Where are the Lost Tribes of Israel?
Where are the so-called “lost tribes” of the House of Israel? And are they “lost” at all? The fact is that the Scripture records with a certain clarity the whereabouts of the most of “the lost tribes” during and after the Assyrian invasion. This study will not entertain the notion of the so-called “British Zionism” neither will it ever consider the Replacement Theology. What this study will harbor, however, is that the Scripture provides well recorded clues that at least some of the members of “the lost tribes” were a part of Judah while the others were dispersed in well-known parts of the world.
Some of the lost tribes already returned
There were members of all the tribes living in the Southern Kingdom Yehudah. At the time of the division of the united kingdom, Israelites from all the northern tribes might have joined their brethren in the south and continued their identity as part of the kingdom of Yehudah. Two books in Scripture that deal with the issue are 1 and 2 Chronicles. These books make it clear that those Israelites of the tribes in the north came to Jerusalem with the Levites. From all the borders of the Northern Kingdom Israel, the priests and the Levites took their stand with Rehavam King of Yehudah and moved down to the Southern Kingdom. And after them, out of all the tribes of Israel people came to Yerushalayim to sacrifice to Yehovah and probably continued their existence as part of Yehudah. Consider 2Ch 11:14-16,
For the Levites left their suburban lands and their possession and came to Yehudah and Yerushalayim; for Yerovam and his sons had cast them off from executing the priest’s office to Yehovah; …. And after them, out of all the tribes of Israel, such as set their hearts to seek Yehovah Elohim of Israel came to Yerushalayim, to sacrifice to Yehovah Elohim of their fathers.
And they [the Israelites] strengthened the reign of Yehudah, and made Rehavʽam son of Shelomoh strong for three years, for they walked in the way of David and Shelomoh for three years. (2Ch 11:17)
It is very unlikely that those Israelites came to Yerushalayim only to offer sacrifices, but that they made their decision to reject King Yerovam’s idolatry and joined their brothers in Yehudah. They knew that once they left Yerovam for Yerushalayim they did not have any alternative but become a part of the Southern Kingdom Yehudah. The idolatrous King Yerovam would have persecuted for treachery.
During the reign of King Asa, others followed from Ephraim and Manasseh as seen in 2Ch 15:9-12. King Asa prepared a great sacrificial festival, to which he invited all people to renew the covenant with Yehovah (2Ch 15:9, 12). He gathered together Judah and Benjamin, besides the Levites, and Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon who dwelt among them. That was not the first time when people of the Northern kingdom came to Kingdom of Judah; Israelites from the ten tribes, had come over as early as Rehavam’s reign, as seen in 2Ch 11:16 above, but this time their number increased under Asa. We should notice that Simeon is mentioned among the tribes of Ephraim, and Manasseh, since Simeon had received his heritage in the portion of Judah. So, the mentioning of Simeon with Ephraim, and Manasseh above, but also in 2Ch 34:6, and in the cities of Menashsheh, and Ephrayim, and Shim‛on, as far as Naphtali, can be explained that sometime after the cities were assigned to Simeon under Joshua, they migrated for some reason to live with the Northern tribes. We read,
and gathered all Yehudah and Binyamin, and those who sojourned with them from Ephrayim, and Menashsheh, and Shimʽon, for they came over to him in great numbers from Israel when they saw that Yehovah his Elohim was with him. And they gathered together at Yerushalayim in the third month, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Asa, and offered to Yehovah on that day seven hundred bulls and seven thousand sheep from the spoil which they had brought. And they entered into a covenant to seek Yehovah Elohim… (2Ch 15:9-12)
Thus, it is evident from these verses that the kingdom of Yehudah absorbed many from the Northern Kingdom through the years, therefore, we may have the ground to say that the Israelites continued to live in the Southern Kingdom after the termination of Ephraim as a kingdom in 3234 when they were exiled to Assyria (2Ki 17:1-6). However, the termination of Ephraim’s existence as a nation was prophesied earlier in 3214,
For the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Retsin. And within sixty-five years Ephrayim is to be broken as a people. (Isa 7:8)
Sixty-five years later the termination of Ephraim’s existence as a nation was fulfilled in 3278.
In the first year of King Hizkiyahu at his invitation, some from the tribes of Asher, Manasseh, and from Zevulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover in Judah (see 2 Chronicles 30).
Even later, in the reign of King Yoshiyahu, faithful Israelites made donations and helped repair the Temple,
And in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he [King Yoshiyahu] had cleansed the land and the House, he sent Shaphan son of Atsalyahu, and Maʽaseyahu the head of the city, and Yo’ach son of Yo’achaz the recorder, to repair the House of Yehovah his Elohim. And they went to Hilkiyahu the high priest, and they gave the silver that was brought into the House of Elohim, which the Levites who kept the doors had gathered from the hand of Menashsheh and Ephrayim, and from all the remnant of Israel, and from all Yehudah and Binyamin, and which they had brought back to Yerushalayim, (2Ch 34:8-9)
and later to celebrate the Passover,
And the children of Israel who were present performed the Passover at that time, and the Festival of Unleavened Bread for seven days. There had not been a Passover performed in Israel like it since the days of Shemu’el the prophet. And none of the sovereigns of Israel had performed such a Passover as Yoshiyahu performed, with the priests and the Levites, and all Yehudah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Yerushalayim. In the eighteenth year of the reign of Yoshiyahu this Passover was performed. (2Ch 35:17-19)
If the northern tribes had become lost, as believed, how could these representatives have joined in worship in Jerusalem eighty-eight years after exile of the House of Israel? In addition to those who had already joined Judah, we may also expect a refugee influx in the Southern Kingdom after the fall of the Northern Kingdom, as a result of the foreign army invasion.
A clue in the Assyrian annals
In the annals of the Assyrian Sargon, he describes how he carried away only 27,280 people and 50 chariots, when he invaded the kingdom.
7. I besieged and occupied the town of Samaria and took 27,280 of its inhabitants captive. I took from them 50 chariots but left them the rest of their belongings. I placed my Lieutenants over them; I renewed the obligation imposed upon them by one* of the Kings who preceded me. *Tiglatpileser whom Sargon would not acknowledge. [Excerpted from “Great Inscription in the Palace of Khorsabad,” Julius Oppert, tr., in Records of the Past, vol. 9 (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1877), pp. 3-20]
The full text the Annals of Sargon can be found at www.shsu.edu/~his_ncp/Sargon.html.
Let us elaborate on this number. At Israel’s entry in the Land under the leadership of Yehoshua (Joshua) over 600,000 males twenty years and older were counted. That would estimate the whole nation to be around three and half million in which the ten tribes were a major part of them. If only 27,280 were deported according to the above cited source and Sargon left them the rest of their belongings [referring to those who Sargon left in the land], then where are the so-called “lost tribes” because only 27,280 were deported?
When the remnant returned from the Babylonian captivity, the record in 1Ch 9:1-3 viewed the restored community as the remnant of all Israel, both north and south, and not just the tribe of Yehudah:
And all Israel registered themselves by genealogy. And see, they were written in the book of the sovereigns of Israel. And Yehudah was exiled to Bavel for their trespass. And the first inhabitants who were in their possessions in their cities of Israel, were the priests, the Levites, and the Nethinim. And in Yerushalayim dwelt some of the children of Yehudah, and some of the children of Binyamin, and some of the children of Ephrayim and Menashsheh. (1Ch 9:1-3)
When we consider the grouping together of “Israel, the priests, the Levites, and the Nethinim,” we see clearly that Israel in 1Ch 9:2 in an obvious and provable manner denotes the whole Israel of the twelve tribes. In 1Ch 9:1, Israel is used in the same sense as in 1Ch 9:2; i.e., Israel is a designation of the whole covenant people and Judah is one section of it. Then, the genealogies of all the tribes of Israel, and not merely of the ten tribes of the northern kingdom, requires that the name Israel should be understood to denote the whole covenant people.
According to 1Ch 9:3, there dwelt in Yerushalayim also sons of Ephraim and Manasseh; but the genealogies from 1Ch 9:4 onwards contains only sons of Yehudah and Benyamin, and not a single Ephraimite or Manassite. The reason for this omission is unknown to the present author.
Furthermore, the people at the time after the Babylonian exile viewed themselves as part of all Israel, for they offered twelve he-goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel,
And this House was completed on the third day of the month of Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of King Dareyavesh. Then the children of Israel, the priests and the Levites and the rest of the sons of the exile, did the dedication of this House of Elah with joy, and offered at the dedication of this House of Elah one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. (Ezr 6:15-17)
Although many today believe and teach that Judah and Israel are always separate and distinct from each other, Ezra calls them the restored community of one people, both terms applying to the same people after the captivity.
The remnant of the lost tribes still in Spain and France
There is a special connection in the Scriptures between Ephraim and his whereabouts. In the context of Isaiah 28, the prophecy speaks of Ephraim (Isa 28:1) in exile being exposed to languages that they do not understand. A clue appears in Oba 1:20,
and the exiles of this host of the children of Israel possess that of the Kenaʽanites as far as Tzarfat, and the exiles of Yerushalayim who are in Sepharad possess the cities of the South.
From this passage we learn that remnants of the House of Judah will find themselves in exile in “Sepharad” (which Jonathan renders Spain), but remnants of the House of Israel will find themselves in exile in “Tzarfat” (France). So, the mocking lip and with a strange tongue in Isa 28:11 that Ephraim would hear in the captivity is “Tzarfati” (French). Hence, we learn that “the lost tribes” can hardly be called “lost” because they were well known to live in Europe where they formed the European Jewry. The great R. Nachmanides (1194-1270) stated in 1260 that the overwhelming majority of the Ten Tribes never returned to the Promised Land though they are destined to do so in the future, and they still dwell in France and its neighborhood and the northern areas of Europe. This we find in Sefer HaGeulah; Obadiah 1:20.
Consider also, for example, the aged Channah a prophetess who beheld the baby Yeshua at the Temple. Luk 2:36 states that she was of the “tribe of Asher.” Apparently, Channah was a descendent of those who came to Yerushalayim to celebrate the Passover responding to King Hizqiyahu’s invitation:
Some from Asher and Menashsheh and from Zevulun, however, humbled themselves and came to Yerushalayim. (2Ch 30:11)
When Apostle Shaul spoke of his Jewish brethren, he spoke of a common promise and a common hope:
Unto which promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving Elohim day and night, hope to come (Act 26:7).
Ya’akov addressed his epistle “to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (Jas 1:1). He made no distinction between Judah and the ten tribes. All Jews were part of a common body, the only difference being that some were in the land of Israel and some in the Diaspora.
Ya’akov, a servant of Elohim and of the Master Yeshua Messiah, to the twelve tribes who are in the dispersion: Greetings. (Jas 1:1)
We may also recall the words of Yeshua the Messiah:
Do not go into the lands of the nations and do not enter the cities of the Shomeronites, but rather go the lost sheep of the House of Israel. (Mat 10:5-6)
When the Messiah sent his disciples to the House of Israel, he told them where they would not find them and most definitely, He knew where he was sending them. Evidently, members of all the tribes existed both inside and outside the Promised Land.
Therefore, in conclusion of the matter of the Lost Tribes of Israel, the term “the lost tribes” should more appropriately refer to those of Israel who have not yet returned to the Promised Land, i.e., those who are still in galut, exile. Whether they will choose to return and make Israel stronger, is a matter of obedience to the Elohim of Avraham, Yitschak, and Ya’akov.
For more insight on this controversial topic, the reader may refer to the article “Will All Israel Return?“
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.