The History of the Ten "Lost" Tribes/Part 2/Chapter 1




BUT now discarding the whole heap of Anglo-Israel fiction, let us glance at the question of the so-called "lost" Ten Tribes in the light of Scripture history and prophecy. Anglo-Israelism first of all loses the Ten Tribes, for whom it claims a different destiny from the "Jews," whom it supposes to be descendants of the Two Tribes only, and then it identifies this "lost" Israel with the British race. But there is as little historical ground for the supposition that the Ten Tribes are lost, in the sense in which Anglo-Israelism uses the term, as there is Scriptural basis for a separate destiny for "Israel" apart from "Judah."

The most superficial reader of the Old Testament knows the origin and cause of the unfortunate schism which took place in the history of the elect nation after the death of Solomon. But this evil was to last only for a limited time; for at the very commencement of this new and parenthetical chapter of the nation's history it was announced by God that He would in this way afflict the seed of David, but not for ever (1 Kings xi. 39).

A separate kingdom, comprising Ten of the Twelve Tribes, was set up under Jeroboam in B.C. 975, and its whole history, of about 250 years, is one long, dark tale of usurpation, anarchy, and apostasy, unrelieved by the occasional gracious visitations of national revival which light up the annals of the Judean kingdom under the House of David.

After many warnings and premonitory judgments the kingdom of the Ten Tribes was finally overthrown in the year B.C. 721, when its capital, Samaria, was destroyed, and the bulk of the people carried captive by the Assyrians, and made to settle in "Halah and Habor, and by the river Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes" (2 Kings xvii. 6; 1 Chron. v. 26).

Now I would beg you to notice two or three facts.

I. The kingdom of "Judah" after the schism consisted not only of Judah and Benjamin, but also of the Levites who remained faithful to the House of David and the theocratic centre.[1] Even those who were in the northern cities forsook all in order to come to Jerusalem, as we read in 2 Chron. xi. 14: "And Rehoboam dwelt in Jerusalem, and built cities for defence in Judah, . . . and the priests and Levites that were in all Israel resorted to him out of all their coasts. For the Levites left their suburbs and their possessions, and came to Judah and Jerusalem; for Jeroboam and his sons had cast them off from executing the priest's office unto the Lord."

II. Apart from Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, there were in the southern kingdom of Judah after the schism many out of the other Ten Tribes whose hearts clung to Jehovah, and the only earthly centre of His worship which He appointed. Immediately after the rebellion, we read that "after them" (that is, following the example of the Levites) "out of all the tribes of Israel, such as set their hearts to seek Jehovah, the God of Israel, came to Jerusalem to sacrifice to Jehovah, God of their fathers. So they strengthened the kingdom of Judah" (2 Chron. xi. 16).

In every reign of the kingdom of Israel numbers of the religious and more spiritual of the Ten Tribes must have seceded and joined "Judah." This we find to have been more especially the case during the times of national revival in the southern kingdom, and in the reigns of those kings who feared and sought the Lord.

Thus, for instance, we read of Asa, that "he gathered all Judah and Benjamin, with the strangers with them out of Ephraim and Manasseh, and out of Simeon; for they fell to him out of all Israel in abundance, when they saw that Jehovah his God was with him, so they gathered themselves together at Jerusalem; . . . and they entered into a covenant to seek Jehovah God of their fathers with all their heart, and with all their soul" (2 Chron. xv. 9–15).

There are also several other mentions of "the children of Israel that dwelt in the cities of Judah" and were subjects and members of that kingdom.

III. The final overthrow of the northern kingdom took place, as we have seen, in the year B.C. 721; but when we read that the "King of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away into Assyria," we are not to understand that he cleared the whole land of all the people, but that he took the strength of the nation with him. There were, no doubt, many of the people left in the land; even as was the case after the overthrow of the southern kingdom by the Babylonians later on (2 Kings xxv. 12). The historical proof for my assertion is found in the fact that about a century after the fall of Samaria, we find in the reign of Josiah some of Manasseh and Ephraim, "and a remnant of all Israel," in the land, who contributed to the collection made by the Levites for the repair of the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, and joined in the celebration of the great Passover in the eighteenth year of that zealous and promising young king.

These were the component elements of which the southern kingdom of "Judah" was made up, when it, too, reached the stage, when, on account of its idolatries and apostasy from the living God, "there was no more remedy" (or "healing"—2 Chron. xxxvi. 16). It consisted, as we have seen, of Judah, Benjamin, Levi, and many out of all the other Ten Tribes of Israel, "in abundance."

Jerusalem was finally taken in B.C. 588, by Nebuchadnezzar—just 133 years after the capture of Samaria by the Assyrians. Meanwhile the Babylonian Empire succeeded the Assyrian. But although dynasties had changed, and Babylon, which had sometimes, even under the Assyrian régime, been one of the capitals of the Empire, now took the place of Nineveh, the region over which Nebuchadnezzar now bore rule, was the very same over which Shalmaneser and Sargon reigned before him, only somewhat extended.[2]

The exact location of the exiles of the southern kingdom we are not told, beyond the Scripture statements that all the three parties of captives carried off by Nebuchadnezzar (that in the first invasion in the reign of Jehoiakim, B.C. 606; and in the second, in the reign of Jehoiachin, B.C. 599; and in the final overthrow of Jerusalem, in the reign of Zedekiah, B.C. 588), were taken "to Babylon" (2 Kings xxiv. and xxv.; Daniel i.).

Now Babylon stands not only for the city, but also for the whole land, in which the territories of the Assyrian Empire, and the colonies of exiles from the northern kingdom of "Israel" were included. Thus, for instance, we find Ezekiel, who was one of the 10,000 exiles carried off by Nebuchadnezzar with Jehoiachin, by the river Chebar in the district of Gozan—one of the very parts where the exiles of the Ten Tribes were settled by the Assyrians more than a century previously.

With the captivity the divisions and rivalry between "Judah" and "Israel" were ended, and the members of all the tribes who looked forward to a national future were conscious not only of one common destiny, but that that destiny was bound up with the promises to the House of David, and with Zion or Jerusalem as its centre, in accordance with the prophecies of Joel, Amos, and Hosea, and of the other inspired messengers who ministered and testified more especially among them until the fall of Samaria. This conviction of a common and united future, no doubt facilitated the merging process, which cannot be said to have begun with the captivity, for it commenced almost immediately after the rebellion under Jeroboam, but which was certainly strengthened by it.

Glimpses into the feeling of the members of the two kingdoms for one another, and their hopes and aspirations for unity, we get in the writings of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, who prophesied during the period of exile. The most striking prophecy in relation to this subject is Ezek. xxxvii. 15–28:

"The word of the Lord came again unto me, saying, Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel, his companions (that is, those of Israel who before the captivity fell away from the Ten Tribes and joined the southern kingdom): then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and all the house of Israel, his companions: and join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand." Then follows the Divine interpretation of this symbol: "Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions, and I will put them with him (or literally, I will add them upon, or to him), namely, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in My hand. And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thy hand before their eyes. And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all: neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwelling-places wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them; so shall they be My people, and I will be their God. And My servant David shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments, and observe My statutes, and do them. And they shall dwell in the land which I have given unto Jacob My servant, wherein your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, they, and their children, and their children's children for ever: and David My servant shall be their prince for ever" (Ezek. xxxvii. 20–25, r.v.).

Now let it be remembered that the foreground and commencement of the restoration and future of this great prophecy, especially to all the exiles at that time, was the restoration from Babylon, or "Assyria," as it was sometimes called.

As a matter of fact, these prophecies, and particularly Ezek. xxxvii. 15–28, set forth not one single act or event, but a process which, commencing with the prophet's own time, extends into the distant future, and ends in the final goal of the blessed condition of Israel under Messiah's reign in the millennial period. Thus, while the full visible manifestation of that unity, symbolised by the two sticks becoming one in the prophet's hand, will only be realised after the final regathering of the whole nation in their own land, and when the true "David," namely, Messiah, "David's greater Son," shall be both King and Prince over them for ever—the merging and uniting process commenced, as a matter of fact, before the Babylonian captivity, was accelerated in the exile, when in their like sorrows and troubles the hearts of the people were doubtless drawn to one another in mutual sympathy and love.

The point, however, to be noticed in this and other prophecies is the clear announcement which they contained that the purpose of God in the schism—as a punishment on the House of David—was now at an end, and that henceforth there was but one common hope and one destiny for the whole Israel of the Twelve Tribes—whether they previously belonged to the northern kingdom of the Ten Tribes, or to the southern kingdom of the Two Tribes—and that this common hope and destiny was centred in Him Who is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and the rightful Heir and descendant of David.

In like manner Jeremiah, in his great prophecy of the restoration and future blessing (chaps. xxx. and xxxi.), links the destinies of "Judah" and "Israel," or Israel and Judah together; and speaks of one common experience from that time on for the whole people. "For lo, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will turn again the captivity of My people Israel and Judah, saith the Lord: and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it. And these are the words that the Lord spake concerning Israel and Judah" (Jer. xxx. 3, 4, r.v.).

Daniel also, towards the end of the seventy years' captivity, includes not only the men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem in his intercessory prayer, but "all Israel that are near, or far off, from all the countries whither Thou hast driven them," who, he confesses, were alike involved in sin and judgment, and equally cast on the mercy of God on the ground of promises made to the fathers.

Now let us go a step farther. Just seventy years had elapsed since the first band of captives were carried away to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in the year B.C. 606. "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, that he issued a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying: Thus saith Cyrus, King of Persia, the Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and He hath charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem that is in Judah. Who is there among you of all His people? His God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah."

This proclamation, which was in reference to all the people "of the Lord God of heaven," was issued in the year B.C. 536, two years after the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus, and was, we are told, promulgated "throughout all his kingdom," which was the same as that over which Nebuchadnezzar and his successors reigned before him, only again somewhat extended, even as the kingdom of Babylon was identical with that of Assyria, as already pointed out. Indeed, Cyrus and Darius I. are called indifferently by the sacred historians by the title of "King of Persia" (Ezra iv. 5), "King of Babylon" (Ezra v. 13), and "King of Assyria" (Ezra vi. 22).

The first response to this proclamation was a caravan of "forty-two thousand three hundred and sixty, beside their servants and their maids, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred and thirty-seven, and two hundred singing men and singing women," who, under the leadership of Zerubbabel, who was a lineal descendant of the royal house of David, and of Joshua the high priest, made their way from "Babylon to Jerusalem."

Now the leading spirits of this returned party of exiles were, no doubt, "the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites"; at the same time they included "all those" from all the other tribes without distinction, "whose spirit God had raised to go up to build the house of the Lord, which is in Jerusalem" (Ezra i. 5).

They are no longer counted after their tribal origin, but in families, and after the cities to which they originally belonged, which, for the most part, are not easy to identify; hence it is difficult to say how many belonged to "Judah," and how many to "Israel"—but that there were a good many in this company of those who belonged to the northern kingdom of the Ten Tribes, is incidentally brought out by the mention of two hundred and twenty-three men of Ai and Bethel alone. Now, Bethel was the very centre of the ancient rival idolatrous worship instituted by Jeroboam, and, though on the boundary of Benjamin, belonged to "Ephraim."

Between the first organised large party of immigrants under Zerubbabel and Joshua, and the second under Ezra, a period of fifty-eight years elapsed; but we are not to suppose that in the interval there were no additions to the community, which now represented the whole united nation in Jerusalem. We read, for instance, incidentally, in Zech. vi. 9, 15, of a party of four prominent men who arrived in Jerusalem in B.C. 519 as representatives of the "captivity" (that is, of those who still remained in those parts where they were exiles), bringing with them a present of silver and gold for the Temple, the building of which was resumed about five months before, as a result of the stirring appeals of Haggai. This shows that there was continual intercourse and communication between the community in Palestine and the majority of the people who were still "in Babylon"; and we may be certain that little parties and individuals, "whose spirit God had raised," continually found their way to the holy city.

In B.C. 458, Ezra, "the scribe of the law of the God of heaven," in accordance with the decree of Artaxerxes Longimanus, organised another large caravan of those whose hearts were made willing to return to the land of their fathers. Part of this most favourable royal proclamation was as follows: "I make a decree that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites in my realm, which are minded of their own free will to go up to Jerusalem, go up with thee"; and in response to it "this Ezra went up from Babylon, . . . and there went up (with him) of the children of Israel, and of the priests and of the Levites, and the singers and the porters, and the Nethinim, unto Jerusalem in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king" (Ezra vii. 7).

This party consisted of about one thousand eight hundred families; and apart from the priests, Levites, and Nethinim, was made up of "the children of Israel," irrespective of tribal distinctions, from all parts of the realm of "Babylon," or Assyria, now under the sway of the Medo-Persians.

The narratives contained in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, under whose administration the position of the restored remnant became consolidated, cover a period of about 115 years, and bring us down to about B.C. 420. Jewish history during the second period of the Persian supremacy is wrapped somewhat in obscurity; but we know that nearly throughout the whole period of its existence it was more or less friendly to the Hebrews. There was certainly no revocation of the edicts of Cyrus and of Artaxerxes permitting those "which were minded of their own free will" to go and join their brethren in Palestine; and that there were many other large and small parties of exiles who did so, subsequent to those mentioned in Ezra and Nehemiah, may be taken for granted.[3]

Anyhow, it is a fact that the remnant in the land grew and grew until, about a century and a half later, in the times of the Maccabees, and again about a century and a half later still, in the time of our Lord, we find "the Jews" in Palestine, a comparatively large nation, numbering millions; while from the time of the downfall of the Persian Empire we hear but very little more of the Israelite exiles in ancient Assyria or Babylon.

By the conquest of Alexander, who to this day is a great favourite among the scattered nation, the regions of ancient Babylonia and Media were brought comparatively near, and a highway opened between East and West. From about this time settlements of "Jews" began to multiply in Asia Minor, Cyprus, Crete, on the coasts and islands of the Ægean; in Macedonia and other parts of Southern Europe; in Egypt and the whole northern coast of Africa; whilst some made their way further and further eastward as far as India and China. There is not the least possibility of doubt that many of the settlements of the Diaspora in the time of our Lord—both north, south, and west, as well as east of Palestine—were made up of those who had never returned to the land of their fathers since the time of the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, and who were not only descendants of Judah, as Anglo-Israelism ignorantly presupposes, but of all the Twelve Tribes scattered abroad (James i. 1).

As a matter of fact, long before the destruction of the second Temple by Titus, we read of currents and counter-currents in the dispersion of the "Jewish" people. Thus Artaxerxes III., Ochus, on his way to re-conquer Egypt, "having taken Apodasmus in Judea, conveyed the Jewish population into Hyrcania near the Caspian Sea." When he made himself master of Egypt we read of his finding Jews there, and, being incensed against them on account of a stubborn defence against him of places entrusted to their keeping, "he sent part of them into Hyrcania, in the neighbourhood of the country which the tribes already inhabited, and left the rest at Babylon"; while soon after many thousands were taken to Egypt by Alexander; and Ptolemy Soter, one of his chief generals, who had become King of Egypt, and had invaded Syria and taken Jerusalem in B.C. 301, carried off one hundred thousand of them, and forced them to settle chiefly in Alexandria and Cyrene.

  1. According to Grätz, "History of the Jews," vol. i., p. 186, the tribe of Simeon, which was merely a subsidiary of that of Judah, also remained faithful to the House of David; but this is doubtful.
  2. See 2 Kings xxiii. 29, where the King of Babylon is called "King of Assyria."
  3. "It is inconceivable," says Dr. Pusey, "that, as the material prosperity of Palestine returned, even many of the Ten Tribes should not have returned to their country."