Can we really save ourselves? Is it really possible to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps” and fix all our problems? We can fix some things, but sometimes our solutions mess up life for someone else. Truly we need a Deliverer to save us from ourselves – but until the final redemption of the world, we still have an obligation to make things better for those around us.
Exodus 1:1-6:1; Isaiah 27:6-28:13, 29:22-23; 1 Chronicles 4:18; Hosea 11:1; Matthew 1:18-25, 2:15; Luke 1:26-38; Hebrews 11:23-29; Revelation 5:6-14, 13:8
[Editor’s note: The people of God have struggled through an identity question for millennia. It comes down to this: if God has designated Israel as His only covenant nation, and only those who are part of Israel can partake of all His promises, then who is Israel, and how does anyone get to be part of it? The proposed answers are many, and often seem to be mutually exclusive. Is Israel only the Jewish people? Is it only the church, which is now “spiritual Israel,” or “the Israel of God?” Is it only people from the British Isles, or from Africa, or some other ethnic grouping? Or is it perhaps something else – something more inclusive that incorporates all who call upon the name of the Lord (Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13), somehow embracing both physical descendants of Abraham and foreigners whom God has “grafted in?”
In 1994, Angus Wootten proposed an answer based not only on his understanding of scripture and history, but his faith in a covenant-keeping God to come through on His promises. More than a synthesis of various positions, Angus crafted a balanced, logical approach that indicates how much we all have in common as part of God’s family, regardless how we got in. This article was originally published in the August 1994 edition of the House of David Herald.]
Our Heavenly Father had the Prophets Amos and Hosea deliver a message to the Northern Kingdom of Israel: “Behold . . . I will shake the house of Israel among all nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, but not a kernel will fall to the ground” (Amos 9:9). And ultimately, He said, “Israel is swallowed up; they are now among the nations like a vessel in which no one delights” (Hosea 8:8).
Even earlier the Psalmist had warned: “They did not listen to the voice of Yahveh . . . Therefore He swore to them, that He would cast them down in the wilderness, and that He would cast their seed among the nations, and scatter them in the lands . . . [For] they did not destroy the peoples, as Yahveh commanded them, but they mingled with the nations, and learned their practices” (Psalms 106:25-27; 34-35).
Knowing that we can only please Yahveh by faith (Hebrews 1 12:6), we have no alternative but to accept that the foregoing prophesies have been fulfilled, and that the following promises are either now being fulfilled, or at some future date will be fulfilled: For He says the scattered peoples will cry out: “Save us, O Yahveh our God, and gather us, from among the nations, to give thanks to Thy Holy Name, and glory in Thy praise” (Psalms 106:47).
The Psalmist also gives the reason why Yahveh answers this prayer: “For He remembered His holy Word with Abraham His servant; and He brought forth His people with joy, His chosen ones with a joyful shout. He gave them also the lands of the nations, that they might take possession of the fruit of the peoples’ labor, so that they might keep His statutes, and observe His laws” (Psalms 105:42-45).
Even though we are required to exercise our faith, we can contemplate on how Yahveh did, and will, fill the many prophesies about the scattering and regathering of the people of Israel. And, in regard to their regathering, we can attempt to ascertain whether we might have a role to play. So let us start our investigation from the most advantageous position possible: that of a graduate student of the House of David. A graduate student is one who has read In Search of Israel, The Olive Tree of Israel, and issues of the Herald, and fully understands the basic teaching of House of David: That there were in Scripture, and still are two houses of Israel, Ephraim and Judah, and that it is Yahveh’s plan for them to be reunited into one house, which becomes the restored kingdom of Israel.
We are starting from the vantage point of understanding that Israel today is separated into two houses, of which many are still scattered among the nations. Today, those of the house of Judah are primarily scattered among the Jewish people, while those of the house of Ephraim are primarily scattered among the Christian people. As we well know, the initial division between Ephraim and Judah took place in 930 BC, when the united Davidic kingdom was divided into the Northern and Southern kingdoms of Israel, or Israel and Judah. Over the next two centuries, the Northern Kingdom was slowly absorbed into the surrounding nations, including Judah.
For example, during the reign of Baasha, 908-886 BC, Ben-hadad, King of Assyria, sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel, and they conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-maim, and all the store cities of Naphtali (2 Chronicles 16:4). During the same period King Asa of Judah had many from Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon defect to him from Israel (2 Chronicles 15:9).
It was some one hundred and sixty years later that the end came with the Assyrian conquest of the city of Samaria in 722 BC, alter a three year siege. It was at this time that the famous exile of 27,290 inhabitants of the city, taken as booty, were carried away into exile by Assyria, and settled in Halah and Habor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes (2 Kings 17:6). While this one exile most often forms the basis for most works that seek to explain the wanderings of the “Ten Lost Tribes,” it was by no means their only exile, and, it was neither total, nor was it final, and it surely does not constitute the entire remnant of the Northern Kingdom.
The Assyrian policy at that time was first to absorb areas and populations into the empire in place, and next to establish vassal states. When the first two policies did not work, they would take military and political control of the area, effectively neutralizing the population by deporting a portion of the people: which basically included the leadership, soldiers, and all those capable of being a threat to Assyrian control. These exiles were replaced by the importation of foreign colonists, those who were exiled from their own lands. And then, as today, there was a continual voluntary movement of people for economic reasons.
Hezekiah, King of Judah 7l5-686 BC, reinforces the fact that the deportation of the Northern Kingdom was not total. As a young man, Hezekiah had observed the gradual disintegration and capitulation of the Northern Kingdom as the Assyrians advanced southward. He realized that Israel had been taken captive because of her disobedience to Yahveh’s laws. Therefore, Hezekiah was concerned that his people renew the covenant they had broken. And also, attempting to heal the breach that had separated Judah and Israel since Solomonic times, he sent letters throughout the land inviting the people to come to Jerusalem for the Passover. Although some ignored Hezekiah’s appeal, many responded, coming from Asher, Manasseh, Ephraim, and Issachar, as well as from Judah.
So, the population of the area which comprised the former kingdom of Israel consisted of many elements: remnants of the peoples which the Israelites had failed to destroy when they took the land, remnants of the Israelites, Assyrians residing in the land, foreign colonists imported by the Assyrians, and those who had moved into the area for economic reasons.
Then, in 586 BC, we have a virtual replay of the fall of Israel, with Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Judah, along with several deportations of portions of the population of Judah to Babylon. Then, seventy years later, in 535 BC some of the descendants of those deported to Babylon began to return to Jerusalem. Next we see the temple being rebuilt and the reestablishment of Judah as a recognizable people who became known as “Jews.”
Over the next five centuries, the only visible Israelites, and the only known worshipers of Yahveh, were known as “Jews.” So anyone, in the then land of Israel — Judea, Samaria, Galilee — or throughout the world who was called to be a worshiper of Yahveh, became known as a “Jew” — regardless of their tribal heritage. Thus, James addresses his letter to, “the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad” (James 1:1). Furthermore, the post exilic prophets, in particular Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah, treated the tribes of the vanquished northern kingdom — regardess of where they were — as integral parts of the covenant people of Israel.
The description of Ezekiel’s two sticks, which represented Ephraim and Judah, indicates that each stick contained elements of all twelve tribes (Ezekiel 37:15-19). This was obviously true in Ezekiel’s day, and will be true in that day, which is yet future, when the two sticks are made one in Yahveh’s hand.
There are two key facts that must be kept in mind when attempting to track the people of Israel: One is the fact that the bloodline comes from the father. Secondly, one’s biology does not change, regardless of where the people were, or presently are, located. Also, what one believes or does not believe cannot change one’s genealogy. An Israelite forever remains an Israelite. Though an Israelite may be “lost” to the world, and even lost to themselves, an Israelite is never lost to Yahveh’s all-seeing eyes (Amos 9:9).
So, by 30 AD, when the ministry of Yeshua served to once again divide the people of Israel, only Yahveh Himself knew the genealogy of the seven million Jews that were in Judah, Samaria, Galilee, and scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Again, we know from James that all twelve tribes were represented in this number. We also know that a major portion of the Jewish people did not follow after Yeshua. And, after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, and the loss of a sacrifice and a priesthood, they established what we know today as Rabbinic Judaism. However, one important portion our Jewish brothers retained was the title of, “Jew,” which to many people, has become synonymous with “Israel.”
On the other hand, a significant portion of the Jewish people did follow after Yeshua. In fact, history tells us that for the first thirty years the Early Church was virtually all “Jewish.” However, the influx of “Yahveh fearing Gentiles” had given the Church a non-Jewish majority by the end of the ﬁrst century.
The first thing to realize is that the Jewish people who followed Yeshua did not have a change in their genealogy. They were still Israelites, and their descendants, even to this day, are still Israelites, whether or not they care to call themselves Israelites, and whether they know it or not.
What was the tribal make-up of these two First Century groups? Realizing that only Yahveh can definitively answer this question, we are limited to reasonable assumptions and educated guesses. So, would it not be reasonable to assume that the initial tribal composition of the two groups would roughly parallel their tribal composition today? If this is true, then we have only to determine the current tribal composition to answer this question. Today, most Christians deny that they are physical Israelites from any tribe. This would pretty well rule out that they are from Judah, Benjamin or Levi, because descendants of these tribes did not receive the punishment of being lost to their identity. On the other hand, based on limited survey data, Jewish people claim heritage from the tribes of either Judah, Levi or Benjamin. Therefore, it would be reasonable to conclude that a majority of the first century Jews who followed Yeshua had a Northern Kingdom tribal heritage, while a majority of those Jews who followed after Rabbinic Judaism had a Southern Kingdom tribal heritage.
As for the “Yahveh fearing Gentiles” we ask: who were they, and where did they come from? Paul answers the question of who they were, by stating who they are: “And if you belong to Yeshua, then you are Abraham’s offspring [seed, sperm], heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29).
Another statement by Paul that should also be considered is, “‘you’ who were formerly Gentiles in the flesh” (Ephesians 2:1 1). The implication clearly is that “you” are no longer Gentiles in the flesh. Thus, if “you” are not now a Gentile in the flesh, then “you” must be the only alternative: an Israelite in the flesh. Was the flesh of the “you” miraculously changed from Gentile to Israelite? Or, does Paul mean: Now that you have accepted Yeshua and understand that “you” are a member of the Commonwealth of Israel, “you” should realize that “you” have always been an Israelite? Peter was quite correct when he states that Paul is difficult to understand (2 Peter 3: 16). So for now, take your pick, and reserve a more definitive answer for the day when you can talk with Paul—in the Kingdom.
Where did these “Gentiles” come from? The reasonable conclusion is that they are from that seed that was scattered throughout every nation on earth. Yair Davidiy’s book, The Tribes, is a reasonable, historical account of how much of the seed of Israel was scattered.
Why is this heritage important? If we do not know who we are, it is impossible to fully understand our mission, and it is difficult to determine how we should live. When we understand that we are an Israelite, and that our job is to prepare for the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel, and that as Israelites, we should live in the manner of Israelites, and not in the manner of Gentiles, then, we will surely be more pleasing to our Creator than those who continue to walk in ignorance—which ignorance Yahveh ordained as punishment for our forefathers, but is being removed in our day.
As a follower of Yahveh you are required to see yourself as an Israelite. And that means you must belong to one of the following categories.
Which box would you check?
[ ] I am a descendant of one the First Century “Jewish” Believers
[ ] I am a descendant of one the scattered tribes.
[ ] I am a descendant of one of the First Century Rabbinical “Jews.”
[ ] I am one of John the Baptists’ stones — whom Yahveh miraculously turned into a child of Abraham (Matthew 3:9).
The last thing I thought I needed in the fall of 1986 was a girlfriend. When the Army had assigned me to Germany three years earlier, I half expected that I might find the woman of my dreams there. A few fun-but-fruitless relationships later, I realized that this process was more complicated that I thought, and far more difficult. And so, when I made my way to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, at the beginning of November for the next phase of my military career, I determined that it would be better to get a dog than find a girlfriend. Oddly enough (seeing that God has quite the sense of humor), it was nearly thirty more years before I would get a dog, but the woman of my dreams was only days away from walking into my life.
It happened on Sunday, November 9, 1986, at the First Baptist Church of Sierra Vista, Arizona. Charlayne was among the single young adults in the Sunday School class that morning, but her presence didn’t register with me until that evening, when I joined the church at the evening worship service. That’s when this vision of loveliness came bounding down the aisle to give me a hug and welcome me into the congregation. She also invited me to go out with all the singles to the Village Inn for pie. It was an unexpected, but very agreeable, invitation. What was more unexpected, and even more agreeable, was how quickly we became good friends. Within days we were dating, and within six weeks we were engaged.
I tell people that we were engaged by decree of my mother-in-law, and it’s true. Both of us had plans for our lives that a serious relationship would disrupt. As we grew closer and closer, the thought of those disruptions caused us no end of distress, until one Sunday afternoon they brought us to the brink of panic. We asked her parents to come over and talk with us. They sat in her apartment listening to us talk things out for about an hour and a half, and then her mother said the last thing I expected: “Well, it seems to me you kids need to get married.”
Many times in my life, a sense of peace has settled over me, indicating that God’s answer in the present predicament had been revealed. That moment in Charlayne’s apartment was one of the first, and is still one of the most profound, of those occasions. When her mother said the one thing we had dared not consider, we knew it was right, and it was holy. We were married some months later, and after 31 years we remain true to the covenant that established our household when we were young.
I do not recall whether any woman other than Char has ever captured my attention in any way that might cause her to be a rival to the wife of my youth. I have had many female friends and coworkers, some of whom have been quite attractive, but in all those years, I cannot remember a time when any of them attracted me in any inappropriate way. Perhaps I am peculiar in that regard; I have known many situations when such attractions severely damaged and even ended the marriages of people I knew. In our culture, we do not look favorably on unfaithfulness to the marriage covenant. For reasons grounded in Scripture, we in the West have, since time immemorial, taken seriously and literally the words of Moses and Yeshua (Jesus) that a man must leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife as one flesh. Even King Henry VIII of England could not get around those words. When his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, could not produce a male heir, he annulled the marriage and took Anne Boleyn. When she produced no male heir, he found a reason to have her executed (one can do that if one is a king), and replaced her with Jane Seymour. She became mother to his only son, but died only days later. Henry’s next wife, Anne of Cleves, was so young and innocent that he chose to annul the marriage rather than consummate it. In her place, he married Catherine Howard, a young-but-not-so-innocent woman whose flirtatious behavior eventually cost her her head. That left Catherine Parr, the wife who outlived the old king.
I learned the tale of Henry VIII as a boy, thanks to a classic BBC miniseries about his life. It struck me as odd that Martin Luther himself had stated his preference that the king commit bigamy and marry Anne Boleyn rather than divorce the first Catherine. Henry did not adopt Luther’s prescription as far as I can tell, but chose annulment instead. It helped that Catherine was Spanish and Catholic; in one stroke, he ended a cumbersome political entanglement and its attendant religious fetters. When the Roman Church refused to grant the annulment (perhaps because the reigning pope was at that time a prisoner of Catherine’s nephew, Emperor Charles V), Henry simply declared England separate from Rome and established the Anglican Church.
It is the stuff of soap operas, but it is our history. So also are the tales of the patriarchs and many great men of the Bible. Abraham, Jacob, Elkanah, David, Solomon, and the kings of Judah and Israel seemed to have no trouble taking multiple wives. After all, there is no Scriptural prohibition against polygamy. The closest thing to a prohibition that appears in the Bible is Paul’s advice to Titus and Timothy that congregational elders should have but one wife. I surmise that Paul’s wise counsel came not merely from his extensive knowledge of the Torah and the traditions of the elders, but his experience in guiding the many congregations forming in the Mediterranean world of his day. Perhaps that experience is what motivated him to write what I believe is the best word on this matter:
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12 NASB)
Lawful, but not profitable. Is that not the lesson of the Patriarchs? King Henry VIII may have been thinking about the woeful consequences in the households of those men – consequences that included incest, murder, extreme sibling rivalry, jealousy, and all manner of dysfunction. I saw the same phenomenon when I studied the Ottoman Empire. No prince who attained the sultanate was safe as long as his half brothers from his father’s other wives were still alive. King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia understood this quite well, which is why he arranged for his sons from his many wives to rule sequentially so that none of them would be the father of a new dynasty. The last of those sons is on the throne in Riyadh today, sixty-five years after his father’s death.
I do not know much about the wives of these polygamous kings, whether of ancient Israel, Ottoman Turkey, or modern Saudi Arabia. The best commentary I heard came from a Saudi amir whose hospitality I enjoyed in 1990, while I served with the army deployed there to defend his country from Iraqi aggression. Over the course of our conversation, the question of Muslim views on marriage came up. Multiple wives entered into the religious culture of Islam because it was already a cultural institution in Arabia. Muhammad seems to have endeavored to regulate the practice, which is why the custom is to limit a man to four wives. What the life of those wives is like, I do not know, but I have heard some terrible things. What I do know is that this kindly amir who had invited us into his home told us that, for some reason which he confessed he did not understand, his sons wanted to depart from the precedent of his household. They believed, he said, that it would be better to marry only one wife, and that only for love.
This is an interesting perspective when compared with something I heard from an American friend of mine. He lives in close proximity to polygamous families of the Mormon faith. They are nice people, he says, but the practice of polygamy has served only to oppress the women and disrupt the families. Is that a consistent result of multiple wives in one family? Or is it the result of imposing such a model on a culture that is accustomed to one man marrying one woman for life? This I cannot say.
What I can say is that many cultures do have marriage practices that differ from my own. This came to my attention in an unusual way in 2009 upon the election of former president Jacob Zuma of South Africa. Another friend of mine, founder of an influential prayer ministry, sent out a notice asking prayer for Mr. Zuma and his wives (four at the time). She did not issue that notice in a judgmental way, but rather in the same way as she had done when asking prayer for other heads of state. It just so happened that this one was polygamous. It was merely a statement of fact: this particular president of this particular country needed prayer for himself in his new role, and for his family, which happened to include several wives and children by them.
I think my friend did well in asking for such prayer in the usual way. Another friend of mine tells me that we will encounter many followers of Yeshua in Africa and other places who genuinely love God and love their many wives. It is their culture. He, himself, comes from a native culture in America that is matrilineal, and whose marriage norms are different from those of my Scottish, Irish, and English ancestors. I do not understand such a culture, nor do I desire to adopt it, nor is there a need to do so. At the same time, there is no need to impose my culture on his. Such a thing would be unhealthy at best, and genocidal at worst (another sad fact I cannot ignore from our history).
Where, then, does this leave me? It leaves me with the wife of my youth. Charlayne has satisfied me in every way. Why would I seek another to take her place, or to share me with her? It is not my culture. It is not right to her, to our children, and to the many people whom we have enriched through our example as man and wife. Neither is it consistent with the vows we both took to establish our marriage covenant. When I married her, my father said to me, “We McCarns marry for keeps.” Now, over 30 years later, I know the great wisdom of his words.
It is surprising to consider how pervasive the legacy of Rome is on the global culture. Even those nations which never felt Rome’s touch directly still labor under the political, economic, and social order that the Empire bequeathed to its European children. Tales of the Roman era still find a familiar place in our consciousness. Whether one is looking for the real King Arthur in the detritus of post-Roman Britain, reveling in the semi-mythical exploits of Maximus after the death of Marcus Aurelius, or absorbing the accounts of Christian martyrs in the days of Nero, the grandeur of Rome captivates the imagination. That grandeur certainly includes the glory of the Caesars, the logic of Roman law, the enduring architectural monuments, and the lingering vestiges of Latin, but too often it obscures something else: Rome, the insatiable beast.
Whatever good Rome’s empire accomplished in the half millennium of its existence is forever smirched by the wake of broken civilizations, conquered peoples, and extinct cultures ground into the dust under its boot heels. This is no less true of Britain’s Celts as it is of Judea’s Jews – and of scores of other peoples forever altered by Roman domination.
The story of the Jews should be well known both to Jews and Christians, at least up to a point. Christians will be familiar with the accounts of Yeshua (Jesus) and the apostles from the New Testament; Jews will know the accounts of the Great Jewish War that brought the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple, and the epic tragedy of Masada. Thus the first century of this current era is at least generally understood through these two distinct, yet complementary, lenses. What each will find unfamiliar is what happened next: that unexplored dark time between the fall of Masada in 73 CE, and the final destruction of Judea in 135 CE at the end of the Bar Kokhba Revolt.
Miriam Feinberg Vamosh provides invaluable assistance in shedding light on that dark era through her riveting novel, The Scroll. She weaves her story around a genuine archaeological find from the period: a get, or divorce decree, issued to a woman named Miriam at Masada at the time the last of the Jewish defenders eld the fortress against Rome’s legions. Although nothing more is known of the historical Miriam named in the scroll, Vamosh draws on her own extensive knowledge of the period to create a multi-generational saga that is not only entertaining and educational, but entirely believable.
The history of humanity is filled with mothers in all eras and all cultures saying to their children the equivalent of, “I don’t care if you don’t like how that tastes. Eat it; it’s good for you.” In my case, it was broccoli, but I can imagine children around the world sitting glumly in front of their food as their mothers tell them they won’t grow up big and strong unless they finish their borscht, ceviche, pho, or ugali. God created mothers to be right about such things, which is why each generation survives and (depending on the degree to which they listen to Mom) thrives.
This principle works just as well regarding nourishment for the mind, soul, and spirit as for the body. That is why those who persevere in reading and studying even when the subject matter is uncomfortable tend to come out much better in the end – smarter, wiser, more tolerant, and better able to cooperate with others in the interest of a greater good. Rivkah Lambert Adler has provided rich nourishment of this sort in her book, Ten From the Nations: Torah Awakening Among Non-Jews.
The groundbreaking aspect of Ten From the Nations is that Adler is among the first (perhaps the first) Jewish scholars to document the global phenomenon of Christians coming to an appreciation of Torah. She describes the phenomenon this way:
All over the world, current and former Christians are becoming aware of Torah. They are learning about, and implementing, what most of the world thinks of as Jewish practices, including celebrating Shabbat [Sabbath] and the Biblical holidays. They are refraining from eating pork and shellfish. They are studying Torah and seeing the Land of Israel, and especially the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, in a new light. They are building positive relationships with the Jewish people.