Recently a teacher I respect stood up and said, “You Gentiles who are trying to live like Jews … you aren’t helping anything.”
He was addressing people like me, who was raised as a Gentile, but who is now resting on Sabbath, celebrating the feasts of the Lord, forsaking bacon, wearing tzitzit, and applying the heart to the weightier matters of Torah. My heart ouched at his words, even though I discovered after my parents’ death, doing family tree research, that we really are descended from Levi. None of us knew it, and I often feel like a Gentile through and through, being raised as such and not in the Jewish traditions.
Who are the Jews, and who are the Gentiles? “Jews” as a title for a people began to be applied to those who returned to the Land after 70 years in captivity in Babylon, literally meaning, “of Judah.” Webster’s says a Jew is “a member of the tribe of Judah, an Israelite; a member of a nation existing in Palestine from the sixth century BC to the first century AD; a person belonging to a continuation through descent or conversion to the ancient Jewish people; one whose religion is Judaism.”
In the sixth century BC, the kingdom of Judah was overcome by the Babylonians, and the people taken captive to Babylon. A remnant returned 70 years later, to rebuild the Temple that had been destroyed, and rebuild the city of Jerusalem that had been destroyed. Judea was a province under Persian rule, first, then Greek rule, later, when the Greeks overcame the Persians on the larger stage of world history. Judea gained its independence through the successful Maccabbean revolt (celebrated at Hanukkah every year) but by the time of Yeshua, was subject, once more, to Roman rule. Several Jewish revolts in the first century AD against Roman rule caused the Romans to expel the Jews from Judea, and the province has been known as Palestine since that time, until the modern birth of the nation of Israel in 1948.
So going back to Webster’s, the Jews as a people are those of the southern kingdom who went to captivity in Babylon and returned in the sixth century BC, and who dwelt in the Land until the first century AD when they were expelled by the Romans. The people who went into captivity in Babylon, and who returned to become today’s Jews, were not the entirety of the twelve tribes of Israel. They were the people of the southern kingdom of Israel, composed primarily of those of the tribe of Judah and Benjamin, with many Levites, and remnants of the other tribes who emigrated to the southern kingdom because of the idolatry of the northern kingdom. But the children of Israel – all twelve tribes – existed as a people before the sixth century BC.
The people of the northern kingdom of Israel were composed primarily of those of the other ten tribes. The northern kingdom was overcome by the Assyrians and the people taken captive and settled in Assyria and beyond, several centuries prior to the captivity of the southern kingdom of Judah. They were never returned to their homeland. (You can read about the split of Israel into northern and southern kingdoms in 1 Kin 11-12.)
Prophetic scripture calls these two peoples, the house of Judah and the house of Israel, as the northern kingdom (the ten tribes) was known as Israel and the southern kingdom (the two tribes) was known as Judah. The house of Israel is often also called simply “Ephraim” in prophetic scripture, just as the house of Judah is often also called simply “Judah,” because the leading tribe of the ten tribes of the northern kingdom, was Ephraim.
The ten tribes today are for the most part dispersed among the nations, as it was foretold of them. They intermingled so much with the Gentiles of the surrounding nations where they had been scattered, that they became as Gentiles. See Who is Israel? Who are the Jews? Who is Ephraim? and Who is Israel? Redeemed Israel.
Of course, the Torah was given to all twelve tribes of the children of Israel, and not only to the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, whose descendants are today’s Jews. Someone who seems to be of the Gentiles at first glance, might very well be a descendant of those long- ago scattered ten tribes, who is responding to the Holy Spirit’s call to return to his Israelite roots. The scattering took place so long ago that there is no way to prove or disprove his ancestry if so — only God knows. If he is being drawn to walk in the Torah of his fathers in fulfillment of prophecy, who are we to tell him he is not helping?
But that is not all …
one torah for the one people of the one God, part two 2015 feb 10
one torah for the one people of the one God, part three 2015 feb 16
one torah for the one people of the one God, part four 2015 feb 26