Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to war: and they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him. At that time Rezin king of Syria recovered Elath to Syria, and drave the Jews from Elath: and the Syrians came to Elath, and dwelt there unto this day.
2 Kings 16:5-6 (KJV)
Jews – Yes, they are the people that reside in Israel and practice Judaism. We see them wearing tzitzit, black coats over white shirts, long curls around their ears, and kippahs on their heads. We also know that Jews live pretty much all around the world, and many don’t keep this dress code or practice Judaism in this strict form. Many look just like you or me. While this does give some context, it really doesn’t explain who they are Biblically.
Let’s take a look at the word “Jew”. In these verses above the Hebrew is Yĕhuwdiy which stems directly from Yĕhuwdah. Yĕhuwdah transliterated is Judah. Ok, so the word “Jew” is from the word “Judah”. This should cause you to stop and think. Judah was just one of the tribes – not all twelve. So are Jews (the people we identify today) only from one tribe? Well let’s read the word in context to the verses above.
At this point in time, the kingdom was already split in two. The northern kingdom was called the house of Israel and consisted of 10 tribes. The southern kingdom was called the house of Judah and consisted of 2 tribes (Judah and Benjamin). So here we have the king of Syria joining with Pekah from Israel (house of Israel) to fight against Jerusalem which is the capitol of the house of Judah, the southern kingdom. The northern kingdom is fighting the southern kingdom. Jerusalem repels the attack and the king of Syria (who is allies with the house of Israel – 10 tribes) falls back. At this time he drives out all the Jews from Elath. Who was he fighting against again? He was fighting against Judah, the southern kingdom. And in context, the southern kingdom, Judah, is referred to as the Jews. Notice that not all 12 tribes are Jews… only the two southern tribes; Judah and Benjamin. This is because Judah was the dominating tribe of the region, so their name applied to both tribes and referenced the house of Judah as a whole.
Does this change your understanding of who exactly resides in Israel today? The identifiable people that we refer to as the Jews are basically the tribes Judah, Benjamin, and Levi. This has to do with who actually returned to rebuild Jerusalem in 538 BC.
Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem.
Only Judah, Benjamin, and the Levites returned to rebuild Jerusalem after they were taken into captivity in 586 BC. Only the house of Judah, the southern kingdom, returned. Are you following? The reason the Jews are the only identifiable tribe today is because they are the only ones that returned to rebuild. Levi is also now included among them.
So the Jews today consist of only three tribes. Where are the other nine? Where is the northern kingdom, the house of Israel? Well according to prophecy and punishment, they have been assimilated into the world. They have become Gentiles.
NOTE: While the word above in the KJV states “Jews”, not all translations use that same word. Many use “Judeans”, “people of Judah”, or “men of Judah”. This doesn’t change where the word “Jew” came from etymologically. The etymology of the word “Jew” will still provide the same results.