Ancient Dispersions of Israel
There were two major conquests of ancient Israel, with resulting captivities: the house of Israel was taken to Media by Assyria and never returned, and the house of Judah was taken a century later to Babylon and returned after 70 years in captivity. God’s chosen nation had become divided into two kingdoms upon the death of Solomon: the northern ten-tribe kingdom of the house of Israel, and the southern two-tribe kingdom of Judah. In 721 BC, the Assyrians conquered the ten tribes and most of the cities of the southern kingdom, but Jerusalem was spared due to the prayers and repentance of King Hezekiah, as related in II Kings chapter 19. These ten tribes, along with those captured from the other two tribes, were carried away into captivity to the land of the Medes and never returned. They became lost to history, and the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia relates, “The northern ten tribes had been taken into captivity by the Assyrians and have become known as the lost tribes of Israel. The sole surviving identifiable tribe was Judah, and when this was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, the captives became known as Jews—a word that developed from ‘Judeans.’ The returning exiles were henceforth known as Jews, and the name Judah was loosely used to refer to the region they occupied.” Thus, the word “Jew” was derived from the name of the tribe and kingdom of Judah.
The number of those Dispersed
How many Israelites of the ten-tribe House of Israel went into dispersion? McClintock & Strong’s Encyclopedia gives us the number of Israelites at the time of the captivity: “With regard to population…. in I Chron. 21:5-6, the numbers (of fighting men) are stated at 1,100,000 (Israel) and 470,000 (Judah) respectively, with the intimation that Levi and Benjamin were not included…According to the general laws observable in such cases, these numbers may be said to represent an aggregate population of from five and a half to six millions…it may be safely reckoned that the population subject to each king was about four times the number of the fighting men in his dominions.” Six million Israelites went out of the land of Palestine into captivity! Out of this large number, how many ever returned?
The Bible itself provides us an answer to that question. In the book of Ezra (2:1, 64, 65) we read, “Now these are the children of the province who went up out of the captivity…The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand, three hundred and threescore. Besides their servants and their maids, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty and seven; and there were among them two hundred singing men and singing women.” Those who returned from the captivity constituted a combined total of only 49,897 persons, or less than 8/10 of one percent of those dispersed! The remainder, nearly six million in 721 BC, are still lost to recorded history.
- Solid Biblical evidence therefore reveals that over 99% of God’s chosen people were removed out of the land of Palestine in ancient times and thereafter lost to history. Several theories exist to explain what happened to them, which can be summed up in three possible solutions:The nearly six million Israelites died in captivity or dispersion.
- The 99% lost have no further purpose in God’s plan on earth, and their whereabouts are unimportant.
- God is still today accomplishing his purposes through them, though they are known by a new name.
What became of the lost ten tribes of the House of Israel after the Assyrian conquest? There are three possible solutions to this question. The House of Israel was lost, tossed, or quashed! They were either quashed—killed off in their captivity and dispersion at the hands of Assyria. Or they were permanently tossed—removed by God from His Purposes in the earth, so that their whereabouts are of no importance to students of Bible prophecy. Or third, they were simply lost to recorded history and exist somewhere in the world fulfilling Bible prophecy and God’s Purposes under another name than “Israel.” Which is correct? Let’s examine the evidence!
Israel to be Preserved
Did the lost tribes of Israel die during their dispersion? The prophet Amos, writing about 755 BC (about thirty years before the Assyrian captivity), relates a promise of God Almighty on this as follows: “…I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith the Lord. For lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.” (Amos 9:8-9) The sieve related here was actually a flat pan used for winnowing grain. As wheat and chaff was tossed into the air, the wind would blow away the lighter chaff, and the heavier grain would be caught on the pan and saved. So, the house of Israel would be saved, said God, and none would be lost. Therefore we have God’s own promise that Israel would be preserved as a people during their “sifting…among all nations.”
The position of Jewish scholars regarding the existence of the lost house of Israel may be seen in an article in the Jewish Chronicle, February 5, 1890: “The scriptures speak of a future restoration of Israel, which is clearly to include both Judah and Ephraim. The problem, then, is reduced to its simplest form. The Ten Tribes are certainly in existence. All that has to be done is to discover which people represent them.”
Israel in God’s Purposes
The second popular theory states that where the lost tribes of Israel went is unimportant today because God is finished with them. Spiritual Israel, the church, has supplanted physical Israel, the theory goes, and God is working only with the “new Israel.” This theory is known by the name of “replacement theology,” because of the belief that the church has permanently replaced Israel in God’s plans and purposes in the earth. Although popular, this view is contradicted by numerous passages of scripture, such as the following prophecy of Jeremiah, given about 600 BC, while the house of Israel was already in dispersion: “Thus saith the Lord, who giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, who divideth the sea when its waves roar; The Lord of Hosts is His name: If those ordinances depart from before Me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever…If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord.” It is clear from the foregoing that physical literal Israel is to remain God’s chosen people as long as the sun, moon, and stars exist.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul verifies this in Romans 11:1, “I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” Yes, Paul is speaking here of literal Israelites, for he states that he is ‘an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin.’ There is no tribe of Benjamin in the Spiritual Church. It is physical Israelites whom Paul assures us, “God hath not cast away.”
The New Testament verifies that not only would the House of Israel continue to exist as a people, but they would be restored spiritually through belief in their Savior, the Son of God. The Apostle Paul, quoting the prophet Hosea says, “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass that, in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God.” (Hosea 1:10; Rom. 9:26) Where has this prophecy ever seen fulfillment? Who are these people which are called numerous as the sand of the sea, and who are known as “sons of the living God,” or Christians? (Christ is the Son of God; Christians or ‘Christ-sons’ are the Sons of God.)
Historians record the arrival of millions of dispersed tribes, known to us today as Goths, Angles, Saxons, Scythians, and similar names, who flooded into Europe from the Middle East in the early pre-Christian centuries. They poured through the Caucasus Mountain region (whence the name, “Caucasian”) into southeastern Europe at the very same time and place as nearly six million lost Israelites disappeared from history. Yes, Hosea’s prophecy has been fulfilled today in the nations of Christendom, “Christ’s Kingdom,” where we are told that we are not God’s people, Israel, but that we are “the sons of the living God,” or Christians. It is therefore no coincidence that 95% of Bibles, gospel tracts, and missionary work go out from “Caucasian” Christian lands! We are the modern descendants of God’s servant people, fulfilling prophecy even as “blindness in part has happened to Israel.” (Romans 11:25).
The prophet Isaiah stated, “And the nations shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory; and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.” (Isa. 62:2) What was that new name prophesied for Israel? Again, Hosea said it was “Sons of the Living God,” or Christians!
In 1723, the French church scholar and Huguenot refugee, Dr. Jacques Abbadie, wrote a book titled, “the Triumph of Providence” in which he stated, “Unless the ten tribes of Israel are flown into the air, or sunk into the earth, they must be those ten Gothic tribes that entered Europe in the fifth century, BC… and founded the ten nations of modern Europe.” Proofs abound as to the whereabouts of these “missing tribes.” In the apocryphal book of Second Maccabees 12:21 is a statement that, “It is found in writing concerning the Spartans (Greeks) and the Jews, that they are brethren, and that they are of the stock of Abraham.” Similar connections abound between ancient Israel and Italy, Spain, Ireland, Britain, and other countries, as well.
Perhaps the Disciples of Christ also knew this fact, for they not only went straight to Europe to spread the gospel, but James and Peter addressed their epistles to this same people, “the twelve tribes scattered abroad” to Europe. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians on the border of Europe stated, “They which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” (Gal. 3:7) Yes, the nations of Christendom ARE the descendants of Abraham and ARE the lost and scattered Israelites of the Bible! As Peter said to these “sojourners of the dispersion,” so we say to you, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” (2Peter 1:10)