"There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God." (4 Nephi 1:17)
Why are the Tribes of Israel?
By Eleazar, 1999
Within the very name "Tribes of Israel" is embedded the meaning that they are lost. This becomes clear when one fully understands why they are lost. Moreover, a full comprehension of this mystery will lead to an understanding of where the tribes are at the present moment.
The title of this essay is asking more than the relevant question of why the tribes of Israel are lost. It also asks why are there tribes? The latter question is as equally relevant as the first.
Eventually one comes to realize that the story of the Tribes of Israel is an allegory that contains deep and profound meanings that apply to each of us as individuals. As in all stories of this type, there are many levels of meaning that can be unraveled as one is ready to receive them. At one level of understanding it is just an historical account of a family that lived on earth. At another level, it is a story that symbolizes the world around you. At higher level, it is all about you.
This essay does not claim to discuss all of the meanings of this allegory. Rather it is to point out a few important symbolic concepts in order to wake others to their presence. In some ways, this document may appear to be incomplete. It needs to be this way. The deepest meanings are always meant to be discovered.
One can begin to understand some of the symbolism when one looks at the story from a distance. It is a story of twelve brothers who begin to be at variance with one another and separate into tribes rather than be the children of one father. Rather than be of one mind, they are now divided. This is what is meant in the first sentence of this essay that embedded in the name "Tribes of Israel" is the meaning that they are lost. The key word is "tribes". The tribal mind (a way of thinking) is one of separation, which always leads into bondage. Most realize that this is the very story played out in the written account of the tribes of Israel: they descend into bondage and become lost. To most people, they remain lost to this day. But, the scriptures promise a day when they will return. Again, when one fully comprehends the meaning of this allegory, the hidden location of the lost tribes is apparent.
Built into the story of the tribes of Israel are several paradoxes that are meant to teach us about the meaning of the allegory. In one instance, Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers and he ends up in Egypt, a symbol of the material world. In a subsequent period of famine, Joseph is instrumental in helping the other brothers sell themselves into slavery in Egypt (for food), the very place where Joseph ended up. One might notice that this teaches the universal law of restoration. What goes around always seems to come around.
One might notice that the story of the tribes is a repeat of the theme played out in the allegory of Jacob and Esau. It is a symbolic representation of man’s variance with himself and his despising of his own holy birthright. Carnal man is quick to sell his (spiritual) birthright for (material) pottage. One might ask what would have happened if Joseph, himself a symbol of the birthright, had not been sold by the brothers in the first place? What would have happened if they had been one flesh rather than at variance with one another (ie. the tribal mind)?
At a risk of belaboring the obvious, the paradox that is embedded into this allegory is that those who sold their brother into bondage, went into bondage themselves. What we do unto others, we do unto ourselves. This is as universally true today as it was back then.
A second paradox occurs in the story of the deliverance of the Israelites out of bondage by Moses. One will notice that Moses was successful in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. But, the paradox is that the tribes of Israel were not delivered, because it was accomplished materially, not spiritually. Rather than finding immediate freedom, the people wandered in the wilderness for forty years, an event representing the descent of the individual into the purifying dark night of the soul. They wandered until they were pure spiritually and could therefore enter the promised land, a symbol of the dawn of a new day. The old generation had to die and another one reborn. Again, it is the life of each of us as Israel played out in deep symbolism.
A third paradox is found in the situation that comes later. One might notice that ten of the twelve tribes were “carried off into captivity” and are now lost to the world (us). But, what of the other two? In the dualistic mind of carnal man, one might think that ten are lost, therefore the other two are not lost. But, that is the paradox. In reality, all are lost. One might ask were are the two tribes that are not lost? The two that were not carried away by the Assyrians are the tribes of Judah and Dan. Since few can identify where Dan is today, then that leaves us only with Judah to consider. In this case, we think that Judah is the Jews, but it cannot be so. Judah stopped being a physical bloodline and became a religion a long time ago. Today, Judaism is a world religion, a mixture of numerous bloodlines. Thus, Judah is also lost.
When studying these scriptural stories, there is something very important that should not be overlooked. It is that important themes are repeated often. History is a cycle and the repetition provides multiple witnesses as well as new insights. One might notice that Israel is captured by the Assyrians (as well as by the Babylonians) and carried off into captivity by force. This is essentially a repeat of the earlier event of Joseph being carried off into captivity by force. Keep this idea in mind and the meaning behind the allegory will open up more fully.
The presence of these allegorical teachings are ultimately to help us understand who we are, what we are doing, and what we should be. Again, these deeper teachings are meant to help us consider things that we have not considered. It is to make known to us the secrets of the Lord -- "… even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man." (1Corinthians 2:9)
As an example, it might be helpful to consider what is called the advent of Christ. Many today look for Jesus to return in literal glory and to literally lay waste to our (so-called) enemies by force. This is referred to as the "second coming of Christ" and is a doctrine that in its essence does not vary much among modern Christian denominations. Let us briefly consider this widely-held view in light of the story of Israel and the cognate symbolism.
One may notice that the Jews at the time of Jesus were expecting a Messiah to come and redeem them from their enemies. Generally speaking, they missed the advent of Christ because they were looking for a material deliverer rather than a spiritual one. These Jews had the same Old Testament scriptural record that we have today. Did they miss the mark because they were unwilling to look deeper for the "hidden" meanings that were behind the literal? Do we the same today?
More specifically, the Jews at that time looked at the same story of Moses as we do and expected a Messiah identical to Moses, someone who would lead them out of (material) bondage to the Romans. But, material freedom does not mean spiritual freedom, as the allegory of Mosiac deliverance shows. In reality, a Messiah to the Jews would be one “like unto Moses”, not identical to him, who would come and teach the true deliverance from Rome (a spiritual one). However, we might notice that our modern view of the (second) advent of Christ is not much different from that of the Jews of old. That is, Christians today expect a Messiah (identical to Moses) that will physically and literally lay waste to those who hold us in bondage. One should ask plainly whether that is the way of Christ…. To be a conquer by force? On the contrary, the words of Jesus were that he (Christ) came not to destroy men, but to save them.
One should notice that when an enemy is overcome by force, the victory is only temporary. It only lasts as long as the enemy remains in subjugation to the victor. When that enemy gains strength, then he will rise again. On the other hand, if an enemy is conquered by unconditional love (charity) and longsuffering, he will stand beside the victor forever. The vanquished will never need to be kept in subjugation. These were the teachings of Christ. Think long on this. There are many deep meanings here that few have considered, nor often has entered into the heart of man. Dear reader, are you beginning to see what you may not have considered?
Let us return to the purpose of this essay, which is to discuss the meaning behind the return of the tribes of Israel and their restoration to their rightful place. There is an important clue displayed prominently in the allegory of Jacob (Israel) and his twin brother Esau. One might notice that the moving account of the reunion of the two brothers, Jacob and Esau, is nearly identical to the words describing the reunion of the lost tribes: "… And we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other;" (Moses 7:63)(compare Genesis 33:4).
To comprehend the location of the (lost) tribes of Israel today, one only needs to comprehend fully why they are lost. The answer is meant to be discovered by any who will look carefully at the allegory of Israel as well as the teachings of Christ. A full realization of the answer will bring you joy. Look for the meaning behind the story. See the symbolism that you may not have considered. Dear brother (or sister), think carefully on these things and you will realize exactly where the lost tribes are.