Who are the people of the whole House of Israel? Are they Jews only, consisting of the Tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and the most of the Levi? No, they are the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
Where are the Israelites now? Have they survived almost 2,750 years of forced exile and are they alive today? Believe it or not, they are.
The legendary “Lost” Ten Tribes of Israel are alive and located mainly in the West, as Scripture indicates: “When the Lord shall roar like a lion, His children shall tremble from the West” (Hosea 10:11). They are numerous people, hundreds of millions, as prophesied in the Hebrew Bible: “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as stars of the heaven, as the sand of the seashore, which cannot be measured nor numbered” (Hosea 1:10; Genesis 22:17, 48:19). That was the promise of God to our patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The total estimated number of the Ten Israelite Tribes today runs somewhere between 500 and 600 million. How is it compatible with the figure of 14.5 million Jews in the world?
At the end of the first century the celebrated Jewish-Roman historian Josephus Flavius confirmed that “the Ten Tribes are beyond the Euphrates and are an immense multitude whose numbers cannot be estimated.” He understood perfectly the difference between the Ten Tribes of Israel and the two tribes of Judah, “which are in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans” (Antiquities of the Jews, book XI, chapter 5:2).
Even if we account for all the Jews lost to Christianity, the total numbers of Jews in the world is likely to be a drop in the bucket compared to the immense population of the Ten Tribes of Israel.
Despite of the influx of all these Jews, the thousands of years-old prophecies of the ingathering of the exiles are still far from being fulfilled. As Michael Freund, the chairman of Shavei Israel admits, “I believe we, the Jewish people, have a historical, moral and religious responsibility to reach out to descendants of Jews and bring them home—they are our lost brethren” (BIN, January 3, 2016).
He meant the Jews, of course, because the existence of the Ten Israelite Tribes is, for him, a myth and fairy-tale. This is a common attitude towards the Ten Tribes. According to general opinion, the Jewish people are the Biblical Israel of the Twelve Tribes. The future prophecies of reunion and redemption apply to the Jews only, and there is no such thing as the “Lost” Ten Tribes of Israel in exile.
The great R. Nahmanides (1194-1270 AC) rejects this nonsense by stating that the overwhelming majority of the Ten Tribes never returned to the Promised Land though they are destined to do so in the future. They still dwell in Tserefath (1260 CE), meaning France and its neighborhood and the northern areas of Europe. “There was no redemption for the Ten Tribes who remain in exile. They should be ashamed not to recognize this fact!” (Sefer HaGeulah; Obadiah 1:20).
It is important to remember that God’s prophets have constantly made a careful distinction between the Israelite people and the Jewish people. “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah” (Jer. 33:14).
The Ten Tribes of Israel are not Jews. But they are still our brothers. They are also the chosen people of God, the same way Jews are. The Almighty made a Covenant with all Israelites, not only with the Jews. He has always remembered exiled Israel: “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee” (Isaiah 54:7). God loves and protects Israel: “I am the father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn” (Jeremiah 31:9).
There was a time when they lived by the Torah and obeyed the Commandments. In the long centuries since their defeat and exile, the Ten Tribes have lost their Israelite identity. They have become violators of the first and fourth Commandments. The first Commandment is “You shall have no other gods before Me,” and the fourth is “Keep My Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God” (Ezekiel 20:20). This “sign” has been lost. The Israelites have forgotten the God-given holy Sabbaths and replaced them with meaningless Sundays.
“The children of Israel in the Last Days will seek the Lord their God” (Jeremiah 50:4-5). Judah and Israel need each other. That is what God wants, and eventually their relationship will be restored (Jeremiah 3:18; Ezekiel 37:22-28; Zechariah 10:6). The whole House of Israel will return to the Holy Land. No one will be left in exile.