Tuesday, November 18, 2014

THE SEARCH FOR THE TEN LOST TRIBES OF ISRAEL (4)

(Please scroll down for parts 1-3)
 
A LITERAL OR A SPIRITUAL ISRAEL?
 
What have we been shown in the Scriptures about the return of the Ten Tribes?  As important as this question appears to be for the fulfillment of God’s promises, what we have been shown is not very much.

The seemingly great importance of this matter, coupled with the very little factual information that we have, is the reason why the subject has given rise to such wild speculation. There have been basically two approaches to answering the question of the Ten Lost Tribes. Each seems to answer some of the difficulties, but each also creates further difficulties.

The first approach is to view the Ten Tribes as the literal and physical descendants of the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, and Joseph. Besides the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, who made of the nation of Judah, these ten are the remaining sons of Jacob that would have consisted of the nation of Israel.

Most of these tribes were allotted a section of land in the Palestine. The single exception was the tribe of Levi. These families were not given a separate unified allotment of land because they were the priestly tribe. Instead of a single entire region, the families that made up this tribe of people were given forty-eight cities with their pasturelands, scattered in among the territories of the rest of the tribes (Numbers 35:1-8).

The descendants of Joseph however, were allotted two entire areas, one for each of the families of Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, born to him in Egypt. In fact, the nation of Israel is often referred to in the Bible simply as “Ephraim.” The listing of the tribes in various parts of the Old Testament actually varies a bit, at times listing both of the names of Ephraim  and Manasseh, and then not including Levi.

For example, in the book of Numbers, chapter 1, the twelve tribes numbered include both of the two sons of Joseph, but the tribe of Levi is not. This was done by the order of the Lord for various reasons; the main one being that the Levites were to take care of the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant and all of the furnishings.

Despite these minor difficulties concerning the tribes, at first blush the literal approach seems the best.  When promises are given in the Old Testament concerning the ten tribes, the literal approach to this question would say that these promises will be fulfilled in the ethnic descendants of these tribes. Those that hold to this interpretation often congratulate themselves on their sound Biblical hermeneutics, accusing others who see it a bit differently of “spiritualizing” or “allegorizing” the texts that give the promises to the twelve tribes.

However, neither is the literal approach without problems and to maintain all of its teachings, this interpretation must also engage in some “spiritualizing” of its own of some other of the Biblical writings.  We will see some of these in a subsequent post.

The second approach is to look at the promises of God given to the nations of Israel and Judah as being fulfilled not necessarily by the genetic and physical heirs of the Jewish people, but by the spiritual descendants of Israel.  These are those of whom the Apostle Paul refers to as the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).

This “Israel of God,” according to those who hold this interpretation, is the spiritual alternative for the bloodline of the Jewish race, although the Israel of God includes both Jews and non-Jews who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ.  It is not the physical hereditary factors that become important here, but new birth into the family of God by faith.

For instance, the Apostle Paul writes of this subject, “For they are not all Israel who are descend from Israel, nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants…it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise that are regarded as descendants” (Romans 9:6b-8) NAS).

There is also this:

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:27-29 NAS).
 
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This then, is a very brief and unsophisticated summary of these two approaches. We shall examine each of the two in a little greater detail future posts.  However, I am aware that even our further inspection of these interpretations will by no means be exhaustive.  Many thousands of pages have been already written giving the pros and the cons of each of these and I should not hope to enter into that level in this series of short posts.
        My only goal here is to give a brief summary of the difficulty in understanding this question and some material for further thought.
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In the next couple of posts, we will look at some of the claims made concerning some discoveries of lost Israelite tribes in various parts of the world. First, some claims of discovery in the East, then in the New world. 

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