Saturday, August 20, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (41)

We have discussed the “ten lost tribes” of Israel several times in our study of Hosea. Yet many Christians do not believe there are descendants of Ephraim out in the world awaiting discovery and restoration to their ancestral homeland.

Partly this is an overreaction to British Israelism, a 19th century movement that claimed the people of Great Britain (and therefore most of the New World) were genetically, racially and linguistically the direct descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel. Despite its comprehensive refutation by archaeological, ethnological, genetic and linguistic research, BI still has its adherents, and therefore a significant number of Christians who feel compelled to keep reacting to and refuting their claims.

Where the opponents of BI go wrong, of course, is when they insist there are no lost tribes. The prophets say there are, and the fact that the descendants of Ephraim are not to be easily located in London or New York does not mean they don’t exist elsewhere on the planet in large numbers.

Hosea 14:1-3 — The Orphan Finds Mercy

“Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him,

‘Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, “Our God,” to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.’ ”

The Real Audience

As with all the prophets, Hosea’s words surely appealed to the occasional open, tender heart in his day. There has always been a remnant in Israel. These men and women are long dead now, and their repentance and humility toward God were undoubtedly of great benefit to them personally. But that is all the message of Hosea produced. No national repentance resulted from his preaching, and the northern kingdom ceased to exist as a viable political entity.

No, Hosea’s words still remain to be received, understood and processed by another audience: the long-lost descendants of Ephraim distributed throughout the world, many of whom have ancestors who married into other ethnicities and cultures, and most of whom would probably not identify today as Hebrews at all, let alone Jews. The command for them to return to the Lord still rings in the air, awaiting a response.

The Inevitable Return

Return they will. All the prophets speak of it. Claims that the ten tribes are not “lost” in Assyrian exile make no sense when we line them up beside scripture. Some claim their prophesied return to the land has already been fulfilled in that “Many of the Jews who remained in the land after the Assyrian conquest re-united with Judah in the south (2 Chronicles 34:6-9).”

This is manifestly not what Hosea or the other prophets are teaching. They speak of a return, not of men and women who never went into exile, but of those who did. It should be obvious that the words “exiles” and “dispersed” do not apply to Israelites whom the Assyrians allowed to stay behind.

The Major Prophets Speak

Which other prophets speak of this return prophesied by Hosea? All the major ones, and they do us the favor of locating this return in a day still future, where we cannot easily confuse it with the historical returns from Babylonian captivity under Ezra and Nehemiah.

Isaiah notes that this return it will not occur until the “Root of Jesse” comes and the “nations inquire” of him, a phrase that can only apply to the Second Coming. He declares, “He [Messiah] will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The jealousy of Ephraim shall depart, and those who harass Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah, and Judah shall not harass Ephraim.” Isaiah speaks of this return in numerous other passages, including all of chapter 49.

When has this ever happened? Never.

Jeremiah also speaks of it: “Sing aloud with gladness, O Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’ Behold, I will bring them from the north country and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the pregnant woman and she who is in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.” He says of them, “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness.” Like Isaiah, Jeremiah identifies this return with the “latter days”, not a mere 200 years down the road. Jeremiah also references this same return here, here and here.

Ezekiel too speaks of a reuniting of Judah with Israel that was not accomplished in times past. He writes, “Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms.” Note again that he is speaking of taking the people of Israel from among the nations, not merely the poor Israelites the Assyrians left behind.

Note also that “one king shall be over them”. When has Israel had a king since the Babylonian captivity? Never, that’s when.

More Testimony

We may even find a hint of the present long exile in Jacob’s blessing of his sons at the end of Genesis. He told them, “Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall.” The word “Joseph” there refers to the tribes fathered by his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, a significant percentage of exiled Israelites. When branches (or descendants) run “over a wall”, the implication is that they take root outside the boundaries of one’s property. I have the vast majority of my neighbor’s vine growth at the moment, though he has the roots. They have “run over the wall”, or the fence at least.

Moreover, in the New Testament, James writes to the “twelve tribes scattered abroad”. He wrote his letter long before 70AD, when Jerusalem fell to the Roman armies. In the mid first century, the vast majority from the ten “lost” tribes, as well as many from the Babylonian captivity of Judah, were still out there, and some of them were receiving mail.

A Mysterious Return

How large numbers of these men and women will come to know of their covenant relationship with YHWH and return to him initially seems quite a mystery. Over 2,500 years have passed, after all. While many of the descendants of Judah and the tribes allied with them have retained their identity, the citizens of the northern kingdom distributed throughout the Assyrian Empire and Egypt have surely moved, moved and moved again. They could quite literally be anywhere in the world, and they are certainly not all together in one place. Many of them are bound to know little or nothing of their ethnic history. They do not sit and struggle daily with the words of Hosea, trying to decide whether or not to repent.

Once again, the answer to this conundrum is found in Isaiah. After the destruction of the nations who will one day besiege Israel, Isaiah says:

“The time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord.”

Foreign Missionaries at Work

Israel will return because God will send them foreign missionaries, “survivors” and witnesses to the glory of Christ’s return. These will “declare my glory among the nations”, as a result of which the missing Israelites will be discovered and brought in honor back to Israel. With the current state of genetics, it should not be a problem to locate the descendants of the ten tribes, or any of the remaining strays from the Babylonian captivity who have lost their identity in the vast sea of humanity, especially if they are all jumping at the chance to find out whether they really belong to this favored group. It may be like a giant game of “Where’s Waldo?”, or more accurately, “Spot the Israelite”.

Jacob’s descendants have been hated and driven out of other nations all over the world for centuries. They have deliberately hidden their ethnicity time and time again. Now, being descended from Jacob will be a high honor, and finding one a great privilege.

The words in their mouths will be these: “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.”

How will they know this? Because they will have been told it. And who is the orphan finding mercy? The lost Israelite, called back to a covenant relationship with his God and the blessings of the millennial reign of Christ.

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