What Happened to the Captive Tribes?
By the threefold fall of Jerusalem at the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar (606, 599, 587 B.C.; see 2 Chron. 36:5-21) both Israel and Judah were captives in Babylonia. The tribes that had been captives in 721 B.C. under the Assyrians were not captives of the Babylonians. Both houses—Judah and Israel—are referred to by Jeremiah under the name Israel (Jer. 50:17, 33): "Israel is a scattered sheep; the lions have driven him away: first the king of Assyria hath devoured him; and last this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon hath broken his bones. . . . Thus saith the Lord of hosts; the children of Israel and the children of Judah were oppressed together."
After the various deportations of the Jews, they were found in three main groups—one large group in Egypt to which they had fled when Jerusalem's fall was imminent in 599 B.C. or thereabouts, one in Babylonia, and the third in Palestine.
The last Biblical reference to the citizens of the ten tribes of Israel is in 2 Kings 17, verse 6, which mentions their dispersal in various parts of the Assyrian Empire. After this, some doubtless joined their fellows in Babylonia, where many remained permanently, and some returned to Palestine under the favors of King Cyrus. But apart from this they vanished from history.
A tablet or two found in Mesopotamia mentions the Israelites. One found in Tel Halaf, the Gozan of 2 Kings 17:6, mentions the sale of an Israelite slave girl named Dinah. An Assyrian royal letter also mentions Gozan and two Israelite officials. A recent archeological comment is of interest here:
These are the only traces we can find of the defeated citizens of the northern kingdom. From that time on they simply disappear, and are not traceable any more by the historian. Everything that is said contrary to this fact by the advocates of the Anglo-Israelite movement, who find the descendants of the "ten lost tribes" among the present population of the British Isles, is historically unfounded and completely untenable.'
From Jerusalem's destruction by Nebuchadnezzar onward we have Jewish history in the form of records and experiences of scattered, oppressed remnants who disappeared as tribes by absorption, attrition, dispersions, until today no few knows from which tribe of Israel he is descended.
Some Fallacious Principles of Prophetic Interpretation
Anglo-American-Israelism depends mainly upon certain Old Testament prophecies, since, unfortunately for advocates of the theory, our Lord and His apostles said not a word about England and America in this connection nor did they expound Old Testament prophecy as it appears in British-Israel literature.
Is it true that God ever made unconditional prophetic promises to literal Israel? Are God's promises to mankind generally conditional or unconditional? Were the promises made to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 and elsewhere changed from conditional to unconditional after Abraham had demonstrated his obedience to God? If they were so changed, would that suggest righteousness and inheritance by works?
There are, of course, unconditional promises of salvation and damnation in the Scriptures, but they are mainly abstract rather than personal. "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6: 23) is clearly an unequivocal declaration that the man who chooses to sin will inevitably perish, and the man who chooses to serve the Lord will inherit life eternal. But the promises of salvation to individuals and to specific nations must in their very nature be contingent upon loyalty to God. If God had made unconditional prophecies of conquest, domination, salvation, to any nations or individuals, He would be despotic, partial, and immoral rather than righteous, impartial, and just. Even in His arbitrary choice of Israel, He offered eternal salvation to the individual, and a glorious divine destiny to the nation, on the basis of loyalty to covenant principles.
It was unquestionably God's desire in choosing the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to make them a light and blessing to the world: "The Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance" (Deut. 32:9-12).
"The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant" (Isa. 5:7).
"Thou hast avouched the Lord this day to be thy God, and to walk in his ways, ... : and the Lord hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments; and to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the Lord thy God, as he hath spoken" (Deut. 26:17-19; cf. chap. 7:6).
Ancient and favored Israel were led out of Egypt according to the prophetic word (Ex. 3:6-10), and by the same divine prescience were led into Canaan.
"I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. . . And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob" (Ex. 6:6-8).
God's Purpose Through His Chosen People
In Canaan it was God's plan to demonstrate the blessings brought upon a people by their loyalty to divine principles, and through such a people to enlighten the world and establish the kingdom of God on earth.
The children of Israel were to occupy all the territory which God appointed them. Those nations that rejected the worship and service of the true God, were to be dispossessed. But it was God's purpose that by the revelation of His character through Israel men should be drawn unto Him. To all the world the gospel invitation was to be given.2
After the Babylonian captivity, which was a result of Israel's disloyalty, God renewed His promise to enlighten the earth through the chosen people: "I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the Lord of hosts the holy mountain" (Zech. 8:3; cf. verses 7, 8).
"These promises were conditional on obedience" and upon their living the upright life outlined in Zechariah 8, verses 12 and 13—executing true judgment, showing mercy and compassion, befriending widows, the fatherless, the stranger, the poor, speaking truth and thinking no evil.
Up until the rejection of Jesus it seems to have been possible for the chosen people to have inherited God's promised blessings in the enlightenment of the world and the establishment of His kingdom. Exactly how in detail we do not know. But they failed to fulfill the only conditions on which they could carry out their high destiny—acceptance, obedience, cooperation in the divine objective. Their rejection of Christ ended their national probation.
These conditional prophecies are found all through the Scriptures, but one in particular is pertinent at this point. Eli the priest is confronted by "a man of God" who said: "Wherefore the Lord God of Israel saith, I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before me for ever: but now the Lord saith, Be it far from me; for them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed" (1 Sam. 2:30).
It has been observed on this passage that "not even the words 'for ever' remove from the promise its necessarily conditional character." God would have preserved the house of Eli and his sons had they honored Him, but they did not, and the promised blessing was not fulfilled. We must not make every conditional prophecy a predestinarian decree that cannot be changed. God expresses His desire and purpose for His people in prophecy, but they are not forced on free human beings against their desires.
It is precisely because the Hebrews disobeyed God that—what He purposed to do for the world through Israel of old He will finally accomplish through His church on earth today, and many of the promises originally made to Israel will be fulfilled to His remnant people at the close of time.5
When the children of Israel failed to conquer Canaan completely, and settled down to enjoy partial conquest, they began their departure from God. "By their failure to carry out His purpose they made it impossible for Him to fulfill to them His promise of blessing." 6
Some of the prophecies made to Israel cannot now be fulfilled because conditions have entirely changed. For example, can Israel "fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines" (Isa. 11:14), and despoil Edom and Moab, and conquer the children of Ammon? '
That Seventh-day Adventists are not alone in this view of conditional prophecy is clear from one of many comments on the subject:
Are we then declaring that there are promises in Scripture which neither have been fulfilled, nor ever can be? Yes—and no. "Yes," if by yes is meant that, when human faithlessness refuses to respond to the Divine Word, and the promise cannot be fulfilled in the form in which it was first given, conditions may so change that in its original form the promise cannot be fulfilled at al1.8
When God said, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown," He was not declaring an unconditional prophecy of destruction, which recalls this valuable comment: "It should be remembered that the promises and threatenings of God are alike conditional."
In general we may say that prophetic promises are limited to man's probationary time except where clearly stated otherwise, as in prophecies of a future world, "the day of the Lord," and postmillennial events, et cetera.
The True Israel of God
Our Lord said to "the chief priests and the elders of the people": "Therefore say unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matt. 21:43).
Anglo-Israelism interprets these words to mean wresting the kingdom from the Jews and giving it to Israel (the Anglo-Saxon races)."
Christ's parable of the vineyard in Matthew 21:33 is taken from Isaiah 5:1-7, where it was used as a warning of judgment against the church of God in Isaiah's day. Anglo-Israelism says that "the first six chapters [of Isaiah] are addressed to Judah and Jerusalem,' but verse seven of this passage specifies both Israel and Judah: "The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant."
Clearly this passage is a condemnation of both Israel and Judah, and we cannot agree to the Anglo-Israel differentiation between these two terms. Jesus, like Isaiah, denounced all unfaithful men of the twelve tribes; not of two or ten, but of the whole nation.
The words, "Israel," "Jew," and "Hebrew" are all used interchangeably concerning the people as a whole. These words are inclusive, not divisive, in the New Testament. The word Israel is used 83 times, and the word Jew used 174 times, as names of the united people. The extent of Jewry is seen in Acts 2:5, in the list of the countries from which the people came to the Feast of Tabernacles (see Acts 2:9-11).'-
Speaking of Judaism as the religion developed in the southern kingdom under the Deuteronomic reforms and during the Exile, we have this comment: "All Israelites who maintained their identity were its adherents, hence the name 'Jew' has absorbed the name 'Israel.'"
It is true that originally the term "Israelite" applied to the descendants of Jacob (Gen. 32:22-28; Ex. 1:9) and later to the inhabitants of the northern kingdom (1 Kings 12:1, 16, 19). But even during the divided kingdoms its use was not confined exclusively to the northern kingdom.
The term Israel is sometimes applied equally to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah during the time of the divided kingdom (Is 8:14), probably in the covenant sense. Following the dissolution of the northern kingdom the name is commonly used as referring to the people of the kingdom of Judah, even during the period of the Babylonian captivity (Is 1:3; cf. v. 1; Eze 3:1, 7; etc.).14
If the parable of Isaiah 5:1-7 was used as a reprimand to the church of God in Isaiah's day, and if God's people then included both Israel and Judah (Isa. 5:7), then we are warranted in believing that the parable included both Israel and Judah when the Lord Jesus Christ used it. Jesus and His apostles used the word "Israel" as inclusive of remnant members of all the twelve tribes, not of ten tribes, nor of the two tribes, for as such the identity of individual segregated tribes was almost completely lost.
When Paul stood trial on one occasion, he said: "And now I stand here on trial for 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" (Acts 26:6, 7, R.S.V.).
That this great apostle understood that the descendants of all twelve tribes (in other words, all Jews) were known as Israel is clear when the above words are compared with the following:
"Because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain" (chap. 28:20).
Paul speaks of "my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites." Here we have a man who knew he was of the tribe of Benjamin (one of the two tribes of Judah) calling all Israelites his kinsmen. Obviously he was using "Israelites" to mean all Jews.
The apostle James wrote "to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting" (James 1:1).
The conclusion is inescapable that the New Testament writers believed that some of the people of Israel were then in Palestine and others were scattered in other known lands. They certainly give no credence to the idea that large numbers of them were slowly wending their mysterious way toward the British Isles.
To Whom Was the Kingdom Given?
In Romans 3:1, 2 Paul admits that the Jews were a favored people "chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God,- which is an obvious reference to the twelve tribes at Sinai. It is of these same people that he refers in the words "who are Israelites" in Romans 9: 3-5. These Jews, these Israelites, limited God's promises to a literal nation, as Anglo-Israelism has done, but the kingdom was taken from them for reasons we may list from New Testament references as follows:
Rom. 2:24. The name of God was blasphemed by Gentiles because of Jewish inconsistency.
Luke 16:1-12. The Jews had completely failed as God's stewards.
Matt. 21:33-44; Isa. 5:7. They did not bring forth the fruits of God's kingdom—judgment and righteousness. Paul's agony over his unrepentant kinsmen is clearly seen in Romans 9:3, and in verse 8 he states explicitly: "They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed."
The "Jew, which is one outwardly," says Paul, "is not a Jew. . . . But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly" (Rom. 2:28, 29). That is, any believer who accepts the covenant promises is a spiritual Jew or Israelite and an inheritor through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus. The promise of heirship of the world was not for Abraham alone, "but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead" (chap. 4:24, 25).
In God's sight there is now "neither Jew nor Greek . . . : for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:28, 29). Thus it is "that the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith" (Rom. 9:30).
The great apostle to the Gentiles gives the reason for the withdrawal of covenant privileges from the people of Israel, or the Jews, and their bestowal on the Gentiles:
"It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46).
For this reason another apostle spoke of the Gentiles who had entered into covenant relation with Christ in these terms:
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy (1 Peter 2:9, 10).
Paul makes an interesting use of the terms "Jews," that is literal Israel, "Gentiles," and "the church of God": "Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God" (1 Cor. 10:32).
Clearly the kingdom promises were taken from the unbelieving Jewish nation —the church of God in Christ's day—and given to believing Gentiles and Jews—God's elect in every nation. To twice-born men, regardless of race, and to them alone, now belong "the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, . . . and the promises" (Rom. 9:3-5).
The Anglo-American-Israel theory is based on the same fallacy committed by the Jews, or Israel, of Christ's day. They limit God's covenant promises and blessings to be a literal nation, or nations, whereas they belong to every man in Christ Jesus.
1 Siegfried H. Horn, Light From the Dust Heaps, pp. 60, 61.
2 E.G. White, ProPhets and Kings, p. 19.
3 White, ibid. p. 704.
4 H. L. Goudge, The British Israel Theory, p. 20.
5 The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, pp. 25, 26.
6 E. G. White, Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 119.
7 This is one of many passages yet to be fulfilled in principle through Christ's kingdom and spiritual Israel.
8 Goudge, op. cit., p. 22.
9 E. G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 67.
10 See leaflet Why Great Britain Will Never Be Destroyed, by W. A. Bolt, Covenant Publishing Co., London. England.
11 Joseph Gay, The British Israel Truth, p. 11, British Israel World Federation Leaflet, No. 3.
12 W. H. Smith, The Ten Tribes of Israel Never Lost, p. 66, pub. Vancouver, B.C.' 1946.
13 Hastings, Art. "Jew," Dictionary of the Bible, p. 465.
14 SDA Bible Dictionary, p. 517.