It was soon after the death of King Solomon, around the year 930 BC, that the children of Israel (the descendants of the 12 sons of Jacob) splintered into two kingdoms as a result of irreconcilable conflicts. The Northern Kingdom, made up of ten of the tribes, became known as the Kingdom of Israel. The Southern Kingdom (which included Jerusalem), was made up of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and some from the ordained priestly tribe of Levi. It became known as the Kingdom of Judah.
As a result of idolatry and failure to follow the commandments of Scripture, both kingdoms eventually fell to foreign powers and were taken into exile. For the Northern Kingdom of Israel, this defeat and exile occurred around the year 722 BC. There is no record of their return.
“For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they departed not from them; Until the LORD removed Israel out of his sight, as he had said by all his servants, the prophets. So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day” (II Kings 17:22-23).
The Southern Kingdom of Judah remained until 586 BC until they were defeated and taken into captivity by the Babylonians. For 70 years they were in exile in Babylon (known as the Babylonian Captivity), but unlike the Northern Kingdom that literally vanished, a remnant from the Southern Kingdom of Judah (under Nehemiah and Zerubbabel) returned in 516 BC and rebuilt Jerusalem. All Jewish people today trace their lineage to the two southern tribes or the tribe of Levi.
Sadly, exactly what happened to the ten northern tribes is not known. There are many theories, enough to fill a library. Some are bizarre and clearly false (like the British-Israel theory taught by one prominent American television Bible teacher until his death), while others are more feasible. In fact, where these descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob eventually ended up is so shrouded in mystery and intrigue that these ten tribes have come to be known as the “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel!”
It is likely that many of the exiles of Jacob intermarried, assimilated and were driven to the far corners of the earth. Actually, this was not by chance. God’s Word clearly recorded this would happen. “But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands…I will set my face against you…even when no one is pursuing you…I will scatter you among the nations…” (Leviticus 26:14, 17, 25).
Almost everywhere I have traveled in the world for nearly 25 years (over 40 countries to date), I meet those who are convinced that their nation or ethnic group is descended from one of the Ten Lost Tribes! As the Encyclopedia Judaica so accurately states, “There is hardly a people, from the Japanese to the British, and from the Red Indians to the Afghans, who have not been suggested, and hardly a place, among them Africa, India, China, Persia, Kurdistan, Caucasia, the United States, and Great Britain” [Vol. 15, page 1006]. As for the Southern Kingdom of Judah, while attention is primarily drawn to the remnant that returned and rebuilt the Land, in fact, many never returned from the Babylonian Captivity. And the remnant that did were scattered again in 70 AD by the Romans and dispersed throughout the nations.
Through the centuries, these dispersed children of Israel were lost, but there are physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob dwelling in almost every nation on the planet.
While the rest of the world might have lost these scattered “outcasts of Israel,” God certainly has not! I am convinced that in these Last Days He is now uncovering the descendants of these tribes and gathering them back to Himself to fulfill His Word.
“Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; the LORD of hosts is His name: If this fixed order departs from before Me, declares the LORD, then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever. Thus says the LORD, If the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:35-37).