Where in the world is the lost ten tribes? Does it matter? In the Bible, there is a prophecy has taken a considerable amount of attention recently. It is regarding the lost ten tribes of Israel, and how Ezekiel prophesies of their return. Much time and effort has painstakingly “give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions” (1 Tim. 1:4) to the end that the lost ten tribes might be identified. Why there is need of dealing with this subject is for several reasons.
1) Every subject in Scripture, especially dealt with in prophecy, should hold importance for God’s people.
2) There are many who are placing specious devices of the enemy, trusting in flesh and blood inheritance to give them some special favor with the Most High, and a right to the kingdom of God.
3) Because of the widespread speculation on this subject, we will furnish indisputable Scriptural proof as to who the identifying markers of the lost ten tribes point to, while remaining wholly silent wherever the Scriptures are apparently silent.
4) Because there are whole books of the Bible that deal with the subject matter of the tribes of Israel, it is good to understand the context and the proper last day application for practical instruction.
What this article is not for however, is to cast down or undermine the historical credibility or else possibility of the literal descendants of these tribes, and the evidences they supply for such a claim (which are sometimes reasonably strong), but rather to take a very Scriptural approach to this subject in regard to last day events, and illuminate Scriptures that may have been previously dark to the understanding.
CAN WE IDENTIFY THE TRIBES TODAY?
There are many who make attempts using myriads of ways to identify some markers of the lost tribes. Some make claims that the Chinese are the lost tribe of Reuben, while others state that the Native Americans of South and North America are the tribe of Gad, Mexicans and/or Germans are the tribe of Issachar, and then there is the popular doctrine of British Israelitism, suggesting that the British and Americans are the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim respectively, or there is also the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, consisting of groups of Black Americans who believe that they are the descendants of the ancient Israelites. Hundreds of scholarly papers have been written to try and solve this question. This subject has engrossed many people around the world.
How are these conclusions made to establish their positions? Some use linguistic etymologies (study of word origins), while others use archaeological discoveries, while still others rely on religious or else ceremonial resemblances, or similarities regarding the blessings and curses foretold to come upon ancient Israel for their rebellion. Despite the evidences that can be furnished for these, it is seldom that ample Scripture is employed to secure the evidences for these. Most groups who espouse these teachings make the teaching the most prominent point of their faith upon which everything else hinges. Yet it stands to reason that if such a great prophetic movement was to take place at the end of time, prophecy would not only furnish an abundance of evidence regarding the restoration of the lost ten tribes (which it does), but also regarding the identity of those tribes to remove the need for speculation deviating away from the bible and the gospel.
One thing is certain. If we cannot furnish an answer from the Scriptures that avoids fanaticism, “endless genealogies” and “fables”, being soundly revealed in the Scriptures, then such an identity is left better concealed until inspiration is pleased to reveal it. The unregenerate man has had such a tendency towards boasting in his own flesh, that it would love to make a boast of it’s skin color, racial ethnicity, or genealogical superiority above others, all of which strongly deviate from the message of the gospel of the kingdom that is “not from men nor by man”, of which kingdom “that flesh and blood cannot inherit” (1 Cor. 15:50), but only the born again man (John 3:3-5) who finds his identity in the Messiah. With that foundation laid, let us look at the context of the story of the lost ten tribes to better understand what the Scriptural narrative and background the books of the words of the Bible are resting upon.
THE DIVIDED KINGDOM
Originally, the tribes of Israel were twelve in number. Joseph’s single tribe, however, was accounted for a double portion, seeing as he was the firstborn of Rachel, therefore from him proceeded the half tribe of Manasseh and Ephraim, two tribes consisting of one tribe respectively.
Unfortunately, Solomon inherited the tendency of his father David towards women, wherein he sinned against God and man. He multiplied wives from the pagan nations, and this led him into idolatry. As a result, he led the entire kingdom into the practice and worship of the gods of the heathen nations, which God commanded them not to do, lest the land should spue them out (See Leviticus 18). The division of the twelve tribes began not long after Israel desired for themselves a king. God granting their request, they remained unitedly twelve tribes during only the full reign of Saul and David, and were divided in the midst of Solomon’s reign, between himself and Jeroboam, a son of Ephraim, who was the son of Joseph. “And the man Jeroboam was a mighty man of valour: and Solomon seeing the young man that he was industrious, he made him ruler over all the charge of the house of Joseph.” (1 Kings 11:28)
Here “all the charge of the house of Joseph” did not mean only the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, but all the northern ten tribes, excluding the tribe of Judah and Benjamin, who were a remnant tribe under Solomon’s descendants; likewise, the Bible uses Ephraim to refer to the king over the entirety of the kingdom of the ten tribes. Yet it was not Solomon’s intention to make Jeroboam king, but rather, this was a prophetic declaration of Ahijah the Shilonite. “And he said to Jeroboam…Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to thee:…Because that they have forsaken me, and have worshipped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the children of Ammon, and have not walked in my ways, to do that which is right in mine eyes, and to keep my statutes and my judgments, as did David his father.” (1 Kings 11:31-33) This was not the original plan of God for Israel to have a king, but they demanded the king. Nor was it was His will that the tribes should be divided, and have two kings, but to preserve a faithful remnant, He permitted the apostate tribes to raise up a king, which was an emblem of their departure from God. For He said, “I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath.” (Hosea 13:11) “Israel hath cast off the thing that is good: the enemy shall pursue him. They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew it not: of their silver and their gold have they made them idols, that they may be cut off.” (Hosea 8:3-4)
THE TEN TRIBES LOST
Thus, there was a remnant kingdom with a king on the throne of Judah, and an apostate kingdom with a king on the throne of Joseph, of the tribe of Ephraim. Judah was the southern kingdom, while Joseph was the northern kingdom. The ten tribes were oft regarded as being exceedingly wicked. Israel’s sins waxed worse over time, and the God of heaven raised up the prophet Amos in the days of Jeroboam II, who declared that the tribes would be judged more severely if they did not repent, “lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, and there be none to quench it in Bethel” (Amos 5:6). Amos foretold the captivity of this apostate church (v. 5).
He further raised up a second witness, Hosea, who declared Israel to be an unfaithful harlot woman, going after other gods. Hosea was married to the harlot woman Gomer, who went after other lovers, symbolizing Yehovah’s covenant with Israel, although they went after other gods. He declares that He will divorce this people. He denounces the priesthood as being unrecognized by Him (Hosea 4:6). Through Hosea, He declared He would “cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel.” “I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away,” “for ye are not My people, and I will not be your God.” Then God declared, “I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts.” (Hosea 2:11)
Israel had turned the worship of God wholly into idolatry, and He permitted the king of Assyria, the king holding worldwide dominion, to cast them off. “Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit,” says the Lord, “but Judah still walks with God and is faithful to the Holy One.” (Hosea 11:12) Thus would Israel go into the land of “the west” (which was the land of Javan, or better known as Greece and Rome), “Egypt”, “the cities of the Medes”, and scattered throughout “the land of Assyria”; “as for the Assyrian, he was his king, because he would not return.”
ASSIMILATED INTO ALL NATIONS
Thus did the tribes become lost. But where did they go? The Bible, in the native Hebrew, abundantly testifies that they went among the “goyim”, which means, “the Gentiles”; it is the same word for “heathens” and “nations”. “God shall reject them, because they have not hearkened to him: and they shall be wanderers among the nations [Heb. Goyim].” (Hosea 9:17) “Israel is swallowed up: now shall they be among the Gentiles [Heb. Goyim] as a worthless vessel.”(Hosea 8:8) Yet it was not a hopeless cause, “For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations [Heb. Goyim], like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.” (Amos 9:9)
Without fail, it has been proven again and again, that even when man rebels against Him, His wisdom triumphs victoriously, permitting the foolish things to reveal the counsel and purposes of God in His exceedingly great and mighty wisdom. This was true with the fall of Lucifer and Adam, bringing the revelation of the love of God through the gospel. Even so, it was with the scattering of the ten tribes. Israel, the father of Joseph, in his blessing over the head of Ephraim, declared he was destined to become “the fullness of the nations”, or else “the fullness of the Gentiles” (Gen. 48:19).
THE LOST TRIBES RESTORED
The Lord promised that He would save the ten tribes, despite divorcing her, and in so doing, He would receive all nations to Himself if they would turn from their wickedness. Hosea, after his wife had sold herself to other lovers, hired his wife back but did not lie with her, but was to “wait for me many days”. “And I said unto her, Thou shalt wait for me many days; and thou shalt not commit fornication, neither shalt thou be for another man; and I will be for thee. For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an altar, and without a priesthood, and without manifestations.” (Hosea 3:3-4) The symbolism suggested that although she had played the harlot, Hosea was giving her space to remain his, even as God gives His people opportunity to repent of her fornication. After they were scattered, God would gather them from among the Gentiles, and they would be without a king, without sacrifices, or a priesthood. He would all His people back to Himself.
Far from the children of Israel being lost, we’re told that “the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God.”(Hosea 1:10) What would happen? He would restore the people He had cast away. Is it any wonder then that people are seeking to figure out who the ten tribes of Israel are? He promises that from the ten tribes, He shall claim children as His own. The Lord promises that a remnant shall return. “I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim…They shall go after the LORD; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria…” (Hosea 11:9-11) The question is how they were to be identified.
SO WHO ARE THEY? IDENTIFYING THE TRUE CHILDREN OF GOD
Josephus (Ant., 11:133) states as a fact “the ten tribes are beyond the Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude and not to be estimated in numbers.” They were regarded as not being in the land of Israel, but beyond it’s borders, but had become so intermixed with the Gentiles, that it was not a simple matter to simply list who they were, as they were too great a multitude; innumerable as the Scriptures in Hosea foretold. And from this multitude were to come forth those who would be children of the Most High.
When God called the Gentiles to repentance, the Apostle Paul writes to the Galatians, referring to the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16), making a distinction between them that were born of the flesh and those born of the Spirit (Gal. 4:21-30). “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” (Gal. 3:8) The Gentiles were to be justified through faith, and God preached the gospel beforehand that all nations/gentiles/heathen would be blessed through Abraham, who himself was “called out” of heathenism. The Scriptures state that Abraham himself was a converted Gentile (Deut. 26:5), although he was technically the heir of the promise. Thus, whoever follows his example is blessed, and is called a child of Abraham (John 8:39, Gal. 3:7). God said He would call His “son” out of Egypt; even so would He call out His children from a land where they were not His children but regarded as Gentiles; all who would come out of heathenism were to be numbered with believing Israel in the faith of Christ.
Many today are seeking to establish the fleshly seed as heirs of God’s promise, but they are not born again. Many are using evidences that may even be good to suggest that this rae or that race descends from a certain tribe, and even if it is true, it doesn’t make you an heir of God’s promise anymore than any other godless Gentile, unless you “come out from among them, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and I will be to you a Father and ye shall be to me sons and daughters” (1 Cor. 6:17-18). When you are reformed by separating yourself from your old ways after the flesh and receive the Spirit of God, this can constitute the right to belong to the restored tribes of Israel. Restored knowledge of who those tribes might consist of is vain knowledge unless you’ve come to see the beauty of the true faith that makes you a new creature in Christ.
DO THE FLESH AND BLOOD TEN TRIBES MATTER?
Remember that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 15:50). Remember that the Jewish nation were all Jews, but not all received the approbation of God. For “they are not all Israel which are of Israel; Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.”(Romans 9:7-8) Technically, Ishmael was a fleshly descendant of Abraham; Paul the apostle likens Ishmael’s birth to the earthly inhabitants of Jerusalem (Gal. 4:25), which refuse to let the Messiah make them free from sin but prefer their own works to establish the kingdom of promise. Ishmael also had “twelve children” which would become twelve nations, not unlike the children of Jacob. So who are the children of God, the true ten tribes? They are those who are called out from among the nations to worship God in Spirit and in truth. This began in the days when the Gentiles were to be called out of heathen worship and back into the faith of Israel. By the time Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles, the Gentiles had become the multitude of the nations already. In fact, the apostles recognized that these tribes were known as those in the faith of Christ. Paul protests to Agrippa that he is accused “for the hope of the promise made unto our fathers, unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God, hope to come,” (Acts 26:6) while James addresses his epistle to “the twelve tribes which are scattered about” (1:1)
Paul the apostle wrote to the church in Rome, and declared that the Gentiles gathering in among them from the Roman kingdom were a fulfillment of this very promise, but that it was only a remnant of the innumerable multitude of the once-Israelite now-Gentile nations which would be saved. “Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As he saith also in Hosea, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God. Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved”(Romans 9:24-27).
Despite this, there is still a greater work to be done in these last days regarding the promise made to Ephraim of becoming the fullness of the nations, also referred to by the apostle Paul, where he assures that the blind Jews shall have their blindness removed. “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.”(Romans 11:25) But that is a subject for another article…