Israel Is Israel—Right?

From the July 2014 Trumpet Print Edition

Who are the modern descendants of ancient Israel? The Jewish nation in the Middle East, right?

Yes—and no.

The Jews, of course, descended from Abraham. Abraham’s son was Isaac, and Isaac’s son was Jacob, whose name God later changed to Israel. The Jews descended from this lineage. So Jews are Israelites. But not all Israelites are Jews.

Israel had 12 sons, one of whom was Judah. Judah grew into a great tribe, whose people came to be known as Jews. But there were 11 other tribes. And since God specially blessed the tribe of Joseph and Joseph’s two sons, there were actually 12 tribes besides Judah.

Under King David and King Solomon, all the tribes of Israel were united in one kingdom. But then the kingdom split. Ten tribes rebelled and formed their own kingdom to the north in the land called Samaria. Judah, along with the tribes of Benjamin and Levi, stayed under the rule of David’s descendants, who ruled from Jerusalem.

The history of those in the kingdom of Judah, known as the Jews, is well known. But what about the 10 tribes in the northern kingdom of Israel?

The Assyrian empire conquered these tribes. The Bible records what happened next.

“[T]here was none left but the tribe of Judah only,” Scripture says, because “the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof” (2 Kings 17:18, 24). So Assyria imported non-Israelites into Samaria, and removed the Israelite captives. The Israelites and Assyrians migrated northwest. During this period, these tribes lost their identity.

But God had made a promise to Abraham—that his descendants would develop huge populations, would become wealthy, would project power over other nations, would spread worldwide, would control crucial sea gates, would become a nation and a company of nations. The Jews have never fulfilled these promises. In fact, they have often been dispersed throughout history with no nation of their own at all.

God actually specified that He would fulfill these promises of national greatness not through Judah and not through all 12 tribes in general, but through Joseph and his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. God recorded that Manasseh would become a great nation, and that his brother, Ephraim, would become “a multitude of nations.”

When you look at history to see whether God kept His promises, look beyond the State of Israel. Look for those peoples with ancient connections to Judah that became a powerful nation and a powerful empire.