Book: America & Britain

Without exception, every succeeding king of Israel followed in the evil ways of Jeroboam (II Kings 17:21-23). Approximately 175 years from the division of the kingdom, the northern ten tribes fell into widespread political division and unrest. Soon the nation found itself paying an enormous amount of “tribute” money to the Assyrian monarch Tiglath-pileser III (II Kings 15:19-20). A later rebellion by King Pekah around 735 BC led the Assyrians to turn Israel into a vassal state. The prophet Jeremiah wrote concerning Israel’s impending captivity:1

“ ‘For the house of Israel and the house of Judah have dealt very deceitfully [treacherously] against Me,’ says the LORD. ‘They have lied against the LORD and said, “It is not He [i.e., God is not punishing us]; neither shall evil come on us; nor shall we see sword nor famine. And the prophets [are but] wind, for the word [of God] is not in them; thus [what the prophets have spoken] shall be done to them.” ’

“Therefore thus says the LORD God of hosts, ‘Because you have [deceptively] spoken this word, behold, I will make My words in your mouth [like] fire, and this people [like] wood, and it shall devour them. Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from afar, O house of Israel,’ says the LORD. ‘It is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language you do not know, nor understand what they say. Their quiver is as an open grave; they are all mighty men [of war]. And they shall eat up your harvest and your bread, your sons and your daughters they shall eat up. They shall eat up your flocks and your herds; they shall eat up your vines and your fig trees. They shall beat down your fortified cities with the sword.

“ ‘But even in those days,’ says the LORD, ‘I will not make a complete end [of] you. And it will be, when they shall ask, “Why does the LORD our God do all these things to us?” Then you shall answer them, “Just as you have forsaken Me and served strange gods in your land, so you shall serve strangers in a land that is not yours” ’ ” (Jer. 5:11-19).

According to the prophet Hosea, the root cause of Israel’s demise was their rejection of the true knowledge of God. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected [true] knowledge, I will also reject you…. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children” (Hosea 4:6).

Like Jeremiah, the prophet Amos warned of God’s intent to “sift” the Israelites among the heathen.

“ ‘Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful [northern] kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth; except that I will not completely destroy the house of Jacob,’ says the LORD. ‘For lo, I will command, and I will shake [sift] the house of Israel among all the nations, as one shakes [grain] with a sieve, yet not a grain shall fall to the earth’ ” (Amos 9:8-9).

In corrective punishment, the northern ten tribes would be scattered among Gentile nations—yet not completely destroyed. The phrase “yet not a grain shall fall to the earth” shows that God, in His abundant mercy, would not allow Israel to utterly perish from the earth. Because of His immutable promises to Abraham, God was bound to bring Joseph’s sons—Ephraim and Manasseh—into the fullness of the birthright blessings. Israel’s captivity was never “overturned”—that is, they never returned to the land of Canaan. As we will see, however, a substantial remnant of Israelites did survive in order to ultimately fulfill the Abrahamic promises.

National Captivity—In Two Stages

As Israel’s next-to-last king, Pekah formed an alliance with Syria and attacked Judah (II Kings 16:5-6). (This is the first instance the term Jew is used in the Bible, as the two Israelite kingdoms are at war. Again, this demonstrates that the Jewish nation of Judah was by this time completely separate from the northern Kingdom of Israel. Thus, the term Jew does not refer to all of Israel.) At Judah’s request the Assyrians intervened (verses 7-9), adding to the tension that already existed between the northern tribes and Tiglath-pileser. Foolishly, Pekah deepened his alliance with Damascus, a move the Assyrian king interpreted as further rebellion. In response, the Assyrians came against Israel, taking significant numbers into captivity. This deportation took place from 735-732 BC, and is sometimes referred to as the “Galilean captivity” as it primarily involved the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and a portion of Manasseh—all east of the Jordon River (I Chron. 5:26). To the north, Naphtali was taken captive (II Kings 15:29). Because of their close proximity to Naphtali, it is likely that Asher, Issachar, and Zebulun were at least partially taken as well. The tribe of Dan was divided into two parts: the northern Danite area adjacent to Naphtali, which included the city of Dan, was almost certainly taken captive, but the Danites living southward along the shores of the Mediterranean were not involved in this first invasion. As a later chapter will bring out, these seafaring Danites were able to largely escape captivity by sailing west.

With this invasion, Tiglath-pileser now occupied the greater part of Galilee and Gilead—some 75 percent of the territory of the Kingdom of Israel. Only a relatively small state situated around Samaria remained— mostly involving the remains of Manasseh and the tribe of Ephraim.

Circumstances quickly worsened under Pekah’s successor, Hoshea, who betrayed Assyrian trust by turning to Egypt for support. The new Assyrian king, Shalmaneser V, reacted decisively, ordering the complete removal of the remaining Israelites from the land. The Assyrian army “went through all the land” (II Kings 17:5), meaning they took captive all who had not fled the region or taken refuge inside Samaria. As recorded by history, the population of Jerusalem swelled at this time as a number of northern refugees fled captivity.2 Finally, after a three-year siege, Samaria fell in 722 BC (under Assyria’s Sargon II).3

As a nation, Israel ceased to exist; its entire population was deported and relocated in distant lands—in Halah, Habor, Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes (II Kings 17:5-6). Verse 18 says: “So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of His sight; not one [tribe] was left, only the tribe of Judah by itself” (in a political sense, Judah—which incorporated Benjamin and the Levites—was the only complete tribe left in the land).

In short order, the lands formerly occupied by the northern tribes were repopulated with Gentiles. “And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon and from Cuthah and from Ava and from Hamath and from Sepharvaim and placed them in the cities of Samaria [Israel] instead of the children of Israel. And they possessed Samaria [Israel] and lived in its cities” (II Kings 17:24). These newcomers became known as Samaritans, taking their name from Israel’s capital city (Matt. 10:5).

Meanwhile, in the southern Kingdom of Judah, the tragic fate of the northern tribes helped to inspire national repentance under King Hezekiah. But the Assyrians, having now entered into the Promised Land, had their eye on Judah as well. In fact, within just a few years of the fall of Samaria, many of Judah’s fortified cities had been temporarily overcome by Assyria (II Kings 18:13-16). By 700 BC, the Assyrians had exiled many Jews to the same areas the northern tribes had been sent. In his book The Tribes, researcher and writer Yair Davidy notes that Sennacherib, king of Assyria, exiled up to 200,000 Jews from the southern Kingdom of Judah.4

Still, because of God’s great mercy—and because of Hezekiah’s far-reaching reforms (II Kings 18-19; II Chron. 29-32)—the nation of Judah never fell to the Assyrian army. Some 135 years were yet to go by before Judah would face her final captors, the Babylonians.

The Ten Tribes of Israel Become “Lost”

As a political entity, the northern Kingdom of Israel was now extinct. Its people had been scattered across the Euphrates, resettled in such areas as Habor, Hara, Halah, and Gozan—all located along the northern fringes of the Assyrian Empire in what today would roughly be southeastern Turkey. Some were exiled as far east as Media, to the area south of the Caspian Sea, where they were placed in cities the Assyrians had taken from the Medes (II Kings 17:6). It is logical that the Assyrians would resettle the Israelites in several areas in order to prevent them from consolidating their strength for the purpose of a rebellion.


Archaeological finds confirm the presence of Israelite settlers in these areas of exile. Harper’s Bible Dictionary, for example, notes that ancient texts discovered at Gozan mention some of the exiles’ descendants by name.5 Davidy writes: “According to local tradition, the eastern part of Hara (Ghor), where the Hari River rises, was once settled by a people referred to as Assakan and Bnei Yisral, or children of Israel. Assakan was shortened to Sak or Sok and local Muslim lore equated the term with the name Isaac, father of Israel…. The existence of these names is evidence that a section of the Israelite nation had once been in that area, and these are apparently to be identified with the historical Sok or Sakae (meaning Scythians) who were in the Hara region … [and] had been settled there by the Assyrians.”6

From these locations, many of the children of Israel were no doubt further scattered through human trafficking—sold as slaves in faraway lands (Deut. 28:64-66). But God had only begun to “sift” the ten tribes among the nations. As we will see, God preserved a sizeable remnant of the northern tribes intact so they might later migrate to new areas where they could grow into independent peoples—and ultimately fulfill the Abrahamic birthright promises.

At this time, the northern ten tribes of Israel seemingly disappeared from history. Starting with Jeroboam, Israel had begun adopting the religions of the nations around them, becoming steeped in the worship of foreign gods. Many of the customs Israel carried into captivity were borrowed from the nations around them. Thus, in captivity, the Israelites easily blended in with the pagan cultures they had come to prefer. They no longer possessed outward characteristics that easily distinguished them from the nations among which they had been scattered. Most importantly, the House of Israel had long abandoned the very practice that would have set it apart from all other nations—the seventh-day Sabbath.

Through Moses, God had instructed Israel that His Sabbaths were to be a sign between Him and the nation (Ex. 31:13, 16-17; Ezek. 20:12, 20). A sign serves to identify something or someone. Israel’s observance of the Sabbath was to perpetually remind them of who God is—as well as identify them as uniquely belonging to God. And, as long as Israel kept the Sabbath, they maintained their identity.

The Jews maintained their identity even after going into captivity in Babylon. Moreover, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD (and in 135 AD), the Jews were again widely scattered. Yet the Jews were able to maintain their identity—how? By holding on to God’s identifying sign, the seventh-day Sabbath. Even to this day, the Jews—who are largely descendants of the southern Kingdom of Judah—have maintained their identity through keeping the Sabbath. Scattered as they may be, they have retained the identifying sign God gave to His people.

The northern tribes, however, from the time of Jeroboam, abandoned God’s Sabbaths and substituted false days of worship. They lost the very sign that would have identified them as God’s nation. Thus, as Israel lived as captives among the Gentiles, they did not stand out as different—they simply blended in as if they were pagans.

Throughout their exile and migrations, the captive Israelites were never associated with the Jews—because their religious practices were so dissimilar. The Jews maintained the Sabbath and, for the most part, God’s annual festivals; Israel did not. Eventually, as the Israelites forgot God, they largely forgot their true origin!

History says the ten tribes were totally assimilated into the cultures of the nations among which they were scattered. But, as brought out in Chapter 1, such an idea is impossible. Numerous prophecies speak of the full restoration of the ten tribes (along with Judah) in the age to come. But one cannot restore what no longer exists. Jesus Himself had Israel’s future in mind when He sent the apostles out to preach the Gospel to the “lost” tribes of Israel (Matt. 10:5-7). Moreover, numerous prophecies speak of the Abrahamic birthright promises being brought to fruition in Ephraim and Manasseh.

In their ignorance of the Scriptures, scholars and historians deny the existence of the so-called “lost” tribes of Israel—and thus deny the covenant promises God made to Abraham, vainly attempting to apply them to the Jews or to the church. Though the exiled tribes were mistaken for Gentiles, Israel was clearly not assimilated into the cultures of the nations among which they were scattered. Rather, they survived captivity, with a sizable remnant going on to reestablish themselves as independent peoples. The fact that Israel lost its identity makes identifying their descendants today quite challenging—but not impossible.


1. Jeremiah began to prophesy in Judah in about 626 BC—almost a hundred years after the House of Israel had been exiled. Interestingly, in this passage Jeremiah foretells of Israel’s captivity as if it had not yet happened. As with Ezekiel—who also warned of Israel’s demise after the fact—Jeremiah’s warnings to Israel might appear to be ill-timed. But, in reality, they were written as advance warnings for modern Israel—America and Britain. See Chapter 16 for more on Ezekiel’s and Jeremiah’s prophecies for Israel.

2. Yair Davidy, The Tribes—The Israelite Origins of Western Peoples, p. 35

3. Other sources say two years: “For over two years, from 724 to 722 [BC], Samaria was blockaded and finally closely besieged. The whole land was laid waste” (The Ancient History of the Near East, p. 472). In this final invasion, the Assyrians took only 27,290 Israelites into captivity (p. 474). The number seems rather small, but well over half of Israel had been taken captive in earlier expeditions. Moreover, many Israelites no doubt fled the region just prior to or during the 2-3 year siege of Samaria—such as seagoing Danites who fled by ship (see Chapter 9). This number probably reflects only those barricaded inside the capital city.

4. Davidy, pp. 5-6

5. Harper’s Bible Dictionary; “Gozan”

6. Davidy, pp. 21-22