There is a lot of confusion concerning Israel and the promises. Some people “spiritualize” Israel as the Church, which is really not “spiritual” or sound at all because it co-opts and transfers the promises away from Israel and limits it to those who are specifically non-Israelites. Others attempt to force all of the twelve tribes and their individual promises into the small sect of Jewish people, committing the error of putting a part for the whole.
A week ago, a Bible church pastor I spoke with criticized us for “teaching the lost ten tribes.” I pointed out to him that the prophecy in Ezekiel chapter 37:15-28 stated that the two houses of Israel, Ephraim and Judah, would be reunited only in the end times when David’s greater son, the Messiah, returns and that then God’s Israel people will “sin no more.” Are the Jewish people sinless in God’s eyes today while they reject the Messiah? If not, how can the two houses of Israel be already reunited?
As I have found in most cases where I have an unwilling listener, the pastor decided to play Scripture against Scripture. Ignoring Ezekiel’s words, he said that the New Testament tells us that all twelve tribes of Israel exist in the end times and that this proves they are not lost! He in fact disproved his own argument, for the passage he likely referred to in Revelation chapter 7 lists the tribes individually showing they have separate existences and are not all combined into one body as today’s Jewish people. If the Jews are Judah, where are the other tribes today?
At this point he could see the great weakness in his argument and the need to cut the losing discussion short and announced that he “could not be associated with such a teaching.” I noted that this response avoided a claim that the lost tribes’ teaching was either untrue or unbiblical! Perhaps the real issue is his reluctance to be associated with anything in the Bible that is not theologically popular or politically correct, an all too common situation today in response to which no amount of Scripture will likely be convincing.
Another common argument we hear against the lost tribes teaching is that the Apostle Paul, in his speech to Agrippa in Acts 26, mentions all twelve tribes. This is proof, we are told, that none of them were lost! However, Paul does not say that they were all back in Palestine and accounted for, but only that they were existing and serving God (v. 7). This implies that the Ten Tribes had embraced the Gospel and in some measure were no longer in idolatry. The Apostle James’ epistle is addressed to the twelve tribes scattered abroad, disproving our critic’s contention that they had all returned to Palestine.
The term, House of Israel, is usually recognized to refer in the Old Testament specifically to the Ten Tribes, yet our critics think it radically changes its meaning in the New Testament to either the Jews or the Church. The “Speaker’s Commentary” on 2 Peter 1:20 gives advice that counsels against such a change in God’s purposes saying, “it teaches Christians to rest with confidence on the eternal and unalterable goodness of the Father, Who sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins; and it refutes the erroneous notion that the sacrifice thus offered in accordance with His will was the cause of a change in His purposes.”
The commentary gives a strong argument for a literal meaning, saying “The addition of the names of districts in the opening verse of the first epistle makes it appear more probable that a literal rather than a figurative sense should be given there to the word, diaspora.” In other words, if you spiritualize the people addressed, you must spiritualize the places where they lived.
Who then were the recipients of the New Testament epistles? The “Speaker’s Commentary” on 1 Peter 2:10 states, “No passage in this epistle indicates more distinctly the Gentile converts as specially the objects of Peter’s address. He agrees with St. Paul (Rom. 9:25, 26), who applies the passage of Hosea 2:23—which primarily referred to Israel—specially and distinctly to Gentiles; and he adopts the same order, transposing the words of the prophet. Had St. Peter directed his epistle specially to Jewish Christians it seems impossible, or, to say the least, highly improbable, that he should have chosen this text, and have followed St. Paul, whose epistle was certainly present to his mind, both in the form of the quotation and in its application.” Yes, and we might also say that the New Testament Apostles certainly had Hosea’s terminology and application in mind when quoting his prophecies. Hosea was a member of the House of Israel and his mission was to the same Ten Tribes. To carry the commentary’s reasoning further, it is doubtful that Peter or Paul would have taken a prophecy concerning the Ten Tribes and applied it either to the House of Judah or to non-Hebrew Gentiles.
The word, Gentiles, translated from the Old Testament Hebrew, goyim, is often another source of confusion, and has been defined as referring to nations not in covenant with God (see the Preface to Revised Version of the Bible, p. vii). The New Testament Greek form of the word is “ethne.” Interestingly, the “Speaker’s Commentary” on 3 John 7 says, “Ethne is a very ambiguous word.” It then defines it in four different ways:
“It stands for non-Judean races generally, with no religious allusion.
For persons geographically outside Palestine, including Jews of the dispersion.
For the nations as idolatrous.
For non-Judean Christians (Rom. 11:13; 15:27; Gal. 2:12-14). But its more solemn use included idolatry (Matt. 6:32; 1 Cor. 5:1).”
We see then that the term Gentiles often can refer to the “lost tribes” of the diaspora, the Ten Tribe House of Israel that existed “geographically outside Palestine.”
The term, House of Israel, is often considered a generic term for Israel or the Jewish people. However, if this term refers to the Ten Tribes in the Old Testament, it must refer to the Ten Tribes in the New Testament, or the sacrifice of Christ would have caused a change in God’s purposes.
The tribes of Israel were to be the instruments used in blessing all the world (Gen. 22:18), and thus God deals with Israel as with no other people (Psa. 147:20). Let us glorify God for this and be faithful to our calling!