The Ten Lost Tribes Learn a New Language

Not the least of the many marvels that came to their birth last century is the modern Hebrew language. In the lifetime of millions of us what was once a 'dead' but sacred language of the past is already the daily vernacular of about six million citizens of Israel itself.

Added to this, it is being learned by thousands more, and the vocabulary has grown daily as the Academy for the Hebrew Tongue added new names, fashioning them with great skill and insight from the three-lettered Hebrew roots, so that they seem to have been a part of the ancient Hebrew language from time immemorial.

New dictionaries have had to be issued – three thousand words in one of them for athletes, a thousand for the kitchen, myriads to cater for new technology, and so on. It follows that it is now possible to write in Hebrew clearly and succinctly on any scientific or philosophic or mundane subject under the sun.

But this renewal of the language of the Book is matched by the revival of the People of the Book and their return to the Land of the Book, where they can use this, their resurrected tongue. And all of them fulfil a prophetic picture painted by Ezekiel the prophet two thousand five hundred years ago, many of his prophecies prefaced authoritatively by: "The word of the LORD came to me, saying . . . "

The reviving Hebrew language has brought together the two major divisions of Jewry, thus joining the so-called 'lost ten tribes' to their brethren who have ever remained in the awareness of history. Ezekiel had the message from the Lord:

"Again the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 'As for you, son of man, take a stick for yourself and write on it: "For Judah and for the children of Israel his companions." Then take another stick and write on it: "For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for the house of Israel, his companions."

'Then join them one to another for yourself into one stick, and they will become one in your hand. And when the children of your people speak to you, saying, "Will you not show us what you mean by these?" – say to them, "Thus says the LORD God: Surely I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will join them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in my hand"'" (37:15-19).

The rejoining of the tribes of Israel together again by the Lord Himself as He showed His servant was followed by a further announcement: "Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and 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 king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again" (37:21-22).

So the former northern 'lost' tribes who had turned from the teachings of the Lord and were banished from the land and taken into exile by the Assyrians are to be brought back into the same country from which they were taken, with one king over them, and no longer be separate kingdoms as in the past.

And the place of their return is cited specifically by the prophet as "the mountains of Israel" , a phrase peculiar to him as he uses it sixteen times in his prophecies.

The Hebrew Language

The Hebrew language has played a large and very important part in the integration of the returning Jewish people into one nation from over one hundred countries. The prophet Zephaniah refers to this truth: "My determination is to gather the nations to my assembly of kingdoms, to pour on them my indignation, all my fierce anger;

"all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the LORD, to serve him with one accord" (3:8-9).

The word translated 'pure' is variously translated in other places in the Scriptures: 'manifest', 'polished shaft', 'clean', 'cleanse', and 'choice' (and its related words 'choose' and 'chosen'). The last is interesting because this is exactly what has been happening as the Academy for the Hebrew Tongue continued with its work of building a small ancient language into a modern one, now many times larger than in David's time.

As there have been two very distinct streams of Jewish peoples flowing and merging together in the land, and their pronunciation of the Hebrew was markedly different, there had to be choices. The Academy finally settled for the Sephardi tongue of the more oriental peoples of the Mediterranean basin rather than the Ashkenazi Hebrew of the European synagogues.

So modern Hebrew is 'pure' in the sense that it is polished, clean, purified, chosen. The sense of the Scripture is there, even if the translation is less than exact.

Many Ashkenazi Jews are the descendants of the ten tribes who had been deported by the Assyrians one hundred and twenty years before the Babylonians took away the remaining Jewish people from the southern area of which Jerusalem was the capital. Certainly their culture, mixed as it was with the cultures in which they were "buried" , to use Ezekiel's own word for it, has been very different from that of the multi-textured groups of Sephardi Jews from the Mediterranean and Arabic countries.

The two groups have been very different; different in the diversity of the 'graves of the nations' in which they were both 'buried' for two thousand years; different in dialects, languages and customs.

There was a small nucleus of indigenous Jewish inhabitants that have always been in the land, mainly Sephardi. But when the Yishuv (Return to Israel) began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the returning exiles of those early years that had been trickling back from many countries turned into a stream of desperate humanity following Hitler's persecution.

When you have millions of people coming 'home' from over a hundred countries, and every one of them has the language of the place from which he has come, it is obvious that there has to be a common speech sooner or later. Thus modern Hebrew was born – dozens of dialects, though all basically Hebrew – with the Sephardi version now official.

So we can be sure that Ezekiel spoke the truth, even though he said it so long ago. The land HAS been marvellously rehabilitated through the skill and industry of the people (Ezekiel chapter 36). The people ARE going back to the land, and a nation IS being resurrected out of the graves of the nations as chapter 37 indicates. The two main streams ARE being brought together as ONE people, helped by their pure language.

But Israel's enemies ARE trying to take over the land, just as Ezekiel foretold in chapter 35, and warned them not to do so. He specially has a warning for a future northern aggressive power as he records in chapters 38 and 39. Let us heed the Word of the Lord with reverent attention.