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  • Daniel Botkin

The Israel of God


The meanings of words change over the centuries. Linguists call this phenomenon semantic shift. Semantic shift happens, even to some Bible words. Consider the word Israel. If you ask people today what Israel is, some will say it is the modern Jewish State that was established in 1948. Others will say it is the land in the Middle East where the modern Jewish State is located. Others will say it is a collective term for the Jewish people as an ethnic and/or religious group.

All of these ideas are connected to what the Bible calls Israel, but Israel is more than the modern Jewish State, or the land, or the Jewish people.

The origin of the name Israel is in Genesis 32, where Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. Israel had twelve sons. They and their families settled in Egypt, where they would eventually become the twelve tribes of Israel that came out of Egypt in the Exodus.

The people who later came to be called Jews were the Israelites from the tribe of Judah. All Jews were Israelites, but not all Israelites were Jews. Israelites from the other tribes were called by different names: Reubenites, Simeonites, Levites, etc. So the name Israel refers to more than just the Jews (the Judahites), though Judah is a very special tribe among the tribes of Israel, as we shall soon see. Another special tribe among the tribes of Israel is Ephraim, as we shall soon see.

When Jacob was near death, he called for his twelve sons and spoke blessings over them, beginning with Reuben, his firstborn. As you read through these blessings, recorded in Genesis 49, it is apparent that the words spoken to two of the twelve sons stand out. The words that Jacob spoke to most of his sons consist of only one or two short verses. But the words he spoke to Judah and to Joseph each consist of five verses, and some of those verses are rather lengthy.

Not only are the blessings to Judah and Joseph longer than the blessings to the other sons, but the content is also more positive. Some of the “blessings” to the other sons actually sound more like curses: “unstable as water”; “instruments of cruelty”; “cursed be their anger”; “a serpent by the way, an adder in the path.”

Why were Judah and Joseph favored? Reuben was the firstborn. Why was he not favored and blessed above his brothers? Apparently Reuben was disqualified from the privileged position of the firstborn because of his moral failure. When Jacob “blessed” Reuben, he reminded him that he had committed adultery with Bilhah, one of his father’s concubines: “thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; then defiledst thou it” (Gen. 49:4).

Simeon and Levi, the second- and third-born sons, also apparently disqualified themselves from the privileged position of the firstborn, because they took vengance into their own hands “in their selfwill” and slaughtered all the men of a city because one man from that city had defiled their sister Dinah and wanted to marry her. “Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce,” Jacob said, “and their wrath, for it was cruel” (Gen. 49:7).

So with Reuben, Simeon, and Levi disqualified from the privileged position of the firstborn, that brings us to Judah, Jacob’s fourth son.

Judah was destined to be praised by the other tribes, Jacob said. Jacob spoke of Judah as a lion. Just as the lion is the king of the jungle, so Israel’s kings would come from the tribe of Judah. Eventually the King of kings, King Messiah, would come as the Lion of the tribe of Judah. In Revelation 5:5, Yeshua is identified as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.”

Meanwhile, until the Messiah came, the sceptre of the kingdom of Israel would be in the hands of the Judahites, the y’hudim, the Jews. Jacob said: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Gen. 49:10).

Who or what is “Shiloh”? According to ancient Jewish tradition, Shiloh refers to King Messiah. Why? Because shiloh sounds almost like shelo, which means “his” or “belonging to him.” Shiloh can be thought of in this verse as “he to whom it belongs,” i.e., he to whom the sceptre of the Messianic Kingdom rightfully belongs. In other words, Judah will continue to rule, in some sense at least (“the sceptre shall not depart”), until the Messiah comes.

Some modern-day rabbis deny that this prophecy is about the Messiah, and they try to give it a different spin, but Jewish leaders before the advent of Christianity knew that Shiloh referred to the Messiah. The Stone edition of the Tanach admits this: “Until Shiloh arrives, i.e., the Messiah to whom the kingdom belongs (Rashi).”

Even Dr. J.H. Hertz, Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, who so opposed belief in Jesus that he refused to refer to Him by name and just called Him “the Founder of Christianity,” was forced to admit this in the notes of the Pentateuch and Haftorahs that he edited for the Soncino Press. Hertz wrote:

“It is a strange circumstance that the older Jewish Versions and commentators (Septuagint, Targums, Saadyah and Rashi) read this word without a yod, as if written [sheloh], the archaic form for ‘his’; or, as if it were a poetic form for ‘peace.’ The translation, ‘until that which is his shall come,’ is derived from the Septuagint. Its meaning is, The sceptre shall not depart from Judah till all that is reserved for him shall have been fulfilled. ‘Till he come whose it (the kingdom) is’ (Onkelos and Jerusalem Targum, Saadyah, Rashi and other Jewish commentators)... ‘Till Shiloh come.’ This is the rendering of the Authorized Version, and assumes that Shiloh is a personal name or a Messianic title... this assumption finds support in Rabbinic literature....” (pg. 202).

Rabbis in pre-Christian times understood “the sceptre” to be Judah’s authority to administer and enforce Torah law, including capital punishment when necessary. Here’s some important historical information:

After the Roman conquest of Judea, Herod the Great (who was of Jewish descent) was appointed “king of the Jews.” After he died, his son, Herod Archelaus, became ruler of Judea. The Jews were displeased with Herod Archelaus, and warned Caesar Augustus of a possible revolt, so Herod Archelaus was deposed. Josephus writes:

“And now Archelaus’ part of Judea was reduced into a province, and Coponius, one of the equestrian order among the Romans, was sent as a procurator, having the power of [life and] death” (Josephus, Wars of the Jews II 8:1).

Now that Herod Archelaus, who, like his father, was of Jewish descent, had been replaced by the Roman Coponius, the Jewish Sanhedrin was no longer allowed to rule on cases that involved capital punishment (which explains why the Jewish leaders had to convince the Romans to crucify Yeshua). In the minds of the Jewish leaders, this loss of authority would have meant that the sceptre had departed from Judah, but Shiloh had not yet come.

This loss of the sceptre happened around A.D. 11, when Yeshua was a young teenager. Shiloh, the Messiah to whom the Messianic Kingdom belongs, had come, and was walking in their midst. They just did not yet know it, because He was not yet manifested as the Messiah.

So this explains why Judah occupied a prominent position among the twelve sons of Jacob. But what about Joseph? Why did he occupy a prominent position among his brothers?

Joseph was the firstborn of Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife, which explains why Joseph was special to Jacob. But Joseph was also special to God. He was blessed with prophetic dreams and the ability to interpret dreams. Joseph had been betrayed by his ten older brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt. In Egypt Joseph remained faithful to God, even when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him and had him unjustly thrown into prison.

Jacob began his blessing to Joseph with these words: “Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall” (Gen. 49:22). Joseph’s fruitfulness can be seen in the fruit of the Spirit which was manifested in his virtuous life. Joseph’s fruitfulness can also be seen prophetically in the name of his son Ephraim. Some people see in the name Ephraim the idea of “doubly fruitful” because the Hebrew word for fruit is embedded in the name, and the -ayim suffix is used to denote plural nouns that are in pairs. Furthermore, Joseph alluded to fruitfulness when he named his son Ephraim: “And the name of the second [son] called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me to be fruitful (hiphrani) in the land of my affliction” (Gen. 41:52).

Later in history, Joseph’s fruitfulness would take the form of Ephraim’s descendants growing into “a multitude of nations” (Gen. 48:19). But before we look at that prophecy and its fulfillment, let’s look at another blessing that was bestowed upon Joseph.

When Jacob was near death, he called for Joseph. Joseph came with his two sons, Manasseh his firstborn and Ephraim his younger son. Jacob in effect adopted Joseph’s two sons as his own by saying to Joseph: “And now thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine” (Gen. 48:5).

This meant that as adopted sons of Jacob, Manasseh and Ephraim, like Reuben, Simeon, and all the rest of Jacob’s sons, would each be the head of a tribe in Israel. This gave Joseph’s descendants two tribes rather than just one tribe called the tribe of Joseph. Among Joseph’s descendants there would be two separate tribes, the tribe of Manasseh and the tribe of Ephraim, making Joseph “doubly fruitful.” This meant there would now actually be thirteen tribes of Israel. But because the tribe of Levi was later set apart as the priestly tribe, with no tribal territory of their own, we still speak of the twelve tribes of Israel rather than the thirteen tribes of Israel.

After adopting Manasseh and Ephraim, Jacob asked Joseph to bring the two sons to him so he could bless them. Joseph brought them with Manasseh facing Jacob’s right hand and Ephraim facing Jacob’s left hand, so that Jacob could place his right hand on Manasseh, the firstborn, as was the normal custom of blessing. But Jacob crossed his arms and placed his right hand on Ephraim, the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh, the elder.

Joseph tried to correct his father, telling him that Manasseh was the firstborn.

“I know it, my son, I know it,” Jacob said. “He also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations” (Gen. 48:19).

Later in history, the population of the tribe of Ephraim outnumbered the other tribes. When the kingdom of Israel was divided into north and south after the death of Solomon, the tribe of Ephraim outnumbered the other tribes so much that the northern kingdom was often referred to simply as “Ephraim,” even though it consisted of nine additional tribes, just as the southern kingdom was called “Judah” even though it also included the small tribe of Benjamin.

As a result of all these events, we see “Judah and Ephraim” paired together in many places in the Bible. Occasionally Ephraim is referred to as “Joseph” or “Israel.”

The tribes of Judah and Ephraim were destined to bless the world in a special way. We know that the tribe of Judah, the Jewish people, blessed the world by bringing the Messiah Yeshua, Jesus Christ, into the world. How did the tribe of Ephraim bless the world? To answer that question, we will now look at Jacob’s prophecy that said Ephraim’s descendants would become “a multitude of nations.”

Who is this multitude of nations, and what is their prophetic destiny? To answer that question, we need to look at Hosea chapter 1. Yahweh told the holy prophet Hosea to take an unholy whore as his wife. This marriage was to be a living, flesh-and-blood demonstration of God’s relationship with Ephraim (“Israel,” i.e., the northern kingdom), which had committed whoredom against Yahweh by worshipping other gods.

Hosea and his whore-wife had three children. Yahweh told Hosea what to name each of these children. Embedded in the names of these three children was a prophetic declaration of what was to be the fate of Ephraim, the northern kingdom known as Israel. God was going to scatter them like seed among the nations, where they would intermarry, assimilate, and eventually be absorbed into the Gentile nations and lose their Israelite identity. God would no longer have mercy on them, and He would disown them as His people. Their biological descendants would become Gentiles, goyim, and grow into “a multitude of nations,” just as Jacob had prophesied.

That might sound like a lot of information to be embedded in just three names, but it’s there. Jezreel means “God will scatter like seed,” and when Yahweh told Hosea to give his son this name, He added that He was going to “cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel” (Hos. 1:4). When He told Hosea to name his daughter Lo-ruhamah, which means “no pity, no mercy,” He added “for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away” (Hos. 1:6). When He told Hosea to name his son Lo-ammi, which means “not my people,” He added “for ye are not My people, and I will not be your God” (Hos. 1:9).

So this was to be the destiny of Israel, the northern kingdom which was collectively called by the name of Ephraim. However, the tribe of Judah in the southern kingdom would remain intact as a tribe. Right after Yahweh said He would have no mercy on Israel, He added “But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and will save them” (Hos. 1:7). But the descendants of Ephraim and the other northern tribes were to be scattered like seed, be assimilated and absorbed into the nations, eventually lose their Israelite identity, and become melo ha-goyim, a multitude of nations, Gentiles who were now alienated from the commonwealth of Israel.

“Daniel, that doesn’t sound like a very happy ending. How is that supposed to bless the world?”

If that were the end of the story, you are right, it would not be a happy ending. But it’s not the end of the story. The story continues. Right after God declares Lo-ammi, “ye are not My people, and I will not be your God,” He immediately adds: “Yet....”

When we hear bad news immediately followed by the word “Yet,” that raises our hopes. We expect to hear some good news in spite of the bad news. Here is the good news:

“Yet the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered....” (Hos. 1:10a). Even though God will scatter them like seed among the nations, their descendants will not die out. When seed is scattered, it does not all die; most of it reproduces. And Israel, the people of the northern kingdom, will reproduce in numbers like the sand of the sea.

But there’s even more good news. Eventually some of the descendants of those scattered tribes who became a multitude of goyim will be reclaimed by God and reconnected to Him and once again be His people, as it is written:

“...and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, ‘Ye are not My people,’ there it shall be said unto them, ‘Ye are the sons of the living God’” (Hos. 1:10b).

How and when does this happen? According to both Paul and Peter, it happens when Gentiles come to faith in Yeshua. How do we know this? Because both Paul and Peter quote this prophecy of Hosea about Israel’s descendants being reclaimed to become sons of the living God, and they relate this prophecy’s fulfillment to Gentiles coming to faith in Yeshua. You can read it in Romans 9:24-26 & 1 Peter 1:9-10. Paul actually uses the word “Gentiles,” and Peter’s words are addressed to “strangers” (1:1) and “Christians” (4:16).

Some Messianic Jews disagree with this understanding. But look at the antecedent of the pronouns “them” and “ye” in Hosea 1:10. The antecedent is “the children of Israel,” the northern tribes who were scattered. If Messianic Jews want to spiritualize this prophecy and say that it’s not literally talking about biological descendants of Israel, then you are left with Replacement Theology, which Messianic Jews rightly reject. If none of these Gentiles who fulfill Hosea’s prophecy are actual descendants of Israel, then you have literal Gentiles replacing literal Israelites. In other words, Replacement Theology.

This does not mean that every individual Gentile who comes to faith in Jesus is a biological descendant of Ephraim or one of the other northern tribes. But it does mean that some of the Gentiles who come to Jesus have ancestry in the tribes of Israel, and that this is how the prophecy of Hosea is fulfilled. Whether it’s 99% of the Gentile Christians who have a biological connection, or less than 1% is irrelevant. And which individuals are or are not biological descendants of Israel is also irrelevant, because even if you are of 100% pagan ancestry, your faith in Israel’s Messiah makes you a member of the commonwealth of Israel according to Ephesians 2:11-14. So don’t get uppity and proud and feel superior if you discover (or imagine) that you have a biological connection to Israel, and don’t feel inferior if you discover that all your ancestors were heathen idolators.

Hosea’s prophecy about Ephraim’s descendants being reclaimed to become sons of God is a blessing not only to them, but also to the Gentiles who do not have any Israelite ancestry. These Gentiles who put their trust in the God of Israel get grafted in and become full-fledged Israelites in God’s eyes, just like Rahab, Ruth, Caleb, and other Gentiles did when they abandoned their pagan ways to follow and serve the God of Israel.

So Judah has blessed the world by bringing the Messiah into the world, while Ephraim has blessed the world by becoming a multitude of nations who, in their reconnecting to the God of their forefathers, have brought along other Gentiles to become sons of God and citizens of the Israel of God.

Sadly, most Jews today do not recognize Yeshua as their Messiah, and most Christians do not recognize their identity as Israelites.

The Jewish leaders’ rejection of Yeshua was finally determined and solidified when they came together after the resurrection of Lazarus to discuss what to do about Yeshua.

“What do we?” they asked, “for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation” (John 11:47f).

They discussed their options, and then the high priest Caiaphas said that it would be expedient for one man to die for the nation, rather than letting the whole nation perish. Though Caiaphas almost certainly did not realize it, he was prophesying when he said this. We know this because John immediately adds:

“And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Yeshua should die for that nation [i.e., the Jewish nation]; and not for that nation [the Jewish nation] only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad [i.e., the descendants of the ten tribes who were scattered like seed among the nations]. Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put Him to death” (John 11:51-53).

Then the very next verse says that Yeshua “walked no more openly among the Jews,” but went “into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with His disciples” (John 11:54).

Knowing what we know about the fate of Ephraim and about God’s plan to someday reclaim Ephraim’s descendants and change their status from Lo-ammi, “not My people,” to sons of the living God, it is no mere coincidence that Yeshua went to a city called Ephraim. The Bible mentions Ephraim at this location in the Scriptures for a reason. It lets us know that “the children of God that were scattered abroad” are the descendants of Ephraim.

Yeshua’s rejection by the Jewish leaders, immediately followed by His departure from among the Jews to a place called Ephraim, is a prophetic picture of what would continue to happen in the centuries ahead. Yeshua’s presence would no longer be walking openly among the Jews. Even though He was and is one of them, His presence would no longer be walking openly among them. Instead, His presence would be in a place called Ephraim, walking openly among the descendants of Ephraim and the other Gentiles who dwelt with the descendants of Ephraim. Ever since Yeshua ceased walking openly among the Jews, He has been gathering disciples from among the Gentile nations where the descendants of Ephraim are scattered. As Jacob said in Genesis 49:10, “unto him [Shiloh] shall the gathering of the people be.”

To Jews today I say: Let Him walk openly among you again. He is one of your own. He was your Messiah before He was the Gentiles’ Messiah. Reclaim Him and receive Him as your Messiah and Redeemer.

To Christians today I say: Notice that Jesus continues with His disciples in a place called Ephraim. If you want to continue as one of His disciples, do not ignore your connection to that which the Bible calls Ephraim. Consider the implications of your citizenship in the Israel of God.

Jews who believe in Yeshua become Messianic Jews and still retain their identity as Jews. Gentiles who believe in Jesus become Messianic Israelites and are numbered among those descendants of Ephraim who have been reconnected to God through the Messiah. Unto Shiloh shall the gathering of the people be. When Jews and Christians see this, then we will see the fulfillment of the final prophecy in Hosea chapter 1:

“Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land: for great shall be the day of Jezreel” (Hos. 1:11).

That “one head” is Yeshua, the Lion of the tribe of Judah.


| DB

 

Image: Psalm 60 by Daniel Botkin from his Psurrealistic Psalms Pseries. See all Daniel’s art galleries on his art website: DanielBotkin.com.

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