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Ten Lost Tribes?

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Who Are The Jews?

Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them and break My covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 26:44-45)

Did God fulfill His promise? Or, did He forsake the northern kingdom of Israel and cast them away, "to utterly destroy them"? Were they "lost" in the annals of time, or were they brought back to their land?

I. Lost Tribes?

The words given in Leviticus 26 are to all twelve tribes of the sons of Israel, not to just certain tribes. Moreover, the context of these verses is speaking of the future in which, after being disobedient to God and being scattered "among the nations" (Leviticus 26:33), they will be brought back. It says, "the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies land" (Leviticus 26:34). This is to the entire nation of Israel, not just the north or the south. The "covenant of their ancestors" is (in part) "the land which you see I give to you and to your descendants forever" (Genesis 13:15; see also 28:13; 35:12; 48:4; etc.) as He says in Leviticus 26:42,

I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham I will remember; I will remember the land.

In Leviticus 26:33 it says, "the land shall enjoy its sabbaths." This takes place, and the people return (as God promised, Leviticus 26:44-45). Jeremiah prophecies of this return in Jeremiah 30:1-3.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, "Thus speaks the Lord God of Israel, saying: `Write in a book for yourself all the words that I have spoken to you. For behold, the days are coming,' says the LORD, `that I will bring back from captivity My people Israel and Judah,' says the LORD. `And I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.'"

Jeremiah also prophesies specifically to those carried away captive by Nebuchadnezzar that God will bring them back to their land in Jeremiah 29:10. Now, Jeremiah 29:10 is not a prophecy solely concerning Judah, but rather all of Israel, as Daniel well proves. In Daniel 9, Daniel reads this prophecy (Daniel 9:2) and applies it,

to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those near and those far off in all the countries to which You have driven them (Daniel 9:7; see also "all Israel" vs. 11).

Daniel begs for mercy and for God to fulfill His Word and says,

O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name.

The people called by His name is "all Israel," not just Judah (the southern kingdom). Daniel is not asking for 2 or 3 out of the 12 (Judah, Benjamin, and perhaps Levi) for God to "forgive" and "act." He is beseeching God on behalf of "all Israel," "Your people," even "those far off in all the countries to which You have driven them." That reaches far beyond the Babylonian captivity. Daniel focuses on "Your city Jerusalem" because that is the hub, the very heart of Israel, where God has placed His name (2 Chronicles 6:6). Jerusalem is not solely Judah's as Deuteronomy 12:21-28 & 14:22-26 well illustrates.

Later in Jeremiah 31:16-33 God bringing them back to their land is addressed again, and it also speaks of the new covenant being given them.

Thus says the LORD: "Refrain your voice from weeping, And your eyes from tears; For your work shall be rewarded, says the LORD, And they shall come back from the land of the enemy.

17 There is hope in your future, says the LORD, That your children shall come back to their own border.

18 I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself: `You have chastised me, and I was chastised, Like an untrained bull; Restore me, and I will return, For You are the LORD my God.

19 Surely, after my turning, I repented; And after I was instructed, I struck myself on the thigh; I was ashamed, yes, even humiliated, Because I bore the reproach of my youth.'

20 Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For though I spoke against him, I earnestly remember him still; Therefore My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, says the LORD.

21 Set up signposts, Make landmarks; Set your heart toward the highway, The way in which you went. Turn back, O virgin of Israel, Turn back to these your cities.

22 How long will you gad about, O you backsliding daughter? For the LORD has created a new thing in the earth-- A woman shall encompass a man."

23 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: "They shall again use this speech in the land of Judah and in its cities, when I bring back their captivity: `The LORD bless you, O home of justice, and mountain of holiness!'

24 And there shall dwell in Judah itself, and in all its cities together, farmers and those going out with flocks.

25 For I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul."

26 After this I awoke and looked around, and my sleep was sweet to me.

27 "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beast.

28 And it shall come to pass, that as I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to throw down, to destroy, and to afflict, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the LORD.

29 In those days they shall say no more: `The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children's teeth are set on edge.'

30 But every one shall die for his own iniquity; every man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.

31 Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah -

32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.

33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

The new covenant was brought in by Christ (Hebrew 7:12-22) and this same passage about the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 is quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12. Immediately before these verses is Jeremiah 31:15 which is a prophecy of Matthew 2:16-18 and is quoted therein.

Also, in Ezra 1 it says this:

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem." (Ezra 1:1-4)

Here Cyrus calls for "all His people" to return to the land. "All His people" equals all twelve tribes. The following verses specifically mention "Judah and Benjamin, . . . and the Levites," but it also says, "with all whose spirits God had moved, arose to go up . . . " (Ezra 1:5).

Later in Ezra 2 it says,

Now these are the people of the province who came back from the captivity, of those who had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away to Babylon, and who returned to Jerusalem and Judah, everyone to his own city. (Ezra 2:1)

Then it lists a bunch of names. Then, at the end of the chapter it reads,

So the priests and the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the Nethinim,1 dwelt in their cities, and all Israel in their cities. (Ezra 2:70; see also Nehemiah 7:73 "all Israel")

This matches the prophecy of Jeremiah 30:1-3 & 31:16-21, particularly 31:21, "Turn back, O virgin of Israel, Turn back to these your cities," and this in the context (vs. 18 & 20) of "Ephraim" (part of the northern kingdom) and "the house of Israel and the house of Judah" (vs. 27).

Later in Ezra in the worship of God it notes the "children of Israel" (Ezra 6:16) back in the land at the dedication of the temple, and it says they made,

a sin offering for all Israel twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. (Ezra 6:17; see also Ezra 8:35)

All twelve tribes are represented here. So, "all Israel" equals all "twelve" "tribes." Ezra 6:21 also notes,

Then the children of Israel who had returned from the captivity ate together with all who had separated themselves from the filth of the nations of the land in order to seek the Lord God of Israel.

This indicates Israel was repentant as in Leviticus 26:40-42.

Finally, in Acts 26:7 Paul said,

To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain.

Paul here is obviously in some way familiar with the twelve tribes of Israel and speaks of them. He doesn't talk like 10 of them are lost. Neither does James 1:1.

II. The Jews?

It is helpful to see the above and know that the house of Israel and Judah were brought back to the land of Israel when it comes to seeing that the term "Jews" is indeed a term for all of Israel (all 12 tribes). A large part of the deception on this subject is based on that ignorance.

Now, it is true that the term "Jews" in the Hebrew, Yehudiym (יְּהוּדִים), means "Judeans." It is a plural masculine form of the word for "Judah," which in the Hebrew is Yehudah (יְהוּדָה). Jews and Judeans are the same exact word in the Hebrew Bible. For example, the term Yehudiym is first found in 2 Kings 16:6 in which it is translated "Jews" (KJV), "men of Judah" (NKJV), and "Judeans" (NAB, NAS). In Jeremiah 43:9 the same word is translated "Judah" (KJV, NKJV, NAB; NAS "Jews").

Nevertheless, there is a reason the New Testament speaks of "Jews" and "Gentiles" (Gentiles = nations) in contrasting terms (e.g. Romans 3:29; 9:24). "Jews" encompasses God's people who have specifically been given His Word (Psalm 147:19-20; Romans 3:1-2) and through which only salvation comes ("salvation is of the Jews," John 4:22). "Gentiles" is all the other nations outside of this. The 10 tribes are not in limbo land in a class all their own as if they don't exist. They are included in one of these two terms. They are either "Jew" or "Gentile," and of course, they are "Jew," as Romans 11 illustrates further. There "Israel" and "Gentile" are in contrast (as elsewhere "Jew" and "Gentile" are in contrast) throughout the chapter. Romans 11:32 illustrates this summation of mankind with,

For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.

This is speaking of all mankind, yet specifically the context is "Israel" and the "Gentiles" (e.g. Romans 11:25), even "all Israel" (Romans 11:26).

In Romans 3:29-30, Jews are used synonymously with "circumcised" and "uncircumcised" is used synonymously with "Gentiles." "Circumcised" covers all the sons of Abraham (Genesis 17) through Isaac and his twelve sons (see also Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 2:11). It is not solely Judah (the southern kingdom). The one sums up the people to whom God has been dealing with and chosen to make Himself known through the ages for centuries (Israel, e.g. Psalm 147:19-20). The other refers to everyone else, everything not Jewish. The 10 tribes are in the category of "Jews," the "circumcised." They are not in the category of "uncircumcised" (Gentiles). Paul did not forget about 10/12ths (or 9/12ths) of the equation of the circumcised when he used the term "Jews."

Another example can be seen in Acts 11:1 where it says,

Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.

It says, "Gentiles had also received the word of God." What is the "also" concerning? "Also," in other words, in addition to whom? Only the southern tribe of Judah (the "Jews")? Or, in addition to "all the house of Israel" (Acts 2:36), all twelve tribes? It is the latter.

Later in Acts 11 it says,

When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, "Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life."

What's the "also" here for? In addition to the "Jews," only the southern kingdom? Or, is it "also," in addition to the people of God, Israel, the twelve tribes? It should be obvious, it is the latter.

When Jesus said, "salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22), He could have just as well said, "salvation is of the twelve tribes of Israel." God raised up that nation through which "all the nations shall be blessed" (Galatians 3:8; Acts 3:25). The twelve tribes are key in God's eternal plan, as the eternal state well illustrates in Revelation 21:12. The New Jerusalem has "the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel" along with the names of the twelve apostles (Revelation 21:14).

Moreover, Romans 9:4-5 notes it is the Israelites,

to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.

Ephesians 2:11 speaks this same thing using the phrase, "the common wealth of Israel." When this is understood, the significance of Esther 8:17 can been seen.

Then many of the people of the land became Jews, because fear of the Jews fell upon them.

Here "became Jews" equals "became Israelites," that is spiritual Jews, spiritual Israelites. They came into "the common wealth of Israel" "to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants," etc. (Romans 9:4-5). This is the significance of Romans 11 in which it tells the Gentiles that they have been "grafted in" (Romans 11:17) to this "common wealth of Israel."

Here we have evidence with "became Jews" that "Jews" is a term that is not limited to solely a fleshly reality, but it is used for a spiritual one as well. That is,

he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, . . . . (Romans 2:28-29)

Romans 2:28-29 illustrates "Jew" is a term used for the spiritual faith of Abraham (Galatians 3:6-9), which is the faith of "the common wealth of Israel," which is the faith of "the adoption, the glory, the covenants" of the Israelites (Romans 9:4-5), all twelve tribes (Acts 26:7).

The New Testament speaks of "the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:6; 15:24; Acts 2:36), "teacher of Israel" (John 3:10), "children of Israel" (Acts 9:15; see also Romans 10:1-2). The 10 northern tribes are not aborted from these words. As used in those passages, to exclude the other 10 tribes is to abort the 10 tribes from the term Israel, the very name by which the northern kingdom was identified.

Endnote:

1. Nethinim means "those given" or "given ones." Ezra 8:20 says,

also of the Nethinim, whom David and the leaders had appointed for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty Nethinim. All of them were designated by name.

What is translated here "appointed" is from the same root as this plural noun, Nethinim. To translate Ezra 8:20 more literally it would read,

and from the given ones that he gave, David and the leaders, for the service of the Levites, 220 given ones, all of them designated by names.

וּמִן־הַנְּתִינִים שֶׁנָּתַן דָּוִיד וְהַשָּׂרִים לַעֲבֹדַת הַלְוִיִּם נְתִינִים מָאתַיִם וְעֶשְׂרִים כֻּלָּם נִקְּבוּ בְשֵׁמוֹת

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