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The Lost Tribes of Israel: Biblical and Historical Background

October 10, 2011

by: Rev. Cheryl Hauer, International Development Director

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The story of Israel actually began “on the move” when God called Abraham to leave the home of his fathers and journey to a new land that would become the dwelling place of his descendants. Hundreds of years later, the land was finally apportioned among the 12 tribes of Israel.

However, by AD 135, the majority of the Jewish people actually resided outside the Land of Israel. Bloody civil war had divided the nation under the rules of David and Solomon into two kingdoms: Israel in the North and Judah in the South. This lent strength to the nation’s unfriendly neighbors and weakened the ability a united kingdom would have had to defend itself. Israel was defeated by Assyria and taken into captivity in the eighth century BC, while Judah fell to Babylon less than 200 years later. These events clearly formed the genesis of the Diaspora.

The bulk of Western Jews today—as well as those who live in Israel today—are believed to be the descendants of Levi and Judah, the tribes of the Southern Kingdom. However, the “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel” are thought to trace their ancestry to the remaining 10 tribes of the Northern Kingdom. Scripture is very specific about the destination of these tribes when they were first taken into captivity, and archaeology has established that Israelites did, in fact, arrive in those areas. However, they seem to disappear from the pages of history shortly thereafter.

The notion that these tribes have importance for the modern world as well as a role to play in the end of days is firmly rooted in the Scriptures as well as Jewish and Christian tradition. Ezekiel spoke of the day when the two kingdoms will be reunited: “…’Thus says the Lord GOD: “Surely I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will join them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand…and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again”’” (37:19, 22).

For generations, both Jews and Christians have theorized as to their location. Today, there are many groups around the world that claim descent from those “lost tribes”: Africa, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Japan, and Iraq to name a few. History and archaeology are combining to prove the authenticity of such claims. As we see the Lord fulfill His ancient promises to regather Israel from all the nations of the earth, it should not surprise us to see the “lost” tribes of His people being “found”…and restored to their ancient homeland!

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