In Romans 7 Paul distinguishes between the two "I's," and in chapter 8 he shows how to live and think in terms of the Christ "I" within us. Toward the end he establishes the fact that our Christ "I" is inseparable from the love of God. He then looks at Israel and Judah in Romans 9 to see if they can be separated from the love of God.
It is not possible to understand Romans 9-11 without knowing the history of Israel as Paul knew it. Unfortunately, most Christians today believe that when Paul spoke of Israel he was referring to the Jews. They have been taught that when Paul refers to Israel in dispersion he was referring to the Jewish dispersion. This is incorrect.
Israel had been taken captive to Assyria from 745-721 B.C., and those tribes had never returned to the old land. This is the dispersion of Israel. It occurred centuries before Paul's time. That dispersion began in the days of Isaiah, who not only witnessed this disastrous event, but also wrote about it in Isaiah 37-39. The last half of Isaiah's book is mostly about the restoration of Israel.
A century later, Judah was taken captive to Babylon (604-586 B.C.). Seventy years later they were allowed to return to the old land. Five hundred years later, Jesus was born into that nation. So the nation in Paul's day accounted for just the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and a portion of Levi. But the Israelites who had been taken to Assyria continued to be dispersed.
The Divided Kingdom
The promise had been given to Judah that he would produce the kings that would rule Israel (Gen. 49:10; 1 Chron. 5:2). That promise later fell to David and his lineage. In 2 Sam. 7:16, God told David through the prophet Nathan,
16 And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.
However, the sins of his son Solomon brought divine judgment upon the throne of David. So even though God allowed his throne to continue, He nonetheless stripped the king of his kingdom, leaving only one tribe to be a light to the tribe of Judah (1 Kings 1:36) for the sake of the promise to David.
The split between Israel and Judah occurred after the death of Solomon, when God brought judgment upon his son Rehoboam on account of the sins of his father. God tore "the kingdom" out of his hands and caused the nation to split apart. Rehoboam was left with just two tribes, while Jeroboam ruled the kingdom of Israel. The story is told in 1 Kings 11:30-31,
30 Then Ahijah [the prophet] 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'."
In verses 34, 35 we read of the two tribes left to Rehoboam,
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, even ten tribes.
Take note especially that it was "the kingdom" that was taken from Rehoboam. This is stated four times in the passage (1 Kings 11:11, 31, 34, 35). In other words, the House of Judah, as the nation came to be called, was not "the kingdom." The kingdom was the House of Israel, the ten tribes to the north and east of Judah. In the eyes of men, Judah was A KINGDOM, but in the eyes of God, it was not THE KINGDOM.
The northern House of Israel included the Birthright tribes of Joseph—that is, Ephraim and Manasseh. Their first king, Jeroboam, was of the tribe of Ephraim (1 Kings 11:26). When the kingdom split in two, this period of time came to be known to historians as The Divided Kingdom. In God's eyes, the King was separated from his Kingdom.
This put a breach between the Messianic line of David and the Birthright of Joseph. Only Jesus Christ would be able to repair this breach, for Hosea prophesied that in the end Judah and Israel would rejoin under the headship of Christ (Hos. 1:11). God's judgment would remain upon them—and they would remain separate—until both came into compliance with the laws of God under the headship of Jesus Christ.
That has not yet happened in a national sense. It has only occurred on a personal level, as people accept Jesus Christ as their King, for He has been gathering CITIZENS for His Kingdom since His first coming.
Those who say that Israel was somehow reunited with Judah in the distant past, so that the Jews now represent both Israel and Judah, are deceiving themselves. Even the Jews know better than that and have always denied that they had been reunited with Israel. Thus, the modern state of "Israel" is a misnomer, for it is not the biblical Israel but a remnant of Judah. There can be no reunification apart from the people's acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah-King.
So in Romans 9-11, when Paul discusses the question of Israel's dispersion at the hand of the Assyrians, he was referring to the so-called "lost tribes of Israel," not to Jews who had settled in various parts of the Roman Empire. The dispersion of Israel occurred from 745-721 B.C., whereas the Jewish (Judah) dispersion occurred from 70-135 A.D. as the result of the two Jewish revolts. (For that history, see Volume II of my series called Lessons from Church History.)
Israel's Rejection of Christ
When Paul used the term Israel, he usually was referring to the dispersed House of Israel as distinct from the House of Judah. But occasionally he also used the term to describe the full 12 tribes who collectively were known as Israel prior to the death of Solomon.
Many modern Christian commentators have misunderstood Paul, thinking that these "Israel" chapters were about the Jewish nation called Judea (the Greek form of Judah). They treat Romans 9-11 as if Paul was focusing totally upon the Jewish rejection of Christ in the first century, when, in fact, Paul was mostly concerned with the Israelite rejection of Jesus Christ nearly 800 years earlier.
Jesus' Hebrew name was Yeshua. He was the Yahweh of the Old Testament, for Isaiah 12:2 and 3 tells us,
2 Behold, God is my Yeshua, I will trust and not be afraid; for Yah Yahweh is my strength and song, and He has become my Yeshua. 3 Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of Yeshua.
Jesus referenced this verse in John 7:37, saying, "If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink." Because Yeshua means "salvation" in Hebrew, all the references to salvation in the Old Testament prophesied of Jesus Christ. Simeon recognized this when he held the baby and said in Luke 2:29, 30, "Now, Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for my eyes have seen Thy salvation [Yeshua]."
For this reason, Israel's rejection of Yahweh and His Law was a rejection of Jesus (Yeshua) as their King. Israel led the way in rejecting Jesus Christ by worshiping the golden calf.
Judah's Rejection of Christ
Judah too rejected Him by turning the temple into a den of robbers (Jer. 7:11). Years later, when Yahweh was incarnated in human flesh, the nation of Judah crucified Him, for once again they had turned the temple into a den of robbers (Matt. 21:13).
When the Romans finally destroyed Jerusalem and its temple, the nation of Judah was dispersed and sent into captivity. Only then can it be said that both Israel and Judah were fully dispersed. Both were dispersed in captivity according to the laws of tribulation (Lev. 26; Deut. 28).
Israel and Judah Reunited under Jesus Christ
The only way that either Israel or Judah can return as citizens of the Kingdom is through Jesus Christ. As they accept Him as King, they are all united as one body in one Kingdom—along with all others in the world who have faith in Christ, for Isaiah 56:6-8 tells us,
6 Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord ... 7 even those I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer ... for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples. 8 The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, "Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered."
Thus, the Kingdom of God is open to all, even though the primary focus is upon Israel and Judah being reunited under the headship of Christ. For the past 2,000 years in the Age of Pentecost, the call has gone forth to Judah, Israel and the other nations to become citizens of the Kingdom by accepting the rule of King Jesus.
No one can become a citizen of the Kingdom apart from Jesus Christ. Everyone comes in through the same door, and that Door is Christ. Paul makes it clear that all men are equally sinners, and all must be saved and justified by faith in Jesus Christ. No man can claim citizenship in the Kingdom by presenting his genealogy. Only faith matters, as we have already seen in Book 1.
The restoration and reunification of Israel and Judah is the basic theme of Romans 9-11, and if we understand this background, we will not be confused by the assumptions of the past, when we were taught by those who did not understand the distinction between Israel and Judah.