British Israel Explained

British Israel
Vital Belief or Optional Extra?

by C.A.J. Cream, B.A.
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"If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" These words have appeared on posters outside many churches, and their implication is obvious. In sermons and books and pamphlets we are constantly being reminded that true Christianity means feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, the children and the elderly, providing shelter for the homeless and so on. The universal text might well be, "Faith without works is dead." Not that there is anything to be said against such an attitude, for the Bible makes it quite clear that we have a responsibility for other people's welfare.

But there is also an aspect of the Christian faith which prompts the question, "If you were brought to trial charged with being a British Israelite, would you be able to present a good case in your own defence?" The purpose of this booklet is to attempt to find some kind of answer to this question.

In a way, of course, it is something that any British Israelite may be called upon to do in his or her contact with people who do not subscribe to our particular interpretation of the Scriptures. At this point it would perhaps be as well to clarify that statement and the question which preceded it. If what we believe is true, then all Britons, (i.e. those of Celto-Anglo-Saxon descent) are, in fact, British Israelites, whether they like it or not. However, while some accept this statement as a true description of their identity, the vast majority do not. To say this is not to be in any sense racist - it is simply a statement of fact, based on Biblical and historical evidence.

Another point which needs some explanation is the phrase, "our particular interpretation of the Scriptures." This is not meant to imply that British Israel believers take the Scriptures and use them to suit their own ideas, for that is the last thing that anyone should do. British Israel, in fact, grew out of a very careful and detailed study of the Scriptures and those who accept this belief seek to emphasize an aspect of Biblical truth which is largely ignored by theologians and preachers. It is a truth which has long been recognised, albeit by a small minority of people, from at least the seventeenth century onwards. These early exponents of British Israel truth had nothing to go on except their Bibles and their knowledge of history, to which was added a large measure of divine inspiration.

Those of us who accept the truth of all that comes under the heading of British Israel must be prepared to face some searching questions and probably the accusation of being nationalistic, jingoistic, racist or whatever other epithet the world chooses to throw at us. It is therefore a good thing to do some stock-taking of our beliefs, whether those beliefs have been ours for many years or are but recently acquired.

Perhaps it would be best to begin by cleaning away some of the misconceptions which people have about British Israel, if they have actually heard of it, that is. If the topic comes up in conversation it is likely to provoke a number of different reactions. Some will dismiss it out of hand; others will be intrigued by the idea and want to hear more; others may listen with interest and even be prepared to accept it as a fact of history but will express the opinion that it has no relevance to the modern world; yet others may say, "Oh yes, my grandmother, (or great aunt or some other long dead relative) used to go to meetings about that many years ago," implying that British Israel went out with the bustle!

First of all, in spite of the name British Israel World Federation, the movement is not a political association of Jews, world-wide, nor is it a Society of the Friends of Israel, world-wide. In case you think that is stating the obvious, I should like to mention two instances from my own experience which led me to make this point. I happened to say to a friend of mine that I should be away from home for a few days and she quite naturally asked where I was going. When I replied that I was going on a British Israel lecture tour her immediate reaction was to ask if I had visited Israel. On another occasion a friend of mine was in the bank on some business connected with her local branch of the B.I.W.F. The counter clerk appeared to be having some problem in answering a query from another customer on a matter to do with the State of Israel and was clearly relieved to be able to say to him, "You'd better ask this lady, she's something to do with Israel." These two instances prompt the question, "How many more people are there who think that British Israel has some connection with the Israeli State?"

The second misconception is that British Israel teaches that the British are a master race with a God-ordained right to rule the world. Such an accusation might perhaps have been levelled at our Victorian forbears with a certain amount of justification, although even then it would have been far from the truth. Living as they did in the days when the British Empire was at the height of its power and glory, the Victorians were naturally attracted to some of the promises that were made to Israel in Old Testament times, and were convinced that they were witnessing the fulfilment of those promises. Israel, the Bible tells us, would be a powerful nation whose name should be "great"; she would control the gates of her enemies; she would be the head of a great company of nations; she would colonise the waste places of the earth, and so on. But there is another side to the coin which presents a very different picture. There are other marks of Israel which make it clear that with these privileges there would come also responsibilities. Israel was to be the custodian of the Oracles of God; she would accept the Lord's Messiah when He came; she would carry the gospel all over the world; she would be charitable and compassionate; she would become the refuge of the oppressed and the liberator of slaves; she would be gentle and magnanimous in victory and bring glory to God. There is nothing here to suggest a nation called to rule the world in any spirit of arrogance.

Certainly the Bible tells us that God selected the nation of Israel for His purposes, but it was not because of any intrinsic superiority in their nature or character, far from it. Time and again the people proved to be quite unworthy of their high calling, in fact anything but a master race. Yet, in spite of their weakness, their disobedience and their infidelity, these were the people through whom God chose to work out His plan for the world. Such privileges as He did grant them were designed, not for the aggrandisement of Israel but to equip them to carry out the work for which the nation was created. Israel's role, which is by inheritance the role of Britain and her kindred nations, is that of a servant nation, called into being to witness to God's truth, to demonstrate the efficacy of His laws as the basis of national life, and to bring the gospel of the kingdom to all the peoples of the world.

Not only is it erroneous to suggest that Israel was designed to be a master race, but it must also be said that there is no implication in British Israel teaching that because we are the people of God we are always right. In Biblical times our ancestors were constantly in the wrong and our more recent history presents a far from blameless record. The treatment meted out to the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish; the misery brought about by the Industrial Revolution, allowed to go unremedied for far too long; incidents in our colonial history like the massacre at Amritsar in India; religious persecution by both Roman Catholics and Protestants; political and economic discrimination; all these have left behind a legacy of hatred and bitterness and we are still feeling the effects today. On the other hand, it is only fair to point out that it was British Christians who took the lead in the campaign to abolish slavery, and that it was believing Christians in our own country who were in the forefront of all the great humanitarian movements of the last two hundred years - men like Lord Shaftesbury, Dr. Barnado and a host of others.

Another accusing finger that is often pointed at British-Israel is that it is racist. The whole question of race leads to a great deal of confusion in our modern world. On the one hand there are forces at work attempting to bring about a one-world system of government, designed to rule a human race which will be a conglomeration of all the existing races. On the other hand there are forces at work among all kinds of minority groups, firing them with the desire for a completely separate and independent existence - Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians, Armenians and Georgians in Russia; Maoris in New Zealand; Aboriginies in Australia; Red Indians in Canada, Albanians in Yugoslavia; Basques in Spain; even elements of the Welsh and the Scots in Great Britain. All this is very different from God's idea of race as it is portrayed in the Bible. It is true that He chose one man, Abraham, to be the founder of a special nation, but it was to be a nation through which all the nations of the earth should be blessed. Tyranny, oppression and hatred, all of which are implicit in the word racism, have nothing whatever to do with the blessing of the nations which is God's purpose for the whole of mankind, of every nation and ethnic group. This theme of blessing for all peoples begins with God's promise to Abraham and it ends in the Book of Revelation. There we read of the angel showing St. John the river of life with a tree growing beside it for the healing of the nations. The Bible thus makes it quite clear that the different nations are part of God's plan and purpose, but that in the end all should come under the blessing of God, who is Lord of all the earth.

So much for what British-Israel is not. It is time now to be positive about what we do believe. First of all we must assert our acceptance of basic Christian doctrine. Again a personal experience will help to make this point clear. A young man of my acquaintance went to a summer camp run by a group of Christians. Rather to his own amazement, I think, he came home a converted and committed Christian. Not long afterwards he got to hear about British-Israel. One day when I was in conversation with him he quite suddenly said to me, in a rather accusing tone, "You're a British Israelite, aren't you?" Before I had time to reply he went on to state that British Israel is not Christian. My answer to that was to point out that in order to become a member of the B.I.W.F. you had to sign a declaration of your belief in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, your acceptance of Jesus Christ as your personal saviour and your belief in the Bible as the inspired word of God. "You could hardly be more Christian than that, could you?" I concluded, and he has never mentioned the subject again. This incident made me wonder how many more Christians have the same mistaken idea of what we are.

All Christian doctrine is, or should be, based on the Bible and it is when Christians stray away from the Bible that all kinds of erroneous beliefs creep in. Strangely enough, there still seems to be among the British people a residue of belief in sound Christian doctrine, based on the Bible. This was made evident by the reaction to some of the Bishop of Durham's more outrageous statements. While the Church remained silent and the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to be drawn into any argument, some M.P.'s demanded the removal from office of a bishop who, they said, was undermining the religious beliefs of the British nation.

In these days, when so many people are busy propagating their own ideas about the Christian faith, we need to emphasise as often and as strongly as we can, at every opportunity, that the basis of our beliefs is to be found in the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments.

Another vital article of our belief is that we look for the bodily return of the Lord Jesus Christ to rule over His people Israel first and finally over the whole earth. It is at this point that some of our Christian friends begin to part company with us. Even if, in spite of the Bishop of Durham, they accept the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection as essential elements of the Christian faith, many will draw the line at looking for the physical return of Jesus Christ to rule over a kingdom on earth. Note that it will be a kingdom on earth, but not an earthly kingdom in the usual sense of the word. For many Christians the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is already here in the hearts and minds of all true believers, a belief based on the words of Jesus Himself, "The kingdom of God is within you." This spiritual rule of Christ is an undoubted truth, but the Bible has a great deal to say about a literal kingdom on earth. Every year at Christmas we hear again the words of the angel's promise to Mary that her Son would sit upon the throne of His ancestor David and that His Kingdom should have no end. Yet, during the thirty or so years that Christ lived on earth that throne was occupied by Idumaean usurpers and continued so for a further forty years after the Crucifixion, until the terrible events of 70 A.D. The early Christians had no difficulty in believing that the Lord's return was imminent and they lived out their lives in the confident expectation of its happening in their life-time. Now, two thousand years have gone by and belief in that return has worn very thin, so thin, indeed, that many of the Lord's own followers have given up believing in it altogether.

If we believe the words of the Bible, rather than the doubting words of men, even if they are couched in religious terms by those who hold high office in the Church, we know that that coming cannot be long delayed. The signs of its approach are spelled out for us in St. Matthew, chapter 24, St. Luke chapter 21 and in II Timothy chapter 3. The words that we read there fit the age in which we live as they have fitted no other age in history, for only in this century have all the signs been apparent at the same time. Even so, we cannot assign an exact date for the coming of the Kingdom, and it would be wrong for us to do so, seeing that Jesus Himself said that only the Father knew. Our task is to prepare ourselves and others to welcome the King when He comes.

The coming of that Kingdom, the nature of its constitution and the character of its King are matters about which a great deal of information is to be found in both the Old and New Testaments. Certainly the events of the life of Jesus on earth are foretold with great accuracy in the Old Testament. We are told who He would be (a rod out of the stem of Jesse); where He would be born (in Bethlehem) and that His mother would be a virgin, (whatever the Bishop of Durham may say to the contrary). Isaiah foretold that He would heal all kinds of diseases and in Psalm 22 there is a detailed description of the events surrounding the Crucifixion. Yet the men who wrote these things lived many centuries before they happened and the exact meaning of what they wrote did not become apparent until the events they described actually occurred. That, indeed, is the whole purpose of prophecy, not that we should use it as a kind of crystal ball to enable us to see into the future but that we should see the significance of current events as they take place. The fact that so many of the things foretold by the prophets have actually taken place are a guarantee that the rest will follow in God's good time and on dates which we cannot foresee.

Although there are a number of prophecies in the Old Testament concerning nations other than Israel, the Bible is primarily a book about and for Israel and this is a point which is not generally understood, even by Christian readers. Further confusion is caused by the fact that many people are not aware of the difference between Israel and Judah and the history of these two sections of God's people. To most people the Jews are the chosen people, but this is a question which needs considerable clarification. The problem of the Jews and the modern Israeli state is a very urgent and potentially explosive one. Because of the events of the twentieth century, especially prior to and during the Second World War, it is difficult to arrive at an unbiased judgement for the whole question is overcharged with very strong emotions. It will therefore be worthwhile to spend a little time sorting out the facts, shorn of the emotions which surround them.

When God first called Abram to be the founder of a great nation, his family were known as Hebrews, after an ancestor of Abram's, called Eber. Then in the time of Abraham's grandson the name Israel first appeared. Originally it was a name given by God to Jacob personally and his descendants were therefore called the children of Israel, or Israelites. At Sinai these descendants of Jacob, loosely organised as twelve tribes, were formally constituted as a nation under the direct rule of the Lord Jehovah, with a code of laws to govern their individual and corporate life. Eventually this nation of twelve tribes settled in the Promised Land across the River Jordan. There they came under the rule of a series of judges whose sole purpose was to administer the laws of God, given through Moses at Sinai. Then, in the days of Samuel, who was both prophet and judge, there arose a popular demand for a King. Samuel was very reluctant to accede to this demand but when he received explicit instructions from the Lord, he had no choice but to obey.

The first King, Saul, after a promising start, proved unsatisfactory and was not allowed to found a dynasty. In any case, Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin, and the sceptre, the sign of royal power, had long before been promised to Judah. In the meantime God was preparing His own candidate for the throne. He knew that the boy David had the right lineage and the right qualities to be the founder of a royal line which should occupy the throne of the Lord until, in due course, it would be taken over by the greatest of all David's line, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

When David eventually became King, even at that early stage in their history, there was an obvious division among the children of Israel. Only his own tribe of Judah and the smaller tribe of Benjamin who lived in the same area acknowledged David as King and it was seven years before the other tribes recognised him as their ruler. For a time the whole twelve tribes nation was united under a King who was universally loved and respected, and this happy state of affairs continued throughout the reign of David's son, Solomon. After the death of Solomon the division in the nation surfaced once more and the final rift took place, a rift that will only be healed with the coming of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ on earth. Following the division, the ten northern tribes formed a separate Kingdom and retained the name of Israel. The two southern tribes continued under the rule of David's descendants and came to be known as Judah. Because of the wickedness of the people of Judah God allowed them to be taken captive by the Babylonians and taken away to live in a foreign land. Seventy years later a remnant of Judah was allowed to return to Jerusalem and this remnant came to be called Jews, a contraction of the name Judah. It therefore follows that it is quite inaccurate to use the name of Jew for anyone who lived before the Babylonian captivity.


It must also be stressed that after the return to Jerusalem an ever increasing number of proselytes of many different races adopted the faith of Judaism and began to call themselves Jews, although they were not of the stock of Abraham. So the name Jew today has a religious rather than a racial connotation. If we study the promises made to Israel we read of many things which by no stretch of imagination could be applied to modern Jewry.

When the Israeli state was set up in 1947 as a national home for dispossessed Jews from many countries, it was hailed by some Bible students as a fulfilment of God's promise to His ancient people. If this were so then, quite apart from anything else, the Israeli state should be showing signs of being a blessing to all nations. Instead, it is more like a slow fuse which could lead to a mammoth explosion. That is not to deny the contribution to art, medicine, music, science and so on that has been made by individual Jews, but no one could claim that the existence of the modern Israeli state has done the world any good at all.

If God's promises, then, were not and are not fulfilled in the Jews, what has happened to them? To suggest that God has forgotten His promises would be a kind of blasphemy, implying that God has the same frailties as human beings, who forget so easily. Neither could it be said that God had deliberately broken His word, for that too would belittle God and also be a kind of blasphemy. The only way out of the dilemma was to say that God had neither forgotten nor broken His pledged word but had simply transferred the promises to the new Israel, in other words the Church. From the churchman's point of view it was a completely satisfactory answer to the problem but it is based on a very inaccurate reading of the Scriptures. Both historically and linguistically such a notion is a serious misconception yet it is widely accepted among today's Christians. God's promises were made to a nation and, by its derivation a nation must consist of people of the same 'birth' or stock. The Church is assuredly not that, for it draws its members from every nation under the sun.

If neither the Jews nor the Church can qualify as recipients of God's promises to His chosen people, and if, by His very nature God could neither forget nor break His promises, then the only answer would be to find the true descendants of the Israelites to whom the promises were originally given. As we have already seen, there were two sections of the original nation of Israel, the ten tribes northern Kingdom, which kept the name of Israel, and the two tribes southern Kingdom which became known as Judah. This latter Kingdom, again as we have already seen, was taken into captivity and only a portion of its people eventually returned to Jerusalem. But what of the far larger Kingdom of Israel in the north?

It is a fact of history that these tribes were conquered by the Assyrians about 150 years before Judah fell to the Babylonians. Israel too was carried away into captivity by their conquerors along with some people from Judah. In course of time the Assyrians were attacked and beaten by the Babylonians and in the resulting chaos their Israelitish captives simply disappeared, both from the Bible and from the history books. According to the Chief Rabbi, in a letter written in 1918, the ten tribes were scattered abroad and became absorbed among the nations, from where they will be regathered when the Messiah comes to claim His Kingdom.

This is the point at which British Israelites finally part company with their fellow Christians. British Israelites believe that, far from being absorbed among the nations, the descendants of the ten tribes kept together in their various tribal groups and trekked right across Europe until they eventually arrived in the "isles of the sea" which would be their abiding home. Where the Bible narrative ends secular history takes up the tale and there is abundant evidence from archaeology, geography, heraldry, language and literature to prove the truth of this teaching. To be sure, the Israelites lost all knowledge of their identity and arrived in the British Isles under other names, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Vikings and Normons. When they arrived, there were already some of the tribe of Judah settled here, people who had migrated from the Promised Land much earlier but the link between the people of modern Britain and their remote ancestors in Israel and Judah can be very effectively substantiated.

This aspect of British Israel teaching has given rise to the criticism that the movement is far too much concerned with ancient history when there are enough urgent problems in the contemporary world awaiting a solution. Yet the present can only be properly understood in the context of past events and the people who made them happen. This is readily accepted in the field of medicine, particularly psychiatric medicine. A psychiatrist will spend a great deal of time and energy probing into his patient's past life, believing that many of the fears and phobias and prejudices which hinder that patient from living life to the full are caused by events long ago. The patient himself may have forgotten all about them but they have sunk deep into his subconscious mind and still influence his actions and reactions, without his being aware that it is so. By bringing all these hidden memories to the surface so that the patient can face them and so understand why he behaves as he does, the psychiatrist can do much to help the patient to live normally. Yet, with strange inconsistency, the idea of using the same technique in the life of a nation is treated with scorn. If a psychiatrist were examining the British people as a nation, there are several questions he might well ask. For example, why have the British people such a deep-rooted hatred of slavery and oppression and such a passionate love of freedom? Why do they have an apparently inbred respect for law and order? (The current outbreaks of violence and lawlessness are essentially uncharacteristic of the British people.) Why has the Bible loomed so large in British culture and thinking when two thirds of it is a book about the ancient Israelites? These questions can only be answered by reference to the Israelitish origin of the British people. Their ancestors had a long experience of slavery in Egypt and this accounts for their love of freedom; their Common Law is based upon the laws God gave to His people at Sinai; and the language of the Authorised Version of the Bible is directly related to the ancient Hebrew in its structure and thought patterns so that the British people are thoroughly at home with the writings of their remote ancestors.

Another indication of the unbroken continuity linking the people of ancient Israel with the people of twentieth century Britain is to be found in the throne. The nation and the throne have been bound together for as long as there has been a royal house, and that goes right back to the King David of the Bible. The Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the only monarch whose ancestry can be traced back in an unbroken line to a King who reigned three thousand years ago. As we go into the 1990's the sovereignty of the Queen is under threat as Britain is drawn ever closer into Europe, in spite of the bland assurances handed out by pro-European politicians.

Another of our precious institutions under threat is the Church of England which has for the last four hundred years supported and upheld the monarchy. And Britain is the only country which has a national church established by act of Parliament. Admittedly not everyone, not even all Christians in the country, belong to it but the fact that it is there is a guarantee of our religious liberty. Now that church is being pushed firmly in the direction of Rome by the very men who should be cherishing and upholding its right to remain independent of any authority save that of Jesus Christ, who is its head and of the monarch, who is its supreme governor in earthly terms.

A third British institution under threat is the Sabbath, something again which is part of our Israelitish inheritance. The observance of the Sabbath as a day of rest has all but disappeared in this country, as more and more people find that they are expected to work on a Sunday or are indeed willing to do so because of the higher rate of pay which Sunday work brings. Those who are fortunate enough to be free on Sunday seem to regard it as a chance to catch up on odd jobs in the house or garden, or an opportunity to indulge in organised entertainment, or simply a day to be got through somehow with the help of the Sunday paper and the television until life can revert to normal on Monday. How different all this is from the Sabbath appointed by God for the good of his people, a day of rest and quietness and physical, mental and spiritual refreshment.

So much for what we believe, although we have only considered it in outline. We need also to ask ourselves why we believe it. As St. Paul reminds us, we must be prepared to give a reasoned answer to anyone who questions us about our faith. If there are not very good reasons for believing everything that comes under the heading of British Israel, then it is indeed merely an 'optional extra', interesting, maybe, and all right for those who like that sort of thing.

First of all, it must be true because God is the same yesterday, today and for ever. The God who called Abraham and promised him that he would be the father of a great nation, could not, by His very nature, either abandon His plan or change its direction. Therefore the nation which He chose to be the channel of His blessing for all mankind must still be in existence until that purpose is accomplished.

Secondly, if God promises anything He always has kept and always will keep His word. Foremost among His promises is that Jesus Christ will return to earth to reign as King. The whole story of the Bible is the story of a people being prepared for that great event.

Thirdly, if it were not for that promise, we should have to accept the worst prognostications of the scientists and ecologists concerning the future of this planet. Many of them declare that we have already reached the point of no return. That may well be true, but even if the situation is not quite as bad as that we are certainly well on the way towards it. We have already damaged or destroyed so much of God's creation that only His creative and recreative power can put things right. These are matters about which all thinking people are worried and fearful and only the promise of the Lord's return can offer any positive hope.

Lastly, British Israel teaching enables us to look beyond ourselves to the community and the nation to which we belong. The poet Matthew Arnold pictured human beings as a large number of separate islands, cut off from one another by the "estranging sea" and living alone. There is some truth in this, for we each have to experience our own joys, bear our own pain and sorrow, face our own problems, "work out our own salvation" as St. Paul said, and when the end comes we must face death alone. The near presence of those we love and who love us will certainly enhance the joy, ease the burden of pain and suffering and provide help and support in times of danger and difficulty but no one can bear these things for us.

The only burden which we can hand over entirely to someone else is the burden of sin, for in dying on the Cross the Lord Jesus Christ took that burden upon Himself for all who believe in Him. However, the sacrifice of Jesus was not only the remedy for the individual sins of every man and woman; He was the Lamb of God "who taketh away the sins of the world" the collective sins of mankind. Another poet, John Dunne, declared that no man is an island and this also has a measure of truth in it. Although God made each one of us a unique individual, He also placed us in families, communities and nations and as members of these groups we are closely affected by what happens to others, for we cannot isolate ourselves from them. The whole teaching of Jesus Christ, especially in the parables, is about the Kingdom of Heaven and a Kingdom is much more than a collection of separate individuals. Its subjects are bound together by a community of interests and by their common loyalty to their sovereign. So it will be when the Kingdom of Heaven is established on earth.

That Kingdom in the beginning was synonymous with Israel, for that is how the Lord God chose to work out His plan, and its final stages will be worked out through Israel, for God is the same yesterday, today and for ever. But God is also Lord of all the earth and all the people who live on it. Although He selected one nation as His servant and instrument, it was never His intention to exclude those who are not literal descendants of Jacob-Israel. This was made clear to Abraham when he was told that through his seed great blessing would come to all the nations on earth. When Christ came to earth, died and rose again He 'opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.' Certainly He instructed His disciples to go first to the lost sheep of the House of Israel, but first does not mean exclusively. At the end of man's long journey from the Garden of Eden to the City of God there is a river and growing beside it is a tree whose leaves are for the healing of the nations - the nations, not some nations, or a few nations, or selected nations but all nations.

If we believe the Bible as the inspired word of God then we must believe that God's plan for the ultimate salvation and blessing of all mankind will come to its glorious conclusion exactly as He intends. Israel from the beginning had a vital part to play in that plan and still has. To believe this is to know the truth of God, not merely to be interested in an 'optional extra' for Israel must remain a nation to the very end, until it has accomplished the purpose for which it was formed.

Orange Street Congregational Church