The Myth Of The Lost Ten Tribes!

As time moves on and more people recognise these as the last days, the question arises - "Where are all the tribes that make up the Israel of old?" Most people know that there were twelve tribes but only Judah (the Jews) are talked about nowadays, so what happened to the other tribes? Then again many people have heard that the tribe of Benjamin joined up with Judah so that leaves ten tribes. What happened to them?

We can break down the answer into a series of steps so that we see clearly how the tribes migrated, settled the promised land, and what happened thereafter.

First let's look at the layout of the territories of the tribes after they settled in the land of Canaan. I'm treating Ephraim and Manassah as one tribe (Joseph) to get a count of twelve tribes of Israel.

You will see (right) that the tribes were initially split with four tribes south of Bethel (Benjamin, Dan, Judah and Simeon) and seven tribes north of Bethel and on the east bank, with Levi (the priests) spread amongst them (Reuben and Gad, on the east side of the Jordan river and the Dead Sea, allied themselves with the northern tribes when the split came).

Dan was originally given the area west of Judah but they did not subdue it and instead 'leaped' to the area above Naphtali, just as Moses predicted. Oddly enough the areas not subdued by Israel were the 'West Bank', Golan Heights and the 'Gaza Strip'. There was, some say, a gene pool problem in those areas!

With the move of Dan to the north there was then a split of three tribes to the south of Bethel (Judah, Benjamin and Simeon) and eight tribes to the north and east, with Levi (the priests) spread among them all!

Dan became a seafaring people and seems not to have cared for a place in the promised land. In the time of Deborah in Judges, Chapter 5, Dan did not fight with the other tribes but stayed back looking after his ships! Dan, it is said, moved out of the land of his own free will eventually, and snaked his way through Europe, so there were only eleven tribes in the promised land; three to the south and seven to the north, plus Levi.

But if we conclude that this is merely conjecture, then it leaves eight tribes to the north and east and we'll stick with that.

The next big change occurred when the Nation of Israel split after the death of Solomon under Rehoboam and Jeroboam. With this split the northern area became the nation of Israel with eight tribes and the south had three tribes - Judah, Benjamin and Simeon whose territory was located south of Judah's.

When Golden Calves were set up for pagan worship in the northern territory (in Dan and Ephraim), many people migrated to the southern territory to continue worshipping God. As a result the southern territory although being called Judah had people in it who were from all the tribes of Israel.

It's possible also, although not mentioned in the bible, that some who wanted to go back to idol worship or who simply preferred the northern king may have moved out of Judah and settled in the new independent territory to the north which had Samaria as it's capital!

The result though as far as the southern territory was concerned was that 'Judah' so called, actually contained peoples from all the tribes of Israel.

With the setting up of the 'Golden Calves' the priests of God who were in the north were unwanted and moved down to Judah, so the southern territory had essentially four full tribes, Judah, Benjamin, Simeon and Levi and many representatives from the other eight tribes.
See 2 Chronicles 11:14-17...

2 Chr 11:14-17 The Levites even abandoned their pasturelands and property, and came to Judah and Jerusalem because Jeroboam and his sons had rejected them as priests of the LORD. And he appointed his own priests for the high places and for the goat and calf idols he had made. Those from every tribe of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the LORD, the God of Israel, followed the Levites to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the LORD, the God of their fathers. They strengthened the kingdom of Judah and supported Rehoboam, son of Solomon three years, walking in the ways of David and Solomon during this time.

This was the first mixing of the tribes of the north into the southern territory of Judah. After this the next mixing of the northern tribes was caused by external forces and note - there were only eight tribes to potentially lose, not ten!

Because of the idolotry of Israel (the northern kingdom) God removed his protection from Israel and Assyria came against them to conquer them. This was not a short campaign though and took many years during which time while captured people were deported, many more people escaped to the land of Judah as the Asyrians fought their way south. It is said that the villages of Judah quadrupled during this time, as many people escaped from the war zone and settled in Judah!

The conquests of Assyria included incursions into Judah and some 46 cities were captured and 200,000 captives taken away. So this diaspora included people of both Judah and Samaria/Israel, though they came to be known only as Jews as time went on!

When Sennacherib, King of Assyria, overstepped his allotted bounds, and tried to take Jerusalem, He was stopped when an angel slaughtered 185,000 troops in one night and Sennacherib retreated to Assyria and never tried that again!

According to the Assyrian's own records only 27,290 people were taken into captivity from Samaria in the last, 3 year, campaign. This to me suggests that most of the people were already migrated to Judah and of those left not that many were taken. Probably these were taken from 'Samaria' the capital, now conquered, as against Samaria the country-side!

This is perhaps shown by the fact that King Hezekiak wrote to 'all Israel' after the Assyrian captivity inviting them to come and keep the Passover in Jerusalem. He even wrote letters specifically to Ephraim and Manassah, the half tribes of Joseph!
See 2 Chronicles 30:1-4...

2 Chr 30:1-4 Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem to keep the Passover to the Lord, the God of Israel. For the king and his princes and all the assembly in Jerusalem had taken counsel to keep the Passover in the second month— for they could not keep it at that time because the priests had not consecrated themselves in sufficient number, nor had the people assembled in Jerusalem — and the plan seemed right to the king and all the assembly.

And, there were people of Israel in the northern territory after the conquest and deportation of people! Note that the couriers went from town to town in the northern territory of Ephraim, Manassah and Zebulun not into Judah to the peoples already migrated into the southern territory. See the report below of the results from the king's letter.

2 Chr 30:10-11 The couriers went from town to town in Ephraim and Manasseh, as far as Zebulun, but the people scorned and ridiculed them. Nevertheless, some men of Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem.

So, even after the full conquest of the northern tribes by Assyria, there were peoples of the tribes of Israel (though maybe a fraction of the original population) still living in the northern territories. They were not lost, were still around, and could travel down to Jerusalem to worship, if they so wanted! In 2 Chr 30:17-21 we find out about people from four tribes who travelled down and had to be consecrated in readiness for worship.

2 Chr 30:17-20 For there were many in the assembly who had not consecrated themselves. Therefore the Levites had to slaughter the Passover lamb for everyone who was not clean, to consecrate it to the Lord. For a majority of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them, saying, “May the good Lord pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness". And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.

So in the early days after the conquest by Assyria, Israelites living in the northern territory and also those (the greatest number) who had moved to the southern area now known as Judah, all came to keep the feast in Jerusalem.

2 Chr 30:21 And the people of Israel who were present at Jerusalem kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with great gladness, and the Levites and the priests praised the Lord day by day, singing with all their might to the Lord.

So you'll notice that after the conquest of Israel by Assyria, there are other people coming to the feast in Jerusalem who know that they are of the half tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, of the tribe of Issachar and of the tribe of Zebulun! And earlier in the chapter Asher was mentioned also!

What the Assyrians did though, was to transport other peoples into lands that they captured to mix the races and stop them building a revolt, through lack of cohesion. This they did in the northern territory of Israel and it is believed the peoples inter-married so that the result was a mixed-race people who took the name of their capital city, and were called Samaritans in the day of Jesus.

Those people of the northern tribes who had moved to the South and those already in the South kept their individual identities after the conquest as we will see later.

The lower kingdom of Judah continued in the land until they too slipped so far from good conduct that God removed his protection from them! Now the Babylonians saw opportunity to come in and conquer them and take them into captivity. This was the time when all the Temple furniture and treasures were removed to Babylon.

The Babylonians did not mix racial groups into territories though, so that the 'Jewish' peoples were kept together even after captivity and deportation. Thus Cyrus could give the people taken from the territory of Judah leave to return, and when those 49-50 thousand people came back it would have been people from all the tribes of Israel, who had been living in Judah at the time of the Babylonian conquest.

God kept His promise to David and ensured that Judah would survive and have all the tribes of Israel to rule over eventually and that all would be together to 'repent' and 'cry out for Jesus', just before His return! These peoples kept their identities wherever they went and so James could write to, "the twelve tribes in the dispersion", knowing where the twelve all were. These 'Jews' who did not return to the land of Israel nevertheless knew they were not all from Judah though in time they came to be called Jews by the world!

After the return we see in Ezra and Nehemiah that the exiles who returned are called "Jews"; they are called "Israel" and even called "All Israel".

You should also note that in the book of Ezra, Jew and Israel are used interchangably and the list of returnees is the list of Israel! Also, when sacrifices are made in Ezra, chapter 6, for the dedication of the Temple it is the people of Israel who are celebrating and the sacrifices are for all Israel who are there in the land.

Nehemiah 12:47 is a good example where "All Israel" is said to be back in the land giving offerings for God's work. The returnees are called "All Israel" in Ezra 2:70, 6:17, 8:25, 8:35, and 10:5. Also in Nehemiah 7:73, 10:33, 13:18 and 12:47 as stated earlier.

Now what about the New Testament?

After the return and hundreds of years had gone by, Paul knew that he was a Benjaminite. and Anna, in the Temple at the time of the dedication of Jesus, knew she was from the tribe of Asher, for instance. If you check the map you'll see that Asher was way up in the northern part of Israel. And Anna was not lost!

Just as stated in Ezra and Nehemiah, in Judea in the time of Jesus the people were called "Jews", "Israel" and "the nation of Israel". We can see this all in one chapter of the book of Acts!

In Acts 2:14 Peter calls the people in front of him celebrating Passover - "Men of Judea"
In Acts 2:22 Peter calls them "Men of Israel", in the same speech!
Then in Acts 2:36 Peter calls them "All the House of Israel", in that very same speech! That's because all the names fit, since all the tribes are there!

But this isn't all of it!

Jam 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.

Notice James didn't write to a lost number of tribes; ten, eight or whatever! He wrote to all twelve, not lost, but dispersed among other nations! The Diaspora! Those who did not come back to Israel during Cyrus' reign, over time, became known just as 'Jews' but wherever they went all the tribes went!

James cannot be writing to Christians who had been dispersed among the nations either, because this was written before AD70 and the distruction of Jerusalem.

We also have evidence from the secular world that the tribes of Israel were never lost.

First the Babylonians in conquering Judah had previously conquered Assyria and the captives taken from Judah joined up with the earlier captives deported from Israel by the Assyrians! All Israel joined up again just as the bible shows.

We also have evidence from the historian Josephus that most of the twelve tribes were still living in the area of Messopotamia in his day! They were not lost and that is why James could write to them.

During the time after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and scattered the people of Israel once again, we see the land going back to wilderness without the Jews. The towns are almost emptied of people and few animals can live on the land.

The Ottoman Moslim empire that ruled Israel after conquest, as did previous empires like the Romans, kept census data and they recorded that..
In 1844, in Jerusalem there were 7,120 Jews ; 5,000 Moslims ; 3,390 Christians.
In 1895, in Jerusalem were 29,112 Jews ; 8,560 Moslims ; 8,748 Christians.
In 1906, in Jerusalem were 60,000 Jews ; 7,000 Moslims ; 13,000 Christians.
Jews/Israelites were the largest people group in their land under the Ottoman empire!

The Israel of today, re-gathering in the Middle East, is rightly named 'Israel' because the people are "all the house of Israel".

Thus we see why Paul was inspired to spell out the true situation clearly in Romans 11:25-26, so that Christians would not become conceited, thinking they were so brilliant that God had decided to replaced Israel with them!

Rom 11:25-26 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:

“The deliverer will come from Zion;
He will turn godlessness away from Jacob.

When the full number of Gentiles have been saved in this age, then "all Israel" we will be saved.

We Christians like to talk of 'the gospel going into all nations, and then the end coming', as a sign of the end times but there's a key end-time role for the nation of Israel also!

God has a plan which provides salvation for all who want it. His plan actually includes Israel as a nation repenting and saying "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!", as they cry out for their Messiah, Jesus, to return.

Mat 23:37-39 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’

All the house of Israel was available to cry out for their Messiah at the first time of asking when Jesus was on earth. But they missed the call and so gentiles were engrafted, creating the Church and providing means to make Israel jealous!

As Stephen told the Sanhedrin (who ruled over Israel) when put on trial, Israel's history is one of missing their time of visitation the first time and getting with the program the second time around!

Not only that, God promised that He would gather them from all the nations and bring them back into the land so that His plans for them would not be thwarted. God has provided various prophesies regarding Israel, in the land, in the end times, such as Psalm 83 and Ezekiel 36-39 and as the real God of this world He will carry them out! He started bringing Israel back in 1948 and the re-gathering continues today.

Ezek 36:8-11 “But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people Israel, for they will soon come home. For behold, I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown. And I will multiply people on you, the whole house of Israel, all of it. The cities shall be inhabited and the waste places rebuilt. And I will multiply on you man and beast, and they shall multiply and be fruitful. And I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and will do more good to you than ever before. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

This is God's promise regarding the land of Israel which He has promised to them. Through sea-water desalination and water reclamation plants Israel is the only country in the world whose deserts are shrinking and blooming and fulfilling this prophesy!

The tribes of Israel have never been lost, just scattered, and God is re-gathering them in the land of Israel, in fulfilment of prophesy, now!

Amen. Come Lord Jesus.


Paul's Thorn In The Flesh. Click Here.
Grace and Law in Ancient Israel. Click Here.
What do you mean - Grace? Click Here.
The Heart Of God Click Here.

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