The Lost Sheep of the House of Israel
Yeshua said in Matthew 15:24, “I was not sent to anyone but the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel.” This statement presents difficulties to those who see Yeshua as having come to establish a gentile-based religious system, yet to those who study the Scriptures from a Hebraic perspective, it makes perfect sense.
It is important to know the history surrounding the two Houses of Israel to really be able to understand the “Gospel Message”, let alone the “big picture” message of the Scriptures. The Gospel itself has its origins Deuteronomy 28-30, which promised the children of Israel that if they would keep the Torah of YHWH, then she would be rewarded with all forms of splendor; but if she broke the Torah of YHWH, she would be cursed, and scattered to all the nations of the world.
Now for a short history lesson.
After the reign of King Solomon, around 930 BCE, the twelve tribes of the Kingdom of Israel were split into two separate nations: the southern kingdom, made up of the tribes of Benjamin, Judah, and part of Levi; and the northern kingdom, made up of the remaining “ten tribes”. (Reuben, Simeon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Manasseh, and Ephraim) The southern kingdom became known as Judah, while the northern retained the name Israel.
During the course of events, both kingdoms disobeyed the Torah that YHWH our God had given them, and as a result (as Deuteronomy 28 prophesied) the two kingdoms of Israel, both Northern and Southern, went into captivity to foreign nations for their disobedience. The Northern kingdom went into captivity to the Assyrians around 720 BCE, (2nd Kings 17:6) while the Southern kingdom went into captivity to the Babylonians a bit later, around 586 BCE (2nd Kings 25:21).
We know definitively that the Southern Kingdom of Judah was brought back from her exile in during the 1st year of the reign of King Cyrus of Persia (Ezra 1:1-4, 2nd Chronicles 36:22-23). This event had taken place in 516 BCE, exactly 70 years after Judah was sent into captivity. This 70 years of Babylonian captivity, followed by the punishment of Babylon, took place to fulfill the prophesy spoken by Jeremiah the Prophet (Jeremiah 29:10). This southern Kingdom of Judah eventually became known as a people group called “the Jews”, as they are known to this very day. In fact, the modern nation of Israel is really the modern reestablishment of the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
As Ezra 1:5 recounts, “Then the heads of fathers’ households of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, even all whose spirit God had stirred to go up rose up to build the house of Yahweh which is in Jerusalem.” It must be noted here that only three tribes of the children of Israel ever returned from captivity. Yet the promises of God were made not to the three tribes, but to all of tribes of the children of Israel, at a time when Judah and Israel were one kingdom. This is not by any means to downplay the promises that God made to the Jewish nation- rather, it is to put in perspective that these same promises were made to the Northern Ten Tribes as well.
Unlike the exile of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, which was temporarily put away as a form of punishment, and brought back only seventy years later, the Northern Kingdom of Israel was full-out divorced for their disobedience to YHWH- just as the Torah prophesied they would be.
Jeremiah 3:1-2,8 record the giving of the bill of divorce: “They say, ‘If a man puts away his wife, and she goes from him, and become another man’s, will he return to her again? Wouldn’t that land be greatly polluted?’ But you have played the prostitute with many lovers; yet return again to me,” says YHWH. “Lift up your eyes to the bare heights, and see! Where have you not been lain with? You have sat for them by the ways, as an Arabian in the wilderness. You have polluted the land with your prostitution and with your wickedness… I saw, when, for this very cause that backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a bill of divorce…”
Likewise, Hosea 2:2-3 record the divorce: “Contend with your mother! Contend, for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband; and let her put away her prostitution from her face, and her adulteries from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked, and make her bare as in the day that she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and kill her with thirst.”
Let there be no doubt about it- the Northern Kingdom of Israel was not only sent into exile, but was outright divorced from her God and her Maker. Now there has been much speculation over the location of the lost ten tribes of the northern kingdom over the past 2700 years. Many will traditionally claims that the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were simply gradually absorbed into the restoration of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, but can this is thoroughly refuted by the the “New Testament” Scriptures.
Peter, in his first letter, opens as follows, “Peter, an apostle of Yeshua the Messiah, to the chosen ones who are living as foreigners in the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…” and closes, “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, greets you; and so does Mark, my son.” Obviously here, Peter could not have been discussing anything outside of the two Houses of Israel. He is writing from the chosen people who were exiled to Babylon, i.e. the House of Judah, to the chosen people who lived as foreigners among a foreign nation, i.e. the House of Israel.
John, in his second letter, follows this same pattern, by opening his letter, “The elder, to the chosen lady and her children…” and closing it, “The children of your chosen sister greet you.” The reference to the two chosen sisters is straight from Ezekiel 23, which says that, “there were two women, the daughters of one mother,” i.e. Samaria and Jerusalem, the capitals of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. “(Samaria) played the prostitute when she was mine… Therefore I delivered her into the hand of her lovers, into the hand of the Assyrians, on whom she doted… As soon as she (her sister, Jerusalem) saw them (the Babylonians) she doted on them… The Babylonians came to her into the bed of love… then My soul was alienated from her, like as My soul was alienated from her sister.”
Paul, in Romans 1:16, writes, “I am not ashamed of the Good News of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes; for the Jew first, and also for the Greek.” This is in reference to 1st Maccabees 12:21, “We have found a document about the Spartans and the Jews indicating that we are related and that both of our nations are descended from Abraham.” (Good News Translation)
Later in Romans 9:25-26, Paul writes, “As He says also in Hosea, I will call them ‘My people’, which were not My people; and her ‘beloved’, who was not beloved. It will be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people’, there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ ” Paul says this in application to “the Jews” and “the gentiles”, yet the original context of this passage in Hosea 1:10 was clearly in reference to the two Houses of Israel.
The term “gentile” in the Scriptures, in its original languages (goyim in Hebrew, ethnos in Greek), does not mean “non-Jews” or “non-Israelites”, as it has become known in many circles today. Rather, it is a term simply meaning “nations”, “those of the nations”, or “those of other nations”. Frequently in the New Testament the term is used to refer to “those who had been scattered to the nations”, also known as the lost sheep of Israel.
As has been already noted, YHWH our God said very clearly in Deuteronomy 28:64 that as punishment for disobedience to the Torah, that He would “scatter you among all peoples, from the one end of the earth even to the other end of the earth…” He also said in Deuteronomy 30:4, for their coming back to YHWH by keeping the Torah, “If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of the heavens, from there will Yahweh your God gather you, and from there he will bring you back…” This word for “peoples” is “goyim” in Hebrew, and is also translated as “nations” or “gentiles”.
It is written in Isaiah 49:7, that YHWH spoke to Yeshua, saying, “It is too light a thing that You should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give You for a light to the nations (goyim, also translated “nations” or “gentiles”), that you may be My salvation to the end of the earth.”
Here are just a small handful of examples from the Prophets which clearly teach that the lost sheep of the northern kingdom will come out of captivity, and will be reunited with the House of Judah in the last days.
- Isaiah 11:12-13, “He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The envy also of Ephraim will depart, and those who persecute Judah will be cut off. Ephraim will not envy Judah, and Judah won’t persecute Ephraim.”
- Jeremiah 3:17-18, “At that time they shall call Jerusalem ‘The throne of YHWH’; and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of YHWH, to Jerusalem. Neither shall they walk any more after the stubbornness of their evil heart. In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the north to the land that I gave for an inheritance to your fathers.”
- Ezekiel 37:16-19, “Son of Man, take one stick, and write on it, ‘For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions’, then take another stick, and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions’, and join them together into one stick, that they may become one in your hand… Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his companions; and I will put them with it, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in My hand.”
- Hosea 1:11, “The children of Judah and the children of Israel will be gathered together, and they will appoint themselves one Head, and will go up from the land.”
- Hosea 3:4-5, “For the children of Israel shall live many days without king, and without prince, and without sacrifice, and without sacred stone, and without ephod or idols. Afterward the children of Israel shall return, and seek YHWH their God, and David their king, and shall come with trembling to YHWH and to His blessings in the last days.”
- Zechariah 8:23, “Thus says YHWH of Armies: In those days, ten men will take hold, out of all the languages of the nations, they will take hold of the skirt of Him who is a Jew (Yeshua), saying, ‘We will go with You, for we have heard that God is with You.’ ”
- Zechariah 10:6, “I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them back; for I have mercy on them; and they will be as though I had not cast them off: for I am YHWH their God, and I will hear them.”
And, for any who accept the apocrypha:
- Baruch 2:30-35, “In the land of their captivities they will remember themselves, and shall know that I am YHWH their God; for I will give them a heart, and ears to hear, and they will praise Me in the land of their captivity. They will think upon My name, and will return from their stiffneckedness, and from their wicked deeds; for they will remember the way of their fathers, who sinned before YHWH. I will bring them again into the land which I promised with an oath to their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and they will be masters of it. I will increase them, and they will not be diminished. I will make an everlasting covenant with them to be their God, and they will be My people, and I will no more drive My people of Israel out of the land that I have given them.”
- 4th Ezra 11:40-42 (2nd Esdras 13:40-42), “Those are the ten tribes, which were carried away prisoners out of their own land in the time of Hoshea the king, whom Shalmaneser the king of Assyria led away captive; he carried them over the waters, so came they into another land. But they took counsel among themselves, that they would leave the multitude of the heathen, and go forth into a further country, where mankind had never dwelt, that they might there keep their statutes, which they never kept in their own land.”
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The coming together of the lost tribes with the righteous remnant of the House of Judah is not simply a mere side story in the Scriptures, it is THE central theme to all of the Scriptures! It is exactly what Yeshua was here to accomplish when He said, “I was not sent to anyone but the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel.”
Yeshua never, ever said that He came to create a new body of believers that was to be a separate entity from either Judah or Israel. Of course, this does not mean that a true “gentile” could have never been saved, for the gentiles have always been welcome to sojourn with Judah and Israel, to become part of the Commonwealth of Israel. As Leviticus 19:33-34 states, “If a stranger lives as a foreigner with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who lives as a foreigner with you shall be to you as the native-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you lived as foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am Yahweh your God.” See also Isaiah 56:1-8.
Rather, Yeshua came with a distinct purpose: He came to die, so that Israel, divorced from YHWH her God according to Jeremiah 3:1-10, would be free of the law of divorce. According to the the Torah, a wife (Israel) who had been divorced from her husband (God) and had later been with other men (as Israel was) could not come back to her first husband (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). So when Yeshua, as God, died, He freed Israel from the divorce decree had been given to her, so that she was freed from that law of the Torah (the law of the husband and remarried wife), and were able to once again be remarried to God.
Paul records this in Romans 7:2-4, “For example, by the Torah, a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law (of marriage) and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man. So, my brothers, you also died to the law (of marriage) through the body of the Messiah, that you might belong to another (to God), to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.”
The divorced wife (Israel in this case) is not freed from the Torah itself, but is freed from the bill of divorce that was pronounced against her. This is the Salvation of YHWH, which rescues us from eternal damnation.
If one attempts to read the Scriptures from the standpoint that the love of God somehow transitioned from the House of Israel to the Gentile Church, one must concede that this God is both cruel and vindictive, making promises to one group, even calling these promises “eternal”, and then revokes them, only to turn around and give them to another. However, If one evaluates the Scriptures- both the Old and the New Testaments- from the standpoint that they represent an eternal love story between YHWH God and His bride- the nation of Israel- the true nature of the “Gospel Message” will be easily seen for what it really is, and the Scriptures, from beginning to end, will tell the history of the chosen people, and their sojourn with their God.
Please note, that this “chosen people” is not limited to any specific nationality, skin color, gender, age, or anything else- the invitation of the “Gospel Message” is open to all, as is laid out in Isaiah 56:6-8, “ ‘The foreigners who join themselves to YHWH, to minister to Him, and to love the name of YHWH, to be His servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath from profaning it, and holds fast My covenant; even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.’ The Lord YHWH, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, ‘Yet will I gather others to him, besides his own who are gathered.’ ”
It is prophesied also, speaking of the coming of Yeshua, in Isaiah 49:5-6, “Now says YHWH who formed Me from the womb to be His servant, to bring Jacob again to Him, and that Israel be gathered to Him (for I am honorable in the eyes of YHWH, and My God has become My strength); yes, He says, “It is too light a thing that You should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give you for a light to the nations, that you may be My salvation to the end of the earth.”
While the covenant was made with one people, and one people only- the united House of Israel- the redemption of Israel and the ratification of this covenant includes an invitation that has been spread out to all the peoples of the world: to sojourn with God, and to be joint heirs with His covenant people, and part of His nation, by keeping His commands.
About this article
This article is an excerpt from The Good News according to Matthew (Torah Driven Life Edition). If you’ve enjoy reading this teaching, please consider purchasing a copy of the book from which it was derived. The book includes several other teachings, covering topics such as discerning what was meant by the phrases “Fulfilling the Torah” in Matthew 5:17 and “Upon this Rock” in Matthew 16:18. Thanks!