For those who may be not aware of what is meant by “the Ten Lost Tribes,” let me briefly explain.
After the death of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel was divided. The two southern-most tribes of Judah and Benjamin were loyal to Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. The ten tribes to the north chose a man from the tribe of Ephraim, named Jeroboam, to be their king. The northern kingdom was known as Israel and the southern kingdom was called Judah.
The two kingdoms sometimes lived in peace with one another and sometimes were at war. But after about 200 years, the Assyrians came in 722 b.c. and defeated the northern kingdom and took many of its citizens into exile.
Something very similar took place about 150 years later to the southern kingdom of Judah. It was overrun by the Babylonians, Jerusalem was destroyed and thousands of Jews were led away into captivity in foreign lands.
After many years, the Babylonians themselves were conquered, and their conquerors, the Persians, permitted the Jews to return to their homeland.
The idea of the Ten “Lost” Tribes originates with the assumption that permission for the Jews to return only applied to those who were taken from the southern kingdom by the Babylonians. But it would have applied to all Jews, even to those from the northern kingdom. The Jews of the northern kingdom were exiled by the Assyrians. The Assyrians were conquered by the Babylonians—who then took control of the Jews living in the Assyrian Empire. And the Babylonians were in turn conquered by the Medes and Persians, who permitted the Jews to return to their homeland.
So all the Jews were allowed to return, not just those from the two tribes comprising the southern kingdom. That those from the other tribes returned as well can be seen from the fact that when the returned exiles rebuilt the temple it was formally dedicated with sacrifices “for all Israel.” These sacrifices included “12 male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel” (Ezra 6:17).
In addition to this we should consider the prophecy uttered by Ezekiel, who was himself in Exile. He spoke of the reunification of Israel.
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, take a stick and write on it, ‘For Judah, and the people of Israel associated with him’; then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with him.’ And join them one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand. And when your people say to you, ‘Will you not tell us what you mean by these?’ say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am about to take the stick of Joseph (that is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with him. And I will join with it the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, that they may be one in my hand. When the sticks on which you write are in your hand before their eyes, then say to them, Thus says the Lord God: 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 (Ezek. 37:15-22).
In the New Testament James addresses his letter to the Jews of the Diaspora (those living outside the Promised Land), “To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (Jas. 1:1). In the Gospel of Luke we find a prophetess named Anna from the tribe of Asher, one of the supposedly “lost” tribes.
The only sense in which the ten tribes could really be said to be “lost” is in the sense that they never regained the independent political status they once had. But this was according to God’s purpose, as Ezekiel told us. The Lord reunited them with the other two tribes into one nation at the time of the return of the Jews from captivity.
We should be wary, therefore, of those who seek to locate the so-called “Lost Tribes” in the British Isles (as per the teaching of the late Herbert W. Armstrong) or identify the Lost Tribes with the American Indians (as per the teaching of the Mormons). Neither teaching has a single shred of Biblical or historical support.
The fact of the matter is that the “Ten Lost” tribes are not really lost.