Who are the ‘Lost Sheep” of Israel?
In Matthew 15:24 Yeshua told a Canaanite woman with the demon possessed daughter that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Because of the woman’s persistence and great faith, Yeshua, of course healed her daughter. But have you ever wondered who the lost sheep of the House of Israel were? Who they are? It wasn’t a casual expression. In Scripture words mean things. Specific things! And phrases like “lost sheep” and concepts that get repeated over and over should be studied.
Consider the following verses, from LITV:
Num 27:16-17 Let Jehovah, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who may go out before them, and who may go in before them, and who may lead them out, and who may bring them in, so that the congregation of Jehovah may not be as sheep to whom there is no shepherd.
1Ki_22:17 And he said, I have seen all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep that have no shepherd.
Jer_50:17 Israel is a scattered sheep, driven away by lions. First, the king of Assyria devoured him. And last, this King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon . . .
Jer 50:6 My people are lost sheep, their shepherds have caused them to go astray; they turned them away on the mountains, they have gone from mountain to hill; they have forgotten their resting place.
Eze_34:31 And you, My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, you are men. I am your God, declares the Lord Jehovah.
Mic_2:12 Gathering, I will gather all of you, Jacob; gathering, I will gather the remnant of Israel.
Eze 34:10-12 So says the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require My sheep from their hand and cause them to cease from pasturing the sheep. . . . For so says the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks his flock in the day that he is among his scattered sheep, so I will seek out My sheep and will deliver them from all the places where they were scattered . . .
While the verses above are not an exhaustive list, they establish the following:
In Scripture lost and scattered sheep refer to Israel, the congregation of YHVH.
Who is the Good Shepherd?
Yeshua is the Good Shepherd who will re-gather His lost and scattered sheep, the remnant of the House of Israel. Their shepherds caused them to go astray, but it was YHVH who scattered them among the nations, and Yeshua will re-gather them.
Jer 23: 2-8. . . You have scattered My flock, and have driven them away . . .Behold, I will visit on you the evil of your doings, says Jehovah. And I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them again to their fold. And they shall be fruitful and multiply. And I will rise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them. And they will fear no more, nor be terrified . . . Behold, the days come, says Jehovah, that I will raise to David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and act wisely, and He shall do justice and righteousness in the earth. In His days, Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely. And this is His name by which He shall be called, Jehovah our Righteousness. Behold, the days come, says Jehovah, that they shall no more say, Jehovah lives who brought the sons of Israel up out of the land of Egypt; but, Jehovah lives who brought up and led the seed of the house of Israel out of the land of the north, and from all the lands where I have driven them, and they shall dwell on their own land.
The passage above foretells a time when Yeshua will rule as King over all the earth. In those days, the descendants of the House of Judah shall be saved. And Israel, the scattered remnant of the House of Israel, shall dwell safely on their land, their own promised land. This greater exodus in the latter days will so exceed the first out of Egypt that the first will be forgotten.
Can you imagine?
History of the Lost Sheep
The nation of Israel was split into two kingdoms because of Solomon. But YHVH chose to wait until Solomon’s son Rehoboam was king for the sake of David.
1Ki 11:11-13 And Jehovah said to Solomon, Because this has been done by you, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes that I charged on you, I shall surely tear the kingdom from you and shall give it to your servant. Only, I will not do it in your days, for the sake of your father David; I shall tear it out of your son’s hand. Only I will not tear away all the kingdom; I will give one tribe to your son for my servant David’s sake, and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.
1Ki 11:29-31 And at that time it happened that Jeroboam had gone out from Jerusalem, and Ahijah the Shilonite, the prophet, found him in the way. And he covered himself with a new garment, and both of them were by themselves in a field. (30) And Ahijah laid hold on the new garment on him and tore it into twelve pieces. (31) And he said to Jeroboam, Take ten pieces for yourself. For so says Jehovah, God of Israel, Behold, I am tearing the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and giving to you the ten tribes…
So ten tribes went to king Jeroboam in the north and became known as the House of Israel.
And Solomon’s son Rehoboam of the House of Judah ruled as king in the south (two tribes: Judah and Benjamin).
1Ki 11:34-36 But I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, but I will make him ruler all the days of his life, for My servant David’s sake, whom I chose, because he kept My commands and My statutes. (35) But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand, and will give it to you, ten tribes. (36) And I will give one tribe to his son, that there may be a lamp to My servant David before Me all the days in Jerusalem the city that I have chosen to Myself, to put My name…
YHVH’s Promise to Jeroboam
Through the prophet, YHVH promised Jeroboam that the northern Kingdom of Israel would be as sure a House as was King David’s, IF Jeroboam would walk in God’s way and keep His commands.
1Ki 11:37-38 And I will take you, and you shall reign according to all that your soul desires, and shall be king over Israel. (38) And it shall be, IF you shall hear all that I command you, and shall walk in My ways, and do that which is right in My eyes, to keep My statutes and My commands, as My servant David did, THEN I shall be with you and shall build a sure house for you, as I built for David, and shall give Israel to you.
Israel Changes Times and Laws
But Jeroboam did not! King Jeroboam did even more evil in YHVH’s eyes than had Solomon and the House of Judah. Jeroboam had two golden claves built, changed God’s appointed time for observing Sukkot from the 15th day on the 7 month to the 15th day on the 8th, and flouted YHVH’s instructions regarding who, and who only, may serve as priests.
1Ki 12:28-33 And the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Behold your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt! (29) And he set the one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. (30) And this thing became a sin, for the people went before the one, to Dan. (31) And he made a house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of people, who were not of the sons of Levi. (32) And Jeroboam made a feast in the eighth month, in the fifteenth day of the month, like the feast that is in Judah; and he offered on the altar, so he did in Bethel, to sacrifice to the calves which he made; and he made stand in Bethel the priests of the high places that he made. (33) And he offered up on the altar that he made in Bethel, on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the month that he devised out of his own heart; and he made a feast for the sons of Israel, and offered on the altar, to burn incense.
So for mixing the scared right rulings of YHVH with pagan ways of worship and for changing times and laws, God determined to scatter the House of Israel among the nations. Note the mention of Asherah in the verse below. In the Greek Septuagint she is named Astarte. She was the supposed mother of Ba’al, the Babylonian sun-god. Canaanites called her Asherah. This deity was carved from an evergreen tree and set up in Canaanite homes. On the first Sunday of the spring equinox, Canaanites families would face east and await the sunrise–the symbol of the sun god, Ba’al. Later, children would hunt for eggs believed to have come from rabbits, symbolic of sex, fertility and new life. Does any of this sound familiar? It should! For Asherah is also known as Ishtar, from whence we get the word Easter!
1Ki 14:15-16 And Jehovah shall strike Israel as the reed waves in the water, and shall pluck up Israel from off this good land that He gave to their fathers. And He shall scatter them beyond the River, because they have made their Asherahs, provoking Jehovah to anger. (16) And He shall give up Israel because of the sins of Jeroboam that he sinned, and that he caused Israel to sin.
Israel No Longer Called His People
Hosea prophesied that the House of Israel would be scattered, that God would no longer have mercy on them–but he would on the House of Judah–and that the House of Israel would cease to exist. They would no longer be called His people.
Hosea 1:4 And the LORD said unto him, Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel.
Hosea 1:6-7 And she conceived again, and bare a daughter. And God said unto him, Call her name Loruhamah: for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away. But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, . . .
Hos 1:8-9 Now when she had weaned Loruhamah, she conceived, and bare a son. Then said God, Call his name Loammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God.
Hosea Prophesies Hope to Israel
But then, the prophet, still taking about the House of Israel, adds this .promise.
Hos 1:10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God.
Did you catch that? The children of Israel would no longer be called YHVH’s people! They would become part of the nations—those out of covenant. We call them Gentiles. But praise YHVH, it would come to pass that one day those who were no longer God’s people would be called sons of the living God! How do we know this? In the book of Romans Paul identifies those who had lost their identity (Israel) as the Gentiles coming to faith in Yeshua.
Romans 9:24-27 … whom He also called, not only us, of Jews,(House of Judah. Remember Paul is from the tribe of Benjamin which is part of Judah, called the Jews), but also out of the nations. (those scattered). As also He says in Hosea, I will call those Not My people, My people! And those not beloved, Beloved! “And it shall be, in the place where it was said to them, You are not My people, there they will be called, “Sons of the Living God.”
This explains why Yeshua, in Matthew 15:24, said he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
God promised to restore Israel.
Ezekiel 37:9-14 …Then He said to me, Son of man, these bones are all the house of Israel. Behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is perished; we are cut off to ourselves. So prophesy and say to them, So says the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, O My people, and I will bring you to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am Jehovah when I have opened your graves and have brought you up out of your graves, O My people. And I shall put My Spirit within you, and you shall live; and I will put you on your own land . . .
God also promised to reunite the two houses, Judah and Israel.
Eze 37:16-19 . . son of man, take one stick to yourself and write on it, For Judah, and for his companions, the sons of Israel. And take another stick and write on it, for Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and all the house of Israel, his companions. And draw them one to one for yourself, into one stick. And they shall become one in your hand. And when the sons of your people shall speak to you, saying, Will you not declare to us what these mean to you? Say to them . . . Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions. And I will put them with him, with the stick of Judah, and I will make them one stick . . .
Eze 37:21-28 Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations. . . and will gather them from all around, and will bring them into their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel, and one King shall be for a king to all of them. And they shall not be two nations . . . and they will not be split into two kingdoms any more. And they will not still be defiled with their idols, even with their filthy idols, nor with all of their transgressions. But I will save them out of all their dwelling places where they have sinned . . . and I will cleanse them. They shall be a people to Me and I will be a God to them. And My Servant, David, shall be King over them. And there shall be one Shepherd to all of them. And they shall walk in My judgments and keep My statutes, and do them. And they shall dwell on the land that I have given to my servant, to Jacob . . . they shall dwell on it, they and their sons, and the sons of their sons, forever. And My Servant David shall be a ruler to them forever. And I will cut a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant it shall be with them, And I will place them and multiply them, and I will put My sanctuary in their midst forever. And My tabernacle shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And when My sanctuary shall be in their midst forever, the nations shall know that I, Jehovah, sanctify Israel.
Is Yeshua the Good Shepard?
John 10:14-16 I am the Good Shepherd, and I know those that are Mine, and I am known by the ones that are Mine. (15) Even as the Father knows Me, I also know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. (16) And I have other sheep which are not of this fold (He was talking to the Jews—House of Judah). I must also lead those (lost sheep scattered in the nations) and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock, one Shepherd.
Eph 2:11-13 Because of this, remember that you, the nations, were then in the flesh (those having been called Uncircumcision [Gentiles] by those having been called Circumcision [Judah] in the flesh made by hands) (12) that at that time you were without Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers of the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (13) But now, in Christ Jesus you who then were afar off, came to be near by the blood of Christ.
Eze 34:22-25, & 29-31 I also will save My flock, and they shall no longer be for a prey. And I will judge between lamb and lamb. (23) And I will raise up over them one Shepherd. And He shall feed them. My servant David, He shall feed them, and He shall be their Shepherd. (24) And I, Jehovah, will be their God, and My servant David shall be a ruler among them. I, Jehovah, have spoken. (25) And I will cut a covenant of peace with them and make evil beasts cease out of the land. And they shall live in the wilderness securely and sleep in the forests. (29) And I will raise up for them a noted planting place, and they shall not any more be of those gathered by famine in the land. And they shall not any more bear the shame of the nations. (30) And they shall know that I, Jehovah their God, am with them, and they are My people, the house of Israel, declares the Lord Jehovah. (31) And you, My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, you are men. I am your God, declares the Lord Jehovah.
Jer 31:28 And it shall be, as I have watched over them to pluck up, and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to bring calamity; so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says Jehovah.
YHVH promises to make a new (renewed) covenant with the House of Judah and Israel, one that will place His TORAH in their hearts and on their minds, and one that will never again be broken.
Jer 31:31 Behold, the days come, says Jehovah, that I will cut a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, (32) not according to the covenant that I cut with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt (which covenant of Mine they broke, although I was a husband to them, says Jehovah). (33) But this shall be the covenant that I will cut with the house of Israel: After those days, declares Jehovah, I will put My Law in their inward parts, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (34) And they shall no longer each man teach his neighbor, and each man his brother, saying, Know Jehovah. For they shall all know Me, from the least of them even to the greatest of them, declares Jehovah.
For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more. (35) So says Jehovah, who gives the sun for a light by day, the laws of the moon, and the stars for a light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar, Jehovah of Hosts is His name. (36) If these ordinances depart from before Me, says Jehovah, the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever. (37) So says Jehovah, If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be searched out, I will also reject all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, declares Jehovah.
All these promises are made by the creator of the universe! They are sure because the heavens above can never be measured, nor the earth’s foundations discovered!
Where does that leave me?
Does this mean that all who come to faith in the Messiah are physical descendants of the Northern tribes, the scattered House of Israel? Certainly not! But Gentiles who are not physical descendants must still be grafted into Israel’s cultivated olive tree to partake of the new (renewed) covenant. And once grafted in, they are part of the Common-Wealth of Israel! They are no longer an out-of-covenant Gentile.
So who are the Lost Sheep?
The lost sheep are those who were scattered into the nations.
But if you know the Good Shepherd’s voice, if you follow Him, and if you have joined His fold, then YOU are one of His lost sheep. You once were lost, but now you’re found!