Goodnews Christian Ministry

"To Babylon you must go and there you will be rescued; There God will ransom you out of the power of your enemies." ---Micah 4:10


The 12 Tribes of Israel

"Son of man, the citizens of Jerusalem (the Jews) are telling the rest of the House of Israel, that since they were sent away from God, that it is to them that the land has been given as their domain. Say therefore, The Lord says this: 'Yes, I have sent them far away among the nations, and I have dispersed them to foreign countries...but I will gather them together from among the peoples,
I will bring them all back from the countries where they have been scattered
and I will give them the land of Israel."


Most of us, when we hear the word 'Israel', think only of the Jews. But from the beginning the Jews have had to share this title with a great many others, because in scripture the House of Israel consists of twelve tribes and the Jews are just one of those twelve. (See Map)

It is the same with the word 'Hebrew' -- the term describes twelve tribes, not just one. Everything that is written in the Old Testament was written for the the House of Israel as a group, not just for a single tribe.

Understanding this is a major key to understanding the Bible. And as we shall see in the descriptions that follow, it is also the key to understanding the varied churches of Jesus Christ.

The clan of Judah rose to dominence over the other tribes of Israel when the Hebrew leaders of Ephraim proved unworthy. And the Jews gained complete control over the Mosaic religion when the Israeli nation divided and fell apart because of sin.

Attacked and taken away into foreign captivity by Assyria, ten of the twelve Hebrew tribes vanished from history.

By the time Jesus was born, only a small remnant of two tribes remained in the Holy Land. The others had all disappeared -- melded into the genetic infrastructure of the human race.

With their disappearance, the Jewish remnant that remained in Palestine came to the conclusion that they were the sole beneficiaries of all of God's promises to the House of Israel.

But the prophet Ezekiel told them no. They were simply the last tribe to go into Babylon's exile.

Ezekiel scolded the Jews for their arrogance in trying to usurp the covenant. He told them in no uncertain terms (see chapter heading) that all twelve of Israel's tribes were going to share equally in the fulfillment of scripture's promise.

Ezekiel put the Jews on notice that the missing Hebrew tribes were not missing as far as God was concerned. Jeremiah agreed. "In those days", Jeremiah said, "the House of Judah will unite with the House of Israel; together they will come from the land of the north to the land I gave your ancestors as a heritage." (Jer.3:18).

The Jewish leaders did not believe these predictions because they could not see how those vanished tribes could ever be recovered. The missing tribes of Israel had entirely disappeared. Their genetic identity had evaporated completely and seemed irretrievably lost.

The Jewish scholars could not conceive a divine intervention powerful enough to restore these missing people, because the lost tribes had become indistinguishable from the Gentiles into whose stock they had disappeared.

For this reason, the Jews steadfastly see themselves as the sole beneficiaries of all the ancient promises in scripture concerning the House of Israel.

Scripture had long predicted a royal lineage for the tribe of Judah and the rabbi's translated that to mean exclusivity. There were so many prophecies all seeming to say the same thing, who could deny it?

But all those prophecies of royalty were for Jesus, not the Jews. It was not the roots that were royal but the One who sprang from them. The royal heir was Jesus, the Christ -- the princely Son of the Almighty King.

The name 'Israel' means 'rebel'. It was the name the Lord gave to Jacob because he rebelled against God by fighting against an angel.

Jacob, the son of Isaac, was Abraham's grandson. He sired twelve sons. Their names were, in the order of their ages: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamine.

These were the men whose descendants were to form ten of the twelve tribes of Israel. Two were removed. One to perpetuate the priesthood, and the other to sire two grandsons who were later added in.

Out of jealousy, the brothers conspired against young Joseph and sold him into slavery. He was taken in chains to Egypt, where he rose to a position of great authority, becoming a personal friend of the Egyptian Pharaoh who put him in charge of the Egyptian grain stores.

A skillful administrator, Joseph filled the Egyptian silo's to overflowing, staving off a disastrous famine that engulfed all the other nations of the Middle East.

Later reconciled with his family (after they came looking for something to eat), his father, Jacob (Israel) elevated Joseph to patriarchy status, and promoted Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manesseh to positions of equality with his own sons.

This completed the formation of Jacob's 12 tribes.

In response to his rebellion against the angel, God changed Jacob's name to 'Israel', and, as a result, his eleven sons became known preferentially as the 'House of Israel' rather than the 'House of Jacob' (which is used as an occasional alternative by various prophets).

The name 'Israel', therefore, is symbolic. It means 'house of rebellion'. And it stands for a nation that made war against God by rebelling against His will, but which was allowed to survive by the mercy of God.

The name, therefore, has two derivitives, rebellion and mercy. The people of Israel were born into rebellion because of Adam's sin and they have gained their life only through the mercy of the forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ.

A symbol of that forgiveness can be found in Israel's true name, 'Jacob'. That is why references to this name appear in many prophecies. They are synonymous with an 'Israel' reconciled to God and restored to its former status. This is a reconciliation that can only take place in Jesus Christ.

Because of our birth into Adam's sin, we all share a common relationship with Israel -- having been born into a life of rebellion against God . Despite that fact, we have been allowed to regain our lives through repentance and conversion into the sanctfying grace of Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for this sin in all of our names.

Jacob's fight against the angel duplicated man's warfare with God; and God's mercy to Jacob mirrored the reconciliation offered to mankind through Jesus Christ. For his struggle against the angel, Jacob received the name 'Israel', and that name has been passed down into all of his descendants -- and all, like Israel, have been offered the opportunity to extricate themselves from the battlefield and reconcile themselves with God.

We might gather from this that everyone in the world belongs to the House of Israel in a spiritual way, but Jesus, Himself, has declared otherwise: "If God were your father, you would love me, since I have come here from God...I was sent by him.

Do you know why you cannot take in what I say? It is because...the devil is your father, and you prefer to do what your father wants."

Not everyone belongs to God. The salvation of those that do -- the 'lost' Israelites hidden in the deepest recesses of the world's population -- is one of the most important themes of scripture.

Anyone who accepts the sanctifying grace offered to the world by God through Jesus Christ comes into unity with these twelve tribes and proves that he is a true part of God's Israel in heaven.

One of the most important truths we have learned from Jesus is that the ingathering is not genetic. The people of God are not determined by DNA or by any other genetic factor. God has no favorite people. There is no divine race. Only a divine behavior.

The missing Hebrew tribes, scattered among the people of the North, have been recovered by God, not by genetic tracking, but by faith in a preached Gospel.

Jesus said our enemies would be members of our own families -- people who share our own genetic lineage. (Mt.10:34-36). And this applies to Jews as well as to pagans. Paul said that "it is not physical descent that decides who are the children of God". (Rom 9:8).

There is no such thing, then, as a 'divine gene'. This will be seen most clearly at the End when the Jews in Jerusalem divide into two camps. The Jews who are saved will be saved by their faithfulness to the commandments of God -- not by the fact that they are Jewish.

The true House of Israel are those who hear and obey the voice of God. "Those who do not love me do not keep my words." (Jn.14:24). Jesus told the Jews that those who do not obey His commandments do not belong to God (Jn.8:47), proving that obedience to the Gospel is the actual measure that divides the true House of Israel from the civilization ruled by Satan.

"Glory to him who is able to give you the strength to live according to the Good News I preach, and in which I proclaim Jesus Christ, the revelation of a mystery kept secret for endless ages, but now so clear that it must be broadcast to pagans everywhere to bring them to the obedience of faith." (Rom.16:25-26).

The people of the Ingathering, therefore, are those who listen to Christ's words: "I told you, listen to my voice; carry out all my orders, then you shall be my people and I will be your God." (Jer.11:4).

The lost tribes of Israel can be seen today only through Christian conversions. The fact that there are twelve tribes of Israel rather than just one explains the variations between the different churches of Christ.

If there are eleven different tribes of Israel pursuing Jesus, it only stands to reason that they will all manifest themselves in different ways.

Instead of hating and vilifying churches of Christ that differ from our own, then, we should glorify God that these differences exist because they prove the truthfulness of scripture by showing a rescue that spans all the different tribes.

This diversity shows that Jeremiah's prophecy has come true. And that means the Bible is correct. "God said to me...go and shout these words towards the North: 'Come back, disloyal Israel -- it is God who speaks -- I shall frown on you no more, since I am merciful..." (Jer.3:10-12).

"See, then, that the days are coming -- it is God who speaks -- when people will no longer say, 'As God lives who brought the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt!', but, 'As God lives who brought the sons of Israel out of the land of the North and back from all the countries to which he had scattered them'." (Jer.16:14-15).

Jesus has initiated a rescue of the scattered lost tribes of Israel from all across the earth and recalled them to God's Jerusalem in heaven -- just as scripture promised He would.

Christians must see themselves in the context of this return; not as sole heirs like the Jews do, but as a family of heirs -- a family with a great many brothers and sisters all committed to the same master.

As far as the Jews are concerned all these other vanished Israelites have been lost and forsaken forever. But the Bible tells a different story: "God is going to abandon them till the time when she who is to give birth, gives birth. Then the remnant of his brothers will come back to the sons of Israel". (Micah 5:2-3).

The reason why so many Christians do not see themselves in the context of these mysterious charter members of the original House of Israel is that most do not realize that most of God's Hebrews were not Jewish -- only 1/12th of Israel's people were of Jewish descent.

Just after the death of Solomon, a political schism occured, dividing Israel into two 'houses' -- one house, the north, included the ten northern tribes and the House of the south, only Judah and Benjamine. The 'House' that disappeared into the pagan North was immense -- it started out at least 10 times larger than the tribe of Judah.

Anyone who has ever worked with genealogies knows that when they track an ancestor who lived even just 300 years ago, they discover a network of descendants from that single source large enough to fill the pages of a telephone book.

By the same token, the genetic descendants of those 11 tribes, ten of which disappeared 2700 years ago, and which numbered at least a million people then, have to be infinitely vast at this point.

The ingathering is not genetically based, but the template of the scattering is genetic, and it points overwhelmingly to a massive hidden community scattered across every part of the earth. It is in this immense gene pool that now touches almost every living person on the planet, that the spiritual House of Israel has its roots.

We have already examined the Jewish claim that all of God's promises were for their tribe alone.

Their genetic lobbying with respect to this claim has been so intense (and supported by so many) that most Christians today tend to view themselves as a kind of '13 th tribe' of Israel, bound to the Jews as an 'adopted' son of Abraham -- a sort of second class citizen of God on earth.

But as the prophets have shown, this is not true. Nor was it ever. Genetics plays no part in the determination of God's people. Not even with the Jews. (Mat.15:12-14). It is true that pagans were given a way to become a part of the House of Israel through a Jewish graft, but that was so that God could bypass the gene pool and open up His offer of salvation to the entire human race.

For those who still believe in the genetics of God, the ten missing tribes form a key element of the prophecy. One they cannot discount.

Scripture dictated the terms which Jesus had to follow in order for His appearance to be legal according to Hebrew Law. In the same way, the prophets dictated a return based on the framework of the lost tribes. And the return has followed that format -- though it has occured spiritually, not physically.

So what seems at first glance to be a group of genetic outsiders (i.e., gentiles and pagans) rising up to administer the highest offices in God's new covenant , turns out on closer inspection to be otherwise.

A great many of these Christians are actually missing members of the original House of Israel in disguise -- a disguise so perfect they are unknown to anyone except to God. The only proof of their camouflage, the fruits that emanate from their new lives in Christ.

No one knows which new Christian began from truly pagan roots or which began a hidden member of one of the missing tribes of Israel. Perhaps no one will ever know. All have been combined, and both have been made equal in the eyes of God who has restructured this entire division into just two groups.

Because of Jesus, the two 'Houses' of Israel in prophecy must now be seen, not as the tribes of the north and the tribes of the south, but rather in terms of Christians and Jews. The Christians form one of these two houses of Israel, and the Jews the other.

While the Christians have since divided themselves into seven churches (a metaphoric number), just how the various tribes of Israel will ultimately end up relating to one another in heaven remains one of the great mysteries of scripture. (Rv.7:4-15).

That relationship can be seen in the prophecy of John.

The Book of Revelation has divided the 'saved' into two groups. (Rv.7:2-17). The first group, the "144,000" (Rv.7:4), lists the members saved from each of the twelve tribes.

The second group of saved (the pagans) is so vast, that John cannot even count it. (Rv.7:9).

It is important to remember that all numbers given in scripture are symbolic figures. The real numbers are always sealed in metaphore. The remnant of just one of these tribes, the Jews, for instance, lists vastly more than 12,000 people even now.

The Jewish population in the world today measures about 18 million. Nine million Jews alone were massacred by Adolph Hitler. And neither of these figures comes close to the number of Jews born since the days of Jacob. Further, no one can really say what the Jewish population will be in Israel when Jesus returns. One thing is certain though: if we were to literally count only 12,000 of them as saved, virtually none of the people listed above would be included.

So we have to see these salvation figures concerning the twelve tribes of Israel as metaphoric. Vastly more than 144,000 are involved, but the true number remains a secret.

The second group of 'saved' in John's revelation do not come from the twelve tribes of Israel at all. These are the pagans who converted to Jesus when they heard His word preached to them. These are the 'foreigners' who have been "grafted on".

"After that I saw a huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands." (Rv.7:9).

In heaven, both of these groups will be united in the one Jesus Christ, since both have had to go through the great persecution together. (Rv.7:14-17).

The relationship between the 12 tribes of Israel and the existance of so many different Christian churches is a strong message to us from God.

It tells us that we need to be open-minded about those who worship Jesus differently than we do. Since God's salvation is based on a template of twelve different tribes, the existance of many different churches is a natural proof of their existance.

God has extended His offer to everyone. To tribes and pagans alike. Scripture has made it clear that not only does God intend to bring back all the lost tribes from the north, but that Gentiles, too, will be allowed to join them as equals:

"I shall say to a people that was not mine, 'you are my people', and to a nation I never loved, 'I love you'. Instead of being told, 'you are no people of mine', they will now be called the sons of the living God."
(Hos.2:1, Rom.9:25).

Speaking for God, the prophet Isaiah echoed Hosea's prediction: "Foreigners who have attached themselves to God to serve him and to love his name...these I will bring to my holy mountain...for my house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples." (Is.56:3-8).

Concluded Isaiah: "I am coming to gather the nations of every language." (Is.66:18). These statements illustrate quite clearly that the salvation of God was meant, not just for the Jews and not just for the twelve tribes of the House of Israel, but for the entire world.

Isaiah said that the message of the Lord would go out to all the nations, even to the distant islands across the sea, so that people who had never even heard of the God of Israel would have His love preached in their hearing. (Is.66:19).

With the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus, the world has witnessed all these prophecies come true. God had purposely scattered the House of Israel throughout the world so that His offer of reconciliation and peace could be made to all people everywhere -- not just so that the missing tribes could be saved, but so that all people on earth might be saved.

The 'chosen people' are those who accept the offer -- pagan or otherwise. Every pagan who chooses to repent from sin is grafted onto the 'branch' made possible by the birth into the tribe of Judah of the Son of God.

The lost tribes of Israel are indistinguishable within this Christian composition. In Christianity there are no Ephraimites, Danites, Manassites or Asherites. There are only Christians.

A single tribe remains separated from this unity. And this, only so that the others could be saved. At the end, once all the other tribes and the pagans have been rescued, even that last separated tribe is destined to be combined in the oneness of Christianity, making the entire House of Israel a single people in Jesus Christ.

When that happens, both houses of Israel -- both Christians and Jews -- will be united in a bond that will last forever.

Clock of God, Chapter 8,
"70 Years in Babylon"

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