What are the ten lost tribes of Israel? Are the tribes really lost?
Ten of Israel's tribes, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, and Joseph, which made up the Northern Kingdom, were taken captive by Assyria about 722 BC. Second Kings 17:6 tells us that most of the people were taken to Assyria. Many of those who remained married peoples sent to the defeated land by the Assyrian king (those from Cutha, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, according to 2 Kings 17:24 and Ezra 4:2–11).
These ten tribes (Ephraim and Manasseh were part of Joseph's divided tribe) are considered by some to be lost because they melted into the Assyrian culture or were assimilated into other people groups. But closing the door on these tribes is conjecture rather than biblical history.
Throughout the centuries, many stories, legends, and fantastical accounts have arisen to explain the whereabouts of these tribes. Some say they migrated to Europe—for example, saying the Danube River got its name from the tribe of Dan. British Israelism teaches that the tribes settled in England and that Anglo-Saxons are actually Jews. Groups of people in India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and North American claim lineage to the lost tribes. Even some Japanese and Native Americans are sometimes identified as the lost Jewish tribes.
What history shows us, though, is that many Jews later re-united with the Southern Kingdom of Judah (2 Chronicles 34:6–9). Babylon later took over Assyria, invaded the Southern Kingdom, and carried off the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (2 Kings 25:21), along with the remnants of the northern tribes. Then, when King Cyrus allowed the Israelites to return to their homeland (Ezra 1), some of all twelve of the tribes returned.
Some of tribes-people are even identified in the New Testament several centuries after the tribes were supposedly lost. Anna was from the tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36). Zechariah, Elizabeth, and their son John the Baptist were of the tribe of Levi (Luke 1:5). Jesus tells His disciples they will judge the twelve tribes (Luke 22:30). Paul knows he is from the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1). Paul also defends himself by calling to mind the future of the tribes in Acts 26:6–7: "And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. …" James writes to the twelve tribes (James 1:1). Furthermore, God knows where these so-called lost tribes are located and Revelation 7:4–8 says He will call witnesses from each of them in the end times.
These New Testament references prove to us the twelve tribes are accounted for in some way by God, not lost, and have a future in His plans.
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