Have you ever wondered what Jesus meant when He stated, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Isra’el.”? (Matthew 15:24) There was a time that I sure did. I had been taught all of my church life,since childhood, that Jesus came to save everyone…and that is true. But what was this “lost sheep of Israel” all about? Who are “the lost sheep of Israel”? Jesus had to be referring to something important as it wasn’t the only time He made such a distinction.
Earlier in the Gospel accounts, Jesus had sent the twelve out into the villages and cities to spread His teachings concerning the kingdom of God and to minister healing and deliverance to the people. Yet, the twelve were not sent to everyone.
“These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Don’t go into the territory of the Gentiles, and don’t enter any town in Samaria, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Isra’el.’” (Matthew 10:5-6)
What is going on here? Why would Jesus target such a specific group of people… and who are they?
Most Christians are taught that there is a physical people called Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (whom YHVH renamed “Israel”). Along with this came the notion that all of people of Israel are Jews. Biblically and historically, that is not true. With a little bit of research, we discover that when Jesus was talking about the lost sheep of Israel he was referring to a specific group of people…and it wasn’t the Jews.
The first historical and Biblical fact that we need to know and understand is that at one time there was a whole House of Israel. This nation of people consisted of all 12 tribes that were all descendants of Jacob. Remember that Jacob was renamed by YHVH as Isra’el, “because you have shown your strength to both God and men and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:28) Thus, all twelve tribes were called the House of Israel.
Isra’el had 12 sons: Rueben, Simon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulon, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Naftali, Gad, and Asher. The descendants of these 12 sons are the 12 tribes of Isra’el…the whole House of Isra’el…also called Jacob. They followed the faith and lifestyle of their forefathers Abraham and Isaac. Abraham was the first of mankind to be called “Hebrew” (meaning “crossed over”) because in his faith and obedience to Elohim (God) he had crossed the Euphrates River and entered the land to which Elohim was sending him. The whole House of Isra’el was Hebrew.
Isra’el’s 12 sons were of three different mothers…and they did not get along well. Joseph was Isra’el’s favorite, and the other 11 were jealous and resented him. As the story goes, the eleven brothers sold him off into slavery and Joseph wound up in Egypt. Later, Joseph would rise in influence and power, 2nd only to Pharaoh, and would save the lives of his father, brothers, and their families. Joseph had two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. These two young men were considered by Isra’el to be his own sons, and upon his death he gave Joseph’s blessing to them. Thus the descendants Ephraim and Manasseh become tribes within the whole House of Isra’el…both representing the descendants of Joseph.
Much happened to the House of Isra’el over the next centuries. They grew strong and flourished in Egypt, so much so that Egypt began to fear them. Egypt enslaved them, taking away all of their wealth and possessions and making their life terrible. At the right time, Elohim delivered them from Egypt through a chosen man, a descendant of Levi. His name was Moses and he would become a shadow of the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus). Moses greatest assignment was teaching the people the ways of their Elohim, whose name is Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh…YHVH…meaning “Behold the Hand, Behold the Nail”.
It was through Moses that YHVH gave to the Hebrew people His Teachings, Instruction and Statutes called the Torah. They are to be the lifestyle, culture, and system of law and justice for His people, the whole House of Isra’el. With the Torah, YHVH also gave them a physical land upon which to re-establish what was lost by Adam in the Garden of Eden: the Kingdom of God on earth. He did all of this not because the people deserved it…but because He had promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Isra’el) that He would…and the King of the Universe would keep His promise, no matter what. He also did so because, despite their stubbornness and rebellious nature, He loved them.
The King of the Universe presented His Torah to them like a Hebrew groom presents his wedding proposal and vows to his bride. YHVH’s wedding vows are called the Ten Words or 10 Commandments. Isra’el responded to Him like a Hebrew bride, “Everything that YHVH has spoken, we will do and obey.” From that point forward, the whole House of Israel was the chosen nation of YHVH to be His Light to all the others. They became His flock of sheep over which He is the only Shepherd and it is only His voice that they are to hear and obey. Yet even more than this, Isra’el became YHVH’s chosen Bride…His Betrothed for all eternity. The Bride is to remain faithful and true to her Husband for all time and beyond. Because He is also King, she is to fully adapt to His Household and His Ways. She must be in perfect unity with Him, as she is destined to rule by His side over His kingdom on the earth.
Unfortunately, the Bride failed many times. Yet the Groom in His great love and mercy restored her over and over again. Then one day a shepherd boy is chosen by YHVH to guard over His people…to be their King, unlike any king before him. His name was David, a descendant of Judah. King David, though far from prefect, had one thing going for him…he had a heart for YHVH’s Torah (Truth) and a heart that knew how to worship YHVH in both spirit and Truth. So pleasing was this king that YHVH promised to make David’s line, his throne, and the city of Jerusalem His eternal throne on the earth. Through David’s descendants would come one King above all kings that would rule over the House of Isra’el forever…and rule over the nations of the earth with them as well. The Groom would come to dwell face to face with His Bride upon this earth…and in a new heaven and earth yet to come.
However, something dreadful came next. King David’s grandsons…heirs to his throne through his son, King Solomon…lost the unity of the Kingdom of Isra’el. The tribes of Isra’el (Jacob) became divided and went to war against one another. A southern Kingdom and a northern Kingdom were the result. The House of Isra’el became divided and called by two names.
The southern Kingdom was called by its strongest tribe, the House of Judah. This kingdom became known as the Kingdom of Judea. Judea was populated by the descendants of Judah, Benjamin and half of the priestly tribe of Levi. Its people came to be called “Jews” (short for Judeans).
The northern Kingdom was called by its strongest tribe, the House of Ephraim. Interestingly, it became known as the Kingdom of Isra’el. This kingdom was populated by the remaining 10 tribes and the other half of the Levites (the priests). This Isra’el, the House of Ephraim, quickly assimilated to the pagan customs and religions of the surrounding nations. The Levites among them failed to lead and teach the people as true, faithful servants of the Holy One of Isra’el were required. Over a short time many abandoned the faith and lifestyle of the Kingdom of YHVH, breaking their “wedding vows” and walking away from their Groom. Within a short time, YHVH sent the armies of Babylon to overtake them and carry the people north into bondage.
The southern Kingdom of Judea was not far behind. Babylon soon conquered the Judeans as well. Both Judah and Ephraim were brought north to Babylon and placed back into slavery for a period of 70 years. Babylon eventually fell to the Persians and the Persians to the Greeks. There arose a Persian Greek King named Cyrus through whom Judea and Jerusalem was returned to the Jews and the Hebrew people liberated. Many of the descendants of the southern Kingdom, the Jews, returned to Judea. Some of the northern Kingdom of Israel (Ephraim) did as well, a few now following the faith, others still pagan yet seeking new opportunities for business and power. The remainder either stayed in Persia, keeping the “Jewish faith” or left for other parts of the world. From this “scattering” we now have what is known as “the lost tribes of Israel”.
These “lost Hebrews”, whether scattered among the nations or back in Judea, are the ones Jesus called, “the lost sheep of Israel”. In his earthly ministry he was sent to accomplish one major purpose: to seek out and save the lost sheep of Isra’el. His heart’s desire was to bring them back into His House again. The Groom wants His Bride…the whole House of Israel… united and restored to Him.
Through the prophets, YHVH clearly identifies these two groups of Hebrew people, both descendants of Abraham. First, He keeps the House of Judah, the Jews, as His unfaithful wife. He remains married to her even though she is always wandering away; pursuing other interests and lovers. Somehow she always finds her way back to Him. Sometimes He has to rescue her from complete annihilation. Other times she comes back on her own. He keeps fervently waiting for her to return to her first love, fully committed to Him. It is this unfaithful wife, the House of Judah, that He has thus far rescued and restored to the physical land of Israel. As far as Judah still strays from the spirit and truth of His ways, it is the love of the Groom that keeps them in the Land and preserves them from utter destruction. He has a bigger goal in mind!
The utterly unfaithful descendants of Abraham, the House of Ephraim, YHVH tells us He had to divorce. They had completely abandoned both Him and their Wedding vows. They willfully chose to “marry” themselves to other lovers — the gods and the ways of the nations. According to His own Word, His own Torah, a divorced wife cannot return to her first husband after she has married herself to other husbands, even if all of them had died. The first marriage was not restorable…unless if by some miracle that first husband died and came back to life again! This was only way He could bring Ephraim back into Himself and His Kingdom again.
THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED! The Groom came to earth in human form seeking out His “lost sheep” – His divorced wife. He has to save her. He loves her too much not to…and He has a promise to keep to her forefathers. He is a King. He cannot break his promise to his Bride or to them. The First Husband of the divorced Bride died and came back to life so that she could be restored to Him again. She must turn away from the pagan husbands (gods) and their practices that she so eagerly embraced. They must become dead to her. She must be made pure of her unfaithfulness (sin). It is His shed blood that completely purifies her.. It is learning to live by His Word…His Torah…that restores her, making her fully prepared to reign over the earth by His side.
When she comes back, she must take on all of His ways again. She cannot have one foot in one Kingdom and try to keep a foot in the other kingdoms at the same time. He is not going to abolish or destroy His Ways (The Torah and the Prophets) for her…or for anyone. (Matthew 5:17-20) She has to return to Him wholeheartedly, in HIS Spirit and in all of HIS Truth…not anything of her own. He willingly gives her His own Spirit to help her understand and live by His Ways. In them, she will find counsel, peace, strength, blessings, favor, and protection. Everything she ever dared dream of is in Him and His Kingdom!
In Ezekiel, YHVH told the prophet that He would take two sticks…Judah and Ephraim…and make them one again in His hand. Ezekiel 37:22-28 states
“I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Isra’el; and one king will be king for all of them. They will no longer be two nations, and they will never again be divided into two kingdoms.
They will never again defile themselves with their idols, their detestable things, or any of their transgressions; but I will save them from all the places where they have been living and sinning; and I will cleanse them, so that they will be my people, and I will be their God.
My servant David (Messiah Yeshua) will be king over them, and all of them will have one shepherd; they will live by my rulings and keep and observe my regulations. They will live in the land I gave to Jacob my servant, where your ancestors lived; they will live there — they, their children, and their grandchildren, forever; and David my servant (Messiah Yeshua) will be their leader forever.
I will make a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I will give to them increase their numbers, and set my sanctuary among them forever. My home will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.
The nations will know that I am YHVH, who sets Isra’el apart as holy, when my sanctuary is with them forever.”
As has been from the very beginning of the nation of Israel, any foreigner may join this Kingdom by putting aside the ways of the nations and taking on the ways of His Kingdom, choosing to make YHVH (who is one with Yeshua) his or her King forever. Gentile (meaning “lost, confused and without YHVH”), Jew, or Ephraim – all can become His Bride forever! All can be made One New Man… the sheep of His fold…the Bride of Messiah…One Stick, One Olive Tree, One Kingdom in His Hand. Through Messiah Yeshua, it is possible….and it will be done!
Yeshua did come for the lost sheep of Isra’el so that He could restore these He loves so very much to Himself. His return for His Bride is at hand. His throne will be fully established in Jerusalem again. He will be the One Shepherd over His entire flock. His Bride, forgiven and made pure again, is preparing…learning His Torah and adapting her lifestyle to His. She is a Hebrew Bride and she will reign by His side in wisdom and in strength. Amen!
©Deborah Munson July 6, 2016
NOTE: “Yeshua” (Yah-shua) is the Hebrew name of the One whom most call “Jesus”. “Yah” is YHVH. “Shua” is “saves”. His Hebrew name means “YHVH Saves”.