The People of Trials: the Twelve Tribes

Scriptures: James 1:1
by Jacob Abshire on February 15, 2019

Some of the best lessons I learned came from yard work. My father made me the Keeper of the Garden, which meant I mowed the lawn, trimmed bushes, and pulled weeds. Among my other distinguished duties was to “handle” ant mounds.

As a young boy, handling ant mounds was my speciality. Their dirt high-rises were no match for my strong foot in full swing. (It was also the highlight of my work.) It took me a while to realize, however, that kicking one pile meant that three more arose the next day. I wasn’t killing them. I was scattering them—helping them be fruitful and multiply.

Hang on to that thought. I’m leading into James 1:1.

The chief end of man is to glorify God. In fact, this was the idea behind His command to Adam and Eve, “be fruitful and multiply” in order to cultivate and cover creation as seeds of worship (Gen. 1:28). However, the Fall happened. Sin marred man and worship was no longer possible. It would seem as though God’s plan was lost.

The Chosen Seed

Years later, God reaches into the garden and draws out the Hebrew people to make them seeds of worship (Deut. 7:7-8). By developing them into true worshippers, God could show the world the way to worship. However, they failed. Worship was hidden from the world.

God promised the seeds of worship that judgment would come to those who failed. And, He kept His word. “The anger of the LORD was kindled against this land, bringing upon it all the curses written in this book, and the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger and fury and great wrath, and cast them into another land” (Deut. 29:27–28). This happened repeatedly.

The Scattered Seed

In 722 BC, the Assyrian army captured the Jews in the northern kingdom (2 Kn. 17). Two hundred years later, the Babylonians captured the remaining Jews in the southern kingdom (2 Kn. 24). God was merciful, allowing them to return generations later. But, they rebelled against God yet again, which brought about their Roman captivity under the lead of Pompey in 63 BC. It was like God was kicking the ant pile and scattering the seeds of worship throughout the known world.

History affirms this. As many as one million Jews were lived in the city of Alexandria according to one report. Another details the massacre of ten thousand Jews in Damascus. Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, wrote:

“There is not one city, Greek or barbarian, nor a single nation where the custom of the seventh day, on which we rest from all work, and the fasts, and the lighting of candles, are not observed.”

The Jews were scattered everywhere.

We see this reality in Acts 2 where “Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven,” were gathered in Jerusalem for the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5). The Spirit of God came and the disciples of Christ spoke in unlearned languages. The scattered Jews (from foreign lands) recognized these foreign languages, “How is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” (Acts 2:8). They came from Parthia, Medes, Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asian, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and more (Acts 2:9-11), all of which were outside of Palestine. Astonished, they drew together, listened to Peter declare the gospel, and returned home saved.

The Genuine Seed

Make sure you get the picture. God’s plan was to cover the earth with worshippers. It appeared that maybe His plan was thwarted when Adam sinned. But God was working all things to His glory. The disobedience of Adam didn’t break His plan. The disobedience of Israel didn’t break His plan. Rather, they fulfilled His plan. Worshippers were everywhere.

It didn’t stop there.

Persecution hit Jerusalem after Christ ascended to Heaven. The disciples scattered. Nero turned up the heat on persecution. The disciples scattered again. The gospel was spreading with the disciples. The objective of God was always the same—make worshippers of God.

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you

Matthew 28:19-20

Finally, to James.

He is the humble slave of God writing “to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (Ja. 1:1). The phrase “twelve tribes” was a common description of the Jews (Matt. 19:28; Acts 26:7; Rev. 7:4). “Dispersion” is a word referring to all the land outside of Palestine. It comes from the Greek word diaspora which means “scattered seed.”

Let that sink in.

Did you know that Scripture refers to believers as spiritual Jews (Rom. 2:28-29) and seeds of worship (Gal. 3:29). Don’t get too comfortable, my friend. God may kick your ant pile.

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