What Happened to the 12 Tribes of Israel?

by Aaron

Currently, at Element, we are going through the minor prophets (the last 12 books of the Old Testament Scriptures). These 12 “Minor Prophets” are written during a (roughly) 500 year time frame that covers the fall of the northern 10 tribes of Israel (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, and Joseph, whose tribe was divided into the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh), the captivity of the 2 southern tribes of Israel (Judah and Benjamin), and their eventual return to rebuild their temple.

I gave a very brief summation of what happened when the Kingdom of Israel divided in 900BC last week. Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, comes to power and wants to tax and force labor upon all of the tribes, which causes the nation of Israel to split (10 northern tribes called “Israel” and 2 southern tribes called “Judah”). The question came up on Sunday as to what happened to those 10 northern tribes. We know the southern tribes returned to rebuild the temple and Jews were actually called “Jews” because of JUDAH, but what happened to those northern 10 tribes.

This question has been asked for a long while, some even call the northern 10 tribes the “Lost Tribes of Israel.” First, they are not lost as God knows where they are, the book of Revelation says they will give an account. What happened historically is that most of the people of the Northern Kingdom were killed in the Assyrian invasion or deported as slaves. The few that did escape remained in the land and intermarried with people from Cutha, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim (peoples who had been sent by the Assyrian king to inhabit Samaria). This also led to a lot of animosity between Israel and Samaria where the Samaritans were considered “less than” Israelites and were outcasts for intermarrying.

There are some crazy stories (we would call them myths) of those northern 10 tribes. One says the Danube river was named for the tribe of Dan. There are those who teach what is known as British Israelism who say all Anglo-Saxons are actually Jews. There are people in India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Ethiopia who all claim Jewish ancestry of some sort. Mormons taught that Native Americans and Polynesians were from a lost tribe.

We don’t want to get into all the conspiracy theories, we want to look at the Bible. In looking at the bible we see that after the Babylonians conquered Assyria many northern tribes reunited with Judah (2 Chron 34:6-9). When the southern 2 tribes were deported to Babylon they most likely reunited with many of the northern tribes who were already in captivity. When Cyrus allowed the rebuilding of the temple, many from all 12 tribes would have returned under the banner of “Judah” or Jews.

Many Israelites never returned to Israel and stayed in foreign countries; they became known as the Diaspora. James 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. John the baptizer, and his parents were from the tribe of Levi. The Apostle Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin. In Luke 2:36 you meet the prophetess Anna from the tribe of Asher.

The 12 tribes are out there, known to God, but the greater question is what is God doing with them? He fulfilled the law in Christ, He brought an end to temple sacrifice in Christ, and Jesus is now our great High Priest. The point of the Scriptures is not Israel or the 12 tribes, it is Jesus. I was talking to an Israeli believer last year and an American asked him what it would be like when Jesus returned and restored Israel’s borders (which is a very westernized Christian question to ask). My Israeli friend said, “when Jesus returns there will be no need for borders so there won’t be any.”

That’s a great perspective.