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This article contains an overview of what biblical prophecy says regarding the lost tribes of Israel. It considers such questions as these: What happened to Israel’s ten northern tribes, and where are they today? Does the Bible give any clues in regard to their fate?
The southern part of Israel came to be called “Judah” (Judea) whence the word “Jews”, and had Jerusalem as their capital. The ten northern tribes were called “Israel” and made after some time Samaria their capital.
A clarifying note: Even after that political division, also the southern tribes continued to be called “Israelites” and were reckoned as a part of Israel.
Later, when the people of the northern tribes of Israel were forcibly taken away from their land, into exile and dispersion, they became the ten lost tribes. This happened more than 2700 years ago and is recorded in the Old Testament.
What happened to those people, after that? Where are their descendants, in our day? Is it possible to find and identify them in some way? Can one point out their location on a map?
Anglo-Israelist writers have claimed that the Scriptures say that the ten lost tribes of Israel would in our day be rich, blessed, great and powerful, and “a people of the Bible”. They have further claimed that the Scriptures say that those people would be numerous, “as the sand on the seashore”, in our day. Some writers have also talked about “inheritance”, “birthright” and “sceptre” (rulership). But, is that correct? That is, does the Bible really say the ten lost tribes of Israel would be rich and powerful, at this present time? This article takes a closer look at that matter.
Before considering how things were to be in our day and age, let us first consider Genesis 26:3–4 which records how the Lord showed himself to the patriarch Abraham’s son Isaac, and noted that he had promised Abraham that his descendants would become numerous, “as the stars of heaven”.
Genesis 26:1 And there was a famine in the land, besides the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines, to Gerar. 2 And Jehovah appeared to him and said: Do not go down into Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. 3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your seed I give all these lands. And I will perform the oath which I swore unto Abraham your father. 4 And I will make your seed multiply as the stars of the heavens; I will give to your seed all these lands; and in your Seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed [a] (VW06, note sign added)
The in verse 4 recorded promise, “I will make your seed multiply as the stars of the heavens”, was fulfilled already in the days of Moses. That was regarding Abraham’s descendants [b] through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob – the Israelites.
A few hundred years later, Moses said to the Israelites:
Deuteronomy 1:10 Jehovah your God has multiplied you, and here you are today, as the stars of the heavens in multitude. (VW06, highlighting added)
Deuteronomy 10:22 Your fathers went down to Egypt with seventy persons, and now Jehovah your God has made you as the stars of the heavens for multitude. (VW06, highlighting added)
Those passages show that in the days of Moses, the “stars of heaven” promise had been fulfilled. This was while the Israelites were still in the Arabian desert, before they had entered the Promised Land.
Still in the days of king Solomon, they were numerous. We read:
1 Kings 4:1 Thus King Solomon was king over all Israel. […] 20 Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking and rejoicing. (VW06, highlighting added)
But, the Israelites had been told how things would go, if they were not faithful to the Lord. Here is one of the passages which record what the Lord had Moses tell them, in regard to that matter:
Deuteronomy 28:15 But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of Jehovah your God […] 62 You shall be left few in number, whereas you were as the stars of heaven in multitude, because you would not obey the voice of Jehovah your God. 63 And it shall be, that just as Jehovah has rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so Jehovah will rejoice over you to destroy you and annihilate you; and you shall be torn away from off the land which you are going in to possess. 64 And Jehovah will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known; wood and stone. (VW06, highlighting added)
So, already before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were told how things would go, if they were not faithful to the Lord. And, as it turned out, they were not faithful, and so, those things did come upon them. They became few in number, and the survivors were driven out from the Promised Land, into captivity. In the case of the ten northern tribes of Israel, this happened more than 2700 years ago. (2 Kings 15:29 and 17:6 record that the northern tribes were taken to Assyria and “the cities of the Medes”. That appears to refer to Mesopotamia and Media/Persia with their surroundings, eventually including Syria and such places as Afghanistan. Later, even the southern tribes were taken into captivity, to Babylon.)
Please note that the fulfilment of the in the above-quoted warning prophecy, Deuteronomy 28:62–64, is recorded in the Scriptures. That passage refers to events of the past and has nothing to do with things in our day.
A side-note: Some Anglo-Israelist writers have cited two words that appear in some translations in Leviticus 26, and created out of those words a dogma which claims that the Israelites were to be restored and blessed, after 2520 years. But, Leviticus 26 talks about things that were to happen, and did happen, while the tribes of Israel still lived in the Promised Land. That chapter records a warning; the Lord let the ancient Israelites know that if they were not faithful to him, they would be subjected to five consecutive rounds of punishment, where each of rounds two to five would be seven times harder than the preceding one. Unfortunately, they were not faithful to the Lord, and so, the things that they had been warned about, did come upon them. The article rya052.htm contains a detailed study on Leviticus 26:18, 21, 24 and 28 with their context; right here, in short: Even Leviticus 26 refers to events of the past and has nothing to do with things in our day.
Another note: There are not several “promised lands” here on Earth, as some writers have wanted people to believe. There is only one earthly Promised Land, the one from which the Israelites were driven into exile and dispersion.
a Regarding Genesis 26:4 which was quoted above: The first part of that verse, including the words “I will make your seed multiply as the stars of the heavens”, refers to Abraham’s descendants in general. The last part, “and in your Seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed”, refers to a singular descendant of Abraham, that is, Jesus. See Acts 3:25–26 with its context. The article rya032.htm has more on this.
b Abraham had descendants through three women, Hagar, Sarah and Keturah. But, the Scriptures do not tell much about those through Hagar and Keturah. The biblical record is mostly about the descendants of Jacob who was the grandson of Abraham and Sarah. Jacob’s other name was Israel, see Genesis 32:24–28, and so, his descendants came to be called “the children of Israel” and “Israelites”.
Above, it was shown that in the days of Moses, the number of Jacob’s descendants, the Israelites, had become great. In contrast to that, we have Leviticus 26:22 and Deuteronomy 4:27 and 28:62 which state that if the Israelites were not faithful to the Lord, they would become few in number, and would be driven out from the Promised Land and dispersed among the nations. And again, as things went, they were not faithful, and so, those things did come upon them. The Old Testament records how that happened. So, those things are fulfilled prophecy, a matter of the ancient past.
But, some Anglo-Israelist writers have built dogmas around Genesis 48:19, and claimed that it means that the descendants of Jacob’s grandson Ephraim would be numerous in our day, and form a “multitude of nations”. Now, the ancient Hebrew text of Genesis 48 is hard to decipher, and so, there are many different kinds of interpretations of it. This applies also to verse 19. Here are some examples of translations of its last part:
And indeed, in the days of the Moses, Jacob’s descendants, including those through his grandson Ephraim, had become numerous, “as the stars of heaven” as Moses noted. But later, when they were subjected to the punishments which the Lord had warned them about, they became few in number.
But again, Anglo-Israelist writers have cl aimed that Genesis 48:19 refers to our day and age. They have quoted translations which have in that verse such wordings as “his seed shall become a multitude of nations”, and then they have claimed that that refers to the Anglo-Saxon people in the different parts of what used to be called “the British empire”.
The question regarding Genesis 48:19 is this: What was the patriarch Jacob talking about? He had asked his favourite son Joseph to bring forth his two sons. Then he spoke about Joseph’s youngest son Ephraim and his descendants. What did he mean? We cannot be certain, but consider this: For Jacob, already his twelve sons and their offspring were a “fullness of people”, and now, see Genesis 48:5, he “adopted” Josephs’ two sons Ephraim and Manasseh as his own, and in that way increased the number of potential “tribes” in his clan.
Again, the exact meaning of the Hebrew text of Genesis 48:19 is not clear. What is clear, is that there is no biblical or historical support for the dogmas that Anglo-Israelist writers have built around wordings that some translations have in that verse. – The article rya142.htm shows that Genesis 48:19 can be used for “proving” many kinds of things. That is, if one uses arguments and methods of the kind that Anglo-Israelist writers have used.
Some writers have produced dogmas even around Genesis 49. They have claimed that that chapter refers to European nations, in our day. But, Genesis 49 contains a record of what Jacob said to his sons, in regard to what would happen to their descendants, after they had moved to the Promised Land. (When Jacob spoke to his sons, they lived in Egypt.) In short: Genesis 49 has nothing to do with our day and age. The article rya092.htm has some notes on certain parts of that chapter.
The Scriptures show that in the future, the tribes of Israel are to be restored and placed to live in the Promised Land, and that there, they will be blessed, once again.
Please note that the promised blessings are to be given in the Promised Land. And again: There is only one Promised Land on the earthly level, not two or more. Only one, the land of Canaan, the land which even today is called Israel. [c]
Those who carefully study the Bible, will find that that book is quite clear in regard to this. The ten lost tribes of Israel are not prophesied to be blessed or rich today. Their restoration is a still future matter. It will take place after Jesus’ return. (Again, the Anglo-Israelist “2520 years” dogma is sorted out in the article rya052.htm.)
c What is the origin of the people who since the 1800s have moved to the land of Israel and call themselves Jews?
In the Bible, the word “Jews” refers to people of the “house of Judah”, originally from the southern part of Israel, mostly of the tribes Judah, Simeon and Levi. The whole nation was driven into exile, but in the days of Ezra a number of Jews, people of Israel’s southern tribes, returned to the land of Israel. Around year 70 CE, the Roman army killed countless Jews in that land, some say three million. It is not fully clear what happened to the remainder.
The people who since the 1800s have moved to the land of Israel, consist of many different groups, of varying shades and colours. The largest groups are called “Ashkenazi Jews” and “Sephardic Jews”. It appears that in the Middle Ages or so, some in the Ashkenazi group which consists of people from Germany and eastern Europe, had begun to practise various forms of what has then come to be called “Judaism”. Also, some of them had begun to write their (German) language with Hebrew letters. But, it is not clear what the ethnic roots of that group actually are. The same goes for the Sephardic group which consists of people from Spain, Portugal and northern Africa.
The language which some in the Ashkenazi group have spoken, is called Yiddish (“Judaish”), but even though some have written Yiddish using the Hebrew alphabet, it is in fact a dialect of High German. (Over the centuries, Yiddish has come to include a number of words from Slavic languages and Hebrew.) Many of those Yiddish-speakers who have moved to the land of Israel, have then learned Hebrew, of course.
Again, what is the origin of the people who since the 1800s have moved to the land of Israel? Some of them are white with blue eyes, some a bit darker, and some are even black (from Ethiopia), and some have Asiatic looks. It could be that at least some of them are genetically Jews – but at the same time, it must be noted that it is hard to align those people and their present-day situation, with what biblical prophecy says about the fate and restoration of the tribes of Israel. (See the other parts of this article, for more on that matter. Look also under the heading “Tribes of Israel” on the index-page rkw661.htm.)
Some Anglo-Israelist writers have cited Leviticus 26:19 and claimed that it means that God is at some still future time going to break the pride of the tribes of Israel. But, breaking of pride or arrogance which that passage refers to, happened in the case of the ten lost tribes more than 2700 years ago, while they still lived in the Promised Land. That was before they were taken into captivity and dispersion. The article rya022.htm has more on this.
The Scriptures do not say that the tribes of Israelites would be great or powerful in our day. Read all of the following scripture-quote slowly and with care, point for point – it contains a prophecy in regard to how the tribes of Israel would be doing, during their dispersion. (Please note that that dispersion began a long time ago, and that they still remain dispersed.)
Deuteronomy 28:58 If you do not take heed to do all the Words of this Law that are written in this book, to fear this glorious and awesome name, Jehovah God, 59 then Jehovah will bring upon you and your seed extraordinary plagues; great and long lasting plagues; and evil long lasting sicknesses. 60 Moreover He will bring back upon you all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cleave to you. 61 Also every sickness and every plague, which is not written in this Book of the Law, will Jehovah bring upon you to destroy you. 62 You shall be left few in number, whereas you were as the stars of heaven in multitude, because you would not obey the voice of Jehovah your God. 63 And it shall be, that just as Jehovah has rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so Jehovah will rejoice over you to destroy you and annihilate you; and you shall be torn away from off the land which you are going in to possess. [d] 64 And Jehovah will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known; wood and stone. 65 And among those nations you shall find no rest, nor shall the sole of your foot have a resting place; but there Jehovah shall give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and fainting soul. 66 Your life shall hang in doubt before you; you shall fear day and night, and have no assurance of life. 67 In the morning you shall say, Oh, that it were evening! And at evening you shall say, Oh, that it were morning! because of the fear which terrifies your heart, and because of the sight which your eyes see. (VW06, note sign added)
d Verse 63, “the land which you are going in to possess” – again, those warnings were given to the ancient Israelites while they were still in the Arabian desert, before they had entered the Promised Land.
Please note that in the case of the northern tribes of Israel, the state of things which the above-quoted Deuteronomy 28:58–67 describes, began more than 2700 years ago. Please also note that according to that clear and specific prophecy, they were to be dispersed among (within) the other nations of this world, without being a nation and without having a country of their own. This came to happen. And again, they still remain in that dispersion. Their restoration has not come yet.
The article rya022.htm has some notes on Leviticus 26:19 and the “pride” matter, and shows that the words “and I will break the pride of your power” in that verse refer to something that happened when the Israelites lived in the Promised Land.
Some Anglo-Israelist writers have wanted people to believe that one can identify the ten lost tribes of Israel, by finding out what country prints the greatest number of bibles. But, let us consider what the Scriptures say in regard to how those tribes would be during their dispersion, when it comes to religion. We read:
Deuteronomy 28:63 And it shall be, that just as Jehovah has rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so Jehovah will rejoice over you to destroy you and annihilate you; and you shall be torn away from off the land which you are going in to possess. [e] 64 And Jehovah will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, [f] which neither you nor your fathers have known; wood and stone. (VW06, note signs and highlighting added)
e Verse 63, “the land which you are going in to possess” – clarification: Moses spoke those words to the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land, the land of Canaan. Please note that Deuteronomy 28:63 refers to that land, and not some other one. And then, verse 64, “Jehovah will scatter you among all peoples” – that refers to the still ongoing exile and dispersion which in the case of the ten northern tribes of Israel began more than 2700 years ago.
f Verse 64, “you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known”. That is how the tribes of Israel were prophesied to be, concerning religion, during their dispersion. And again, they still remain in that dispersion.
In short: The claim that the ten lost tribes of Israel would in our day be a “people of the Bible”, does not have any basis in the Scriptures. Those tribes are not that, today. (As to the origin of those people who since the 1800s have moved to the land of Israel and call themselves Jews – that matter was discussed earlier in this article.)
Anglo-Israelist writers have claimed that the Anglo-Saxon people are a part of the tribes of Israel. Also, they have spread a dogma which claims that in the 1800s, God suddenly gave rich earthly blessings to the ten lost tribes of Israel. In connection with that, those writers have talked about “inheritance” and “birthright”, and even “sceptre” (that is, rulership or kingly line) – “Judah’s sceptre and Joseph’s birthright”. They have claimed that the queen of England sits on “David’s throne”. Some of them have even claimed or insinuated that God gave the whole world to the Anglo-Saxon people, as an “inheritance”.
Here are some notes on “inheritance”, “birthright” and “sceptre” (rulership).
On the earthly level, the inheritance which was promised to Jacob’s descendants, was the land of Canaan, and not some other land or lands.
(A note: Moses allowed the tribes of Reuben and Gad and half of tribe of Manasseh, to settle east of the river Jordan, outside the actual Promised Land.)
“Birthright” was in ancient days a factor in connection with the division of an inheritance.
When inheritance was divided between a man’s sons, the first-born son received a bit more than the other sons. For example, if a man had twelve sons (as did Jacob), his property was divided into thirteen parts. The first-born son received two of those thirteenth parts (2/13, circa 15%). The remaining 11/13 (circa 85%) was divided between his eleven brothers, who then received one thirteenth part each (1/13, circa 7.7%). The article rya042.htm has more on this.
And again, the inheritance after Jacob consisted of the Promised Land (the land of Canaan). Jacob’s first-born son was Reuben, but he had made a serious offence, and the birthright was taken away from him. It was instead given to Jacob’s favourite son Joseph. In theory, this would have meant that Joseph’s descendants were to receive 2/13 (circa 15%) of the Promised Land. But, in the days of Joshua when that land was divided between the tribes of Israel, things did not go quite that way. For the first, a part of Joseph’s descendants settled east of the river Jordan, outside the actual Promised Land. And, there were other factors involved. The article rya042.htm has more on this.
The article rya102.htm shows what the Bible has to say about the “line of David” matter, and who actually has (the right to) that rulership or “throne”, in our day.
The article rya112.htm clarifies the meaning of the words “branch” and “twig” in Ezekiel 17:22. (Some Anglo-Israelist writers have connected that verse to dogmas regarding “Zedekiah’s daughters”.)
The article rya122.htm sorts out the Anglo-Israelist dogma which claims that the prophet Jeremiah travelled to Ireland, “with the daughters of Zedekiah”.
A note, for clarity: “Jacob” and “Israel” are synonyms, see Genesis 32:28 with its context. Thus, when Jeremiah 30:7 talks about Jacob, that refers to his descendants, the tribes of Israel.
One Anglo-Israelist dogma claims that the ten lost tribes would be rich and strong in our day, but that in the “end time” the Lord will more or less destroy them. This has to do with the words “the time of Jacob’s trouble” which many translations have in Jeremiah 30:7.
That verse must not be taken out of its context. Anyone who carefully reads all of Jeremiah 30, will see that that chapter talks about a still future time when the tribes of Israel will be saved and restored, while their enemies are destroyed. – Here, one must keep in mind that the lost tribes of Israel still remain in the dispersion which began in Old Testament times. It is only in the future that they will be restored. It is that coming time of restoration, that Jeremiah chapter 30 talks about.
Jeremiah 30:3 ‘For, behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel and Judah.’ (NASB77)
The article rya062.htm has more on that chapter, including verse 7.
The article rya052.htm sorts out the Anglo-Israelist dogma which claims that the ten lost tribes have already been restored and blessed, “after a punishment of 2520 years”.
Both the Scriptures and the facts of history make it clear that today, the ten lost tribes of Israel still remain in the dispersion which began more than 2700 years ago. They are neither rich nor powerful, and they do not have a country of their own. They are an ethnic group (or several ethnic groups) who are troubled and persecuted. Also, they are not a “people of the Bible”; biblical prophecy indicates that they would serve idols and not the true God.
Regarding their inheritance and blessing (which were taken away from them): In due time, they will receive them again, but that is still a matter of the future. That will happen after Jesus’ return.
Regarding the “line of David” matter – the articles rya102.htm, rya112.htm and rya122.htm have some notes on that subject.
Links to the other 14 parts in this series on the tribes of Israel are found in the “recommended reading” section, below.
Please tell others about this site. Please also link to it. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/contents.htm
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → rsa092.htm
On the King James version. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → rsa032.htm
On the words “gentiles”, “pagans” and “heathen” and what they actually mean and refer to. → rga012.htm
On Matthew 24:21 and Revelation 7:14 and what the Scriptures say about the “great tribulation”. → rta042.htm
Easy keys to deeper understanding of the Scriptures. → rga022.htm
The other parts in the ‘tribes’ series:
Leviticus 26:19, “and I will break the pride of your power”. How and when was the ancient Israelites’ pride broken? → rya022.htm
On the meaning of Genesis 22:17, the words “and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies”. → rya032.htm
On what the concept “birthright” meant and referred to, in regard to inheritance, in ancient times. Also, some notes on the patriarch Jacob’s birthright, and that of his son Joseph. → rya042.htm
On the meaning of the words “seven times” in Leviticus 26:18, 21, 24 and 28. Does the wording in the Hebrew text mean “seven times more” or “sevenfold” as many translations have it, or “2520 years” as some writers have claimed? → rya052.htm
Jeremiah 30:7, “the time of Jacob’s trouble”. On what chapter 30 in the book of Jeremiah means and refers to. → rya062.htm
On the prophet Ezekiel and his mission, and the “Ezekiel message” dogma. → rya072.htm
Matthew 10:5–6, “do not go into the way of the gentiles and do not enter a city of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. Who and where were those “sheep”? Where did the apostles go? → rya083.htm
Did the ten lost tribes of Israel move to Europe? Are the white north-west Europeans Israelites, as some say? → rya092.htm
Is the line of David the king of Israel still ruling somewhere on Earth? → rya102.htm
The meaning of the words “branch” and “twig” in Ezekiel 17:22. Some notes on Anglo-Israelist dogmas regarding king Zedekiah’s daughters. → rya112.htm
The prophet Jeremiah – where did he die? Did he go to Ireland, as some have claimed? Also, what about the “stone of destiny” which some writers talk about? → rya122.htm
Did people of the ten lost tribes of Israel travel to Greece, Denmark and Ireland? Some notes on certain Anglo-Israelist dogmas. → rya132.htm
Regarding Anglo-Israelism: What if it is instead Russia with her Slavic sister nations that are the ten lost tribes of Israel? → rya142.htm
Ethnic groups which could eventually belong to the lost tribes of Israel. → rya152.htm
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