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North versus South
by Wayne Blank
The Israelites were united as a single kingdom through the reigns of David and Solomon, but after Solomon's death they split into two completely separate and independent kingdoms - the southern kingdom of "Judah," consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (1 Kings 12:21) with their capital at Jerusalem, and the northern kingdom of "Israel," consisting of the other ten tribes, with their capital up in Samaria. Israel and Judah were never united again (see Kings of Israel and Judah and Israelite Dynasties). Surprisingly, they even fought wars against each other from time to time (see Jews At War With Israel). A very important fact that many do not realize is that Judah, that is, the Jewish people of today, are only one of the tribes of Israel - while all Jews are Israelites, not all Israelites are Jews.
Because of their forsaking of Him, God permitted the two kingdoms to be destroyed. First, the northern kingdom of Israel was gradually conquered by the Assyrians (see The Galilee Captivity and Ancient Empires - Assyria) and by 721 B.C. they had practically all been taken into exile to Assyria (2 Kings 17:1-23). The vast majority of them never returned, and have become known as the "Lost Ten Tribes of Israel."
Then, about 135 years later, in 586 B.C., the southern kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians (see Why Babylon?), and the Jews were taken into captivity to Babylon. The original Temple of God in Jerusalem was destroyed at that time (see Temples and Raiders Of The Lost Ark). The people of the southern kingdom of Judah however did return after the Babylonians fell to the Persians (see Ancient Empires - Persia), and their descendants have become the Jewish people of today.
An important point to realize here is that since that return, the religious practices of the Jewish people have evolved into something somewhat different than their ancestors practiced in earlier times. Many traditions and customs were gradually added by authorities such as the Pharisees and Sadducees. By the time of Jesus Christ, when the Jewish authorities accused The Lord of breaking the law, much of which was merely their law, not God's, He rebuked His own people (The Lord's condemnation was aimed at their religious leadership of that time, not at the people themselves, since most of the first Christians, including Jesus Himself, were Jews) for worshiping God according to their own traditions, i.e.
"He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias [i.e. Isaiah] prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the Commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And He said unto them, Full well ye reject the Commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition." (Mark 7:6-9 KJV
Bible Prophecy speaks plainly of a future gathering of the people of Israel and Judah. For how and when, see the Fact Finder question below.