A reply to opponents of the Two-House belief
from a Christian Biblical standpoint
Two main arguments of our critics
this website we explore the background to the Two Houses of Israel, Ephraim (ten tribes) and
Judah (two tribes), who had separate histories and prophecies extending from the period of
the division of the kingdom in 975 B.C., until the end of this present age. The fascinating
story of the outworking of God's Divine plan and purposes through these two separate but
important peoples is the subject of this website. It is interesting
to point out the fact that the two main arguments we see used by various opponents of this
Two-House teaching is “the
Ten Tribes were all killed during the exile,”
and “the Ten Tribes all came back when the Babylonian
captivity ended.” Both of
these claims cannot be true since they are contradictory: If the Ten Tribes died
off, they could not all have returned! The first of these claims is disproven
in our leading main page online study, “Hosea,
A Prophetic Standard For The House Of Israel,” and the second claim is addressed in
the study which follows it: “Ezra
and the Lost Tribes.”
The confusion and contradictions which are found among the most vocal of our opponents is in itself a telling admission of the factual weakness of their claims. In addition to the two main arguments given above, a variety of other suppositions have also been made. This article is an honest attempt to examine the theology of leading critics of the Two-House belief, and to determine whether their Biblical claims are true. One of the leading late-twentieth century Christian theologians was Dr. Ernest L. Martin, who was widely known as a prominent author of “cult books” and has been considered by many to be an authority on Christian doctrine. We have analyzed each of his main arguments used against the Two-House teaching, and are listing them below along with the Scripture support that he gives for his position, followed by our answers. Based upon our analysis below, we believe that his theology is not substantiated by a close and honest look at the Biblical evidence. As we witnessed above, the critics all too often seem to contradict both the Bible and each other! We invite you to form your own opinion as we together analyze each main point.
WAS ISRAEL EVER LOST?
“The twelve tribes were never “lost” in a geographical sense,” as proven by the fact
that “the prophet Ezekiel went to the whole House of Israel in the early 6th century
Scripture support: Ezekiel 3:1-27
Answer:Scholars are not certain whether Ezekiel wrote from Jerusalem or from exile, with some theologians on each side of that issue; some believe that he visited the Ten Tribes only in vision. However, if an actual visit is indicated, we are told that Ezekiel was at a place called Tel Aviv (A.V., Telabib), on the River Chebar, which was a canal located near the city of Babylon:
“Then I came to them of the captivity at Telabib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.” (Ezek. 3:15)
This has been positively determined by modern scholarship to have been located in Babylonia. Dr. D.J. Halperin of Pennsylvania State University, in his book "Seeking Ezekiel" (1993) comments, "Ezekiel, as the text says, had his vision in Babylonia, and more of the vision reflects its Babylonian surroundings than has previously been recognized." (p.140) Babylon was located in southern Chaldea, and was hundreds of miles away from where the Ten Tribes had been exiled a century earlier by the Assyrians, who had “...carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.” (2 Kings 17:6)
The term, “House of Israel” originally included all
twelve tribes (see Lev. 10:6), until the nation was divided into two kingdoms after the
time of Solomon (1 Kings 12). Thereafter, in Canaan during the period of the two separate
kingdoms, the term “House of Israel” was used only and specifically for the newly separate
northern Ten Tribes:
“For as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto me the whole house of Israel [i.e. Ten Tribes] and the whole house of Judah[i.e. Two Tribes], saith the LORD; that they might be unto me for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory: but they would not hear.” (Jer. 13:11)
However, after the Ten Tribes were conquered, exiled, and lost to history, the remaining Israelites of the House of Judah again adopted the term “House of Israel” perhaps to indicate that they were all that was left of the Israelite nation. Additionally, author Juha Pakkala in the book, “Unity and Disunity In Ezra-Nehemiah,” states, “Whereas Judah/Yehud has a more political perspective, the word Israel in the Second Temple period primarily refers to the religious community.” (p.210, n.24) The important point is that although the people Ezekiel visited in Babylon were Israelites by religion, they were physically Judahites of the two tribe House of Judah. Therefore, the "House of Israel" which Ezekiel visited in Babylon were of Judah, not the Ten Tribes of Ephraim-Israel.
Regardless of who Ezekiel visited, the fact remains that the Ten Tribes later became lost to recorded history. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament confirm that the Ten Tribes indeed became physically and geographically lost:
“My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their restingplace.” (Jer. 50:6)
“...go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt. 10:6; cf. Matt. 15:24)A respected modern Israeli scholar, Shemaryahu Talman, stated, “...the Samarian diaspora [i.e. Ten Tribes] in Assyria...faded away...These expatriates would have lived in the diaspora for an appreciably longer time...and therefore would have been especially prone to losing information about their ancestry.” (“Restoration,” 2001, pp. 129, 130) It is clear that there was no major return of Ten Tribe Ephraim from the Assyrian exile, but that they were physically and geographically lost to history.
DID THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL RETURN FROM EXILE?
the Babylonian Captivity was over, some of the first to go back to Palestine and
Jerusalem were those of Ephraim and Manasseh, two of the top Israelite tribes
of the northern kingdom.”
Scripture support: “Now
the first inhabitants that dwelt in their possessions in their cities were, the
Israelites, the priests, Levites, and the Nethinims. And in Jerusalem dwelt
of the children of Judah, and of the children of Benjamin, and of the children
of Ephraim, and Manasseh.” (1Chronicles 9:2-3)
ANSWERThere are a number of problems with this claim. Many leading scholars believe that these individuals of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh were only a small remnant that had remained in the land during the captivity, rather than exiles returning from Assyria. There is no basis for the assumption that the entire tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh were present in Jerusalem at this time, but instead only a small number of individuals, a remnant “of the children of Ephraim and Manasseh.”
The Bible uses the word “remnant” for two groups of people. First, those Israelites who avoided exile and remained in the land are referred to as a “the remnant of Israel’s house” by the prophet Isaiah (46:3), indicating that the majority of God’s people did not remain in Canaan but were exiled out of the land. (See also 2Ki. 25:22; Jer. 24:8; 42:2; Hag. 1:12; 2:3) Second, the Book of Chronicles tells us that those who had been exiled and later returned were only a “remnant escaped from Assyria.” (2 Chron. 30:6) Therefore the great majority of both Ephraim-Israel and Judah went into exile, and only a small number returned, leaving the bulk of both houses to the fateful destiny of becoming wandering lost tribes. The critics who claim that the exiles all returned to Canaan are arguing against the Word of God, as well as modern scholarship. For example, Dr. Lester Grabbe of the University of Hull, in "Exile And Restoration Revisited," (2009) says that "...the Persian period exhibited a 75% drop in inhabited area." (p. 118) This was due to the fact that the vast majority of the Israelites were exiled. Yet surprisingly few exiles returned, as proved by the fact that, "There is no evidence in the archaeology of a sudden influx of new settlers in the early Persian period." (ibid., p.117)
Furthermore, Ephraim and Manasseh were not in the Babylonian captivity as claimed by our critic above, but instead were exiled in the Assyrian captivity a century earlier, beginning in 732 B.C. (2 Kings 17:6). These exiles were settled in at least three locations in a wide band across the northern reaches of the Assyrian empire, hundreds of miles north of Babylon. It was over a century later that the Babylonians exiled Judah to Chaldea far to the south.
Some critics make the unlikely assumption that the Assyrian captives were all re-enslaved and held in a second captivity by the Babylonians after the fall of Nineveh, and that these captives were finally all freed to return home upon Babylon’s fall. It is instead much more likely that such captives took the opportunity to exert their freedom during the period of Assyria’s weakening which occurred over several decades prior to the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C. The attendant state of anarchy during Assyria’s slow death was not only a favorable climate for escape, but even an impetus to relocate to other lands for safety. It is also probable that the Babylonians would have freed any remaining Assyrian captives, just as they freed the Prophet Jeremiah from his confinement after the fall of Jerusalem. (Jer. 39:11-15) It is important to note that there is absolutely no historical or Scriptural basis for the assumption that the Assyrian exiles suffered a second captivity under Babylon, and that the two houses of Judah and Ephraim-Israel reunited at that time and returned home together. Yet this is a central pillar in the theology of those who claim that the two houses reunited in Babylon and all returned to Canaan.
The prophet Hosea correctly foretold that the House of Israel, the Ten Tribes, would NOT return to Canaan after the captivity: “Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths.” (Hos. 2:6) The majority of the House of Judah also did not return from captivity in Babylon: “...I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion.” (Jer. 3:14) The prophet Isaiah also foretold that they would return “one by one” (Isa. 27:12), not en masse in a general return of all Israelites. The Prophet Ezekiel said of the exiled rebels, “they shall not enter into the land of Israel” (Ezek. 20:38).
DID ISRAEL TAKE ROOT IN FOREIGN LANDS?
Although Israel was scattered through the earth by both colonization and exile,
“not a single seed or piece of grain would germinate and begin to take
root in that foreign soil...It means simply that these Israelites of
the House of Israel in their minds would not take ‘root’ in the alien
lands where they were scattered.”
Scripture support: “Behold,
the eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off
the face of the earth; saving that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,
saith the LORD. For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among
all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall
upon the earth.” (Amos 9:8-9)
ANSWERThis is an important verse of Scripture to discuss, because some of our critics rest their case to quite a large extent upon only this one verse, Amos 9:9 quoted above, which Dr. Ernest L. Martin called his “prophetic standard.” The statement that “not one drop would fall” can be properly interpreted in two ways, according to the Abingdon Bible Commentary (2005). First, "that 'no pebble shall fall to the ground' is a word of hope that some might...survive to be part of the continuing remnant." (p.234) Second, "the function of the sieve is to catch every sinner...and not let any escape." (ibid.) Yet if the word, “fall” was referring to death or destruction, it would contradict the context in which Amos was saying that Israel would be preserved and not annihilated during her exile, for God would "not utterly destroy" them. This would be a true prophecy and verified by other passages of Scripture. This is in contrast to the teaching of many that only the Jews matter today and that the House of Israel has been either killed off or written off by God and are no longer sharing an inheritance in the Abrahamic Covenant.
An unusual third view is propounded by Dr. Martin who believed that the word “fall” means “be planted,” and that the House of Israel would not settle and take root anywhere else in the world except Palestine. If so, this would be a false prophecy by Amos, because most of Israel of both houses have long been planted outside of Palestine. Dr. Martin attempted to circumvent this by saying that the Jewish peoples “hearts” are in Palestine, even if they are “planted” elsewhere! However, recent articles in Jewish journals seem to also disprove this; fewer Jews today than ever before feel connected to the Israeli state or the land of Palestine. There is also currently a net outflow of Jews from Palestine. There is only a small minority of about 7 percent of all Jews who are Orthodox believers, and even some of these oppose the political existence of the Israeli state. Therefore, Dr. Martin’s interpretation of this prophecy of Amos appears to have little validity either physically or spiritually, yet this was his main argument against the Two-House teaching.
WERE THE PROPHESIED MANY NATIONS OF ISRAEL
LIMITED TO CANAAN?
CLAIM: “Ephraim would
become a leader of Israelite nations that would develop in Palestine and in Galilee.”
Scripture support: “And
God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a
company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins.” (Genesis
ANSWERThe argument is that the twelve tribes were really nations without kings and that this prophecy was intended to be only temporary, limited to the period of the Judges. Yet the prophecy in Genesis 49:1 says that it would be fulfilled in “the latter days,” which Christian scholars point out is the period from Christ’s first coming until his second coming, which we call the Church Age. The time of the Judges was NOT the “Latter Days” of prophecy.
Furthermore, the Abrahamic Covenant is recognized by all reputable scholars as being unconditional and eternal, and not limited to only a few years of Israel’s earliest history. Why this important covenant should have come to an end PRIOR to the time of Kings Saul, David, and Solomon has no logical answer, nor does the Bible support in any way such a premise. In fact, the judges of ancient Israel did not even rule over an entire tribe, as verified by the Jewish Encyclopedia: “Indeed, most of the judges had only a local importance.” (vii:381) The twelve tribes did not each have a judge, nor were there twelve at a time consequtively throughout the period of the Judges.
Sarah’s parallel promise that she would be the mother of nations and kings is found in Genesis 17:15-22. Both Abraham and Sarah had Divine name changes associated with this specific promise, and the change of names validates the promise. The opinions of our critics differ widely on how to interpret these verses, but a common denominator in all of our detractors seems to be an unfortunate effort to minimize and downgrade both the Abrahamic covenant and Israel’s place in it. For such critics to say that the covenant constituted merely a recognition that Abraham and Sarah would have twelve small family units in their own neighborhood for a short time-period is to completely misrepresent God’s tremendous plan and purposes for Israel.
If this interpretation was correct, think of the irony and insult to the Patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, who were led to believe by God several times (Gen. 15:8; 17:6; 35:11) that their descendants would be a company of great and powerful nations, but instead the fulfillment was only a small cluster of weak early-Old Testament kingless tribes harrassed by all of their neighbors! Even more unkind and heartless, these supposedly unconditional Abrahamic promises, we’re told, came to a quick and early end with the tribes (nations?) uniting under King Saul. Such a teaching seems to us to be entirely without any Scriptural or historical basis.
To be continued!