It's been almost 3,000 years since the kingdom of Israel was split in two. Ten of the 12 tribes of Israel rebelled against King Rehoboam, the son of King Solomon and grandson of King David. The Bible continued to refer to these 10 tribes as Israel while the other two tribes (Judah and Benjamin) that remained loyal to David's descendants were known as the kingdom of Judah or simply Judah.
Sometimes Israel is referred to as the northern kingdom and Judah as the southern kingdom. Dominant among the northern tribes were to be the descendants of Jacob's son Joseph through his sons Ephraim and Manasseh—prophesied by Jacob to be the chief nations of the world in the last days (Genesis 49:1, Genesis 49:22-26; compare Deuteronomy 33:13-17).
About 200 years after the kingdom split, the northern tribes of Israel fell to Assyria and were deported by the Assyrians to the northern parts of their empire. Often referred to now as the lost tribes, they later migrated northwest across Europe, eventually settling in new homelands far from the Middle East.
The kingdom of Judah fell to Babylon more than a century after Israel's deportation, but its people were not lost to history. We know them today as the Jews.
The name Ephraim is sometimes used representatively in Scripture for the entire northern kingdom, though it can also refer solely to the descendants of Joseph's son of that name—prophesied to become a "multitude of nations" (Genesis 48:19). Remarkably, this promise to Ephraim was fulfilled in the British Empire and Commonwealth.
Ephraim's older brother Manasseh was also prophesied to become a great nation (same verse), separating himself from the multitude of nations. This prophecy would be fulfilled in the formation, growth and dominance of the United States of America.
In a revealing prophecy regarding the United States and Britain, Jacob (Israel) said, "Let my name be named upon them" (Genesis 48:16). References to "Israel" in end-time prophecy often refer to the United States or the English-speaking countries of the British Empire or both. Sometimes "Israel" can mean all 12 tribes. We have to look at specific verses in their context to see which is meant. (To investigate the biblical evidence of this, please read our free study aid, The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.)
"Judah," however, always refers to the Jews, the descendants of the house or kingdom of Judah. We must also understand that the modern nation called Israel is really Judah, made up of Jews (see sidebar "Are all Israelites Jews?").
Understanding this critical part of biblical history will help us more fully comprehend a passage of Scripture in the book of Hosea, which is a prophecy about Ephraim (the multitude of nations—Great Britain and some of those nations that came out of her). It warns of destruction to follow the end-time ascendancy of the Israelite nations.
In Hosea 5 we read a prophecy that mentions Israel, Ephraim and Judah: "The pride of Israel testifies to his face; therefore Israel and Ephraim stumble in their iniquity; Judah also stumbles with them" (Hosea 5:5). The prophecy continues: "With their flocks and herds they shall go to seek the Lord, but they will not find Him; He has withdrawn Himself from them. They have dealt treacherously with the Lord, for they have begotten pagan children. Now a New Moon shall devour them and their heritage" (Hosea 5:6-7).
New moons occur a month apart. A new moon "devouring" them would seem to mean that Israel, Ephraim and Judah will all fall within one month.
This prophecy was not fulfilled in ancient times. As already mentioned, ancient Judah fell to Babylon more than a century after Israel fell to Assyria. Yet in the end it appears they will fall together—within one month of each other. This prophecy remains to be fulfilled.
Remember that Israel gave his name to Ephraim and Manasseh, the ancestors in turn of the British and American peoples. As Ephraim is mentioned separately in this prophecy, the reference to "Israel" must apply to the United States, which is now the more dominant of the two nations.
For two centuries prior to World War II, the roles were reversed with the multitude of nations—the British Empire—a greater power than the single nation, the United States. But today America is the greater.
"Judah" refers to the Jewish people, particularly those who now constitute the modern nation in the Middle East that calls itself Israel.
Here then is a prophecy regarding all three nations—the United States, Britain and Israel (Judah). According to this prophecy, it appears that all three will fall within the span of a month. Hosea 6:6 shows these nations turning back to God, but finding it's too late. Because of their sins, He will let them suffer defeat and collapse.
This prophecy could not have been fulfilled until after the rise of Britain and the United States as world powers in the 19th century and the formation of the Jewish state of Israel in the 20th.
Consider that Israel and the United States are perhaps the most maligned and criticized nations on earth. Among Muslim hard-liners, America is commonly called "the great Satan" and Israel and Britain "the little Satans."
Are all Israelites Jews?
Most people assume the Jewish people are the sole remaining descendants of the ancient nation of Israel. This assumption, however, is incorrect.
Technically the Jews are descendants of two of the Israelite tribes: Judah and Benjamin, plus a considerable part of a third, the priestly tribe of Levi.
Unknown to most, 10 other tribes in ancient Israel were never called Jews. These northern tribes were historically distinct and politically separate from the Jews, their brothers to the south who formed the kingdom of Judah, from which the term Jew was derived.
The northern coalition of tribes, the kingdom or house of Israel, had already become an independent nation, separate from the house of Judah, by the time the word Jew first appears in the biblical narrative. In fact, the first time the term appears in the King James Version of the Bible, Israel was at war with the Jews (2 Kings 16:5-6).
Are all Israelites Jews? No. Jews—the citizens and descendants of the kingdom of Judah—are indeed Israelites, but not all Israelites are Jews. Since all 12 tribes, including Jews, are descendants of their father Israel (Jacob), we can apply the term Israelite to all of the tribes. The term Jew, however, is accurate only for the tribes that comprised the kingdom of Judah and for their descendants.