Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Heirs and Birthrights 2

Good morning!

Yesterday, we began looking at the 12 tribes of Israel.  Let's continue that exploration today.  To briefly review, Jacob had 12 sons, and one son, Joseph, had two twin grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh.  In Genesis 48, Jacob pronounces blessings upon all of his sons, and also a double-blessing on Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:5). This meant that, literally, there were now 13 tribes.  (Some even say 14, listing Joseph still as a separate tribe.) However, most still refer to 12 tribes, because the tribe of Levi is not numbered in the line-up because this priestly tribe was not granted land in the Promised Land.

Before going on, I want to emphasize a point about the other tribe which received the dominion/rule portion of the birthright:  Judah.  King David was of the tribe of Judah.  In Psalm 78:67-68 and in Psalm 60:6-8, we find the following information about Judah's position and future:

Then he rejected the tents of Joseph,
    he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim;
but he chose the tribe of Judah,
    Mount Zion, which he loved.

Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine;
    Ephraim is my helmet,
    Judah is my scepter.

Ultimately, although Ephraim and Manasseh were greatly blessed by God, He had foreordained that Jesus Christ would come from the line of Judah, which is why one of His names is The Lion of the Tribe of Judah.  You can see in these verses references to the dominion and reign of this pre-eminent tribe.

Okay, so what happened to these tribes?  When they entered and conquered the Promised Land, the real estate was apportioned out to each tribe, (again, except for the Levites).  The height of influence of the people of Israel occurred during the reign of David and of Solomon.  Unfortunately, during the reign of Solomon's sons, the united kingdom of Israel split into a northern kingdom and a southern kingdom.  The southern kingdom followed Rehoboam, Solomon's legitimate heir, and included the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (and the Levites); the capitol of this country remained Jerusalem.  The remaining tribes, including Ephraim and Manasseh, followed Jeroboam and formed the Northern Kingdom, of which such cities as Shechem and Sychar, and areas of Gilead, Samaria and Bashan are mentioned.  The two kingdoms fought with each other and with neighboring peoples, bitterly over the years, until the northern kingdom was taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.  The southern kingdom, whose people learned nothing from what happened to their northern brothers, were themselves taken captive by the Babylonians nearly 150 years later.

What about the tribes today?  What are God's plans for Israel (the name given to Ephraim and thereby to the northern tribes and to Judah (the name given to the southern tribes) in the future?  Despite their captivities and dispersions all over the world, we find in Jeremiah 51:5 a prophecy made over a century after the northern tribes were taken into captivity, affirming that these tribes, although dispersed, would not be forsaken by God.  He always keeps His promises.

For Israel and Judah have not been forsaken
    by their God, the Lord Almighty,
though their land is full of guilt
    before the Holy One of Israel.

Judah was not "a perfect child".  Under the reign of Jehoram, a wicked king of the southern kingdom, the people went astray.  In light of this and despite this, we find God's promise in 2 Kings 8:19 - - -

Nevertheless, for the sake of his servant David, the LORD was not willing to destroy Judah. He had promised to maintain a lamp for David and his descendants forever.

When we trace the history of the Jews, we are mainly following the line of the southern kingdom. This is where the word "Jew" originates!  It is sort of a nickname from the formal name, "Judah". You may have heard the expression, "the 10 lost tribes of Israel".  The reason for that is because, after they were taken captive by the Assyrians, very little is known about them.  Some remnants of the people continued in the area of the northern kingdoms, which came to be known, in Jesus' day, as Samaria.  But a tremendous amount of intermarrying had occurred and the people's former Jewish traditions were almost unrecognizable.  One of the last references to the northern tribes is found in 1 Chronicles 5:26 - - -

So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria (that is, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria), who took the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh into exile. He took them to Halah, Habor, Hara and the river of Gozan, where they are to this day.

Amos 9:8-9 contains a promise specific to the tribes of the northern kingdom:

Surely the eyes of the Sovereign Lord
    are on the sinful kingdom.
I will destroy it
    from the face of the earth.
Yet I will not totally destroy
    the descendants of Jacob,
declares the Lord.
For I will give the command,
    and I will shake the people of Israel
    among all the nations
as grain is shaken in a sieve,
    and not a pebble will reach the ground.

So, now, the Jews from both kingdoms and all tribes have been dispersed all over the world.  An interesting verse of prophecy is Isaiah 49:12 - - -

See, they will come from afar—
    some from the north, some from the west,
    some from the region of Aswan.

This verse speaks of the Jews and their promised return to the Promised Land.  Bible scholars do not agree on the location of the land of Aswan, but generally agree that it is somewhere in the middle east.  However, many Jews ended up in Europe and even more found safe haven in the United States of America.  According to www.jewfaq.org, it is estimated that there are about 13-14 million Jews in the world today.  Of those, 5-6 million live in the rather recently created (1947) nation of Israel.  Another 5-6 million live in the United States.  An additional 1.5 million live in Europe, with the remainder (750,000) living in Latin America or Canada.  Where are all those nations in relation to the land of Israel?  To the north and to the west.  God is faithful.

We may look at more prophetic promises to the Jews tomorrow.

Father, thank you for your faithfulness, not only to us Christians, but also to your chosen people, the Jews. At present, you are revealing Yourself through Christians, who bear the name and the gospel of Your Son, Jesus.  We are "the grafted-in branch" and "the adopted ones", in the family of God.  Oh how grateful I am for that!  Yet, I am also so glad that you have not forgotten your "original children" and that you will once again unite and raise them up to worship You in the future, in "the last days".  If I don't live to see that in this earthly body, I look forward to it when I am with my Lord.  In Jesus' name, amen.

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