Series 1: Chapter 6 - The Birthright or the Promise of Many Nations to Abraham
The Broken Brotherhood
In the last chapter we gave much testimony from the Scripture showing that the ten-tribed kingdom is dealt with, both in history and prophecy — much of which is yet unfulfilled — as the house of Israel, and other titles, some of which you will find quite prominent in this chapter; while the three-tribed kingdom, which is composed of the Jewish people, is dealt with as the house of Judah and the Jews. If any of our readers are not yet satisfied on this point we promise that they shall still have abundant opportunity to become thoroughly convinced. Prof. C. A. L. Totten, of Yale University, says:
"I can never be too thankful to the Almighty that in my youth he used the late Professor Wilson to show me the difference between the two houses. The very understanding of this difference is the KEY by which almost the entire Bible becomes intelligible, and I cannot state too strongly that the man who has not yet seen that Israel of the Scripture is totally distinct from the Jewish people, is yet in the very infancy, the mere alphabet, of Biblical study, and that to this day the meaning of seven-eighths of the Bible is shut to his understanding."
This will become more and more apparent as we proceed with a few brief outlines of the histories of these two kingdoms.
Israel displeased the Lord by her idolatry, but it is quite evident that, for some time after the division, Judah pleased him by her faithfulness; and it is also evident that, for a short period, fraternal relations existed between the two kingdoms. These evidences are found in the history of the war which occurred between Israel and Moab in the days of Jehoram, the son of Ahab, king of Israel, and of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah.
During the reign of Ahab he had conquered Moab, and the king of Moab paid him a revenue of one hundred thousand lambs and one hundred thousand rams, with the wool. But upon the ascension of Ahab's son to the throne of Israel the king of Moab rebelled against him; and so it is recorded that:
"King Jehoram went out of Samaria at that same time, and numbered all Israel," (2Kings 3:6).
Here the expression "all Israel" has reference to all the region of country which was occupied by the ten tribes of which the kingdom of Israel was composed. Samaria was their capital city and the dwelling place of the king; but when the king of Moab rebelled against him it was but natural, and also good generalship, that he should want to know the fighting strength of the kingdom. So he made a tour throughout the realm that he might know just how many fighting men he had. But it seems that he returned fully satisfied that he did not have an army of sufficient strength to insure victory, for he sent a message to the king of Judah, saying:
"The king of Moab hath rebelled against me. Wilt thou go with me against Moab to battle?" (2Kings 3:7)
To this the king of Judah replied in the affirmative, saying:
"I will go up: I am as thou art, and my people as thy people." (v. 7)
As a matter of course he could say, "My people are as thy people," for the people were brethren and subjects of brother nations, all being seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Children of the Promise. These two kings further decided, while holding a council of war, to go up by the way of the wilderness of Edom, and to ask the king of Edom to join with them against the Moabites. For the Edomites were also kinfolks of these two nations, they being the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob, whose name was changed to Edom after he sold his birthright.
The king of Edom consented to go with them, and thus the Children of the Flesh and the Children of the Promise made common cause, and went up together against the king of Moab. But when they had made a seven-days' journey they got into trouble, for there was no water for that great army of men and the beasts of burden which they were compelled to have with them.
At the beginning of the chapter which contains the history of this war concerning the king of Israel, we have the following:
"Now Jehoram, the son of Ahab, began to reign over Israel in Samaria in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, and he reigned twelve years. And wrought evil in the sight of the Lord, but not like his father and his mother; for he put away the image of Baal that his father had made. Nevertheless he cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin; he departed not therefrom." (2Kings 3:1-3)
But as soon as they were in trouble and the idolatrous king of Israel found there was no water, then in startled fear he cried out, saying: "The Lord hath brought us three kings out here to destroy us." (2Kings 3:10)
Now quickly, when tortured with guilty fear, the idolater knew there was a LORD who had power to destroy them, or at least to destroy him, for he knew that he deserved it, and only said "us three" because of a spirit of guilty cowardice which hoped to shift the responsibility, or, if failing in that, to insist that others were fully as much to blame as he-which is so often seen in frightened but impenitent men. But it was not so with Jehoshaphat, the God-fearing king of Judah, for he at once asked:
"Is there not here a prophet of the Lord that we may inquire of the Lord by him?" (v. 11)
No doubt, the thought of Jehoshaphat in asking this question was that by making inquiry of the Lord they would receive such Divine instruction as would enable them to escape the threatened danger; for when one of the servants of the king of Israel, upon hearing this inquiry, stepped forward and informed them that Elisha the prophet was with the company the king of Judah rejoiced and said: "The word of the Lord is with him."
When Elisha was found and these three kings were ushered into his presence he addressed himself to the king of Israel, saying:
"What have I to do with thee? Get thee to the prophets of thy father and to the prophets of thy mother." (v.13)
But to this the king, still fearful, vouchsafed only the reply,
"Nay: for the Lord hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab." (v.13)
Then Elisha said:
"As the Lord of Hosts liveth, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee." (v. 14)
There are reasons given, and they are weighty ones, why the prophet of God should regard the king of Judah and emphasize the fact of his presence, in contrast to the king of Israel; for, through the prophet Hosea the Lord declares:
"Ephraim compasseth me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit: but Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the saints." (Hosea 11:12)
Ah, yes; Judah is not only faithful among the saints, but she yet has power and ruling influence with God. Here are reasons, abundant, for that honorable distinction which was conferred upon Judah and her God-honoring king. It was because of them that the Lord sent water to that famishing army and gave them victory over the Moabites. But Israel and her king, although serving Jeroboam's calves, yet, in a time of trouble, when moved by guilty fear, admitted the power of the God of their fathers. Hence "lies and deceit" were in Ephraim-Israel, but faithfulness — as yet — among the Jewish people.
But there came a time when Judah was not among the faithful, and when she lost her power with God; and there also came a time when the fraternal relations were broken between these brother nations. There are many instances of the severance of brotherly harmony between these nations, but the following instance, which occurred in the days of Amaziah, king of Judah, and Joash, king of Israel, not only reveals the broken ties but justifies the term Ephraim-Israel.
"Moreover, Amaziah gathered Judah together and made them captains over thousands and over hundreds, according to the houses of their fathers through all Judah and Benjamin [the Levites were priests, not warriors], and he numbered them from twenty years old and above, and found them three hundred thousand choice men, able to go forth to war, that could handle spear and shield. He hired an hundred thousand mighty men of valour out of Israel, for a hundred talents of silver. But there came a man of God to him, saying, 'O king, let not the army of Israel go with thee, for the Lord is not with Israel, to wit, all the children of Ephraim. But if thou wilt go and do it, to be strong for the battle, God shall make thee fall before the enemy; for God hath power to help and to cast down.'
"And Amaziah said unto the man of God, But what shall we do with the hundred talents which I have given to the army of Israel? And the man of God answered, The Lord is able to give thee much more than this. Then Amaziah separated them, to wit, the army that was come to him out of Ephraim, to go home again: wherefore their anger was greatly kindled against Judah, and they returned home in great anger. And...the soldiers of the army which Amaziah sent back, that they should not go with him to battle, fell upon the cities of Judah, from Samaria even to Beth-boron, and smote three thousand of them, and took much spoil." (2Chronicles 25:5-13)
Thus we see that the terms Israel and Ephraim are used interchangeably, for at one time we read "the army out of Israel," and at another, but concerning the same transaction, "the army that is come out of Ephraim." Also the man of God told the king of the Jews that, if he went into battle with the hundred thousand men that he had hired out of Israel, the Lord would defeat him, for God was not with Israel, to wit, Ephraim. And further, when the king of Judah sent the soldiers back home he sent them from the nation which the sacred history calls "the Jews" to that which is called "Israel."
There is one other point which must not be overlooked at this juncture; that is, that Ephraim is the representative of the house of Joseph; that Joseph represents the Birthright blessing, which carries with it the promise of a multitude of children, which was originally given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and that it sometimes occurs that the name of Joseph, the father, instead of Ephraim, the son, is used when recording facts of history or prophecy concerning the ten-tribed kingdom. This does not often occur, but the following is an instance:
"And I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place them; for I have mercy upon them: and they shall be as though I had not cast them off: for I am the Lord their God, and will hear them. And Ephraim shall be like a mighty man, and their heart shall rejoice as through wine," (Zechariah 10:6, 8).
This text clearly shows that the names of Ephraim and Joseph are titles of the ten-tribed kingdom, in contradistinction from Judah and the Jews as titles of the three-tribed kingdom. And, since it is true that Judah and Joseph are the inheritors of the two special promises which pertain to the two covenants, we need not be surprised at this, but should rather expect that these two names would stand thus contrasted. But all the more should we expect this, when we see the fact so clearly revealed in the history of the posterity of these two men that the Birthright name and people are representatives of one nation, and that Judah's sceptre is swaying over the other.
But these facts are still more clearly brought out in one of Ezekiel's prophecies, as follows:
"Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick and write upon it, for Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it for Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel, his companions. And join them one to another into one stick, and they shall become one in thine hand. And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not shew us what thou meanest by these? say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God: Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah and make them one in my hand.
"And the sticks wherein thou writest shall be in thy hand before their eyes. And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God: Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side and bring them into their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all, and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they he divided into two kingdoms any more at all. Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwelling-places, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God," (Ezekiel 37:15-23).
Many things will need to be explained before we can show the relative place in the history of these people of all the facts herein mentioned. But this much is clear:
That there are two sticks, two nations, or kingdoms.
That Judah, who inherited the sceptre and crown, has one of those sticks, kingdoms, or nations; while Joseph-Ephraim has the other.
That Judah has with him as companions some of "the children of Israel," and that Ephraim has some of "the tribes of Israel," who are his fellows; and his companions.
That when this prophecy was written they were divided; and that all the people belonging to the race had gathered, either to Judah or Joseph, or in other words, either to the Sceptre or to the Birthright.
That at some future time they are again to be united, become one kingdom, and then remain so forever.
That when they are thus united, one king shall be king over them all, and when this takes place the people will have been so lifted up by Divine power and so enriched by grace that they will no more defile themselves, commit no transgressions, or in any way displease the Lord, but shall be his accepted people, and he shall be their God.
Evidently one of these sticks is the Sceptre and the other the Birthright; for these and the promises connected with each are of general interest to all the children of promise, but they are the exclusive property of the two men, Judah and Joseph, who are the special subjects of the prophecy, while the entire posterity of Jacob is the general subject. But this figure of the two sticks, or staffs, is used in another prophecy, which pertains to the two houses and which should be of profound interest to all.
Beginning in the midst of the seventh verse of the eleventh chapter of Zachariah, we have the following:
"I took unto me two staves; the one I called Beauty, and the other I called Bands...And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people. And it was broken in that day: and so the poor of the flock that waited upon me knew that it was the Word of the Lord. And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver.
"And the Lord said unto me, Cast it to the potter: a goodly price that I was priced at of them. And I took thirty pieces of silver and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord. Then I cut asunder mine other staff, even Bands, that I might break the brotherhood between Israel and Judah," (Zechariah 11:7-14).
So Israel and Judah are the two sticks or staves which the Lord took unto himself. He first cut asunder one stick or staff called Beauty, i.e., ten-tribed Israel. Then, after a certain transaction in which their Lord was sold for thirty pieces of silver, he cut asunder his other staff, called Bands (i.e., Judah, the Jews), that he might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel!
Just what a great and marvelously fulfilled truth is herein declared we are not yet prepared to explain. At this juncture we can only call your attention to the fact that Ezekiel's prophecy concerning the putting together of the two sticks could not have been fulfilled until after the transaction which concerns the thirty pieces of silver; and that when it does take place it must be in harmony not only with those blessed results, which we have already mentioned, but also with that which is contained in the rest of that prophecy, a part of which is as follows:
"And they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children's children forever: and my servant David shall be their prince forever.
"Moreover, I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore." (Ezekiel 37:25-26)
The brotherhood is still broken, but it shall be mended.
Chapter 6 - The Birthright or the Promise of Many Nations to Abraham