There is a view common to many today that, of the twelve tribes of Israel, ten of these tribes were “lost” somewhere along the way. This idea is commonly referred to as the “ten lost tribes.” Most of those who are proponents of the idea of the ten lost tribes claim to have “found” these lost tribes somewhere. Sometimes it is in Europe, sometimes in Africa, but always its object seems to be to make peoples that we do not usually think of as “Jews” out to be Israelites. Ideas such as Anglo-Israelism or African-Israelism are all supported by this view. Often the ones supporting it are the ones claiming to be descendants of these ten lost tribes.

Now what exactly these people hope to prove by claiming this is not always clear. Sometimes it seems to be that they want to claim superiority to other men. Other times, it seems to be to support their religion as the superior one. They never seem to consider that those we call “Jews” today, whom I suppose they would call the two tribes that are not lost, are not exactly the most loved or privileged people on earth. Nor do they seem to want to take upon themselves the responsibilities of being an Israelite according to God’s Word. As is usual in such cases, their view seems to depend on a lot of vague inferences, and not have a whole lot to do with what is actually the truth and what is actually written in the Word of God.

Now what support do these groups have for their ideas of the ten lost tribe? Is there such a thing as ten lost tribes in the Scriptures? What are they basing this view on, and is there any Biblical evidence to support that ten of the tribes of Israel were “lost”? These questions we will consider in this article.

Now we know that the twelve tribes of Israel were all originally united. During the days of the judges, they were a loose coalition of tribes that were ruled over by a very informal ruler called a judge. When the people called for a king, this changed, and the power in Israel became much more centrally located. Under the kings Saul, David, and Solomon, the twelve tribes formed one, united kingdom, under one powerful king ruling the government. However, Solomon displeased the LORD by listening to his foreign wives and allowing them to worship their false gods in Israel. Thus, the LORD was angry with Solomon, and told him that He was going to divide the kingdom. We read of this in I Kings 11:11-13.

11. Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant. 12. Nevertheless I will not do it in your days, for the sake of your father David; I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13. However I will not tear away the whole kingdom; I will give one tribe to your son for the sake of My servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen.”

Later, the LORD revealed who was going to tear part of the kingdom away from Solomon’s son: the man Jeroboam. We read of him later in I Kings 11, and the promise God made to him through Ahijah the prophet.

31. And he said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and will give ten tribes to you 32. (but he shall have one tribe for the sake of My servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel),

It seems that Judah is considered as “belonging” to the descendants of David already, since it is their own tribe. Thus, when only one tribe is left to David’s line, it is actually a SECOND tribe after Judah.

Now in the reign of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, this all comes to pass, and the united kingdom of Israel comes to an end. I Kings 12 and II Chronicles 10 record for us how Israel pleaded with Rehoboam to reduce their workload. Rehoboam, however, did not listen to the advice of his wise counselors to grant the people their request, but instead refused to give the people even part of what they wanted. At this point, all the tribes of Israel except Rehoboam’s own tribe of Judah revolted from under his rule, and formed their own, separate nation called Israel, ruled over at first by Jeroboam. From then on throughout the time of the kings, you had Israel as a kingdom in the north, and Judah as a separate kingdom in the south. As we read in I Kings 12:16-17:

16. Now when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying:
“What share have we in David?
We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse.
To your tents, O Israel!
Now, see to your own house, O David!”
So Israel departed to their tents. 17. But Rehoboam reigned over the children of Israel who dwelt in the cities of Judah.

So we see that Judah only, Rehoboam’s own tribe, remained loyal to him. Yet the tiny tribe of Benjamin, almost discounted in all this, is seen to be loyal to Rehoboam and Judah, as we see in verse 21.

21. And when Rehoboam came to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah with the tribe of Benjamin, one hundred and eighty thousand chosen men who were warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, that he might restore the kingdom to Rehoboam the son of Solomon.

Though this attempt to reunite the kingdom failed, we see that Benjamin was allied with Judah, and continued to be on their side after this, and as long as Judah continued as a nation. So we had the ten tribes in the north, and the two tribes in the south.

However, things were not always so simple as this. For example, in II Chronicles 11:13-14, we read:

13. And from all their territories the priests and the Levites who were in all Israel took their stand with him. 14. For the Levites left their common-lands and their possessions and came to Judah and Jerusalem, for Jeroboam and his sons had rejected them from serving as priests to the LORD.

Jeroboam rejected the true worship of the LORD, and set up his own religion with his own priests. So the Levites, that tribe that was scattered among the other tribes in Israel to serve the LORD, backed Judah when Israel rejected them as their religious leaders. They left their homelands in the north to join with Judah, thus adding their strength to that of Judah and subtracting it from northern Israel. Moreover, II Chronicles 16:1 hints for us that this was not the only migration from Israel into Judah.

1. In the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Asa, Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah and built Ramah, that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah.

(This is almost identical to I Kings 15:17.) This would seem to indicate that so many were fleeing the idolatry in northern Israel to join the still-faithful Judah in the south that the king of Israel actually tried to patrol the border to keep the people from leaving their homeland in the north to go into Judah! This reminds us of the “Berlin wall,” and the attempt to keep people in communism and away from freedom. So the kings of the apostate north tried to keep those loyal to the LORD from fleeing to the faithful territories of Judah in the south.

This resulted in a situation where, although the tribal leadership of the ten tribes remained in the northern kingdom of Israel, many individuals from the ten tribes actually moved to and made their home in the southern nation of Judah throughout much of that country’s existence. Therefore, if you went to Judah, you would not find representatives from the two tribes only. Instead, you would find many from all the twelve tribes living in that southern kingdom of Judah.

Now we come to the exile. II Kings 17 describes for us how the northern kingdom of Israel, during the reign of King Hoshea, was conquered by Assyria and carried away by them into captivity. II Kings 17:6 describes this.

6. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah and by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

Verses 23 and 24 of the same chapter describe more fully what happened.

23. until the LORD removed Israel out of His sight, as He had said by all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away from their own land to Assyria, as it is to this day.
24. Then the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities.

So the ten northern tribes of Israel were carried away into captivity. However, they were not carried away to some unknown location, nor did they migrate of their own accord to some unknown place. Rather, they were carried away by the king of Assyria captive into his own land. We know exactly where they were at this point. They were in the land of Assyria. They were not “lost.”

Now some 100 years after this carrying away of the northern kingdom of Israel, Judah also became very wicked. By the time this occurred, the Assyrian Empire had given way to the Babylonian Empire, which now ruled that part of the world. Three times, some from Judah were carried away captive by the Babylonians. The final time is described for us in II Kings 25:11.

11. Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive the rest of the people who remained in the city and the defectors who had deserted to the king of Babylon, with the rest of the multitude.

Many were executed as well, and many were carried away captive, as verse 21 describes for us.

21. Then the king of Babylon struck them and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. Thus Judah was carried away captive from its own land.

So Judah was carried away captive as well. Now where were the ten tribes at this time? They were still in the captivity. When Babylon took over the empire from Assyria, they did not change location, nor did they stop being captives. Rather, they just transferred (without doing anything at all) from being captives of Assyria to being captives of Babylon. Then, when Judah was carried away captive as well, they joined their northern brethren already in captivity. Thus, all twelve of these tribes were now in captivity together. There was no longer really a difference between these two in location. They were all in the captivity, and all in the same place.

Now the Babylonian Empire gave way to the Persian Empire. Once more then, the people transferred from one empire to another without doing anything. The captives of Babylon became the captives of Persia. What had started out as the Assyrian captivity, what had changed into and been added to as the Babylonian captivity, now became the Persian captivity. Yet this was still the same captivity as the first, as is confirmed for us in Ezra 6:22.

22. And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy; for the LORD made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.

Here, Darius king of Persia is actually called the king of Assyria. This is not only technically true, for Persia ruled over Assyria at this point, but this also emphasizes for us that Darius stood in the place of the kings of Assyria who had carried Israel away into captivity in the first place. There was no break in the line or break in the captivity. The Persian captivity was the Assyrian captivity many years later.

Now finally at least a portion of the captivity was reversed, and some of the people of Israel returned home to their own land. How many tribes was it that returned? We find out in Ezra 6:16-17.

16. Then the children of Israel, the priests and the Levites and the rest of the descendants of the captivity, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. 17. And they offered sacrifices at the dedication of this house of God, one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel.

The people in the days of Zerubbabel did not think that there were only two tribes left, and that ten tribes had been lost. Rather, they considered it that there were still twelve tribes, as there had always been.

Now where is there room in all of this for ten of the tribes to be lost? The answer is that there is none. We know right where the ten tribes were when they were carried away into Assyria. We know right where they were when their Judean brethren were carried away as well and joined them in the captivity. We know right where they were when the nation of Persia arose as the new power in the empire. And we know right where they were when many of them returned to the land at the time of Zerubbabel. There was no room anywhere here for the ten tribes to migrate away to some strange place and end up in England or in Africa or anywhere else. These were captive men, and were not allowed to just all pack up and leave en masse as they pleased. They were captives, and they stayed as captives until Persia allowed them to return.

Now when we come to the New Testament, we find that the situation has not changed. The twelve tribes are still there, and everyone knows who they are and where they are. The apostle Paul in the book of Acts knew of no lost ten tribes. Rather, he found all twelve tribes in the land of Israel serving God, as he declares to Agrippa in Acts 26:7.

7. To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews.

James knew of no ten lost tribes when he wrote his book to the tribes still scattered abroad in the captivity. Rather, he speaks to the twelve as a unit. Though they had not returned to the land of Israel with their brethren, all that meant was that they were right there in the captivity where they had always been. We can see this in James 1:1.

1. James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad:

Thus James saw all twelve tribes scattered abroad together. No “lost tribes” seemed to enter the picture here. This idea of ten lost tribes is not a Biblical concept.

Now as I said, we know that many adhere to this idea of “ten lost tribes.” The reason they do this seems to be that they want to find them somewhere. The so-called “Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints” wants to find them in the American Indians. Others want to find them in some tribe in Africa. One tribe in Africa claims to be descendants of the Levites. They even claim to have the original ark. Of course, they have it in a secret location, and only a priest can enter the room where it is, making this conveniently difficult to confirm. Not that the “ten lost tribes” would have had anything to do with the ark anyway, since that was in the southern kingdom of Judah.

Yet all these ideas are based on a lack of Biblical knowledge. There is a popular conception that ten tribes were lost, and the Biblically ignorant masses accept the idea without questioning it. Yet the Bible presents a very different picture of things. When we read what It has to say on the matter, we realize that the ten tribes were never lost, and so there is no need to find them. The twelve separated tribes were united again in the Babylonian captivity. Whatever happened to the two tribes, then, also happened to the ten. They were all together, and they continue together. There is no such thing in the Bible as “ten lost tribes.”