The 12 Tribes of Israel (or is it 14?) Overview of Tribes & Lessons We Can Learn
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The Twelve tribes of Israel. Or wait, is it 14? Will get to that in a moment.
Each of the tribes of Israel had its own personality, history, territory, and lessons we can learn. They also each had their own blessings by Jacob as he lay dying. Many were also blessed by Moses. (Genesis 49:1-28)
These blessings also included prophecies concerning the fate of each of the tribes of Israel.
Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come. – Genesis 49:1 (ESV)
These tribes were known as the tribes of Israel in honor of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel by God.
Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” – Genesis 32:28 (ESV)
The twelve tribes (14) individually bore the names of Jacob’s sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, (Manasseh and Ephraim) and Benjamin.
You can find everything that you are looking for about the tribe of Israel on my website, but if you would like a study of all 12 Tribes of Israel, (plus the two half tribes) you can purchase the ebook for your convenience. No ads, no pop ups and you’ll have it forever to refer to when studying the sons of Jacob. It includes videos and additional downloads. The best part – it’s only $10 for over 230 pages!! Your choice, read it here or have it forever.
As a compass for our time here on earth, we have much to learn from these blessings. Each of the tribes of Israel took a unique path.
At the end of the blessing by Jacob, we read:
All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him. – Genesis 49:28 (ESV)
Let’s start by looking at the word “blessing”.
In Hebrew, the word Berakah (בְּרָכָה) means blessing. It also means gift or of God.
To understand the tribes of Israel, it is interesting to note that they are each described in three ways:
“Reuben,you are my firstborn,
my might, and the firstfruits of mystrength,
preeminent in dignity and preeminent inpower.
Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence,
because you went up to your father's bed;
then you defiled it—he went up to my couch!- Genesis 49:3-4 (ESV)
As the firstborn male, Reuben should have been entitled to a double inheritance as well as the royal kingdom and the priesthood. However, Reuben lost it all when he slept with his father’s concubine, Bilhah.
WhileIsrael lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine. And Israel heard of it. - Genesis 35:22 (ESV)
One result of Rueben’s wrongdoing was that Jacob adopted Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim as his own, which transferred the rights of the firstborn (as a double inheritance) to his younger brother, Joseph.
And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to youin Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. - Genesis 48:5 (ESV)
Jacob also punished Reuben by giving the kingdom to his Judah and the priesthood to Levi; both would have gone to Reuben, had he not sinned.
The story of Reuben’s tribe stands as a testament to the consequences that are a result of our sinning and not controlling our desires.
Jacob, in his blessing of Reuben, described him as “unstable as water.
Water is a source of life, but if left unchanneled, it can destroy life. Similarly, as humans, our self-control and behavior can determine our life’s success or downfall.
“Naphtali is a doe let loose
that bears beautiful fawns. –
Moses’ blessing added that Naphtali went on to added this about Naphtali:
And of Naphtali he said,
“O Naphtali, sated with favor,
and full of the blessing of the Lord,
possess the lake and the south.” –
Deuteronomy 33:23 (ESV)
Naphtali was given wonderful blessings, yet disobeyed God by living with the Canaanites and by not having faith in Him when God commanded them to fight against the Canaanites.
She sentand summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him,“Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men atMount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people ofZebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin's army, to meet youby the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him intoyour hand’?” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if youwill not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you.Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, forthe Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose andwent with Barak to Kedesh. - Judges 4:6-9 (ESV)
Later, the tribe got behind and supported the new king, David and played an important role in building King Solomon’s Temple (1Kings 7:13-47).
This tribe of Israel allows us to see that life is up and down, filled with both courage and cowardice, peace and war, obedience, and disobedience. We also learn that God blesses the least of us.
The tribe of Gad received the choicest of the Promised Land as their reward for faithful obedience to God during the conquest and for the role it played in helping its brother tribes secure their territories.
The major lesson from this tribe of Israel is that we will be blessed with rewards if we steadfastly obey God. We also learn to look beyond gratifying our own wants and needs and help others meet theirs.
“Issachar is a strong donkey,
crouching between the sheepfolds.
He saw that a resting place was good,
and that the land was pleasant,
so hebowed his shoulder to bear,
and became a servant at forced labor. –
Biblical scholars are not in agreement with the meaning behind Jacob’s blessing to Issachar. Being called a donkey in biblical times was a compliment, though, as kings rode on donkeys. (Matthew21:1-11)
The lesson from this tribe of Israel is that if we work, we will receive the fruits of our labor.
(from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
by the God of your father who will help you,
by the Almighty who will bless you
with blessings of heaven above,
blessings of the deep that crouches beneath,
blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
The blessings of your father
are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents,
up to the bounties of the everlasting hills.
May they be on the head of Joseph,
and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers. –
Genesis 49:22-26 (ESV)
Joseph was faithful and because of this, he was rewarded with a double portion. Jacob adopted Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, as his own. Therefore, some accounts show that Manasseh and Ephraim were half-tribes.
And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. - Genesis 48:5 (ESV)
Through this adoption, the tribe of Joseph was technically split into two.
Joseph’s faith and goodness made him his father’s favorite and, in turn, provided a prosperous future for both Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
Joseph is famously known for his forgiveness of his brothers for all they had done to him including selling him into slavery.
Susan is a writer, speaker and the creator of Women of Noble Character ministries. She is passionate about helping Christian women deepen their walk with God through Bible study and creative worship and strengthen their marriages.
She lives in rural North Central Missouri with her handsome and hilarious husband and a myriad of dogs, cats and chickens.