood. This was done when Christ came as the high priest of the Order of Melchizedek, the King-Priest.
In Christ’s second coming, He will repair the breach between Judah/Levi and Joseph. For this reason, He comes “clothed with His robe dipped in blood” (Rev. 19:13). This identifies Him with Joseph, whose robe was dipped in blood as well (Gen. 37:31).
At that point, the scepter, the priesthood, and the birthright will be reunited fully in Christ. Those who are faithful to Him in His second work (sonship) are called sons of God. Being in unity with Him, they will have a share in all that He has. They will rule as king-priests (Rev. 5:10; 20:6) and will be called the sons of God (John 1:13).
Unless one understands that Judah and Israel were two nations with different callings, one cannot understand the prophecies of Scripture very well. When the kingdom split, the scepter remained in Judah, while the birthright was in Israel—specifically the tribe of Ephraim. Neither could make up for its loss. The Kingdom of God could not come in its fulness apart from the birthright being unified.
The Israelites were taken to Assyria (745-721 B.C.). More than a century later, the Judahites (“Jews”) were taken to Babylon (604-586 B.C.). The Israelites never returned; the Judahites returned to the old land after 70 years in captivity.
The Judahites had to return, because the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem. But God put up a wall, or hedge to prevent the Israelites from returning. Hosea 2:6 says,
6 Therefore, behold, I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her so that she cannot find her paths.
This “wall” was not literal, of course. It was the law of divorce. God divorced the house of Israel (Jer. 3:8; Hos. 2:2) and sent her out of His house, as the law instructs in Deut. 24:1 KJV). She was thus forbidden to return to her former Husband under the terms of the Old Covenant.
She (and all others) could return only through a new marriage covenant, which is called the New Covenant. He will never again marry a Bride under the Old Covenant as He did with Israel at Mount Sinai.
As for Judah, there is no biblical statement telling us that Judah was divorced from God. There was a 70-year separation period during their Babylonian captivity, while Judah was “in prison,” so to speak. But Judah had to be married to God in order to bring forth a legitimate Son, Jesus Christ.
As we see in the New Testament story, the Father accepted the Son (Matt. 17:5); the mother rejected Him (John 1:11). So 40 years later, God raised up the Roman army to destroy the mother (city) and exile its citizens (Matt. 22:7).
This destruction in 70 A.D. partially fulfilled the prophecy of Jer. 19:10, 11 that was directed against Jerusalem:
10 Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you 11 and say to them, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired…
The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C., but it was later repaired by Nehemiah. It was destroyed again by the Romans in 70 A.D., but it was again repaired. Hence, Jeremiah’s prophecy remains unfulfilled. Paul writes that in the end, Jerusalem must be “cast out” (Gal. 4:30), even as Abraham’s wife, Hagar, was cast out.
Jeremiah prophesied a century after the Assyrians had conquered and deported the Israelites to the land of Gamir. In Jer. 18:1-10 God told him to go to a potter’s house, where he received revelation that the Israelites would eventually be rebuilt into a new nation. The nation was pictured in the wet clay that the potter was making into a jar.
The jar was defective, so the potter beat it down and remade it into a fit vessel. So God says in Jer. 18:6,
6 “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.”
In other words, the Israelites were to repent in the end, and so God was to form them once again into a new nation, so that Israel could be a fit vessel for His use. Although the Israelites became “lost tribes,” God would not forget.
Then God turned His attention from Israel to Judah and Jerusalem in Jer. 19:11, saying,
11 So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, “Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you…”
In the rest of the chapter, God gives a whole list of Judah’s sins with no word of hope for them. Then, in the next chapter, God instructs the prophet to take an old earthen jar, bring it to the valley of Ben-hinnom outside the city, and proclaim the fate of Jerusalem.
God’s verdict is stated in Jer. 19:3-9, and it speaks of utter calamity with not a single word of hope. The final verdict is then given in Jer. 19:10-12,
10 Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you [the witnesses] 11 and say to them, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth [“burning”] because there is no other place for burial. 12 This is how I will treat this place and its inhabitants,” declares the Lord, “so as to make this city like Topheth.”
Whereas Israel’s “jar” was repairable (as wet clay), Judah’s “jar” was unrepairable (hardened clay). Of course, we know that Jerusalem was repaired more than once, but we who believe the Scriptures know that in the end Jerusalem will be utterly destroyed.
It is plain just from this passage in Jeremiah that Israel and Judah have two very different destinies. Israel was to be rebuilt; Judah and Jerusalem were to be destroyed. Those who do not know the difference between these two nations remain confused, thinking that the people of Judah (Jews) are the Israelites of prophecy.
The state of Israel, formed in 1948 is a Jewish state. Just because they called it Israel does not mean it is the biblical Israel. It was misnamed in order to take advantage of the blindness in the church to gain political support.
So to this day many in the church think that the prophecy of the wet clay in Jer. 18:1-10 applies to the modern state of Israel. Few identify the Jewish state (and Jerusalem) with the hardened clay jar that Jeremiah smashed in the valley of Ben-hinnom (Jer. 19:10-12).
This deception has caused many Christians to think that the earthly Jerusalem is the capital of the Kingdom of God. To put it in Paul’s terms, these Christians support Hagar’s claim that the birthright belongs to Ishmael, “who was born according to the flesh” (Gal. 4:29).
Gal. 4:30 says Hagar and her son must be “cast out.”
It is difficult to cast out Hagar when one thinks that Hagar is actually Sarah. Likewise, how can one cast out Hagar’s children (the Jews) when one thinks that they are actually the children of Isaac?
It is a classic case of mistaken identity. The cause is twofold. First, such people confuse Judah with Israel, as if they were the same nation and had the same destiny. Second, they think that children of the flesh are chosen.
Hence, they think that being chosen is about being of a certain genealogy back to Abraham. In other words, one only needs to claim a genealogical connection to Abraham in order to be one of “God’s chosen people.” Conversely, if a non-Jew wants to be chosen, he must marry into that lineage so that their children can be chosen.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. This was one of the main points that Paul taught in his epistle to the Galatians. He wrote in Gal. 3:7,
7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
Biblical faith is faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in the flesh does not result in righteous standing before God. Paul says again in Gal. 3:26-29,
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.
Paul understood from Gen. 17:5 that God changed Abram’s name to Abraham because he had been made “the father of a multitude of nations.” In other words, all nations will call him “father”—not just ethnic Israelites. Paul references this in Rom. 4:17.
To support this further, Paul asks whether Abraham himself was righteous (by faith) after he was circumcised or while he was yet uncircumcised. Rom. 4:9-11 says,
9 Is this blessing then on the circumcised or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised, 11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them.
Being the father of a multitude of nations was not merely fulfilled by Israel’s breakup into many nations. Paul’s main point was to show that non-Israelites can call Abraham “father” without having any physical connection to him.
Faith does not change one’s ethnicity. It does, however, change one’s status with God. Faith is heaven’s currency. Furthermore, faith in Moses is insufficient, even as Old Covenant faith falls short.
The Old Covenant is based upon the will of man as he may vow loyalty and obedience to God. Such faith is really in one’s own ability to fulfill that vow, and its prime example is seen in Exodus 19:8. The Israelites took a vow to obey God (with the help of the Holy Spirit).
The New Covenant, however, is based upon God’s ability to fulfil His vow. Such faith is seen in the case of Abraham himself. Gen. 15:6 says,
6 Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
When God makes seemingly impossible promises, He looks for those who actually believe that He will make good on those promises. Most people throughout history have not had such faith in God, thinking that it is impossible. But Abraham believed God. Paul says in Rom. 4:20-22,
20 Yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. 22 Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness.
Such faith is not faith in one’s own promise to God, nor does one need to have confidence in one’s own ability to keep a vow to God. True faith simply believes that God is capable of keeping His promise, even if it appears to be impossible.
When our faith is based upon our own performance (works), we will surely question our salvation, for we see how far short we fall in keeping our promise to God. Old Covenant faith is of poor quality, for our shortcomings are evident each day, always ready to condemn us.
New Covenant faith relies upon the will of God (John 1:13) and believes that God’s will is stronger than man’s will. He has promised to work in our hearts until we are fully in the image of God, and if He should fail to do this, then He would prove Himself to be a failure.
Hagar and Sarah represent the two covenants (Gal. 4:24). Hagar, the Old Covenant, can only bring forth children of the flesh. Sarah, the New Covenant, can only bring forth children of promise.
Yet it is evident from biblical history that Sarah herself has brought forth many children of the flesh. The vast majority of the Israelites through out history were unacceptable to God. For this reason, God hired the Assyrians to destroy Israel and to take the Israelites captive.
God did this, in part, to put these genealogical Israelites on the same level as the other nations, so that it might be very evident that all ethnicities must become righteous through the New Covenant—on an equal footing. Thus Abraham could become a father of many nations, not just ethnic Israelites. When Paul says “there is neither Jew nor Greek,” he does not negate ethnic distinctions but asserts that all have equal status before God regardless of ethnicity.
It is the quality of one’s faith that differentiates one man from another.
In Rom. 3:1, 2, Paul asks,
1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.
Far-off nations did not receive the revelation of the law when the Israelites heard the voice of God speaking from the Mount. Most remained ignorant of it for thousands of years. Hence, the Jews (Judah), along with the rest of the Israelites, had a tremendous advantage over other nations.
This did not mean that the law was given exclusively to Israel alone, as some have said. Rather, the Israelites were entrusted with the word of God so that they might share it and be a blessing to all nations of the earth.
In fact, the Jews even had an advantage over the Israelites. First, when the nation was divided, the Israelites were cut off from the temple. Two golden calves were substituted for them to worship. Later, when the Israelites were deported to Assyria, the word of God became very scarce and was soon forgotten in their sojourn among the nations.
Although their tribulation was long, God’s plan remained intact. Israel was to be rebuilt under a New Covenant.