Today, most people think, and have assumed, that the tiny nation in the Middle East called “Israel” is all there is that’s left of the ancient nation which God dealt with in the Old Testament. But, as even children who have studied the Bible in Sunday or Sabbath school know, the “Israel” of the Old Testament was a nation composed of the descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob (Genesis 35:23-26; 32:28). Jacob was later renamed “Israel” (Genesis 35:10).
Jacob, of course, was one of twin brothers borne by Rebekah to Isaac. The other of the twins was Esau or Edom. The story is found in Genesis 25 through 36. From Genesis 27 onwards we have the story of one of the twelve sons of Jacob — his favorite, Joseph — whom his brothers sold to Ishmaelites who then took him to Egypt. There Joseph became a slave of an Egyptian military officer and remained so until, by God’s design, he was thrown into prison on false charges.
While in prison, Joseph had the opportunity to interpret rightly, with God’s help, the bothersome dream of Egypt’s king Pharoah which God revealed to be about seven years of plenty and a subsequent seven years of famine. Thus Joseph was released from prison and was promoted as governor of all Egypt under Pharoah. Through God’s timely intervention during the severe famine throughout the region, Jacob and his growing family survived when Joseph, whom the Pharoah appointed as manager of Egypt’s store of food, took care of them in Egypt.
Settled in Goshen, a choice part of Egypt, the children of Israel multiplied greatly during the 400-some years they stayed there. After Joseph died, a new Pharoah became ruler over Egypt. The population explosion alarmed the Pharoah as a possible threat to Egypt’s security, so he made the children of Israel bond slaves and put them to hard labor, with rigor and oppression. The people cried out to God, and God sent to them Moses to deliver them from their Egyptian bondage and bring them to the land which, as God had promised to their fathers, they as the descendants would possess — the land of Canaan and its environs.
The rest of the Old Testament records the history of the children of Israel from their miraculous “exodus” out of Egypt, to their wilderness sojourn, to their possession of the Promised Land, and to their development as a nation there. As we will discuss later, the entire Bible shows how God has made Israel a special people despite the many twists and turns they took from His purpose for them.
Jacob’s father Isaac, in turn, was born by a divine miracle to Abraham through his wife Sarah, who was already past the age of child-bearing. Genesis 12 through 24 relates the story of Abraham (formerly named Abram). God promised that Abraham would become a “father of many nations,” as his new name means (Genesis 17:4-5). [See: The Children of Abraham.] Abraham traces his roots to Arphaxad, one of the sons of Shem (Genesis 11:10-26). And Shem was one of the three sons of Noah who, with their wives, survived the Great Flood (Genesis 7:13; 10:1, etc.).
These three patriarchs — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — became the object of God’s special favor because of their faith in God and in His promise to them. In fact, God revealed His identity to the children of Israel as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6, 15, 16; 4:5; Matthew 22:32; Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37; Acts 7:32) or “LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel” (1 Kings 18:36; 1 Chronicles 29:18; 2 Chronicles 30:6), “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Acts 3:13). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were called “the fathers” of the children of Israel or, to them, “your fathers” (Exodus 3:3, 15, 16; Deuteronomy 1:8, 11, 21, 35; 4:1; etc.).
God’s promise to “the fathers”
Besides His promise to Abraham that his descendants would occupy the land of Canaan, etc. (Genesis 12:5-7, 14-15), God also promised that “…I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered” (Verse 16). Likewise, God promised: “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them….So shall your descendants be” (Genesis 15:5). In addition, God promised: “…blessing I will bless you and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore” (Genesis 21:7).
God then reiterated to Isaac and, in turn, to Jacob His promise to Abraham to multiply his descendants to innumerable numbers (Genesis 26:24; 28:3-4; 35:11). In time this promise came true as the descendants of Jacob — the children of Israel — multiplied tremendously. By the time they reached Moab, the children of Israel had so multiplied that Moab’s king Balak feared the Israelites, for “they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me” (Numbers 22:4-5). As pronounced by the Gentile prophet Balaam whom Balak hired to curse Israel, “Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number one-fourth of Israel” (Numbers 23:10)?
True, God warned that, if the children of Israel forsook their covenant with God, He would cause them to be “…left few in number, whereas you were as the stars of heaven in multitude, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God. And it shall be, that just as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess” (Deuteronomy 28:62-63).
Nevertheless, His mercies to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob prevailed on God to keep the children of Israel as His “beloved for the sake of the fathers” (Romans 11:28). As Jeremiah 51:5 declares, “For Israel is not forsaken, nor Judah, by his God, the LORD of hosts, though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel.” God did multiply the descendants of Jacob to innumerable numbers despite their sin, as we will explain later.
If we look at the varying estimates of the total population of the Jews (including part-Jews) in the world today, we have figures that range from a low of almost 14 million to a high of 18 million. In the state of Israel itself, an estimated six million to almost eight million Jews reside. With other growth factors considered, the total Jewish population worldwide is estimated to possibly come close to 22 million. [For more information on the Jewish population, click on this popular link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_population_by_country.]
If, as claimed by many, the Jews today are all that have remained of the ancient nation Israel, hardly can anyone say that 22 million Jews worldwide are as innumerable as the dust of the earth, as the stars of heaven, or as the sand on the seashore. Fifty- two other countries have a greater population than that! [See: www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/population-by-country.htm.]
Does this mean that God’s promise to “the fathers” has failed? As the apostle Paul would say, certainly not!
An important key to understanding
Again, as many Bible students understand from Bible history, the kingdom of Israel began as one nation — first under the leadership of Moses, then Joshua, then the judges and, later, the kings (story in Exodus 2 through 2 Chronicles 36). But a great divide occurred at the time of King Rehoboam, who succeeded to the throne after his father King Solomon (Israel’s third king) died. The story is found in 1 Kings 11 through 14.
Because he sinned greatly in turning his heart from the LORD God of Israel, Solomon suffered a number of punishments by God (1 Kings 11). Among these punishments was that God would raise up several adversaries or enemies of Solomon (Verses 14-25). The greatest enemy would be Solomon’s own servant, Jeroboam, who led a rebellion against the king (Verses 26-40).
God told Solomon: “Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant. Nevertheless I will not do it in your days, for the sake of your father David; I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However I will not tear away the whole kingdom; I will give one tribe to your son for the sake of my servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen” (Verses 11-13).
As God had told Solomon, so the kingdom was torn from him in the days of his son Rehoboam soon after he started to rule following Solomon’s death. Jeroboam had been a thorn on Solomon’s side; now he became a thorn also on Rehoboam’s side. The story is told in 1 Kings 12:1-19.
Rehoboam rejected the advice of the elderly, that he reduce the burden of service and the “heavy yoke” [perhaps of royal taxes or tributes] that the people had borne during Solomon’s reign. Instead Rehoboam heeded the advice of his younger peers to rather make the burden and yoke heavier. As a result, Jeroboam led the ten tribes of Israel in the north (including the double tribes of Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh) “in rebellion against the house of David” (Verse 19).
This break-away population, naturally, well outnumbered the people who remained with Rehoboam. The confederacy of the northern tribes became known as “Israel” (1 Kings 15:9, 16, 25, 31, 33; 16:29; 22:2, etc.) and, later, “the house [or kingdom] of Israel” (1 Kings 12:21; 21:7; Isaiah 5:7; 46:3; Jeremiah 31:31; 33:17; Ezekiel 4:5; 5:4; 6:11; 9:9; 24:3; Hosea 1:4).
The tribes that remained with Rehoboam were Judah, a part of Benjamin, and Levi (who served in the temple at Jerusalem). The people that comprised this southern half of the original nation became known as “Judah” (1 Kings 15:1, 9, 33; 22:2; 2 Kings 8:25, 29, etc.) and, later, “the house [or kingdom] of Judah” (1 Kings 12:21; 2 Kings 19:30; Nehemiah 4:10; Jeremiah 5:11; 11:10; 31:31; 33:14;Ezekiel 4:6; 8:17; 2 Chronicles 11:17). Because all the subsequent kings of the kingdom of Judah were descendants of King David, the southern kingdom is also called “the house of David” (1 Kings 12:16, 19, 20, 26; 2 Kings 17:21; Isaiah 7:13; Zechariah 12:7).
Right to the name “Israel”
The northern kingdom was called the kingdom or house of Israel because among the tribes that comprised this kingdom was the tribe of Joseph. And how did Joseph have anything to do with this?
Just before his death in Egypt, Jacob or Israel laid his hands on the two sons of Joseph (Manasseh and Ephraim) to bless them. The story is found in Genesis 48. Jacob declared: “Let my name be named upon them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac” (Verse 16). Thus, it is the descendants of Joseph that, rightly, bear the name Israel and the blessings attached to it. Hebrews 11:21 testifies that it was “by faith” that Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons. That means it was with God’s blessing too.
We might say, correctly, that it is the “Joes” and not the “Jews” who have the right to the name “Israel.” In the Philippines, it has been the custom for natives here to address white, English-speaking men as “Joe.” The popular cartoon character, of the American soldier “G.I. Joe,” may have contributed somewhat to this custom.[Also, interestingly, after World War II (in the mid-1940s), which older Filipino folks fondly call our “liberation” period [liberation from the Japanese invaders/occupiers], the rumor spread all over the islands that truckloads of American soldiers, as part of their military victory celebration, drove around cities here showering down chocolates and chewing gum on the watching, cheering crowds greeting them “Hey, Joe!”. I remember, as a boy of 5 0r 6, how –as others my age did for a time — I would extend my hand toward a white, English-speaking man, and call out, “Hey, Joe! Choc’lit, Ch’ing gum, Joe!” Now we’ve stopped asking for chocolates and chewing gum, but we still address Americans and their “cousins” [Brits, Canadians, Aussies and “Kiwis”] the same way. So entrenched is this image here of Americans as”Joes” that some anecdotes here can add a touch of humor to this phenomenon. Joseph Tkach, Jr. whom we fondly called “Joe, Jr.” became pastor-general of the Worldwide Church of God (in which I was a minister for many years), when his father, Joseph, Sr. [whom we simply called JWT] died in 1995. Joe Jr. shortly visited Manila for the first time. When he spoke before a combined meeting of several Metro Manila WCG congregations, he remarked at how everyone at the airport, the hotel, and restaurants would wave their hand to him and greet him, “Hey, Joe!” “It seems that everyone here knows me!” he said. I think someone later explained to him this part of Filipino history and culture. Former WCG Manila regional director Guy Ames once regaled me with his take on the American national anthem. He sang the first bars of the song as, “José [pronounced “Hō-sāy´,” the Spanish for Joseph], can you see, by the dawn’s early light…”]
In 1948 the Jews (short for Judah) received a majority vote by member-nations of the United Nations to allow them to establish their own state in the Middle East where they had lived many centuries earlier. [Many Jews are averse to calling the area “Palestine.” This is understandable given their long history of conflicts with the neighboring Palestinians which still continue and are even worsening today.] The Jews chose to call their new state “Israel” and the citizens have now become known as “Israelis.” However, as mentioned earlier, the name “Israel” rightly belongs to the sons of Joseph. The name “Israel” as applied to the country of the Jews is thus a misnomer!
Nevertheless, the Jews are also a part of the greater community known as “the children [or people] of Israel” (Ezra 2:2; 3:1; 7:7; Nehemiah 1:6; 2:10). The apostles Peter and Paul, in addressing Jewish audiences, rightly called them “men of Israel” (Acts 2:22; 3:12; 13:16). But, as Jacob’s blessing on Joseph’s two sons shows, it was only Manasseh and Ephraim who were given the right to have Israel’s name named on them.
To leap ahead with the story, in the future God will reunite the two kingdoms into one, as before. This is prophesied in Ezekiel 37:15-22. Here the LORD instructed Ezekiel:
As for you, son of man, take a stick for yourself and write on it: “For Judah and for the children of Israel, his companions [Levi and Benjamin].” Then take another stick and write on it, “For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel, his companions [the rest of the ten tribes].” Then join them one to another for yourself into one stick, and they will become one in your hand. And when the children of your people speak to you, saying, “Will you not show us what you mean by these?” — say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Surely I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will join them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand'” (Verses 16-19).
Ephraim stood for Joseph because, in his blessing on Joseph’s two sons, Jacob placed the younger of the two, Ephraim, in a position of greater prominence than that of the elder, Manasseh (Genesis 48:29-20).
In the meantime, many dramatic things were to happen to both the house of Judah and the house of Israel since they split up.
House of Israel carried away captive
1 Kings 12 through 2 Kings 17 records the succession of kings both of the house of Judah and of the house of Israel. As each king is introduced, a note is made as to whether each ruled righteously or wickedly. Beginning with King Jeroboam, we find that most kings of the house of Israel followed Jeroboam’s wicked example of turning away from worshiping the God of Israel to worshiping the pagan god Baal and other heathen gods and goddesses (1 Kings 25-26, 33; 16:8, 13, 15-19, 23, 25, 29-30; 22:51-53; 2 Kings 3:1-2; 13:1-2, 10-11; 14:23-24; 15:8-9, 17-18, 23-24, 27-28, etc.).
2 Kings 17 records the pivotal event in the reign of the last king of Israel, Hoshea, who “did evil in the sight of the LORD, but not as the kings of Israel who were before him” (Verse 2). During Hoshea’s reign, “Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against him; and Hoshea became his vassal, and paid tribute money” (Verse 3). Then Shalmaneser uncovered a plot by Hoshea to consort with So, king of Egypt, and Hoshea quit paying tribute money to Shalmaneser. As a result Shalmaneser bound Hoshea and shut him in prison (Verse 4).
Verses 5-6 relate the pivotal event: “Now the king of Assyria went throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria and besieged it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.”
Why did God allow the king of Assyria to carry away the children of Israel from their land to Assyria and even as far as the land of the Medes? 2 Kings 17:7-13 gives the reason:
For so it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, from under the hand of Pharoah king of Egypt; and they had feared other gods, and had walked in the statutes of the nations whom the LORD had cast out from before the children of Israel, and of the kings of Israel, which they had made. Also, the children of Israel secretly did against the LORD their God things that were not right, and they built for themselves high places in all their cities, from watchtower to fortified city. They set up for themselves sacred pillars and wooden images on every high hill and under every green tree. There they burned incense in all the high places, like the nations whom the LORD had carried away before them; and they did wicked things to provoke the LORD to anger, for they served idols, of which the LORD had said to them, “You shall not do this thing.”
What happened to the house of Israel after their Assyrian captivity has been a great mystery, obscured in legends, myths, traditions, half-truths, but also in profound and often baffling Bible prophecies — the full and clear understanding and import of which may lie still in the future. Efforts to try to trace the wanderings or migrations of these ten northern tribes have been wracked with controversy, dispute and debate! Bringing up the issue of where the people of the house of Israel are today is like opening a can of worms — or a proverbial Pandora’s Box!
The situation with these ten tribes of the house of Israel is quite unlike that of the Jews. For sinning against the LORD, those in the house or kingdom of Judah were later also taken captive and carried away to Babylon. The Old Testament books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther document the Jews’ life in their Babylonian captivity and the Jews’ return to Jerusalem and Judea. Despite many horrendous trials, the Jews have visibly survived to this day. We know where to find most of them! [An unknown number of Jews, however, have hidden their true identity and have been called “cryptic” or “secret” Jews.]
Did the “house of Israel” return to Jerusalem from their captivity?
Some have contended against what they believe is a “theory” about “British-Israelism” or that the northern kingdom, the 10-tribed “house of Israel,” never came back to Jerusalem or the land of Israel since their Assyrian captivity. They do not admit that the northern ten tribes of Israel have become scattered, have lost their identity, have settled elsewhere on earth, and don’t know that they had been a major part of the ancient nation Israel.
One proof that these contenders cite is Nehemiah 7:73, “So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the Nethinim, and all Israel were in their cities.” If we took this particular verse at face value, we would indeed come to conclude that all of the house of Israel settled back into their former homeland after the Babylonian captivity — as is the subject in Nehemiah’s book. But if we check carefully Nehemiah’s list of the people that came back, by their families, to Jerusalem, we will find that none of the northern tribes of the house of Israel are mentioned (Nehemiah 7, 11, 12). Rather, the people on this list came from those that had been in the house of Judah before they were carried off to Babylon.
As explained elsewhere in this article, the Jews and their companions from the tribes of Levi and Benjamin in the house of Judah are also “children of Israel.” The fact that Nehemiah declares “all Israel” to have settled back in their cities in Judea and, as later history shows, in the northern area called Samaria, indicates one thing. The Jews may have thought then, as most Jews think even to this day, that they are all that remain of the whole house of Israel.
The people of the northern house of Israel had been carried away captive to Assyria and had long migrated to other regions, never to return to the land of Israel. [See section titled “A linguistic clue,” below.] Dr. Hoeh’s article titled “Where Did the Twelve Apostles Go?” which I have cited here, explains this amply.
Luke 2:36-27 is another Bible text some have used to challenge the belief that the people of the house of Israel have not returned to the land of Israel: “Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher…who did not depart from the temple [in Jerusalem], but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.”
How can this prove that the whole tribe of Asher, one of the ten in the house of Israel, had returned to the land of Israel? As the saying goes, “One swallow does not make a summer.” [This has reference to the migratory “swallows of Capistrano” which normally come back there in summer.]
The Israelites were free to marry among any of the tribes of Israel. This apparently was the case with Anna of the tribe of Asher having married someone, presumably, of the tribe of Judah.
Such was the case, too, of Athaliah, a daughter of king Ahab of the house of Israel. 2 Chronicles 21:5-6 shows that Judah’s king Jehoram “had the daughter of Ahab as a wife.” 2 Chronicles 22:2 identifies that daughter as Athaliah, “the granddaughter of Omri.” Omri was Ahab’s father (1 Kings 16:29-30).
As in the case of Anna the prophetess, Athaliah’s presence in the kingdom of Judah does not prove that the whole tribe of her father Ahab (whichever of the ten it was) had settled in Jerusalem!
Let us follow the example of the apostle Paul, who did not shun to “declare The Whole Counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) in His Word, the Bible.
Because they still keep the seventh-day Sabbath and the feasts of God (as listed in Leviticus 23 and other Scripture passages), the Jews remain identified as the people of God [or the people of “the Book”]. Exodus 31:12-17 declares a part of God’s purpose: that God’s people are to keep God’s weekly Sabbath as a “sign between Me and the children of Israel forever.”
Not so, with the ten tribes of the house of Israel, who as a whole have abandoned God’s Sabbaths. Identifying who and where those tribes are today is a great puzzle and enigma.
The “lost sheep of the house of Israel”
Whatever one’s convictions may be about the identity of the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel, one thing is sure. And that is the charge by Jesus Christ to His twelve disciples, who (except Judas Iscariot) later became His twelve apostles: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…” bringing the gospel of the kingdom of God and healing all manner of sickness (Matthew 10:5-8).
“Lost sheep” could mean both historically lost and spiritually lost. But what matters is that the lost sheep are “of the house of Israel.” It is no empty promise that Jesus made to His twelve apostles, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man [Jesus] sits on the throne of glory [when He sets up the kingdom of God here on earth], you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). [Acts 1:21-26 records how God guided the apostles in choosing Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot as the 12th apostle.]
If those twelve tribes could not be identified by the apostles, how could they have fulfilled Jesus’ charge for them to go, in their lifetime, to where these tribes were located? That these twelve tribes were existing and were identified during New Testament times is testified to by the apostle James [Jesus’ half-brother]. James addressed his letter thus: “James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings” (James 1:1). [James appears to have been a kind of administrator in the Church of God’s head office in Jerusalem, superintending the various congregations both of Gentile brethren and Israelite brethren. He is recorded in Acts 15:12-21 as making an administrative judgment and decision on how to deal with Gentiles who were turning to God. See: Freed From Bondage.]
Since each of the twelve apostles is to be over one of the twelve tribes of Israel, would not these tribes have been reached by the apostles? And would not each of the apostles have had enough contact with the members of his assigned tribe during his ministry as to prepare them for their future rule?
Not just Jews
The New Testament record shows that the gospel of Jesus and of the kingdom of God went out to the Jews (the house or kingdom of Judah) as well as to the Gentiles (non-Israelites). It hardly mentions the gospel going out to the tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel. In Galatians 2:7 Paul declares that “the gospel for the circumcised” [the Jews — who represented the other tribes of Israel, see Romans 1:16; 2:9-10] had been committed to Peter, while “the gospel for the uncircumcised” [the Gentiles, see the same aforementioned Scripture passages] had been committed to Paul.
So, what about the gospel for the ten other tribes of Israel? How are we to know where and to whom each of the other apostles went to bring the same gospel?
Based on some historical evidence, the late Dr. Herman Hoeh proposed where the twelve apostles of Jesus could have gone to. [As I pointed out earlier, Acts 1:15-26 shows that, when the disciples of Jesus took the solemn recourse of a lot, God chose Matthias to replace, as the 12th apostle, the position vacated by the traitor Judas Iscariot, who killed himself after having betrayed Jesus (Matthew 27:3-9).] Dr. Hoeh’s treatise on the subject may be accessed through this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org , click ENTER HERE, select “Plain Truth (1934-1986)” and scroll down the May 1964 (Volume XXIX No. 05) issue, on pages 7-12, 23-26, the article titled “Where Did the Twelve Apostles Go?”
Anyone can question the accuracy of Dr. Hoeh’s suppositions. However, whatever gaps there may be in our knowledge of the actual whereabouts of the remnants of the ten tribes of Israel, we can be sure of one thing. These descendants of Israel did have the gospel of Jesus and of the kingdom of God preached to them, just as Jesus had purposed.
Isaiah 14:24, 27 assures us about God’s purposes: “The LORD of hosts has sworn, saying, ‘Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass, and as I have purposed, so it shall stand….For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” Isaiah 46:11 and Jeremiah 51:20 resonate this about God’s indomitable and supreme purpose.
And another thing we can be sure of: in due time Jesus will reveal exactly the truth about things hidden from our plain view now. Jesus said: “…there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known” (Matthew 10:26). Luke 12:3 adds, “Therefore whatever you [the disciples] have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.”
God has also made an unfailing promise, in Amos 9:8-9 —
“Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom [of Israel], and I will destroy it [momentarily] from the face of the earth; yet I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob [Israel],” says the LORD. “For surely I will command, and will sift the house of Israel among all nations, as grain is sifted in a sieve; yet not the smallest grain shall fall to the ground.“
God assures us that He knows where all the children of Israel have dispersed to in the world. He will move to “sift” them from all the nations where they have been scattered to, and they will all be duly accounted for!
Revelation 7:4-8 lists twelve thousand of each of the 12 tribes of Israel [for a total of 144,000 people who will be “sealed” before the “seventh seal” [which ushers in the seven trumpets with their corresponding plagues] is opened. God knows where to find the children of Israel! The list excludes the tribe of Dan, but includes Manasseh in addition to Joseph. [See: The Temple in Ezekiel 40-48. It will explain why Dan is not included among the tribes listed here, but how Dan will finally be among the restored nations of Israel when Jesus reigns on earth.]
A linguistic clue
One of the curses which God pronounced upon a disobedient nation of Israel was that He would “…bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand, a nation of fierce countenance” (Deuteronomy 28:49-50). He also pronounced, “…you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess [as the children of Israel did the land of Canaan, eventually]. Then the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other” (Verses 63-64).
As we mentioned earlier, it was the kingdom of Assyria that took the house of Israel captive and carried the people away to Assyria and other places. The Assyrian language was very different and not understood by the people of Israel.
Who were the Assyrians?
This is another mystery that has also been fraught with a lot of controversy. Again, Dr. Herman Hoeh looked into the roots of the Assyrians and found them to be associated with the Germanic peoples of today. I believe it is very instructive that we examine his findings as shown on this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select “Reference Materials” and scroll down to the book titled, A Compendium of World History (Book 2), Chapters I and II (1 and 2). A more readable version of Dr. Hoeh’s treatise may be had by remaining on this link; instead of “Reference Materials” select “Plain Truth (1934-1986),” search for the Plain Truth December 1962 issue, pages 25-27, the article titled “Germany in Prophecy;” Part 2 of the same article continues in the Plain Truth January 1963 issue, pages 15-17, 27-30.
Since the Assyrians carried away the ten tribes of Israel to Assyria and other places, it would be more likely than not that the captors would somehow impose their language upon their captives. If not by forced adoption of the captors’ language, it would be by voluntary adaptation of the captive’s language to that of their captors.
That, for example, has been the history of the languages of the people of the Philippines. Although the Spanish conquerors did not make it compulsory for the natives here to learn and speak Spanish (unlike what the Spanish did in the Central and South Americas), a lot of Spanish words have found their way into the local Philippine languages. [Most Filipinos greet folks and friends with “Kamusta?” (How are you?) Obviously this was adapted from the Spanish ¿Cómo está? Most Filipinos use the exact Spanish words for common, everyday objects, with “Filipinized” spellings: kusina (kitchen), banyo (bathroom), kutsara (spoon), tinidor (fork), plato (plate), tasa (cup), lamesa (table), silya (chair), kalye (street), etc., etc.]
When the Americans took over the administration of the Philippines, they taught English [or “American”?] to the natives, who have taken to it almost like fish to water. A lot of Filipinos can speak or write straight English. The broad majority, however, engage in a mix of local and English/American language called “Taglish” [the basis of the national language, Tagalog, plus English].
Is it merely a coincidence that English (as spoken in the U.S.A., the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and colonies) is a “Germanic” language? So are the languages of north-western Scandinavian countries (Norway, Denmark, Sweden, etc.), the Dutch, Afrikaans, etc. [See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanic_languages.]
When the Roman Empire held sway over the regions where these remnants of Israel were, the language of the Romans (originally Latin) made inroads into the then existing languages of these remnant people. That is why in English and other Germanic languages there is quite an infusion from the so-called Romance languages [languages influenced by the Romans — Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Romanian, etc.]. The Romans also readily adopted much of Greek culture; for this reason some Greek words have also found their way into English and other Germanic languages through this channel. It is also possible that this Greek influence may have come directly from the Greeks who, at one time earlier than the Romans did, also held empire over much of the civilized world.
In addition, cross-pollination among the languages of the different tribes of Israel may have taken place during their continuing inter-tribal battles, as intimated in James 4:1. For example, the invasion of England by the French Normans may explain the infusion of French words into the English language. [See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_conquest_of_England.]
Possible locations of the children of Israel today
Highly controversial though the writings on the subject may be, let me ask our readers to keep an open mind and examine the following link as possible, if not probable, further clues as to where the children of Israel may be found today: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select “Books & Booklets” and scroll down to the book titled The United States and the British Commonwealth in Prophecy or the booklet The United States and Britain in Prophecy.
A number of Bible students have questioned the identities of the descendants of Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh. The above-mentioned book or booklet proposes that the descendants of Ephraim are the British and the constituents of their commonwealth; that the descendants of Manasseh are the United States of America. Other students of the Bible believe it is the other way around. Whatever the truth of the matter is, we will know exactly when Christ reveals it — either just before He returns, or shortly afterwards.
Mr. Armstrong’s book or booklet also proposes where the other tribes of the house of Israel may be found today. The identities of these tribes closely parallel the peoples as suggested in Dr. Hoeh’s two-part article referred to earlier, “Where Did the Twelve Apostles Go?”
Even as a mere statistical exercise, if we add up the population of the nations referred to in this literature as the present descendants of Israel, the total will be in the multiple millions! Truly, as God promised “the fathers,” their descendants have multiplied as the dust of the earth, the stars of heaven, or the sand on the seashore!
Estimated total population of Israel’s descendants today
Based on the latest population statistics available [see: www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/population-by-country.htm] here are the figures of each of the countries listed as those where, plausibly, the descendants of Israel are today.
South Africa 54,000,000
New Zealand 4,434,000
As can be seen, a combined total of almost 628 million is no mean figure! This total does not include the children of Israel who may be migrants or permanent residents, even citizens, in non-Israelite countries or who live in Israelite colonies. These additional numbers could easily swell the total population count of the children of Israel in the world today.
Indeed, a multitude of people “as the dust of the earth,” “as the stars of heaven,” and “as the sand on the seashore!”
As said earlier, we will know for sure the full truth about the identities of the “lost” tribes of Israel when Jesus will return and will reveal things that now are “covered” or “hidden.” May that day come soon!
Israel’s place in God’s kingdom
Now, for the main purpose of this article: what is the place of Israel in God’s kingdom? Some people say that God has already abandoned the ancient nation Israel. In its place, they say, God has now established the Church of God. Theologians call this view a “replacement theology.”
What does the Bible say?
A good place to start is the apostle Paul’s inspired teaching about the relationship between Israel and the Gentiles who come to faith in Christ. Paul describes this at some length in his letter to the Romans, Chapter 11.
Right off, Paul asks: has God cast away His people [Israel]? Paul’s emphatic answer: “Certainly not” (Verse 1)! Indeed, the history of the children of Israel had been one of continual forsaking of their covenant with their LORD God — and God forsaking them. Yet, through His abundant mercies, God has “elected” — and preserved — a faithful remnant from among the Israelites, to be saved from destruction.
As for those children of Israel who have not been so elected, Paul asks: “…have they stumbled that they should fall [be lost forever]” (Verse 11)? Again, Paul answers himself: “Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy [or zeal], salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness” (Verses 11-12)!
Paul then goes on to compare Israel’s being God’s “firstfruit” (Verse 16) to an olive tree of God’s planting [“cultivated” by God, Verse 24; compare with Jeremiah 11:14-17]. The “remnant” of Israel are pictured by the branches that remain on the tree, while the branches that were cut off picture the erring children of Israel whom God has momentarily removed in order to give way to Gentiles for them to be “grafted” into God’s olive tree. Paul assures that sinning Israelites (pictured by the natural branches cut off from the olive tree) who repent will also be grafted back in (Verses 17-24).
Paul concludes: “And so all Israel will be saved” (Verse 26). That does not mean every single individual Israelite, for there will always be — sad to say — some persons who will willingly reject salvation. This is saying that, as a whole (or in general), Israel will be saved. And why is God “bent,” as it were, on saving Israel? Because “…concerning the election they [the children of Israel] are beloved for the sake of the fathers [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob]” (Verse 28). And God’s calling and electing Israel, by grace, as His beloved “are irrevocable” gifts. They cannot be recalled or taken back. [See: The Children of Abraham.]
Hosea 14:1-7 describes a future time when the children of Israel will return to their God and will have the kingdom restored to them. Before Jesus ascended to heaven, His disciples asked him about when that kingdom would be restored to Israel (Acts 1:6). Jesus did not deny that such a restoration will take place, but He said it was fully up to the Father to say when that will happen. Jesus said the same thing about the exact hour of His return (Mark 13:32). Whenever God will restore the kingdom to Israel, this is what He will surely do with the children of Israel (Hosea 14:4-6) —
“I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him [Israel]. I will be like the dew to Israel; He shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon. His branches shall spread; His beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon.”
God calls Israel His “firstborn” (Exodus 12:22), “the apple of My eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10; compare with Zechariah 2:6-9). God also calls Ephraim (who, as we explained earlier, bears the name Israel) His “firstborn” (Jeremiah 31:9). Likewise, God calls King David His “firstborn,” “the apple of [His] eye,” and “the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:27; 17:8; Ezekiel 37:24-25). When resurrected immortal, David will forever be “prince” ruling as king and shepherd over Israel under Jesus Christ, who is “king of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). This is all according to God’s supreme will [see: The Divine Prerogatives].
Another way God describes His faithful people as His firstborn is them being the “firstfruit” or “firstfruits,” as mentioned earlier. Firstfruits of what?
- Romans 8:23 — Paul says that Christians in his time [as well as those before him, and those after him] “have the firstfruits of the Spirit.” They are among the first, of all human beings, to have been given the Spirit of God as God chooses. [See: Predestination, God’s Spirit and Obedience, and God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 2 (see especially the section on “God’s Feast of Weeks/Day of Pentecost and the Jews”).]
- James 1:18 — “Of His own will He brought us [Christians among the children of Israel] by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” This is speaking about a spiritual creation. Those who are now in Christ and have His Spirit indwelling them have become new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:11; Galatians 6:15).
As mentioned in the last-cited reference, the “firstfruits” in this age come from the faithful both among the children of Israel and among the Gentiles. Paul called this mix of truly spiritual Israelite and Gentile people “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). [See: The Value of the “Firstborn.”]
Rather than eliminating the nation of Israel, the Church of God in this age now becomes the converted, spiritual “Israel of God.” It is much like the Church in Paul’s analogy of the olive tree of God’s planting (Romans 11) which, along with the faithful remnant of physical or natural Israel, has had some Gentiles — likened to branches of a wild olive tree — grafted into a spiritual Israel.
For choosing Israel is God a “racist?”
Many people have accused God of playing favorites and, worse, being a “racist” for choosing Israel above all other peoples or races. But God is God, and it is His perfect prerogative to do so, for His own purposes. Those purposes may at first glance seem partial, arbitrary — even capricious. But when we submit to the divine wisdom of God we will understand that, in the ultimate analysis, what God is doing is for the good of all humanity — and to the glory of His holy name! [See: The Divine Prerogatives and Predestination.]
God did not choose Israel for anything that the people could boast of. He had called them, to start with, being “the least of all peoples” (Deuteronomy 7:7). He told the people of Israel, through Moses: “Do not think in your heart, after the LORD your God has cast them [the heathen people] out before you, saying ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land’; but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out from before you. It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God drives them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the word which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore understand that the LORD your God is not giving you this land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people” (Deuteronomy 9:4-6).
Ezekiel 36:16-23 gives a profound insight into why God has dealt with such a rebellious people all throughout their history — why He allowed them to suffer for their disobedience to their God:
But I had concern for my Holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations wherever they went. Therefore [to the prophet Ezekiel] say to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for my holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD,” says the Lord GOD, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes” (Verses 22-23).
When eventually all Israel will receive God’s grace and mercy — and His Spirit — to make them obedient to God (Ezekiel 36:24-38), the Gentile nations will also acknowledge and believe in the God of Israel. As Paul told the Gentile Christians, this is how eventually all nations will also obtain God’s mercy as well: “For as you [Gentiles] were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their [the Israelites’] disobedience, even so these [the Israelites] also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you [Gentiles] they [the Israelites] also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them [Israelites] all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all [both Israelites and Gentiles]” (Romans 11:30-32).
God has dealt with Israel exactly as He would with any other nation with regard to disobedience — as well as obedience — to His ways. Paul makes this very clear in Romans 2:5-11. Paul concludes: “For there is no partiality with God” (Verse 11). God is no racist!
All that, for the glory of God! Paul remarked that God has chosen the foolish, the weak, the base, the despised and “the things which are not” in order to put to shame the “wise,” the “mighty,” and the “noble” of this world, so “that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
A restored Israel
Before Jesus’ return to this earth, gigantic earthquakes and other upheavals will completely transform the landscape of the earth. Even as we are experiencing now, earthquakes have become more frequent and have been occurring more widely around the globe (Matthew 24:7). The “big ones” are yet to come! As Revelation 6:14 describes what will take place when the “sixth seal” is opened (probably sometime very soon!): “Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.” Isaiah 40:4 also indicates a vast transformation of the earth’s topography: “Every valley shall be exalted [raised] and every mountain and hill made low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth.”
Revelation 14:4 declares that the 144,000 of the children of Israel “…are the ones who follow the Lamb [Jesus] wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.” They, along with the “great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” will stand “before the throne and before the Lamb” and will “serve Him day and night in His temple” (Revelation 7:9, 15).
This special, select group of God’s “firstfruits” or “firstborn” (both of Israel and of the Gentiles) will serve as some kind of permanent, immortal staff to Jesus Christ to assist Him in ruling the world from Jerusalem, His world “headquarters.” Their permanent residence will be in Jerusalem. Being immortal then, they will not need commodious houses as we mortals do in this present life. This immortal staff will need only rooms (as Jesus promised in John 14:2-3) in which to hold office.
What about the rest of physical Israel and all the Gentile people who will survive Satan’s wrath (Revelation 12:12) and the Day of the Lord? These are the mortals who will become the subjects of God’s kingdom, which Jesus will establish on the earth as His return.
God to claim His “tenth” of all humanity
Isaiah 6:13 assures Israel [“this people,” Verse 9] that, after their cities will have been “laid waste and without inhabitant,” their “houses…without a man,” “the land…utterly desolate” (Verse 11), “…yet a tenth will be in it, and will return…as a terebinth tree or as an oak, whose stump remains when it is cut down, so the holy seed shall be its stump.”
This is that time when God will judge the earth at the return of Jesus Christ. Isaiah 24:6 further describes that time: “Therefore the curse has devoured the earth, and those who dwell in it are desolate. Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left.”
Likewise, Isaiah 66:15-16 describes what will happen when God will unleash “His indignation [on] His enemies” (Verse 14): “For behold, the LORD will come with fire and with His chariots, like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by His sword the LORD will judge all flesh; and the slain of the LORD shall be many.”
The apostle Paul understood that God will deal with Gentile sinners just as He will deal with sinners among Israel. Paul wrote about the “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’ [quoted from Psalm 62:12]….to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness — indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek….For there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:5-9, 11).
God will have His tenth (or “tithe”) of all humanity like seed to sow, or like a tree stump to grow back, in order to replenish the earth’s human and other population for His divine purpose.
Many have smarted at the gory future that awaits mankind. They ask, How can a “God of love” be so wrathful? By merely focusing on the grace and mercy of God, they fail to understand that the judgment of God is also an aspect of His love. [See: The Four Dimensions of Christ’s Love, The Divine Prerogatives, and This is Not the Only Day of Salvation.]
As for the rest of Israel (as well as all of mankind) who have died “unsaved,” God has reserved another day for their salvation. Paul assures that God has promised to the twelve tribes of Israel the hope of the resurrection (Acts 26:7-8), as with “the rest of the dead” [of all nations] (Revelation 20:5). Ezekiel 37 describes the scenario of the “dry bones” of the “whole house of Israel” [“very dry,” because they will have waited more than a thousand years] coming back to life in that resurrection.
After all Israel will have been judged, God will yet use all of the children of Israel for His divine purpose.
Deuteronomy 32:8 may serve as God’s template in relocating the tribes of Israel and the Gentile peoples when Christ rules the earth: “When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel.”
Could it be possible that God will set the boundaries of the nations of the world into twelve regions, each under the guidance of a tribe of Israel, with one of the twelve apostles administering each region? The other glorified saints of God will help in teaching these nations God’s ways and laws (Revelation 20:5, etc.).
In promising that the descendants of “the fathers” would greatly multiply as the dust of the earth, as the stars of heaven and as the sand on the seashore, God could not have confined the territory of the children of Israel to a small area in the Middle East. Apparently God intended the descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel to spread all over the world, where they could bring God’s blessings, up close, to the nations in their respective regions. When God rules the earth, the physical or mortal children of Israel may very well serve as “models” to show how God’s ways work to bring blessings.
Ezekiel 47:21-23 gives us a good clue as to how God will distribute the nations [“strangers”] among the tribes of Israel in God’s kingdom: “And it shall be that in whatever tribe the stranger dwells, there you shall give him his inheritance” (Verse 23).
Israel finally a channel of blessing
From the start God had intended that Abraham and his descendants would be a blessing to all nations. “I will make you a great nation….and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2, 3). “And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you obeyed My voice” (Genesis 22:18).
As Paul explains, in Galatians 3:13-16, the greatest blessing that God would bestow, through Abraham, upon all nations is that “one Seed” of Abraham — Jesus Christ — whose death and resurrection have been a blessing to those now elected to salvation and, later, to those who will also be given their chance to be saved [see: Freed From Bondage, Predestination, and This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation ].
Hebrews 11:9 declares that Isaac and Jacob were heirs, with Abraham, of the same promise. It was through their descendant — Judah (Luke 3:23, 33-34) — that Christ would come to bring that blessing upon all of mankind, starting with Israel. Paul wrote: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew [representing all of Israel] first and also for the Greek [representing all of the Gentiles or non-Israelites] (Romans 1:16; see also Romans 2:5-7, 10-11).
When restored, the kingdom of Israel will no longer be a divided kingdom. The house of Judah and the house of Israel will become one (Ezekiel 37:11-12) under the resurrected King David as their shepherd forever (Verses 24-25), and the resurrected twelve apostles as under-shepherds with him over all the tribes of Israel.
It was not without an all-pervasive purpose or reason that Jesus promised His twelve apostles that they would each be sitting, in God’s kingdom, on a throne judging a tribe of Israel as He would assign each of them (Matthew 19:28). Jesus especially trained them so they could reach all twelve tribes of Israel with the gospel of Christ and of God’s kingdom (Matthew 10:5-7). Jesus also equipped them so that they would be able to rule righteously the twelve tribes in God’s kingdom, supervising them in how to extend God’s blessings to the rest of the nations by obeying God’s ways and laws.
Then God will confirm His new covenant with both the house of Israel and the house of Judah (Hebrews 8:7-9): “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Hebrews 8:10-12, quoted from Jeremiah 31:31-34).
Then “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). Through Christ’s sacrifice they will be forgiven of their sins. Through Christ’s Spirit they will be transformed to become the obedient people of God that God had intended them to be from the beginning (Ezekiel 36:24-37). And when finally given everlasting life in God’s Kingdom, the children of Israel will be used by God to be a channel of His blessings to all nations. All the children of Israel will so know God and God’s law by heart that they will not need others to teach them about these things. Instead, they will teach these things to the rest of humanity.
Having tasted the graces of God through His Spirit, the people of Israel will help educate the rest of humanity in the true ways of God. Zechariah 8:22-23 describes that time —
“…Yes, many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD.” Thus says the LORD of hosts: “In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'”
As mentioned before, the Jew is merely a representation of all Israel, just as the Greek represents all Gentiles. After all the children of Israel will have been restored to God’s graces, they will serve as God intended them to: to be “…a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law [of God]” (Romans 2:19-20).
Through what God has done with the people of Israel, God says that the Gentile nations “shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 37:23, 36, 38). They will finally acknowledge and worship the God of Israel — the LORD God of the Old Testament who later became Jesus Christ [see: The True Christ and True Worship]. And, as all nations obey the God of Israel, they too will be blessed! Truly it will happen as God originally intended: that in Israel all nations will be blessed (Genesis 22:18).
An everlasting inheritance
Not only will Israel figure prominently in teaching God’s ways of blessings and everlasting life during the 1,000 years of Christ’s reign on earth and beyond (Revelation 20:5, 11-12). The twelve tribes of Israel, as well as the 12 apostles of Jesus, will have special places — and that for all eternity — in the New Jerusalem, the holy “city of God” which will come down, to this renewed earth, with God the Father Himself, who will make His everlasting home with all humanity then made perfect (Revelation 21:1-8). That is when Jesus will have subdued all things and will turn them over to God the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
Now, notice these special features in that Holy City: (1) the great and high wall of the New Jerusalem will have “twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west, and (2) “…the wall of the city had twelve foundations. And on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb [Jesus]” (Revelation 21:10-14). [See: The Great Wall.]
It is amazing that the holy city has its forerunner in the physical Jerusalem that Jesus Christ will restore when He rules the world at His return. Ezekiel 48:3-35 describes a parallel to the gates of the New Jerusalem. Could this also be the assignment of each tribe in the New Jerusalem?
Through those twelve gates “the nations of those who are saved” — including both Israelite and Gentile — will go into the Holy City to bring their glory into it (Revelation 21:24-26). It is also in this Holy City that all the redeemed and saved of God will forever enjoy the fellowship of God the Father and Jesus the Lamb, and the fruits of the “tree of life” (Revelation 22:2) — delectable, beyond our imagination now. From these gates God’s everlasting blessings will radiate to all the “nations of the saved” in all directions of the earth!
As for what lies beyond the new heavens and the new earth, God will surely reveal this when He finally makes His eternal home with us His immortal children! Until then, the apostle Paul cautions us “…not to think beyond what is written [in the Scriptures, so far], that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other” (1 Corinthians 4:6).
Today all nations are training their guns on the Jews, as prophesied long ago (Zechariah 14:1-2, 16). A Jewish songwriter said that “Everyone hates the Jews!” And more and more, the U.S.A., Britain and the other northwestern European democracies are getting the ire of their enemies. These enemies amplify what had long been prophesied in Psalm 83:4, “Come, and let us cut them [Israelites] off from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be remembered no more.”
But no, God will not allow that to happen — all for the sake of His love and His irrevocable promise to “the fathers” [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob] (Romans 11:28; 4:13-22; Deuteronomy 9:5; Hebrews 6:13-18). God will take vengeance on Israel’s enemies for His name’s sake. “Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek Your name, O LORD. Let them be confounded and dismayed forever; yes, let them be put to shame and perish, that they may know You, whose name alone is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth” (Psalm 83:16-18).
Zechariah 12:2-9 assures that God will save the Jews from their enemies before and at the return of Jesus, their Messiah whom they first rejected but will then accept. God will save the rest of the children of Israel (Isaiah 6:9, 13). From these mortal survivors of the twelve tribes of Israel God will re-grow Israel in God’s kingdom, and they will be a blessing to all nations.
And let’s not forget: God also promised to Abraham and his descendants, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you” (Genesis 12:3).
God’s glory and honor are tied up intimately with what God has done, what He is doing, and what He will yet do with the children of Israel. God will use mightily His people Israel in bringing all humanity into His kingdom. The name of Israel will be remembered and immortalized in the New Jerusalem — for all eternity!
In the meantime, “Jacob’s trouble!”
The apostle Paul exhorted his Church brethren, “to continue in the faith, and saying ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God'” (Acts 14:22). So also must the children of Israel — Jacob’s children — go through many troubles and tribulations before they can enter the kingdom of God.
The prophet Jeremiah prophesied, “‘For behold the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘that I will bring back from captivity My people Israel and Judah,’ says the LORD, ‘And I will cause them to return to the land that I gave their fathers, and they shall possess it'” (Jeremiah 30:3).
Indeed, Judah has returned to the land which God gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — what is now known as the state of “Israel,” in that area in the Middle East which most people call “Palestine.” But what about those whom God calls “My people Israel” as distinct from Judah? They still are not back to Palestine! They remain where they are today, as intimated by this article! While Judah is included in Jeremiah’s prophecy, its warning — and word of comfort, too — is mostly for the house of Israel or the house of Jacob. And the time setting is for our times today! For the months and years ahead!
This is what the LORD says: “‘We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace…Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s trouble…” (Jeremiah 30:5, 7). Verse 8 hints about what the trouble will consist of: conquest by a foreign power [or nations in league against Jacob’s descendants] that will put a yoke on their necks, put them in bonds or chains, and enslave them!
But, good news!
The good news is that God will save Jacob out of his trouble (Verse 7)! “‘Therefore do not fear, O My servant Jacob,’ says the LORD, nor be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from afar, and your seed [children] from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return, have rest and be quiet, and no one shall make him afraid. For I am with you,’ says the LORD, ‘to save you'” (Verses 10-11).
God will surely save Jacob — but not until the children of Jacob learn obedience from God’s correction of them in justice (latter part of Verse 11). As Hebrews 12:1-11 exhorts, that correction should lead the children of Jacob — as well as all of God’s spiritual children [see: Are We All “God’s Children?”] — to laying aside every weight and sin “that so easily ensnares us.” God chastens or punishes us out of His love for us, as strange as that may sound in the ears of our present permissive society! [See: The Four Dimensions of Christ’s Love and The Flaming Sword East of Eden.] Like a loving Father, God punishes us when we sin while we struggle with it, to the end that we will learn from our mistakes, turn from where we have strayed, and walk again in the path of God’s law and commandments, with the help of Jesus Christ through His Spirit [see: God’s Spirit and Obedience and The Higher Law of the Spirit.] As we do, we will be partaking of God’s holiness — we will become holy as God is holy (Verse 10; 1 Peter 1:13-16).
Only as Israel becomes a “holy nation” — through God’s abundant mercies — will the children of Israel be able to “proclaim the praises of Him” who has called them to be His people, to be a blessing to all nations. As Hebrew 12:2 says, they — as all of God’s children — should be looking to Jesus, who tells us as He did centuries ago: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4;17).
As God’s people bear the fruits of true repentance (Luke 3:8) — turning away from sin, which is the transgression of God’s holy laws and commandments (1 John 3:4, KJV) — they will also yield “the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11). Only as the children of Israel — as well as the Israel of God — learn and practice God’s righteousness (Psalm 119:172 declares, “For all Your commandments are righteousness”) will they become truly a blessing to all nations, who will also be blessed for learning and practicing God’s righteousness.
Jesus tells everyone: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [physical things that men desire] will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33)!
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.