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Identifying Nations in Prophecy, part 1

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Issue #423October 2023

Identifying Nations in Prophecy, part 1

The Bible speaks about various nations that existed in those days, beginning with the original 70 nations of the earth who came from the sons of Noah (Gen. 10:1, 32). From the standpoint of prophecy, these 70 nations represent all nations, even though many new nations have formed over the centuries.

When the prophets later prophesied about the sin or destiny of various nations, it is essential that we identify them correctly in order to avoid misapplying prophecy. After all, we would not want to accuse a nation falsely by our own ignorance of Scripture and history.

Identifying the House of Israel

One of the foremost problems, strangely enough, is in identifying the so-called “lost tribes of Israel.” This was part of God’s judgment upon the Israelites. This judgment itself was prophesied centuries before they were actually lost, and this shows that God was behind it. In order to truly lose them, it was necessary to blind the historians and even the theologians to their whereabouts.

Even so, God provided us with the necessary prophecies to find those “lost sheep” (Jer. 50:6).

6 My people have become lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray. They have made them turn aside on the mountains; they have gone along from mountain to hill and have forgotten their resting place.

Again, we read in Ezekiel 34:6,

6 My flock wandered through all the mountains [i.e., the nations] and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for them.

The law commands us in Deut. 22:1,

1 You shall not see your countryman’s ox or his sheep straying away and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly bring them back to your countryman.

This shows the importance of finding those “lost sheep of the House of Israel” (Matt. 10:6). While many have taken this to be a reference to evangelizing unbelievers, and others have applied it to the Jews, few people have searched for the northern house of Israel that was taken into exile by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:6, 8). Verse 8 says,

8 So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from His sight; none was left except the tribe of Judah.

The majority of Christians today assume that the Jews are the Israelites, not realizing that after the death of Solomon, Israel and Judah split into two nations. From that point on, the prophets do not refer to Judah as Israel, but treat them separately. The separation occurred in 1 Kings 11 and 12 over the issue of taxation. 1 Kings 12:16-19 says,

16 When all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying, “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; to your tents, O Israel! Now look after your own house, David!” So Israel departed to their tents… 19 So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.

Later, the prophet wrote in Jer. 5:11,

11 For the house of Israel and the house of Judah have dealt very treacherously with Me,” declares the Lord.

The prophet was not speaking of a single nation but of two: Israel and Judah. These were to remain separate until the latter days, when the lost sheep would be found, so that the two could be reunified (Ezekiel 37:22).

But let us not get ahead of ourselves. Let us study the prophecy about the lost sheep and how it happened.

The Birthright of Israel

Jacob was the first Israelite, having been given the name Israel in Gen. 32:28. Yet the name Israel was also the name given to the holder of the birthright. Essentially, Israel is the name given to the inheritor of the birthright. That inheritor is primarily Jesus Christ, but by extension the name is also given to those of His body—those who are united with Him and are in agreement with Him.

In other words, no individual or nation has the right to call itself Israel unless they are in union with the One who holds that title.

But getting back to the story of Jacob, before Jacob-Israel died, he passed the birthright to Joseph—specifically, Joseph’s sons—as we read 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 [Reuben] is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright. 2 Though Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came the leader, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph).

Verse 2 says that even though Judah was given the promise of the “leader” (i.e., the king and Messiah), he did not receive the birthright itself. It was given to Joseph.

The term Jew is short for Judah. Hence, the Jews did not receive the birthright. If we want to trace the birthright, we must look for the tribes of Joseph: Ephraim and Manasseh. But they were exiled to Assyria and were classed as “lost sheep.” As long as they are lost, the birthright too is lost. One cannot simply transfer the birthright from Joseph to Judah without doing violence to biblical law and prophecy.

Joseph’s Son, Manasseh

Manasseh was Joseph’s firstborn son (Gen. 41:51), yet ultimately, his brother Ephraim received the birthright (Gen. 48:14). Manasseh himself was named prophetically to signify forgetfulness. So we read in Gen. 41:51,

51 Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”

In other words, he was a living prophecy about the house (or household) of Israel which was to be forgotten for a season. This ended later, of course, when Joseph was found in Egypt and when he was reunited with his father, Israel. The fact that Joseph himself was “lost” in Egypt and presumed dead for 21 years became a prophecy of the lost tribes of Israel as well.

This is the prophecy in Manasseh’s name, establishing the manner in which the Israelites in later times would be lost in Assyria. In order to lose the Israelites, God had to blind historians and the church itself, so that they would not know where the lost Israelites went. The Bible leaves them in Assyria—specifically, “Halah and Habor, on the river of Gozan and in the cities of the Medes” (2 Kings 17:6).

This was Israel’s graveyard, but two centuries later, this very spot became the birthplace of the Europeans. After the fall of Assyria, many of them decided to migrate north into Europe. So many of them passed through the Caucasus Mountains that historians referred to them as Caucasians.

Later, about 215 A.D., the New Persian Empire invaded that land and pushed these people into nearby Armenia. But this mountainous country could not contain so many refugees, so most of them continued their journey north, where they settled in Europe. Others moved west from Armenia into what is now Turkey south of the Black Sea. Peter found them in “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter. 1:1), where they had retreated from the Persians.

When the Israelites went into exile, they kept very few records. Other nations did not call them by the name Israel, for it was in the plan of God to change their name in order to hide their identity. This was actually prophesied earlier (Gen. 41:45) when Pharaoh gave Joseph a new name, Zaphenath-paneah, “hidden treasure.” His new name ensured that he would remain hidden even from his own family in nearby Canaan.

And, of course, it ensured that the prophecy of Manasseh would be fulfilled. After Israel was exiled to Assyria, they did indeed forget their father’s house. For more details about the Israelites and what names they were called during their exile, see my book, Who is an Israelite?.

It took centuries for the Israelites to lose sight of their origins in the land of Israel. There are ancient cemeteries in the Crimea which show that at least some remembered. One tombstone reads,

“This is the tombstone of Buki, the son of Izchak [i.e., Isaac], the priest; may his rest be in Eden, at the time of the salvation of Israel. In the year 702 of the years of our exile.”

It seems that their calendar was dated from the year of their captivity (745-721 B.C.). Hence, Buki died just a few years before the birth of Christ.

Another tombstone reads,

“Rabbi Moses Levi died in the year 726 of our Exile.”

A longer epitaph was written on the tombstone of “Jehuda ben Mose ha-Nagolan,” who was “of the tribe of Naphtali,” one of the lost tribes of Israel. His epitaph is recorded by Rev. C. Coffin in Academia Scientarum Imperialis, Memoires, St. Petersburg, Russia (Vol. 24, No. 1, 1863).

The point is that these Israelites were not Jews. The Israelites were lost, the Jews were never physically lost as a people. The exiled Israelites eventually lost sight of their roots in order to fulfill the prophecy of Manasseh.

Yet because of the law in Deut. 22:1, commanding us to search for and care for lost sheep, it is important for us to obey this law. Remember that the law is an expression of God’s will and nature (heart). Hence, if we agree with God and with Paul that “the law is good” (Rom. 7:16), we will search for God’s sheep on every level and in every place.

In the 1970’s, I studied history to discover the lost sheep of Israel. Years later, my focus shifted to the overcomers of the remnant of grace, because these were the true sheep who hear Jesus’ voice (John 10:27). All others are future sheep, so they should not be forgotten, but my main focus now is on the remnant of grace.

The Error of Zionism

The church today remains largely ignorant of biblical history, and the result is that they think the Jews are Israel. They mistakenly believe that the Jewish state commonly called Israel is the Israel of Scripture.

The fact is that the Kingdom was divided after the death of Solomon into two nations known as Israel and Judah. From that point on, the prophets never confuse the two. The name Israel no longer included Judah—or even Benjamin. More to the point, Israel was redefined nationally to exclude Judah. It no longer included all of Jacob’s descendants.

Hence, the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah and others were specifically directed toward either Israel or Judah. But only a few Bible teachers seem to know this.

Jer. 18:1-10 speaks of Israel in terms of wet clay that is beaten down and remade into another vessel. Jer. 18:11 through chapter 19 speaks of Judah in terms of an old clay jar that is smashed so that it could never again be repaired (Jer. 19:11). Yet many teachers apply the wet clay vessel to the modern Jewish state, when in fact the Jewish state is the old clay jar that is destined for utter destruction.

Just because the Jewish state is officially named Israel does not make it the biblical Israel. It is strange indeed that the Jews would seek to replace the Israelites and take upon themselves the calling of Israel.

Jacob gave his name Israel to the sons of Joseph, not to Judah, as he blessed Joseph’s sons in Gen. 48:16,

16 The angel [Peniel] who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and may my name [i.e., Israel] live on in them…

Hence, only the sons of Joseph—and those in union with them—had the lawful right to the name Israel. When the tribes of Joseph split off from Judah, the division meant that Judah no longer had the right to call itself Israel. That is why the northern kingdom retained the name Israel, while the southern kingdom had to settle for the name Judah.

Zionism is based on a fraudulent and unlawful claim to the name Israel. Furthermore, from a spiritual point of view, Jews who do not enjoy heart circumcision are not even Jews as God would define the term (Rom. 2:28, 29). They are Jews only by the fleshly and religious definitions of men who do not know the mind of God.

Such ignorance has caused countless Christians to support huge injustices against the Palestinian people as they think they are supporting the biblical Israel.

We are Sionists

Jesus Christ once led His disciples to Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 16:13), where He ministered for 6 days (Matt. 17:1). From there He took 3 of the disciples up Mount Hermon, where He was transfigured (Matt. 17:2).

Mount Hermon was also known as Mount Sion, as we read in Deut. 4:48,

48 from Aroer, which is on the edge of the valley of Arnon, even as far as Mount Sion (that is, Hermon).

We read in Heb. 12:18, 22,

18 For you have not come to a mountain [i.e., Sinai] that can be touched and to a blazing fire and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind… 22 but you have come to Mount Zion [“Sion,” KJV] and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels.

The author of Hebrews was not drawing a distinction between Sinai in Arabia and Zion in the earthly Jerusalem. He was pointing to “the heavenly Jerusalem,” which Paul clearly distinguished from the earthly city in Gal. 4:25, 26,

25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.

Note that Mount Sinai—which “you have not come to”—corresponds to the earthly Jerusalem. Zion is the seat of government in the earthly Jerusalem, and so we have not come to Mount Zion either. Instead, we have come to Mount Sion, that is, Mount Hermon, the place of Sonship and Transfiguration through our great Mediator, Jesus Christ. It represents the seat of government for King Jesus.

Hence, as New Covenant believers, we are Sionists, not Zionists. We no longer march to Zion but to Sion. Our “mother” is not the earthly Jerusalem, nor are we children of the flesh. Those who consider Jerusalem to be the mother of the church are confessing that they are spiritual Ishmaelites who must be “cast out” along with their “mother” (Gal. 4:30), as Jer. 19:10, 11 prophesies.

By failing to distinguish between the two Jerusalems, each having its own seat of government, Christians inadvertently lay claim to fleshly status. Worse yet, they appeal to God on behalf of Hagar to make her children the “chosen” people who will inherit the Kingdom. Such prayers go contrary to the will of God, showing that such people are not yet in full agreement with God.

Judah: Good and Bad Figs

Once we have distinguished Israel from Judah, the next step is to distinguish the two kinds of Judahites. Judah was symbolized by the fig tree, while Israel was an olive tree. Jer. 24 speaks of two baskets of figs, one with tasty figs, and the other with rotten figs. In other words, God saw that Judah had both good and bad people in it—those who heard and obeyed the word of the Lord, and those who did not.

2 One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, and the other basket had very bad figs which could not be eaten due to rottenness.

Apparently, these were baskets of figs offered to God as the first fruits of the fig harvest (Deut. 26:1, 2, 10). First fruits represent one’s heart and its condition. Hence, there were good and bad people in Judah.

Jeremiah’s revelation tells us that those Judahites who refused to submit to the judgment of God were the evil figs, while those who submitted to God’s agent of justice—King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon—were the good figs.

In Jesus’ day, the people were required to submit to Babylon’s successor, Rome, the fourth beast kingdom in Daniel 7. Some did, but the majority of them hated the Romans and submitted only because they lacked the power to overthrow Rome. This is what determined the good and bad figs in Jesus’ day.

Jesus Himself submitted to the Romans and did not try to overthrow them with divine power. This made the bad figs angry, because they expected the Messiah to overthrow the Romans. Yet Jesus knew that the iron kingdom had to run its course, and that the time of the beast empires as a whole had not yet run out. Rome itself did not fall until 476 A.D., and even then, the “little horn” was yet to arise.

The beast empires did not lose their dominion until 2017, as I have explained elsewhere.

Jesus taught His disciples to be good figs. One of them, Simon Zelotes, was identified with the Zealots, who were extremists who thought it was God’s will to fight the Romans. But even Simon learned to be a good fig.

Those who rejected Jesus as the Messiah—on account of His refusal to meet Jewish military expectations—are the bad figs of Judah even to this day. Those who accepted Jesus as the Messiah and who followed His example, were (and are) the good figs of Judah.

The two types of figs are identified in another way in Rom. 2:28, 29 in terms of the two types of circumcision.

28 For he is NOT a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he IS a Jew [or Judahite] who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

Men have their own criteria by which they identify a Jew (i.e., a citizen of Judah), based on genealogy or religion. God too has His own criteria by which He determines who is a member of the tribe of Judah. Judah means “praise.” Paul says that “his praise” (that is, his right to be known as a man of Judah) is based on heart circumcision, not that which is “outward in the flesh.”

Those fleshly Jews who remained loyal to the priests and rabbis that had rejected Jesus as the Messiah continued to remain in rebellion against God’s agent of justice—Rome. For this, they were judged in 70 A.D., when God raised up His army of Romans to destroy Jerusalem, as prophesied by Jesus in Matt. 22:7,

7 But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire.

So to identify a Jew or Judahite depends on whose criteria one uses: that of men or of God. God says that a Jew is one who praises Him through heart circumcision, denoting a change of heart and nature.