Who's Who in Prophecy
Issue No. 158
Jacob was not born an Israelite. He had to “earn it” the hard way. God did not call him Israel until he was 98 years old and had become the kind of person that fit the name. The first usage of this name Israel is not racial, national, political, or religious. It has to do with character and relationship with God.
The name was also meant to be a testimony or a witness to the sovereignty of God and all of its implications. Israel means “God rules.” As Dr. Bullinger says in his notes on Gen. 32:28, where Jacob wrestled with the angel:
Israel. “God commands, orders, or rules.” Man attempts it but always, in the end, fails. Out of some forty Hebrew names compounded with “El” or “Jah”, God is always the doer of what the verb means (cp. Dani-el, God judges).
Prevailed. Succeeded. He had contended for the birthright and succeeded (25:29-34). He had contended with Laban and succeeded (27). He had contended with “men” and succeeded. Now he contends with God—and fails. Hence, his name was changed to Isra-el, God commands, to teach him the greatly needed lesson of dependence upon God.
Jacob lost the wrestling match with the angel, but in losing, he won the prize. In losing, he won, for now he understood the sovereignty of God. He learned that he might succeed in overcoming men by his own strength and wit, but he could never give lip service to God’s sovereignty while ordering Him around, as many do.
The prayer life of many Christians consists of telling God what He already knows in order to coerce Him into doing what they think He ought to do. When will we learn that God really does know what He is doing, and that He is not the helpless giant in the sky that many seem to think He is? We ought instead to hear His voice and find out what He wants and intends to do—and then pray that His will be done, and not ours. This is true recognition of His sovereignty. This is spiritual maturity. This is what it means to manifest the character of a true Israelite.
Jacob could never be Israel in his own strength or by the power of the flesh. Israel was a name that gave testimony to God’s strength and man’s weakness. Men usually think of the name Israel as meaning “ruling with God,” as if this were some sort of privilege, where Israelites get to accumulate servants and slaves and be above other more ordinary men. It is not. It indicates that the Israelite is the servant and slave of Jesus Christ, his sovereign Master. Until man is fully conquered by Jesus Christ and apprehended by His love, he is not a true Israelite. Until he loses the wrestling match with God, he cannot be given the name of Israel.
The Meaning of “Israel” to Moses
In time “Israel” took on a new meaning. In the days of Moses the “children of Israel” meant those who were of the household of the descendants of Jacob-Israel. They were not all necessarily direct descendants of Jacob. After all, Jacob had inherited thousands of servants after his father Isaac had died. He, in turn, had inherited them from his father, Abraham.
Gen. 14:14 tells us that Abraham had 318 men of war in his household. That number does not include their wives and children and perhaps even their parents. It is highly probable, then, that Abraham had close to 2,000 men in his “tribe.” This would have perhaps doubled by the time Isaac inherited them. And these could easily have doubled again by the time Jacob inherited them from Isaac. Thus, Jacob’s household might have included about 8,000 in all.
These ultimately went to Egypt with Jacob and his sons and grandsons (70 in all, according to Ex. 1:5). Moses’ mother, a daughter of Levi himself, was born while the 70 were on their way to live in Egypt at the request of Joseph. Num. 26:59 speaks of “the daughter of Levi, whom her mother bare to Levi in Egypt.” Historically speaking, the book of Jasher clarifies this, saying in Jasher 59:9,
“And the children of Levi were Gershon, Kehath and Merari, and their sister Jochebed, who was born unto them in their going down to Egypt.”
Jasher 67:11 and 68:1-5 shows that Jochebed gave birth to Moses 130 years after Jacob went to Egypt. Eighty years later Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. This means Israel was in Egypt for 210 years, not 400 years as is commonly thought. The 400 years mentioned in Gen. 15:13 is from the birth of Isaac to the Exodus. It was also 430 years from the promise to Abraham to the covenant with Moses a few weeks after the Exodus (Gal. 3:17). Thus, the promise to Abraham occurred just 30 years before the birth of Isaac. Yet Isaac was born 190 years before Jacob went to Egypt, because Isaac was 60 when Jacob was born (Gen. 25:26), and Jacob was 130 when he went to Egypt (Gen. 47:9).
Thus, Israel spent only 210 years in Egypt, and yet they increased in population to over 600,000 men over the age of 20. This indicates a total population of at least 2-3 million people. It would have been hard for just 70 sons of Jacob to increase to that number, even if they had been in Egypt for a full 400 years. How did they increase so quickly? It is easily explainable by the fact that “Israel” by this time included all of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s servants who accompanied them to Egypt. If they started out with at least 8,000 and doubled each generation of 20 years, their population would have increased as follows:
First generation: 16,000
Eight generations of 20 years is only 200 years. The graves in Goshen that were excavated recently showed that the Israelite men averaged 3 or 4 wives each. This was shown in a documentary over Public Television in 2001. They could not possibly have gotten all their wives from within their own closed Israelite families, barring a miracle of the women bearing 3 or 4 girls to every boy. They must have gotten the extra wives from outside, probably many Egyptians (like Joseph’s wife, Asenath). The Egyptians in those days were not dark skinned, so this would have had no effect upon their racial character.
We say all this, not to imitate a census bureau, but to show that “Israel” by this time was a nationalistic term, not a purely genealogical term. It was no longer even a term that indicated one’s character or relationship with God. The book of Exodus and Numbers shows us conclusively that those “Israelites” were stubborn, rebellious people who were more Jacobite in their character than Israelite.
They carried the name of Israel because of what they were supposed to be—not because of who they were. They were supposed to have the character of Jacob after he wrestled with the angel, but they did not. They were supposed to bear testimony to the sovereignty of God, but they rebelled against Him.
It is the same with the term Christian. Many people call themselves Christians, but this term has now come to mean “a member of an organization that claims Jesus Christ as its founder.” Unfortunately, it no longer seems to have much to do with one’s character or relationship with God. Christians are supposed to act like “little christ’s,” but painfully, this is only too rare.
The people in Moses’ day were Israelites, perhaps, by genealogy. They were certainly Israelites by nationality. But they were NOT Israelites in their relationship with God. And this is the crux of the matter. God is not interested merely in producing Israelites by genealogy or by nationality. He is interested in producing people who reflect the character of the term Israel.
Jacob was a believer long before he became an Israelite. So we find that God is not merely interested in producing believers—or Christians, as we would say today. His goal is to produce men and women who are called in the New Testament “the Sons of God.” This is God’s big dilemma. How does one take physical people and turn them into the Sons and daughters of God?
We will answer that question as we proceed, but first we need to continue our history lesson to show how the name Israel changed in its shades of meaning over time.
Israel Distinct from Judah
Five centuries after Moses, King Solomon died. He had been King of Israel, a united Israel that included all of the twelve tribes, plus Levi. But then the tribes of Israel revolted against his son, Rehoboam, because he refused to lower their tax burden. Only the tribes of Benjamin and Judah remained loyal to Rehoboam (1 Kings 11:29-39).
The Kingdom thus split into two nations. The ten tribes to the north retained the name of Israel. The two tribes to the south took the name of Judah. From this point on, when the prophets speak of Israel, or House of Israel, they are referring to the ten tribes to the north. When the prophets speak of Judah, or the House of Judah, they are referring to the two tribes to the south.
Thus, the name Israel took on a nationalistic meaning. No longer did it apply to the tribe of Judah or Benjamin. It applied only to the other ten tribes in the north, who had formed their own monarchy under Jeroboam.
This is very important to understand, because most Christians today mistakenly apply the prophecies to the House of Israel to the modern Jews, whose roots (even they claim) go back to the southern nation of Judah. Hence, “Jew” is a shortened form of “Judah.” Modern Bible teachers mistakenly apply to the “State of Israel” the prophecies of the regathering of the “House of Israel.” They ignore completely the fact that the House of Israel are the ten tribes that went into Assyria—not the two tribes that were taken to Babylon. The House of Israel never returned and were, as Ezekiel 34:16 called them, LOST SHEEP.
Judah Distinct from Israel
God prophesied through all the prophets that the lost sheep of Israel would be found—but never that the Jews would replace the Israelites. Thus, when the Jews called their new nation “Israel” in 1948, they did so in order to deceive the average Christian into thinking that they were fulfilling the prophecies of the regathering of the lost sheep of the House of Israel. It was a deliberate deception, because up to that point the Zionists had talked about the restored Kingdom of Judah.
Even so, as I have written before, true Judahites are those who accepted and submitted to the rulership of the King of Judah, Jesus Christ. The rest were cut off from the tribe, according to the law itself. Paul refers to this in Rom. 2:28. There was a conflict in Paul’s day as to which sect represented the tribe of Judah. Was it those who rejected Jesus, or those who accepted Him? Those who rejected Him were the majority, and so historically they were able to retain the name of Judah in the eyes of men. But as far as God is concerned, it was the Christians who were the true representatives of Judah. To the original disciples and followers of Jesus (who were of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi) were soon added many others of different nations, grafted to the tree of True Judah. In time, the tree of True Judah became more populous than the dead branch of Judaism that had been pruned, or cut off.
For this reason, in my opinion the Jewish state has no right to call itself the State of Judah any more than the State of Israel. If their state had been founded by believers in Jesus Christ and by Christian methods, perhaps this might justify calling it “Judah.” But this did not happen.
Instead, they came with the intent of dispossessing the Arab population, both Christians and Muslims. They provoked an Arab response and then blamed them for starting the fight. They finally engaged in terrorism against the British in the 1940’s and called the British officers “murderers” when they hanged the terrorists that they caught. They even killed hundreds of their own people in order to blame the British government and make them look bad in the eyes of the world.
If this sounds shocking, let me simply refer to the sinking of the S.S. Patria, a refugee ship full of Jews that had attempted to land illegally in Palestine in 1940. The British government decided to send it elsewhere. Menachem Begin, the leading terrorist of the day and head of the Irgun Gang, wrote a book, The Revolt: Story of the Irgun. It was first published in 1951. He wrote on pages 35, 36,
“The Patria never sailed. Jewish ‘terrorists’ placed a bomb to prevent its departure. The bomb exploded and more than two hundred Jews were killed or drowned. The British authorities noted the fact that this was not an Irgun Zvai Leumi operation; it was the Haganah which had placed the bomb.”
The Haganah was the military force of Ben-Gurion’s Jewish Agency operating in Palestine at the time. He may have thought that the lives of 276 insignificant Jews were worth their weight in propaganda, but I suspect the families of the victims were of a different opinion. The truth of the sinking of the Patria was not publicly known for ten years, after which time it was reported by David Flinker of the Jewish Morning Journal, Nov. 27, 1950.
To the British, Menachem Begin was the “Number One Terrorist.” To Begin, he was the Number One Freedom Fighter. At least he was open about his terrorism and did not deliberately seek to harm his fellow Jews. He despised the Jewish Agency and its Haganah for their hypocrisy and policies that changed with the political winds. When it was advantageous to them, they engaged in terrorism of their own, particularly in the time from Oct. 1945 to July 1946, even uniting their activities with the Irgun and Stern Gang, another terrorist organization commanded by Yitzhak Shamir, who later became an Israeli Prime Minister. But at other times, to curry favor, they would help the British find and imprison Irgun or Stern members.
The point is that terrorism will not establish the Kingdom of God. Terrorism, however, established the Israeli state. The preachers were sure that May 18, 1948 began a 1,260-day period to the middle of the “tribulation” when the Antichrist would build his temple on the site of the mosque in Jerusalem. It did not happen.
Christian preachers were equally sure that the Jews would repent by the end of seven years (1955) and that Christ would return. It did not happen. But instead of questioning their basic premise that that Israeli state was the fulfillment of the regathering of the House of Israel, they simply adjusted their theology further away from the truth.
Israel Lost its Name, “Israel”
After centuries of rebellion and rejecting God, Israel was cast off into Assyria, who settled them along the southern shores of the Caspian Sea. There they lost their God-given name, Israel. God stripped them of it because they were not living up to its testimony. In their rebellion, how could He allow them to keep using a name that means “God rules”?
This is how Israel began to be known by other names, and this is how God saw to it that they were “lost.” The people were not lost. Only their name was lost. The people were known to the Assyrians—even a century before they deported Israel—by the official name Beth-Khumri, sometimes spelled in alternative ways like Bit-Humria. This name means “House of Omri,” named as such after Israel’s most successful monarch (1 Kings 16:28). Omri was the father of Ahab, who is more well known today.
In the Hebrew language of that time, Omri’s name was actually pronounced Ghomri. The Assyrians thus referred to the land where they had been resettled as the land of Gamir and its inhabitants the Gamira. Later, the hard “g” sound was softened to “k” or “kh”. Thus, the Celts (or Kelts) today are known as the Khumri, for they still retain that ancient name after their descendants migrated from Assyria into Europe, Britain and Wales. The Welch go by the name of Khumri even today.
Assyria was later conquered by Babylon, and Babylon in turn was conquered by Medo-Persia toward the end of Daniel’s life (Dan. 5). Darius the Mede actually took the city of Babylon and ruled it until his son-in-law, Cyrus, returned from other campaigns. Cyrus allowed the people of Judah to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city. His son, Cambyses ruled as co-regent with Cyrus from 530-528 B.C. Cyrus died in 528 fighting the Scythians. Cambyses then reigned another 6 years as sole regent of Persia.
Darius the Great of Persia then took the throne, and he reigned from 521-486 B.C. When he died, he was buried in a tomb on the side of a mountain called Behistun. The Behistun Rock listed in 3 languages all of the people who were subject to his rule. This included some portion of the ex-Israelites, who were now known as Gamira.
In the Babylonian inscription at Behistun, they are called Gimiri, but in the Persian table, these same people are called Saka. The third table in the Susian language calls them Sakka. Thus, the Gamira, or Gimiri, are also known as Saka and Sakka.
The Greek historians of that period spelled it “Sacae,” (Scythians). The Roman historians spelled it “Saxons.” These form the bulk of European peoples who migrated into Europe from the area in and around Assyria. They were not Assyrians. They were Israelites who had lost their name for refusing to live up to its true meaning. Being Israelites by genealogy did not give them immunity from God’s judgment.
The point is this: if we must focus upon genealogy to find the lost House of Israel, then let us do it with some integrity. The Jews are not Israel either spiritually or physically. The physical Israelites (or ex-Israelites) are to be found among the Caucasian people of Europe and wherever they have spread throughout the world. They were given the name “Caucasian,” because many of them migrated through the Caucasus mountains from Assyria into Europe.
And to some extent, these people have indeed been blessed in many ways, particularly in the fact that the Gospel of Christ spread and took shape in the European nations quite early. This was their key advantage. God saw to it that the Gospel took root there first.
However, having six Bibles for every family does not make us a Christian people. For the most part, this made us “cultural Christians,” to make us feel good about ourselves while we continued to despise the divine law and substitute oppressive Church laws in its place. Only a few throughout history understood that the purpose of election was to empower a people to set creation free. The majority thought election meant the privilege of enslaving others who were not quite so elect.
It is not enough to be an ex-Israelite of the dispersion. Your genealogy and a few dollars might buy you a latte. I appreciate, of course, being descended from Israelites, because if I had been born elsewhere, I might never have had a Bible in my own language, nor parents who taught me the Word. There is this advantage. But if I expect my genealogy to impress Peter enough to open the gates of heaven, I am greatly mistaken. In fact, Peter probably would look at me and say, “Oh, yes, I remember that lot quite well. Please go to your left, down three flights of stairs, and tell the receptionist I’m sending more fuel.”
God is not impressed with cultural Christians or genealogical Christians. He is looking for a relationship with people who truly live up to the name of Israel. He is raising up people who will truly be overcomers, even as Jacob was an overcomer. Such people do not have to be Israelites by genealogy in order to enter this race. Jacob did not qualify by genealogy, but by faith and obedience. He was the pattern in the Old Testament, the one through whom this whole Israelite story began.
The question before us is this: How is God fulfilling the prophecies to Israel? Is it enough to know who Jacob’s physical descendants are? Can others become Israelites?