Israel's Advantage: Part 2
Jun 22, 2007
When James and Peter wrote to "the dispersion" who were "elect" or "chosen," they were not writing to Jews living in other parts of the Roman world. They were concerned about their brethren of the tribes of Israel who were dispersed from 745-721 B.C. when the Assyrians deported them to the area around the Caspian Sea. They were concerned because the Birthright was lost--or at least appeared to be lost--in that dispersion, for these tribes included the tribes of Joseph, the Birthright holder.
Those tribes were not yet lost in those days. They were able to read the apocryphal book of 2 Esdras 13:40-45, which said,
"Those are the ten tribes, which were carried away prisoners out of their own land in the time of Osea [Hoshea] the king, whom Shalmanezer the king of Assyria led away captive, and he carried them over the waters, and so came they into another land. But they [some of them] took counsel among themselves, that they would leave the multitude of the nations, and go forth into a further country, where never mankind dwelt, that they might there keep their statutes, which they never kept in their own land. And they entered into Euphrates by the narrow passages of the river. For the Most High then showed signs for them, and held still the flood, till they were passed over. For through that country there was a great way to go, namely of a year and a half; and the same region is called Arsareth."
Josephus himself, the great Judean historian of the first century, wrote in Antiquities of the Jews, XI, v, 2,
"When Esdras [Greek form of Ezra] had received this epistle, he was very joyful . . . So he read the epistle at Babylon to those Jews that were there; but he kept the epistle itself and sent a copy of it to all those of his own nation that were in Media; and when these Jews had understood what piety the king had towards God, and what kindness he had for Esdras, they were all greatly pleased; nay, many of them took their effects with them, and came to Babylon, as very desirous of going down to Jerusalem; but then the entire body of the people of Israel remained in that country; wherefore, there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers."
Josephus wrote this toward the end of the first century A.D. He knew the location of the bulk of those ten tribes of Israel, saying that they were "beyond Euphrates." The Euphrates River was the border of the Roman Empire and the Empire of Parthia. So the bulk of the ten tribes lived in that part of Parthia, near the Caspian Sea, though many had already migrated west into the northern parts of Asia Minor.
As we saw earlier, Peter locates many of them in Pontus, Galatia, Asia (province), and Bithynia near the Black Sea. Peter had an interest in them. Notice how he addresses them in the second chapter of 1 Peter.
" (9) But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession . . . (10) for you once were NOT a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
Peter was quoting from Hosea, the prophet to the House of Israel. He named his children prophetically as Lo-ruhamah, "No Mercy" and Lo-ammi, "Not My People." This referred to the northern ten tribes of Israel when God divorced that nation (Jer. 3:8) and stripped them of their name Israel. But in chapter 2, Hosea prophesies the regathering of these tribes of Israel, saying in verse 23,
". . . I will also have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; and I will say to those who were not My people, 'You ARE My people!' And they will say, 'Thou art my God!'"
This is the verse that Peter quotes in his letter to the lost tribes of Israel. He reminds them that God had cast them off without mercy and had told them that they were NOT His people; but in the end, God would betroth them again in righteousness (Hos. 2:20) and re-instate them as His people. He would do this through the cross of Jesus Christ.
So after Jesus died, rose again, and ascended to heaven, Peter appealed to those lost tribes, telling them that they could now be reinstated as God's people. Christ had died for those lost Israelites, along with the nation of Judea, and even for the whole world.
In distinguishing between the various nations, let it be clear that there was only one path and one door for all men by which they could be saved. The means of salvation is the same for all men--it is all by faith in Christ's work on the cross. But as Jesus said in Matt. 13:44, His desire was to retrieve the hidden treasure (Israel), but in order to obtain it in a lawful manner, He had to purchase the field in which it was hidden. Whoever owned the field owned the treasure hidden in it. So He purchased the field, which is the world (Matt. 13:38).
Nations are therefore divinely distinguished even in the New Testament. God does not ignore national or racial differences. After all, He created all of them for His purposes and loves His entire creation, calling it "very good" (Gen. 1:31).
Paul's treatise in Romans 9-11 shows the contrast between Israel and the world as well. He makes it clear that the fall of Israel led to the salvation of the world (11:11-15). In other words, the FAILURE OF ISRAEL was part of the divine plan in the salvation of the world. After the cross, the Gospel had to go to the world in order to find those lost Israelites who were dispersed among them. And in the spread of the Gospel, all men had opportunity to hear it and have faith in Christ.
Thus, the regathering of Israel back under one Head included not only those Israelites, but also many others, as Isaiah had prophesied in Isaiah 56:3-8.
In this process, the only way that an ex-Israelite of the dispersion could regain covenant status with God was by faith in Jesus Christ, believing in the work that He did in His first appearance. Furthermore, anyone else could come into a covenant relationship with God in the same way, as Isaiah had prophesied. God had leveled the playing field, giving all men equal opportunity to join in the New Covenant.
All such people, who are circumcised in heart--the sign of the New Covenant--become true "Jews," as Paul says in Rom. 2:28, 29. They are joined to the tribe of Judah, for they have sworn allegiance to the King of Judah, Jesus Christ.
The second step is to believe in the second work of Christ--the Sonship work of Joseph--by which we may also become Israelites indeed. I am speaking of national citizenship, not genealogy. Whether one is a genealogical ex-Israelite of the dispersion or not, we all attain these two relationships with God on an equal footing. The only advantage that a genealogical Israelite has is that of opportunity--at least in past centuries. Today, of course, the Gospel's outreach is eradicating even that advantage, for which we thank God.
This is the second part of a series titled "Israel's Advantage." To view all parts, click the link below.