Peter’s Letter to the Dispersion
If James knew where they were, so also did Peter, for they had a close association in the ministry. Peter wrote to them as well. 1 Peter 1:1, 2 says,
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the sojourners of the Dispersion of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 chosen according to the foreknowledge of God.... [The Emphatic Diaglott]
These were provinces in Asia (now Turkey), where a large population of Israelites lived. Peter appeals to them in 2:9-12, saying,
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you were once not a people, but now you are the people of God [Hosea 2:23]; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles....
The Israelites had been scattered and sown as seed among the nations in order to bring forth a great harvest in the world. Peter tells them to retain a good testimony among the nations, so that they might be a blessing to all the families of the earth.
Where were the Dispersed Israelites?
Peter's first letter is specifically addressed to the lost tribes of Israel “in the dispersion.” It is understood, however, that in a more limited context, he was writing to the few who had come to a place of faith in Jesus Christ through the missionary efforts of the apostles.
It is clearly understood that Peter was writing to people who still remembered their former Israelite heritage. This is very feasible, since we know that some ex-Israelites living on the north side of the Black Sea also remembered their heritage. There are large cemeteries of these ex-Israelites which often reflect that knowledge. One tombstone reads,
“This is the tombstone of Buki, the son of Itchak [Isaac] the priest; may his rest be in Eden, at the time of the salvation of Israel. In the year 702 of the years of our exile.”
If we date the exile from the fall of Samaria in 721 B.C., then the year 702 was the year 19 B.C. Peter was writing to Israelites just a generation later, so there can be little doubt that their identity had not been totally lost yet. Another longer epitaph reads:
I, Jehuda ben Mose ha Nagolon, of the East country, ben Jehuda ha-Gibbor of the tribe of Naphtali, of the generation Schillem, who went into exile with the exiles who were driven away with Hosea, the king of Israel, together with the tribes of Simeon and Dan and some of the generations of the other tribes of Israel, which (all) were led into exile by the enemy Shalmanezer from Schomron and their cities to Chalach, that is, Baclack and to Chabar, that is, Chabul and to Hara, that is, Herat, and to Gosan, that is, Gozna, the cities of the exiled tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half of Manasseh, which Pilneser drove into exile and settled there (and from there they scattered themselves over the whole land of the East as far as Sinim)—when I returned from wandering in the land of their exile and from journeyings in the dwelling places of the descendants of their generations in their resting places of the Land of Krim…[Crimea]. (Academia Scientiarum Imperialis, Memoires, by A. E. Harkavy, 1863, Vol. 24, No. 1, p. 9.)
The fact that groups of Israelites had left Assyria and had immigrated north above the Black Sea is recorded in the apocryphal book of 2 Esdras 13:40-45,
40 Those are the ten tribes, which were carried away prisoners out of their own land in the time of Osea the king, whom Shalmanezer the king of Assyria led away captive, and he carried them over the waters, and so came they into another land. 41 But they took this counsel among themselves, that they would leave the multitude of the nations, and go forth into a further country, where never mankind dwelt, 42 that they might there keep their statutes, which they never kept in their own land. 43 And they entered into Euphrates by the narrow passages of the river. 44 For the Most High then showed signs for them, and held still the flood, till they were passed over. 45 For through that country there was a great way to go, namely of a year and a half; and the same region is called Arsareth.
Peter was obviously very interested in them, as his letter shows. In fact, the Israelites in exile, “aliens of the dispersion,” were very much of interest to the people of Judea. The prophets had said much about their restoration, and they all had different ideas as to how God was going to fulfill His Word.
Peter's viewpoint is of interest to us, because he wrote this letter which became a part of Scripture. Peter recognized in 2:6-8 that some of these ex-Israelites believed and others did not.
6 For this is contained in Scripture: “Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him shall not be disappointed.” 7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe. But for those who disbelieve, “The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very corner stone,” 8 and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word; and to this they were also appointed.
Hence, different Scriptures applied to believers and unbelievers among them. Even though these ex-Israelites were in exile and seemingly had nothing to do with the rejection of Christ, Peter includes the unbelieving Israelites in the fulfillment of Scripture. Why? Because while they were in the old land, their King was Jesus Christ, though they knew Him under the name of Yahweh. Their rebellion against His law, which was the cause of their exile, was actually a rejection of Jesus Christ.
And so in Peter's day, most of them remained as unbelievers in the lands of their captivity. Some, however, had come to know Jesus Christ as believers and apostles came with the good news of the Gospel. The first to hear the Gospel were those living closest to Jerusalem in the north, east, and central parts of Asia Minor (now Turkey). These were the provinces called “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” (For a map of these areas, see Appendix 7 of my book, Lessons from Church History, Vol. 1.)
Hosea’s Prophecy of Israel
Peter appeals to these dispersed Israelites on the grounds of biblical prophecy. In 1 Peter 2:10 he reminds them specifically of the prophecy of Hosea, that was directed toward the Israelites,
10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Hosea, of course, had been divinely led to marry Gomer, the harlot, and they had three children whose names were prophetic of Israel in dispersion. The Messiah was to reunite Israel and Judah, giving them mercy and reinstating them as “My people.” In fact, it was only through the Messiah that either the cut-off Jews or the dispersed Israelites could regain their covenant relationship with God (Hos. 1:11). Legally speaking, no man is either a Judahite or an Israelite apart from following Jesus Christ.
Hosea’s wife, Gomer, was named according to the official name by which the Assyrians had called the Israelites: Gomri, or Gimirra. The name Gomri simply means “of Gomer,” or perhaps “Gomerites.” According to Theophilus G. Pinches, the Assyrians called Israel the “house of Omri,” and that his name was originally pronounced Ghomri. (See his book, The Old Testament in the Light of the Historical Records and Legends of Assyria and Babylonia, 3rd edition, 1908.)
The children of Hosea and Gomer were named Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi.
Jezreel means “God scatters; or God sows,” because Israel was to be scattered in the world as God sowed them in the field.
Lo-ruhamah means “not pitied,” because “I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel” (Hos. 1:6).
Lo-ammi means “not my people,” because “you are not My people, and I am not your God” (Hos. 1:9).
And yet, God's purpose in sowing them in the field (world) was to obtain a great harvest. And when the divine plan is put into motion, their names would become Ammi and Ruhamah (Hos. 2:1). The climax of the prophecy is in Hos. 2:23,
23 And I will sow her for Myself in the earth [Jezreel]. I will also have compassion [Ruhamah] on her who had not obtained compassion, and I will say to those who were not My people, “You are My people!” [Ammi] And they will say, “Thou art my God!”
This is the verse that Peter quoted in 1 Peter 2:10. He understood that these ex-Israelites who had been “not My people” were now returning to become the people of God by their belief in Jesus Christ.
Dispersed Israel was to be a Light
Furthermore, Peter appealed to them to be a light, a witness, a testimony of truth to the world around them. In other words, they were to fulfill the original purpose of God's covenant with Abraham—to be a blessing to all families of the earth. Isaiah 41:8, 9 prophesies to Israel,
8 But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham, My friend, 9 You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its remotest parts, and said to you, “You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you.”
Isaiah continues in 49:6, “I will also make You a light of the nations, so that My salvation [yeshua] may reach to the end of the earth.”
In other words, God scattered Israel in order to bring Yeshua (Jesus Christ) to the ends of the earth. He used their very rebellion to fulfill His plan for the whole earth. Peter understood this, and he was excited to tell these believers that they were fulfilling Bible prophecy. The unbelievers fulfilled the prophecies of rejecting the Stone, while the believers had opportunity to be a light to the nations, bringing the light of Yeshua to the ends of the earth.
Peter says in 2:12,
12 Keep your behavior excellent among the nations, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
He also instructs them not to act as captives, but as free men in Christ:
16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.
Israel had indeed been sentenced to captivity for refusing to be obedient to God. But their faith in Christ had ended their captivity. They were now being regathered as Israelites set free by the power of the cross and the resurrection of Christ. This was the beginning of the restoration of the House of Israel, and many others were being gathered with them (Is. 56:8).
8 The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, “Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”
In this way, Isaiah says in the previous verse, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”
Peter recognized that these believers among the dispersed Israelites were like lost sheep returning to God, as prophesied in Ezekiel 34:5, “they were scattered for lack of a shepherd.” So he tells them in 1 Peter 2:25,
25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.