The Breach: Israel and Judah
During the time of the United Kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon, the tribes of Judah and Joseph (i.e., Ephraim and Manasseh) were united. Judah benefited from the birthright of Joseph, and the tribes of Joseph benefited from Judah’s Dominion Mandate. David was a righteous king, for when he sinned, he also repented. His son, Solomon, however, started out as a righteous king, but when he fell into sin, he did not repent. So we read in 1 Kings 11:9-13,
9 Now the Lord was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, 10 and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not observe what the Lord had commanded. 11 So the Lord said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant. 12 Nevertheless, I will not do it in your days for the sake of your father David, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13 However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but 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.
Instead of repenting, Solomon attempted to kill Jeroboam, the man God had chosen to rule the house of Israel (1 Kings 11:40). So Jeroboam fled to Egypt and remained there until the death of Solomon.
After Solomon died, the kingdom was split by civil war because of the high taxes that Solomon had imposed upon the people. The story is told in 1 Kings 11 and 12. In 1 Kings 11:29-36, we read,
29 And it came about at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had clothed himself with a new cloak; and both of them were alone in the field. 30 Then Ahijah took hold of the new cloak which was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. 31 And he said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I will tear the Kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and give you ten tribes.
We see from this that God Himself had decreed that the Kingdom would be taken from Rehoboam, the King of Judah, son of Solomon. Why? God was judging Solomon for his sins. God left Rehoboam with the scepter itself and the single tribe of Benjamin in order to fulfill His promise to David. But this division was designed to separate the kingdom from the king.
This is very important, because these ten tribes included the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh—the birthright tribes who were the custodians of the name Israel. Thus, the Kingdom belonged to the tribes of Joseph, not the tribe of Judah, even though Judah had the scepter. Judah was to bring forth the King; but Joseph possessed the Kingdom.
In fact, legally speaking, only the tribes of Joseph and those united with them could be called Israelites. If the tribe of Dan or Naphtali or Gad had separated themselves from Ephraim and Manasseh, they would have had to call themselves by their tribal name only. They would not have had the right to call themselves Israel.
1 Kings 11:34, 35 continues,
34 Nevertheless, I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, but I will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of My servant David whom I chose, who observed My commandments and My statutes. 35 but I will take the Kingdom from his son’s hand and give it to you [Jeroboam], even ten tribes.
The birthright tribes separated themselves from Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, and so the northern tribes retained the right to call themselves Israel. Judah was not the tribe that had the right to use the name Israel, except by the consent of the birthright holders. Jacob had given this name to the sons of Joseph, who were now part of the revolt against Judah.
This is why the Jews are not Israel as the prophets used the term when they spoke of the regathering of the house of Israel in the last days.
The Prophets Speak of Judah and Israel
Most of the prophets lived during or after the kingdom was removed from the Judahite kings. They used the term Israel in the commonly accepted manner to refer to the northern ten tribes. They used the term Judah when referring to the southern house of Judah. Each nation had its own line of kings. After the division, Rehoboam continued to rule Judah, but Jeroboam ruled Israel, even as Ahijah had prophesied in 1 Kings 11:35 (quoted earlier).
For example, in Isaiah 5 the prophet writes a song “concerning His vineyard” (5:2). This is the song that Jesus referred to in His parable in Matt. 21:33-45. The Lord gave the interpretation to the prophet in Isaiah 5:7, saying,
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His delightful plant. . . .
The vineyard is the house of Israel, the Kingdom of God. Judah, as one of the tribes, was a plant in the vineyard. But Judah was not the vineyard itself, but only a part of it.
When the prophet Isaiah gave a prophecy to King Hezekiah of Judah, he said in Isaiah 37:31,
31 And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward.
Most of Isaiah’s prophecies were directed toward the northern house of Israel. Isaiah lived during the time of the Assyrian invasion when Israel’s capital, Samaria, was captured in 721 B.C. Isaiah had moved south to the city of Jerusalem to escape. We find him in Jerusalem eight years later in the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:2) prophesying to King Hezekiah that God would destroy the Assyrian army.
Isaiah saw the conquest and deportation of the Kingdom of Israel. Much of his prophecy was designed to speak comfort to those ten tribes. For this reason, the bulk of Isaiah’s prophecies were directed at the ten tribes that the Assyrians had deported. Many times Isaiah speaks of them as the house of Jacob (Is. 29:22), rather than the house of Israel. This was to emphasize the fact that Israel was not acting in accordance with the name Israel. They were acting like Jacob, the supplanter and deceiver. They certainly did not recognize God’s rulership, as the name Israel implies. Israel means “God rules.”
A century later, the Lord called the prophet Jeremiah to prophesy in the last days of the house of Judah before their Babylonian captivity. The bulk of Jeremiah’s prophecies are directed toward Judah and Jerusalem, but he also makes reference to the house of Israel where appropriate. For example, in Jeremiah 11:10 he says,
10 . . . the house of Judah AND the house of Israel have broken My covenant, which I made with their fathers.
In other words, both nations of Israel and Judah had broken the covenant God made with them in the days of Moses. For this reason God said Jer. 31:31,
31 Behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.
Jeremiah understood that God would make this “new covenant” with both Israel and Judah. It would be made with a United Kingdom under one Head, Jesus Christ. As we showed in Who is a Jew? the house of Judah are those “good figs” who were Jesus’ disciples—not the “evil figs” who crucified the King and usurped His throne. The Christian believers, along with converts who became citizens of true Judah by faith in Jesus, were the true House of Judah. The unbelievers were cut off from their people.
These members of the tribe of Judah must be united with “Israel” under one Head in order for the New Covenant to be fully established in the earth. Hence, we must know who Israel is. In fact, even as natural branches were cut off from the tribe of Judah, so also are natural branches cut off from Israel. Just because one is descended from one of those lost tribes does not automatically make him an heir of the promise to Israel.
Those Israelites in the Bible were so idolatrous that God cut them off and sent them into captivity. None of those idolatrous Israelites will rule the world in the Kingdom of God. They will be judged like any other sinner, for the law is impartial. It does not indulge the sins of Israelites, as if they enjoy some privilege to sin that God does not allow with other people.
Idolatry and lack of faith in God was the reason for both captivities. In Isaiah’s day Israel was taken to Assyria. In Jeremiah’s day Judah was taken to Babylon.
The Captivity of Natural Israel: 721 B.C.
At the time the Assyrians laid siege to Samaria, the capital of Israel, Hoshea was king of Israel in Samaria, while Hezekiah was king in Jerusalem over Judah. 2 Kings 18:1 says,
1 Now it came about in the third year of Hoshea, the son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah became king.
Hoshea was the last king of Israel, and during his reign, Hezekiah became king of Judah. 2 Kings 17:5, 6 tells us,
5 Then the king of Assyria invaded the whole land and went up to Samaria and besieged it three years. 6 In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and carried Israel away into exile to Assyria, and settled them in Halah and Habor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.
This was not the Babylonian captivity of Judah and Jerusalem. This was instead the captivity of Israel with its capital city of Samaria. 2 Kings 17 lists the sins of Israel and concludes with verse 18,
18 So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from His sight; none was left except the tribe of Judah.
Scripture makes it very clear that the tribe of Judah was not taken to Assyria in this captivity. It also makes the distinction between Israel and Judah very clear. This does NOT mean, however, that every individual Israelite was deported to Assyria. On the contrary, there were many individuals who escaped, and many of these were later invited by King Hezekiah of Judah to keep the Feast of Passover with them (2 Chron. 30:5). But individuals do not make a tribe, regardless of their numbers. The “tribe” is where the prince of the tribe is located. The tribeship resides with its leader. The leaders of all the tribes had been deported to Assyria, and so the tribes were said to be deported.
In fact, many individual Judahites had also been taken to Assyria, but this did not mean that the tribe of Judah had been taken. No, the tribe of Judah was where king Hezekiah was. Assyria conquered all of the walled cities of Judah (2 Kings 18:13) and deported them to Assyria, but they failed to conquer Jerusalem. Hezekiah survived this siege of Jerusalem, and so the tribe of Judah remained in Jerusalem, even though many of the individual Judahites had already been captured.
Individuals do not constitute the tribal unit itself. The prince of the tribe gives the tribal unit its legal status as a tribe. And so the fact that there were Israelites in the tribe of Judah does not mean that we can call Judah by the name Israel. The prophets never treat Judah as if they could fulfill the prophecies of the house of Israel. 2 Kings 17:22, 23 says,
22 And the sons of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; and they did not depart from them, 23 until the Lord removed Israel from His sight, as He spoke through all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away into exile from their own land to Assyria until this day.
This verse clearly shows that “Israel” referred to the northern ten tribes that had been given to Jeroboam through the prophet Ahijah. Israel was not Judah. Israel and Judah were two different nations, having two different callings, or mandates. There were also two different captivities. First Israel was deported to Assyria; then a century later Judah was deported to Babylon.
I emphasize this point because there has been much confusion in the past century, due to a simple lack of historical teaching in the Church. I myself was raised thinking that Judah and Israel were synonymous terms. I recall when I finally learned the difference between them, I shared this with my father. He expressed surprise that he had never understood this before, especially since he had been a graduate of Taylor University, a pastor, and a missionary for many years. Strangely enough, he had been taught about the divided kingdom and knew that Israel and Judah were separate nations. But when it came to understanding Bible prophecy, he had been taught that the Jews were Israel! To his credit, he saw the utter contradiction of this almost immediately as I pointed out the Bible passages that speak of the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
As long as we understand the distinction between Israel and Judah, we will be able to understand and apply the Scriptures properly. This is the most important key in understanding that the Israeli state is not the Israel of Bible prophecy. The prophets were speaking of the “ten lost tribes,” not the two tribes that were never lost.
The Captivity of Natural Judah: 604 B.C.
The Assyrian Empire came to an end in 607 B.C. when one of its provinces revolted successfully. That province was Babylon. Its king conquered Assyria’s capital, Nineveh, in 607 B.C. and then continued its conquests through Syria, Israel, Judah, and Egypt. Babylon captured Jerusalem in 604 B.C. Later, because Judah tried to revolt—contrary to the prophetic word of Jeremiah—the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C.
Judah’s citizens and its kingly line were taken to Babylon, where they spent 70 years in exile. Then Babylon was in turn conquered by the Medes and Persians under Darius and Cyrus in 537 B.C. King Darius the Mede organized the new Empire from Babylon for a few years, putting Daniel in the position of Chief Governor (Dan. 6:1-3). Then history records that when King Cyrus of Persia finished his conquests, he returned to rule as the dominant power, and his father-in-law, Darius, returned to his own country in Media.
During Cyrus’ first year as king, he issued a decree allowing the people of Judah to return to their own lands (Ezra 1:1). About 50,000 of them (Ezra 2:64, 65) returned under Zerubbabel, who was appointed by the king as their leader (Ezra 3:2). Zerubbabel himself was of the royal lineage of David, and he also was the ancestor of Jesus Himself (Luke 3:27).
It was necessary that Judah be allowed to return to the old land, because the prophet had prophesied in Micah 5:2 that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Thus, the captivity of Judah could not be permanent.
On the other hand, God would not allow Israel to return to the old land from their captivity in Assyria. First of all, there is no historical record that they ever returned. But more importantly, such a return would have been contrary to biblical law. This will become apparent in our next chapter.