The Rivalry of Joseph and Judah

Evangelical Pastor Scott Lively of First Century Bible Church and Messianic Jewish Rabbi Otto Gershon discuss the history of Messianic Judaism from the earliest days of the New Testament to the present time, and how the doctrine of the Two House Covenant plays out in Bible history and prophecy, especially as it relates to the First and Second advent of Christ.

The division of Jacob’s covenantal inheritance into two separate houses occurred simply by his marrying two wives, Leah (House of Judah) and Rachel (House of Israel). The rivalry of these two houses for power and influence among the twelve-tribe nation began early and is showcased in Genesis 37 when Joseph first flaunted his favored status with their father Jacob (exemplified by the “coat of many colors”) and in revenge was sold into slavery among the Gentiles by jealous older half-brother Judah. Joseph becomes a slave in Egypt, where his later tribal identity gets linked to the image of the ox (the fatted calf/golden calf becoming highly symbolic of his sojourn there).

Living among the Gentiles would forever be a dominant theme of Joseph’s life (the man as well as the tribe, house and kingdom) as prophesied by Jacob in Genesis 40:22 in which the fruitful (highly populous) vine (symbol of the House of Israel) would grow “over the wall” (outside the boundary of the Mosaic law). Joseph, as the “prodigal son,” of Luke 15:11-31, would also famously live among the “swine” (Gentiles). When his House becomes also a Kingdom in rebellion to David’s grandson Rehoboam, it’s first act is to reject essential tenets of Mosaic Judaism. Eventually its land is purged and repopulated by Gentiles, as represented during the time of Christ by 1) the Samaritans and 2) a mixed population of Hebrews and Gentiles called Galileans in “Galilee of the Gentiles” which is the northern portion of what had been Northern Israel. 

Most importantly, upon the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the House of Israel becomes the home to all Gentiles (and individual Jews) who accept His gift of salvation — all of these saved ones collectively being identified as the “Bride of Christ,” awaiting remarriage to God in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb just prior to the Millennial Kingdom.  

Meanwhile Judah is the older brother who 

1) not only stays metaphorically within the boundaries of Hebrew identity (i.e. stays in strained but unbroken fellowship with the father) in the prodigal son parable, but 

2) physically stays with father Jacob while Joseph lives as a slave in Egypt, plus 

3) legally inherits and fulfils the covenantal promise of holding the “scepter” to the Hebrew monarchy per Genesis 49:10, starting with David, and 

4) thus actually defines “Judaism” as the centerpiece of Hebrew identity for those who decline to accept the Christ of the First Advent but instead stubbornly keep their focus on the Christ of the Second Advent (the one and the same Messiah to whom they remain partially blinded as summarized in Romans 11.     

The Apostolic Age of Christendom, which spanned the period from the birth of Jesus to the publication of the Book of Revelation and death of it’s scribe John (roughly 90CE), ended with a transition of power from the House of Judah (Jerusalem-based Judaism) to the House of Israel (Rome based Christianity). 

Importantly, because the franchise of Salvation in Christ was opened to the Gentiles by Jesus, the power in question was no longer limited to the political and geographical boundaries of the twelve tribes but became more a measure of their collective authority in the world, especially religious authority.

Lets review the history of the two house rivalry. During the life of Jacob, the twelve tribes had been united under his authority as holder of the entirely of the Abrahamic Covenant. While there was rivalry between the House of Judah and House of Joseph, the House of Jacob nevertheless dominated both. It wasn’t until Jacob’s death that a successor would assume the dominant role. That successor, of course, would be Joseph. Indeed, all twelve tribes joined him in Egypt for hundreds of years, subject to the authority of his house, which was in turn subject to the top authority of the Gentile world, the Egyptians.

In the end Joseph’s house lost its influence when a Pharoah arose “who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8, Acts 7:19) and power shifted temporarily to the House of Levi through the intervention of Moses. God raised up Moses and the House of Levi to lead the Hebrews out of slavery, establish the Levitical Priesthood, and to become a unifier of the twelve tribe nation under one common, comprehensive body of laws. This was the also the origin of what we call “the separation of church and state” (a benign social distinction in God’s design for civilization).

During the Exodus and the subsequent years in the wilderness, the people were being prepared for the conquest and colonization of the Holy Land, which was legally theirs by God’s decree in Genesis 15:18-19. They were also being formally and thoroughly restored to their distinct tribal identities: receiving separate and distinct tribal symbols and banners, roles and responsibilities, and being organized by tribe in precise geometrical order around God’s tabernacle.  

When it was time to enter the Holy Land, Moses sent in one spy from each of the twelve tribes. Importantly, only Joshua of the House of Ephraim (Joseph) and Caleb of the House of Judah insisted that they obey God and invade. But fear among the other ten tribes prevailed and they were all then cursed to spend another 40 years in the wilderness – a curse that has echoed across the centuries on the 9th of Av.  

Upon the death of Moses the Levite, power shifted back to the House of Israel under Joshua the Ephraimite. Remember that it was to Joseph’s second-born son Ephraim that Jacob/Israel had personally bequeathed the first-born right of inheritance per Genesis 48:13-22. That’s why the name Ephraim is synonymous with House of Israel, as reconfirmed in Jeremiah 31:9.

Joshua established Shiloh as the political and religious capital city of the twelve tribe nation and home to God’s tabernacle for roughly 400 years. Eventually the Ephraimites fell so far into Gentile idolatry that God allowed the Philistines to capture the Ark of the Covenant, ending the House of Israel’s reign in shame punished by the desolation of Shiloh and the elevation of the House of Judah to dominance.  

After a brief transitional period under the Benjamite King Saul (an Antichrist figure who slaughtered the Levitical priests at Nob and tried repeatedly to kill David) David the Judean became the first true King of Israel per Jacob’s prophecy of Genesis 49:10 and established his capital at Jerusalem in the territory of Judah.   

David’s united kingdom – the symbolic but imperfect representation of the Millennial Kingdom – lasted only through the life of his son Solomon, whose grievous sins cost him the throne and divided the two houses and two kingdoms against each other – under Rehoboam the Judean and Jeroboam the Ephraimite. 

That sibling rivalry will never end until the actual Millennial Kingdom, when “the jealousy of Ephraim will depart, and the adversaries of Judah will be cut off. Ephraim will no longer envy Judah, nor will Judah harass Ephraim” (Isaiah 11:13).  

What has never been done, to my knowledge, is a chronicle of that rivalry during the Christian Era. This has become my chief area of study in recent years, and elements of it have been the subject of various articles, but now I am ready to start documenting my findings in a more systematic fashion. This essay is essentially my starting point on that project.


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