Solid Food
Were the Ten Tribes Really Lost?

Tom M. Roberts

A statement from Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible says, “As in their own land, the children of Israel had forsaken the Lord and had worshiped idols, so after they were taken to these distant lands, they sought the gods of the people of those lands and ceased to be Israelites; and after a time they lost all knowledge of their own God, who had given them his words and sent them his prophets. So there came an end to the Ten Tribes of Israel, for they never again came back to their own land, and were lost among the peoples of the far east.”

A basic tenet of the premillennial system is that the ten tribes which separated from Judah under the leadership of Jeroboam, identified as Israel, were taken captive by Assyria about 722-721 B.C. and were consequently lost to view as a nation. “Lost” is not used here in a symbolic or metaphoric sense but literally. It is held that these Jewish people have had no sure identity, have not returned from captivity and that some Old Testament prophecies are yet to be fulfilled in them, namely, those dealing with a “return from captivity.” Amos 9:14 is an example of only one such disputed passage supposed teaching a modern return of Jews to Israel. Amos says, “And I will bring back the captivity of my people Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them.” It is maintained that this prophecy was not fulfilled prior to the time of Christ and must, therefore, be fulfilled at a later date. Consequently, the establishment of the modern state of Israel and later migrations of Jews to that land have become “signs of the times,” signaling the imminent return of Jesus to earth to begin His millennial reign as a fulfillment of prophecy. It is the purpose of this article to suggest that this position is not factual and to stimulate more study on this subject which is so popular among the sects.

What the Bible Teaches

There are a number of passages, both in the Old and New Testaments which seem to indicate clearly the continued existence of twelve tribes after the return under Cyrus of Persia. Note these for your consideration:

Ezra, the priest of the return, lists those who came from Persia at the command of Cyrus. Included in this number as given in 1 Chronicles 9 are those of Ephraim and Manasseh (v. 3), two of the northern tribes supposedly lost en toto.

In Ezra 8, Ezra received tribute from the people for the proposed temple, to be constructed upon their arrival back in Canaan. As the tribute is received, he mentions that it came “from all Israel” (v. 25) and then appointed twelve priests to be responsible for it during the trip home. Upon arrival in Jerusalem, the “children of the captivity” worshiped God, offering “twelve bullocks for all Israel” and “twelve he-goats for a sin-offering” (v. 35). There can be little doubt from these passages that the people still thought of themselves as a complete nation composed of twelve tribes instead of two and the Levites.

In Ezra 10, after the return, Ezra remonstrates with the Jews because of their foreign wives and insists that they be put away. Among those doing so, in addition to Judah and Benjamin, are those “of Israel” (vs. 25-44).

In Jeremiah 3:18, God sent words of encouragement to Israel if she will repent, saying, “In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the north, to the land that I have for an inheritance unto your fathers.” While one might admit that there surely is a spiritual fulfillment in this through Christ, it cannot be escaped that this language has bearing on the matter before us. Note that Israel and Judah (the estranged nations) received the promise of God that they shall walk together in the land. This shall take place when they come together out of the land of captivity. I see no need to avoid a fulfillment of this material promise.

Prophecy: A Two-Fold Application

Perhaps it would be good to pause here and mention something that many do not recognize about prophecy. On many occasions, a prophecy has both an immediate and primary application to those contemporary with the prophet as well as a future and subsequent fulfillment to another generation. To fail to understand this is to miss the fulness of some prophets. A good example of this is Psalms 22. Here, David, surrounded by his enemies, cries out in anguish to God. There can be no doubt that his words have a primary meaning to himself and his situation. Yet, at the same time, his words become prophetic as he speaks of the suffering and death of Christ. The words have both an immediate and a future application. Neither should be ignored. Even so with some of the passages that deal with the return of Israel. And another case in point would be Ezekiel 34 and 37. In Ezekiel 34:11-12, we read: “For thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I myself, even I, will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will deliver them out of all places whither they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.” Further down in the same chapter, verse 23, we have the spiritual fulfillment in Christ, “And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd.” We have the immediate promise that the people will be brought from far lands and dwell in their own land (Canaan), and then the future promise in Christ.

In Ezekiel 37:15-28, the same structure is seen with different symbols. This time, Ezekiel is told to take two sticks and write upon them “Judah” (representing the southern half of the divided kingdom) and “Joseph” (representing the northern half) and join them together so that they become one stick. The meaning is clear as the following verses read: “Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, whither they are gone, and will gather them on every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel” (vs. 21-22a), the immediate application. “Then “ king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions; but I will save them out of all their dwelling-places where they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God. And my servant David shall be king over them...” (Vs. 22-24a), the spiritual application in Christ. Ezekiel 39:21-29 carries the same thought with added emphasis when the Lord said, “And they shall know that I am Jehovah their God, in that I caused them to go into captivity among the nations, and have gathered them unto their own land; and I will leave none of them any more there” (v. 28). This is clear and plain and leaves nothing to doubt. Two things are to make them know that it is God who does this: the captivity and the return. If the return failed, where does this leave the proposition stated by Jehovah: “They shall know that I am Jehovah their God.”?

Substantiated in the New Testament

If, as I believe, the ten tribes returned from captivity, there should be some mention in the New Testament to indicate that tribal identity was maintained, at least until 70 A.D. when all such records were destroyed. Look, then, at this additional proof.

In Luke 2:36-38, we have the account of Anna, the prophetess, who met Jesus and his parents when He was taken to be presented before the Lord in Jerusalem. According to Luke, Anna was of the tribe of Asher, one of the “ten lost tribes.” Here is proof positive that the lineage of the tribe of Asher was not lost but all through the centuries from the captivity, this tribe was identifiable.

In Luke 22:30, Jesus spoke of the apostles sitting on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. It is understood that a figurative idea could be implied here, but it should also be recognized that Jesus still spoke and thought of Israel in the collective sense of twelve tribes, not Judah alone. Nor would Jesus have used a falsehood (if indeed the ten tribes had been lost) as a basis for an analogy that would mislead by that falsehood.

In Paul’s defense before Agrippa and his sermon, he made mention of the hope of Israel (Jesus Christ), “unto which promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain” (Acts 26:7). Now this is no figurative expression. Paul used the present participle, “earnestly serving God” which states action now in force.

And finally, we have the testimony of James, “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” who wrote his epistle to “the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion” (James 1:1). Regardless of which “dispersion” is under consideration, it is evident that James could not address Christians from ten of the twelve tribes if they did not exist.


It is my contention, in view of all this, that we have allowed Premillennialists undue advantage when they assert that God must still return the captivity of ten tribes and that assertion stands unchallenged. Such is not the case, therefore nothing remains of a material fulfillment for Jews today. Their only hope, like ours, is to come unto Christ who is reigning now on David’s throne over the spiritual house of Israel.

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