This paper was originally hosted at http://www.lightofmashiach.org/losttribes.html. It has since been removed so we offer it here for reference (from our paper on Stephen Jones).
Ten Lost Tribes?
Many sites are popping up on the web which espouse theories about the supposed ‘ten lost tribes’ and their possible modern-day tribal counterparts. I feel there are many issues that need to be addressed regarding these teachings. There are many strains of “lost tribe” theologies out there, however, this article will be more general in scope. This article is also quite long because I wished to be thorough. Because I don’t presume to call Gentiles, “Israelites,” I am sure this article won’t be as enticing as other articles. I don’t aim to amaze and astound people but to stay rooted in sound doctrine.
Are There Lost Tribes?
Some quick history:
Israel divided into two kingdoms somewhere around 926 BCE when the house of Israel rebelled against King Rehoboam. Their succession meant there were then two houses — the House of Israel (Northern Kingdom) and the House of Judah (Southern Kingdom). Judah consisted of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin plus many of the Levites; and Israel consisted of the remaining tribes (Ephraim and Manasseh were each counted – making a total of ten tribes). Around 723 BCE, Israel was conquered by Assyria and many from the House of Israel were deported from Israel into regions within the Assyrian kingdom (and replaced within their own cities by foreigners). Around 585 BCE, Judah was deported from Israel to Babylon in captivity (following an earlier Babylonian attack of Jerusalem in 597 BCE). Sometimes it seems as if the ‘ten lost tribes’ theory is based more on the imagined silence of Scripture than from stated fact. One argument maintains that since the return of Judah is described in such detail, and the return of Israel isn’t described in as much detail, Israel must not have returned. But Scripture does show Israel back within Judah — some had never left, and some returned prior to the Babylonian captivity. Let’s look:
“And after them out of all the tribes of Israel such as set their hearts to seek YHVH God of Israel came to Jerusalem, to sacrifice unto YHVH God of their fathers. So they strengthened the kingdom of Judah, and made Rehoboam the son of Solomon strong, three years: for three years they walked in the way of David and Solomon.” IIChronicles 11:16-17
“For if you return to YHVH, your brothers and your sons will find compassion before those who led them captive and will return to this land. For YHVH your God is gracious and compassionate, and will not turn His face away from you if you return to Him.” So the couriers passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them. Nevertheless some men of Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of YHVH.” II Chronicles 30:9-12
“They came to Hilkiah the high priest and delivered the money that was brought into the house of God, which the Levites, the doorkeepers, had collected from Manasseh and Ephraim, and from all the remnant of Israel, and from all Judah and Benjamin and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” II Chronicles 34:9
(Writings) in Scripture certainly shows Israel’s presence within the land and among Judah. They may not have remained faithful at times, but they were present. The Nevi’im (Prophets) also indicate Israel’s presence among Judah:
“Then He said to me, “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is very, very great, and the land is filled with blood and the city is full of perversion; for they say, ‘YHVH has forsaken the land, and YHVH does not see!'” Ezekiel 9:9
If Israel is scattered elsewhere at the time of this prophecy, then why is she included here as being within the land also? Ezekiel prophesied until about 590 BCE — He was taken to Babylon during the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem in 597 BCE. Yet he records both houses are in the land of Israel at the time he is writing. He mentions the sin of Israel among Judah:
“He said to me, “Son of man, now dig through the wall.” So I dug through the wall, and behold, an entrance. And He said to me, “Go in and see the wicked abominations that they are committing here.”So I entered and looked, and behold, every form of creeping things and beasts and detestable things, with all the idols of the house of Israel, were carved on the wall all around. Standing in front of them were seventy elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan standing among them, each man with his censer in his hand and the fragrance of the cloud of incense rising. Then He said to me, “Son of man, do you see what the elders of the house of Israel are committing in the ark, each man in the room of his carved images? For they say, ‘YHVH does not see us; YHVH has forsaken the land.’ ” And He said to me, “Yet you will see still greater abominations which they are committing.” Ezekiel 8:9-13
These things are being recorded about the House of Israel — a people some are claiming had already been “lost” some 125 years earlier! Clearly, Israel did have more than just a presence within the land of Israel among the House of Judah at the time Ezekiel is writing — G-d is revealing to Ezekiel their presence in the temple itself and their sin. A sin which led Judah astray, which Jeremiah mentions in Jeremiah 32:29-35:
29 And the Chaldeans, that fight against this city, shall come and set fire on this city, and burn it with the houses, upon whose roofs they have offered incense unto Baal, and poured out drink offerings unto other gods, to provoke me to anger.30 For the children of Israel and the children of Judah have only done evil before me from their youth: for the children of Israel have only provoked me to anger with the work of their hands, saith YHVH.31 For this city hath been to me as a provocation of mine anger and of my fury from the day that they built it even unto this day; that I should remove it from before my face,32 Because of all the evil of the children of Israel and of the children of Judah, which they have done to provoke me to anger, they, their kings, their princes, their priests, and their prophets, and the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.33 And they have turned unto me the back, and not the face: though I taught them, rising up early and teaching them, yet they have not hearkened to receive instruction.34 But they set their abominations in the house, which is called by my name, to defile it.35 And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.” Jeremiah 32:29-35
Israel was not only present in the land, she is blamed for Judah’s sin. As a result, Israel has received punishment both through Assyria and again *with Judah* through Babylon:
“Israel is a scattered flock, the lions have driven them away. The first one who devoured him was the king of Assyria, and this last one who has broken his bones is Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. Jeremiah 50:17
Israel was taken to Babylon — this surely indicates their inclusion at this point with the tribe of Judah. We also know that Israel was also counted among Judah when they were allowed to return to the land of Israel following the Babylonian captivity:
“Some of the sons of Israel and some of the priests, the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers and the temple servants went up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes. Ezra 7:7
“Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace. And now I have issued a decree that any of the people of Israel and their priests and the Levites in my kingdom who are willing to go to Jerusalem, may go with you.” Ezra 7:12,13
“The exiles who had come from the captivity offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel: 12 bulls for all Israel, 96 rams, 77 lambs, 12 male goats for a sin offering, all as a burnt offering to YHVH.” Ezra 8:35
Now, did all of Israel return? No. And did all of Judah return? No. Yet no one is spending a lot of time researching where the “Lost House of Judah” is today. G-d kept a remnant of Israel *and* Judah — and that remnant did return.
Throughout Ezra and Nehemiah, we see both the terms Jews and Israel being used so often, sometimes even interchangeably. In fact, the term Israel is used more often than Jews in Ezra.
“These came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum and Baanah. The number of the men of the people of Israel:” Ezra 2:2
“Now the priests and the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers and the temple servants lived in their cities, and all Israel in their cities. Now when the seventh month came, and the sons of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem.” Ezra 2:70, 3:1
That G-d kept a remnant of Israel is also clear in other writings, consider Tobit:
“The book of the acts of Tobit the son of Tobiel, son of Ananiel, son of Aduel, son of Gabael, of the descendants of Asiel and the tribe of Naphtali who in the days of Shalmaneser, king of the Assyrians, was taken into captivity from Thisbe, which is to the south of Kedesh Naphtali in Galilee above Asher. I, Tobit, walked in the ways of truth and righteousness all the days of my life, and I performed many acts of charity to my brethren and countrymen who went with me into the land of the Assyrians, to Nineveh. Now when I was in my own country, in the land of Israel, while I was still a young man, the whole tribe of Naphtali my forefather deserted the house of Jerusalem. All the tribes that joined in apostasy used to sacrifice to the calf Baal, and so did the house of Naphtali my forefather. But I alone went often to Jerusalem for the feasts, as it is ordained for all Israel by an everlasting decree. Taking the first fruits and the tithes of my produce and the first shearings, I would give these to the priests, the sons of Aaron, at the altar. Tobit 1:1 -61 (approx. 200 BCE)
And note that Sirach is mentioning this remnant of Israel was given to Jacob:
“So that the sovereignty was divided and a disobedient kingdom arose out of Ephraim. 22 But the Lord will never give up his mercy, nor cause any of his works to perish; he will never blot out the descendants of his chosen one, nor destroy the posterity of him who loved him; so he gave a remnant to Jacob, and to David a root of his stock. Sirach 47:212 (approx. 180 BCE)
“Then the men of Israel came down from their city and found him; and they untied him and brought him into Bethulia and placed him before the magistrates of their city, who in those days were Uzziah the son of Micah, of the tribe of Simeon, and Chabris the son of Gothoniel, and Charmis the son of Melchiel. ….18 Then the people fell down and worshiped God, and cried out to him, and said, “O Lord God of heaven, behold their arrogance, and have pity on the humiliation of our people, and look this day upon the faces of those who are consecrated to thee.” Judith 6:15,18,193 (approx. 150 BCE)
Like these writers, Josephus also knows where the supposed ‘lost’ tribes are:
When Esdras (Ezra) had received this epistle, he was very joyous, and began to worship God, and confessed that he has been the cause of the king’s great favor to him, and that for the same reason he gave all thanks to God. So he read the epistle at Babylon to those Jews that were there, but he kept the epistle itself and sent a copy of it to all those of his own nation that were in Media; and when the Jews had understood what piety the king had towards God, and what kindness he had for Esdras, they were all greatly pleased; nay, many of them took their effects with them and came to Babylon, as very desirous og going down to Jerusalem; but then the entire body of the people of Israel remained in that country; wherefore there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes are beyond the Euphrates til now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated in numbers. Josephus Antiquities4
We simply have no historical record of lost tribes, the ten tribes know who they are and the remaining tribes also know who they are. We see in Tobit a man who returned to Jerusalem for the annual festivals! This shouldn’t be surprising, we see the exact same thing happening in Acts 2 during Shavuot:
“They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? “And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” Acts 2:7-12
Can you see that people gathered in Jerusalem for Shavuot had come from all over? These are Jews who are NOT residents in Israel, yet they are observant! And isn’t it a coincidence that some have come from the very lands where the supposed “lost tribes” had been lost? Let’s look:
“So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul, king of Assyria, even the spirit of Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away into exile, namely the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara and to the river of Gozan, to this day. 1 Chronicles 5:26
“Then the king of Assyria carried Israel away into exile to Assyria, and put them in Halah and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.” 2 Kings 18:11
Medes mentioned in Acts is one of the places the ten tribes found themselves taken, as well as to other areas in upper Mesopotamia, beyond the Euphrates and west of Nineveh (Assyrian empire areas). From these very places we find men who have returned to Jerusalem for Shavuot! And not only from these Assyrian places, but from other places, where both Israelites and Jews had been dispersed. It’s interesting to note that in Acts, Kefa addresses this Jewishaudience as the “house of Israel.” (Acts 2:36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ — this Yeshua whom you crucified.”) So much for lost. G-d always keeps a remnant for Himself!
G-d has already promised to keep ‘she’erit Yisrael’ — a remnant of Israel in spite of the fact that sometimes Israel went astray. YHVH assures us:
“Now in that day the remnant of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, will never again rely on the one who struck them, but will truly rely on YHVH, the Holy One of Israel. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, Only a remnant within them will return; A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. For a complete destruction, one that is decreed, the Lord YHVH of hosts will execute in the midst of the whole land. ” Isaiah 10:20-23
It’s significant to note that when G-d keeps a remnant, the rest are destroyed, completely and irrevocably. The remnant represents those whom G-d is saving out of the total. Spending one’s time searching for those not in the remnant will never be a productive use of time — they are gone forever. It is only to the remnant that this promise of being regathered is made.
What is the scattering and regathering of Israel referring to?
The Scattering of Both Tribes
“Then I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, there were four horns. So I said to the angel who was speaking with me, “What are these?” And he answered me, “These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.” Then YHVH showed me four craftsmen. I said, “What are these coming to do?” And he said,”These are the horns which have scattered Judah so that no man lifts up his head; but these craftsmen have come to terrify them, to throw down the horns of the nations who have lifted up their horns against the land of Judah in order to scatter it.” Zechariah 1:18-21
The Gathering of Both Tribes Together
Then it will happen on that day that the Lord Will again recover the second time with His hand The remnant of His people, who will remain, From Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, And from the islands of the sea. And He will lift up a standard for the nations And assemble the banished ones of Israel, And will gather the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth.” Then the jealousy of Ephraim will depart, And those who harass Judah will be cut off; Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, And Judah will not harass Ephraim.” Isaiah 11:11-13
Whether we argue that this was fulfilled in Ezra, by the state of Israel in 1948, or that the real regathering is more supernatural and connected to Yeshua’s return; we see that the remnant of both houses is being gathered at the same time. This seems to be a future regathering; it says it’s a second gathering; and note, they are being gathered from many of the same places mentioned in Acts 2. (I cannot count being redeemed from Egypt with Moshe as a first gathering since Israel had not been scattered at the time). Note that this regathering in Isaiah is referring to the diaspora of Israelites/Jews. Many from Israel/Judah have been dispersed all around the world since before the first century. It seems obvious this prophecy isn’t about ‘finding the lost tribes’ but about G-d’s regathering of His remnant. Those not in the remnant are never regathered (remember Isa10:20-23). Now, Isaiah prophesied between 740 – 686 BCE, during the time when this division between Israel and Judah occurred, so it is natural he refers to two houses instead of as one unified nation. That the removal of animosity between the houses and the final regathering would be two separate events, even Isaiahmay not have known. But it is clear that two separate events are depicted here.
This technique of combined prophecies with separate fulfillments is seen elsewhere in Isaiah. Prophecies where one aspect was fulfilled by Yeshua in the 1st century yet the second half of the same prophecy still awaits fulfillment with His return. (a sin Isaiah 51:5 where Yeshua comes as a sacrifice for salvation but will return as a judge, yet the prophecy reads as if it is one event: “My righteousness is near, My salvation has gone forth, And My arms will judge the peoples; The coastlands will wait for Me, and for My arm they will wait expectantly”). I believe prophecies that have fulfillments at different times are difficult and lead to incorrect ideas (like, the theory of lost tribes). Isaiah 11:11-13 clearly has two fulfillments: The ending of animosity between the two houses (already fulfilled) and one about the regathering (not fulfilled).
History shows us that the twelve tribes have been dispersed for over two millennia. Yachov (James) confirms this fact: James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. (James 1:1)
Yachov (James) understood Israel as a unit, when one house is scattered, so is the other house– the twelve tribes were a unit forming Israel. As mentioned earlier, scattering is about Israel being among the nations — not being irrevocable destroyed (lost). Being scattered is one thing, being lost is another. A scattered people know who they are, they are simply not in their own land. Being lost is permanent, they can never be regathered because they were not included in the remnant G-d saved. That said, it is certainly possible that someone who has lost their identity (picture someone who is 1/100 Jewishthrough ancient inter-marriage — more on this later), then that person could still enter the kingdom through Yeshua, but they would be counted quite rightly as non-Jewish (non-Israeli). Foreigners were always welcome to worship G-d and obey His Torah.
“Behold, the days come, saith YHVH, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith YHVH: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith YHVH,I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jeremiah 31:31-33
Notice in this passage, it begins by saying the covenant is made with both houses (v 31) but a few lines later in the passage the covenant is made only with the House of Israel. (v 33) At the time this was written, there was still conflict between the two houses (hence it being mentioned at all). But notice that following the phrase ‘after those days’ only the ‘house of Israel’ is mentioned — they are one unit again at this point. And notice, only to the house of Israel goes the promise that His Torah will be written on men’s hearts. Now, you can wrongly assume Judah is left out of this prophecy, or you can realize that the ‘house of Israel’ included both houses. To interpret otherwise is to assume that Judah doesn’t receive Torah on his heart too. Clearly by v 33 the two houses are already considered joined as solid unit.
Now, to look at a prophecy sometimes quoted to defend “lost tribe” theology:
“The word of the YHVH came again to me saying, “And you, son of man, take for yourself one stick and write on it, ‘For Judah and for the sons of Israel, his companions’; then take another stick and write onit, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and all the house of Israel, his companions.’ “Then join them for yourself one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand. When the sons of your people speak to you saying, ‘Will you not declare to us what you mean by these?’ say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord YHVH, “Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will put them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand.'” “The sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes. “Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord YHVH, “Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms. “They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God. “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them. “They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever.” Ezekiel 37:16-25
This powerful prophecy also indicates a reunification of Israel and Judah — and note, it is Israel who is joined to Judah (not vice-versa) — which is exactly what happened. We saw earlier in this article in II Chronicles 30:9-12 that the Northern Tribes (Israel) were invited to come join Judah in the South — and many did indeed join Judah during that time (though some had never left, choosing to go south rather than stay under King Jeroboam). Many from Israel also returned to Israel after being taken to Babylon — we see through-out Ezra and Nehemiah that Israel was indeed a part of Judah again. But this prophecy also includes unfulfilled portions — ones which await the return of Yeshua for completion. I think it would be in error to assume that if one part of the prophecy hasn’t been fulfilled, then neither has the other. It is just this sort of thinking that makes many Jewish people today reject Yeshua — they ask where is the kingdom of peace? Where is the temple with G-d on His throne? They ask why there has been no resurrection if Messiah has come. These are valid points which Yeshua Himself addressed in the gospels and these kingdom questions tie directly into the falseness of the “lost tribe” crowd. Yeshua indicated that His kingdom was at hand if only the people would have received it — He could not have made that offer only to the House of Judah unless Israel was there to accept it also, since the promise was made to both houses. Yeshua could not have offered the kingdom to Judah UNLESS Israel was already unified with Judah! Yeshua offered: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
“But I say to you that Elijah has indeed come, and they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him.”(Mark 9:13)
Yeshua is basically saying that if the people would have accepted the kingdom, thenYochanan (John) the Immerser was qualified to fulfill the role of Elijah. The kingdom could have been established then and there — among JUDAH (which would have to include Israel since G-d’s promise of the kingdom was to BOTH houses). And the Judahite and Israeli population in Israel at the time fit the bill! His own disciples thought He would establish his kingdom then and there:
“While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. Luke 19:11
But sadly we know His kingdom offer was rejected, Yeshuaprophecied:
“Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF YHVH!'”(Luke 13:35)
In the Olivet Discourse in Luke, the new plan for the establishment of the kingdom is mentioned as a future event. It won’t occur until after Israel falls to the sword and is led away captive into the nations and Jerusalem is trampled until the “times of the Gentiles” is fulfilled. (Luke 21:24) But Yeshua reassured them the kingdom was still coming(they must have been frightened at the picture he was painting here) so Hecomforted them by explaining:
“But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Then He told them a parable: “Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near.” Luke 21:28-31
Not only had Yeshua offered the kingdom to Israel, but his disciples couldn’t accept that He could leave without establishing it — especially since the kingdom message had been such a prominant teaching of Yeshua as well as the expectation of the people. They asked:
“Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
Another way we know the kingdom was offered to both houses (Judah and Israel) is from Matthew. Yeshua sent His disciples only through-out Israel, telling them NOT to go among the Gentiles with His message,(Matt 10:5,6) this is because Yeshua was only offering the kingdom to Israel. If tribes were lost, He’d have to send his disciples outside the land to ‘find’ them. Instead, Israel is *within* the land already! We can trust that Yeshua knew the right people to offer the kingdom to, and the Brit Chadasha makes it clear that the kingdom was offered only to the Jews — who were and remain, the unified houses of Judah and Israel.
A further point:the Brit Chadasha treats the terms Israel, Israelite, Jews, and Circumcisedas being one and the same. The Brit Chadasha writers seem to have no knowledge of a separation still existing. Note the wonderful event in Luke:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of David His servant.” Luke:1:68,69
Sha’ul himself seems to think Israel is a unit also, before Agrippa he attests:
“And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.” Acts 26:6,7
Sha’ul often speaks as if being Jewish is synonymous with being an Israelite:
“I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of thetribe of Benjamin. Romans 11:1
“Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” Philippians 3:4-6
If Israel hadn’t been reunified, then shouldn’t Sha’ul have said he was a Yehudi (Judahite – from the House of Judah) instead?
We know Benjaminites and Levites are counted as Judah, but so are other tribes. We’ve seen that lots of Brit Chadasha passages show Israel is synonymous with the Jewish people, now we see an Asherite mentioned:
“And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.” Luke 2:36
Nothing in this passage indicates that being an Asherite was unusual. But had there really been lost tribes, this passage would have drawn special attention to Asher and commented how her presence was possible –wouldn’t she be the ‘last of her kind’ if there were lost tribes? But notice instead it is mentioned simply and matter-of-factly, as if nothing is unusual about the presence of a supposed ‘lost tribe’ member. No wonder, since no tribes were missing!
When Yeshua was approached by a Gentile, He pointed out He wasn’t sent to her, but only to the lost sheep of Israel:
“But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Matt 15:24
And just who were these lost sheep of Israel? The Jews. We know He considered the Jews the lost sheep of Israel because of His actions in the gospels — the gospels record He and His disciples took His message to the Jews — not the Gentiles. This clearly identifies the “lost sheep of Israel” as Jewish. Further, In Matthew 10:5,6 Yeshua was very clear about what people His disciples were to approach:
“Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 10:5,6
Now what people did the disciples take the message to after Yeshua told them this? Jewish people. So we see that Israel again is identified as the Jewish people living in the land of Israel. Basically, the “lost sheep of Israel” are within the House of Judah — the Jewish people. (The “lost sheep” were not physically lost here but spiritually lost — the disciples had no difficulty ‘finding’ them).
Romans 11 (Israel and Gentile Nations can’t be one and same)
11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?16 For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in.20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again.24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.28 As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. Romans 11:11-28
It has been suggested by some that Israel mixed with the Gentiles and that the Gentiles are the true House of Israel. This passage flat out disputes that possibility. Throughout the passage (which begins with Sha’ul referring to himself as an Israelite [v 1]) Israel is being contrasted to the Gentiles. Gentiles are the ‘wild branches’ being grafted into a foreign tree — a tree not their own. Gentiles are NOT natural branches, they do not naturally fit into this tree, they are contrasted to Israelite branches which would fit in perfectly, lest Gentiles boast. How much more of a boast could Gentiles have than to actually claim they are natural when Sha’ul has just announced they are”wild” and should NOT boast? Sha’ul is revealing a mystery here, not previously understood, that G-d’s covenant was open to Gentiles — to non-Israelite Gentiles. Imagine, Gentiles, who have ABSOLUTELY NO TIES TO ISRAEL OR ITS COVENANTS being offered such a blessing of inclusion! Amazing, yet this is exactly the offer Sha’ul is explaining to them, by virtue of their faith in Yeshua! Now, if this passage was really about the ‘ten lost tribes’ being grafted back into their own tree, that wouldn’t be much of a ‘mystery’ since prophets for centuries had already spoken that Israel would reunite with Judah. The real ‘mystery’ here is that Gentiles are coming into the faith! Sha’ul is explaining in Romans 11 that Gentiles are being offered the opportunity to accept Messiah and be counted among Israel. Sha’ul is contrasting *two different peoples* — non-Israelites (Gentiles) vs.Israelites. Note the contrasts: One has been grafted in, one cut out. One has sight, one is blind. One has found salvation, one still awaits that day. One has the gospel, one is an enemy of the gospel. One awaits her fullness, one is hardened. One is gifted with salvation, one is made jealous. The idea that Israel here can include Gentile nations is an untenable position. The two subjects of this discourse are Israel and Gentiles — they CANNOT, through any fancy footwork, be made one and the same people.
G-d’s provision for man’s salvation
One of the more offensive aspects about some of these “lost tribe” theories, is that basically only Israel is saved. Redefining the House of Israel so it means Israelite-Gentile nations just creates an oxymoron. It’s like saying”Jewish non-Jews.” Their theory would allow salvation to only be offered to Israelite descendants. It’s akin to saying that all who believe in these latter days are somehow just genetic Israelite descendants who had been lost. This negates G-d’s promise about Israel being a light to the nations if the nations *are* Israel. It would mean that G-d chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — and that only through being a descendant of Jacob could one find salvation. It would mean all the other nations never had a chance unless through some luck of genetics they found out that they were an Israelitedescendant. Yet G-d tells Israel: The Lord YHVH, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, “Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.” Isaiah 56:8 Who are these people that are gathered to those He has already gathered? Can you add Israel to Israel? The only way to understand the passage is to agree that people who are not Israel are being gathered to Israel. Basically, wild branches are being gathered with natural branches.
I don’t mean to over simplify, or deny there are many strains to this type of teaching, but the bottom line is that by redefining the House of Israel or Ephraim, you redefine G-d’s plan for mankind. The truth is, when someone from Israel or Judah marries into Gentile nations, they don’t turn the Gentile nations into Israel, instead, they become cut off from Israel themselves. This is why Ezra and Nehemiahmention the putting away of foreign wives. Note: the foreign wives and their children do NOT miraculously become Israelites through affiliation and marriage. Instead, the Israelite or Judahite loses that part of themself which was Israelite (or Yehudim). Let me repeat: An Israelite marrying and mixing into the Gentile population does not change the Gentiles into Israelites but instead loses his own Israeli-ness. This is why G-d kept a remnant — so that His people could not be lost in this way. Many from the House of Israel and the House of Judah did not return to Israel when they could. Many did choose to blend in with the nations. The Samaritans were an example of this. But G-d kept a remnant for Himself — those who would not be destroyed forever.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16
Did Sha’ul forget about the “lost Israelites?” Clearly, the Israelites are already being counted among the Jews. Sha’ul is taking the gospel to “all Israel” first, and then to the Gentiles.
“Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called”Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians2:11-13
Now, if the Gentiles were the “lost tribes” then they wouldn’t be of the uncircumcision but of the circumcision; further, they wouldn’t have been strangers to the covenants since their forefathers received them along with Judah. Why mention in Ephesians 2:15 that G-d was creating “one new man” when it would really be just the same old Israel comprised of the same 12 tribes. The reason Shaul is writing this in Ephesians is because it isn’t about “lost tribes” rejoining but about non-Israelite Gentiles being brought in. This was the mystery Sha’ul taught throughout his epistles, that non-Israelites were being given a chance to partake of the same covenants Israel had been given!
One argument that insists Israel must include Gentile nations is to explain how Israel would be so numerous as “the dust of the earth” (Genesis 13:16; 28:14; et al)or the “sand on the sea” (Genesis 22:17; 32:12, et al) A reading of II Chronicles 1:9 “Now, O YHVH God, Your promise to my father David is fulfilled, for You have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth.” indicates this may be an idiom for ‘many’ and not intended to betaken literally. If we made every single person in the world today an Israelite(6 billion) we still don’t outnumber the sand or dust, so it’s not a convincing argument.
Further, we addressed this earlier regarding the remnant, I’ll requote: For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, Only a remnant within them will return; A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. For a complete destruction, one that is decreed, the Lord YHVHof hosts will execute in the midst of the whole land. ” Isaiah10:20-22,23
Yes, they may have been numbered like the “sand of the sea” but only a remnant was saved– only a remnant remains. So much for needing the Gentiles to make up the ‘immense’ numbers required — only a remnant is brought through and saved –the rest received complete destruction.
“And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head. And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.”Genesis 48:18,19
In Romans 11:25,26we read: “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery so that you will not be wise in your own estimation that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.”
The similarity in phrases (“fullness of Gentiles” vs. Gen 48 melo goyim “multitude of nations”) seems to prove to some that Ephraim was referring to the Gentiles. Yet if we examine the Romans passage, the opposite is true. What is happening to Israel is different from what is happening to the Gentiles — Israel is being hardened against the faith until the “fullness of the Gentiles” comes in. In Greek, this phrase contains “pleroma ethnos eiserchomai” or “repletion/completion of a race or tribe that has come or entered.” Basically, until such a time that all the Gentiles who will believe, do believe. Israel is being HINDERED here — waiting for something to occur in a DIFFERENT people. Israel is contrasted by being in disbelief while another group finds belief. The best drash we could apply in Romans 11 from Genesis 48 is perhaps: “Just as G-d brought Ephraim to completion, He now brings Gentiles into their own completion.” Such a drash doesn’t alter the Israelite roots of Ephraim or the non-Israelite roots of Gentiles though — it can only state that both will achieve such repletion.
Has G-d completely forsaken Israel through Divorce?
“And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. “Because of the lightness of her harlotry, she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. “Yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception,” declares YHVH. And YHVH said to me, “Faithless Israel has proved herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. “Go and proclaim these words toward the north and say, ‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the YHVH; ‘I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious,’ declares YHVH; ‘I will not be angry forever. ‘Only acknowledge your iniquity, That you have transgressed against YHVH your God And have scattered your favors to the strangers under every green tree, And you have not obeyed My voice,’ declares YHVH. ‘Return, O faithless sons,’ declares YHVH; ‘For I am a master to you, And I will take you one from a city and two from a family, And I will bring you to Zion.’ “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:8-15
Israel did accept G-d’s offer to return. We’ve already looked at passages through-out this article that show Israel returned to Judah and that Scripture shows the terms”Jew” and “Israel” were being used interchangeably. Those insisting Israel is forsaken are ignoring passages like this, which acknowledge the divorce yet offer Israel forgiveness and return.
Such “lost tribe” teachings displace the true Israelites by usurping their title for Gentile nations. That is a type of replacement theology. For centuries the church has been insisting that the church replaces Israel in theology on the basis that Israel rejected Yeshua and the church embraced Him. But this theory is going a step further, and saying Israel is no longer the people described in Scripture, but instead are the non-Israelite nations she became”lost” in. The fact is that G-d had many chances to tell Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekiel (or other prophets) that His real plan was to replace Israel with a Gentile nation of the same name… and He doesn’t. Even Sha’ul, who wrote so much about the “Israel of G-d” and insisted that Gentiles have their own place in G-d’s kingdom, even he NEVER once made a stance that Gentiles EVERbecame natural Israel. Instead, he contrasted Gentiles to Israelites. We can be thankful we have a merciful G-d Who allows His people Israel AND others who aren’t Israelite to join His covenant. We can be thankful we have a G-d who doesn’t require Israelite genes in order to obtain salvation! His covenant is open to anyone who wishes to believe in Yeshua and follow His Torah.
Why do you suppose, in all the pages of the Brit Chadasha, there is no mention of finding the “ten lost tribes?” Given the prophecies involving both houses, it would seem that if there are lost tribes, then someone, somewhere, would have made some mention of them. If the Gentiles were true lost Israelites coming home, then wouldn’t their ‘return’ would have been heralded? Wouldn’t it have been like a “kill the fatted calf — the prodigal ones have returned”celebration? How could the Brit Chadasha neglect to mention the “lost tribes” if they truly were lost? How could the Brit Chadasha writers fail to mention that the Gentiles coming into the faith were really the lost tribes? Wouldn’t it have been worthy of mention? Clearly, the Brit Chadasha writers viewed Israel as already united with Judah. There were no lost tribes and the unification of the houses was no longer an issue.
There’s an interesting anecdote about when the Septuagint was translated into Greek in Alexandria back in the third century BCE. It says that 6 men from each of the 12 tribes joined together forming a group of 72 to translate the Torah into Greek.5 How could such a legend develop and survive even until today if 10 of the tribes were lost?
The Kethuvim (Writings), the Nevi’im (Prophets), and the Brit Chadasha all indicate that the remnant of Israel is already a part of the remnant of Judah. Yeshua and Sha’ul used the terms Israel and Jews interchangeably. It seems clear that the regathering of Israel was referring to an end time event and referred to both houses, Judah and Israel, who were already reunited at that point. We see that Romans 11 cannot be reconciled to any Israel which is Gentile in nature. And we can be cautioned that by making the believing remnant Israelite by descent, it closes the door G-d says He opened for non-Israelite believers to enter. I urge people to reconsider if they have accepted theories involving “lost tribe” teachings.
1 Tobit (approx. 200 BCE) Apocrypha2 Sirach (approx. 180 BCE) Apocrypha3 Judith(approx. 150 BCE) Apocrypha4 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews from The Works of Josephus, translated by Whiston, W., Hendrickson Publishers. 1987. 13thPrinting. p 2945 Abegg, M., Flint, P., Ulrich, E. The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible:The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English.HarperCollins Publishers. 1999. 1st Edition. p xiii