Somewhere in the prophets, just before God talks about the terrible things that happen when Israel is attacked in the Last Days and Messiah comes in the nick of time, there is this promise of restoration:
“I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them back, because I have had compassion on them; and they will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the Lord their God and I will answer them. Ephraim will be like a mighty man, and their heart will be glad as if from wine; indeed, their children will see it and be glad, their heart will rejoice in the Lord. I will whistle for them to gather them together, for I have redeemed them; and they will be as numerous as they were before. When I scatter them among the peoples, they will remember Me in far countries, and they with their children will live and come back. I will bring them back from the land of Egypt and gather them from Assyria; and I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon until no room can be found for them. And they will pass through the sea of distress and He will strike the waves in the sea, so that all the depths of the Nile will dry up; and the pride of Assyria will be brought down and the scepter of Egypt will depart. And I will strengthen them in the Lord, and in His name they will walk,” declares the Lord. (Zechariah 10:6-12 NASB)
What are we to make of this? It sounds like a prophecy about Israel, but the word Israel does not appear in this passage. In fact, Israel is not named at all in Zechariah 10. Unless we know that Judah and Joseph and Ephraim are all parts of Israel, we would have no clue who is the subject of this chapter.
But then we know that Judah and Joseph and Ephraim are all parts of Israel, do we not?
Or do we?
Ask an average person that question and the answer may be a shoulder shrug, a blank look, and words like, “The Jews are Israel.” The assumption is that “Israel” and “Jewish people” are synonyms. They mean the same thing. Israel is Jewish and the Jews are Israel. Period. Anyone who claims to be Israel must either be Jewish or be in the process of becoming Jewish. That is the consistent understanding of Christians and Jews and Muslims and anyone else who cares to offer an opinion.
But that consistent understanding is consistently incorrect.