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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 from 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.
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:
- By their mother
- By their blessing from Jacob
- By their blessing from Moses. (Deuteronomy 33:6-25)
When you look at each of the tribes, take special note of how each son of Jacob and each tribe of Israel was described by their mother, Jacob, and Moses.
Tribes of Israel
The 12 Tribes of Israel (or is it 14?) Overview of Tribes & Lessons We Can Learn
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.
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.
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.
“Simeon and Levi are brothers;
weapons of violence are their swords.
Let my soul come not into their council;
O my glory, be not joined to their company.
For in their anger they killed men,
and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen.
Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce,
and their wrath, for it is cruel!
I will divide them in Jacob
and scatter them in Israel. –
Genesis 49:5-7 (ESV)
Jacob combined the blessing of his second-born son, Simeon, with that of his third-born son Levi.
Jacob wasn’t thrilled with Simeon and Levi for their anger, partially because of their devasting slaughter of the Shechemites, who had attacked their sister Dinah (Genesis34:24-30).
Simeon and Levi were known for their anger as well as cruelty.
As punishment for their cruelty, Jacob cursed the tribes of Simeon and Levi to be scattered throughout Israel.
This prophecy was fulfilled later when the tribe of Simeon became so small that it
was forced to share its territory with the larger and more powerful tribe of Judah
Anger causes us to sin and, can have further disastrous results.
While Levi’s blessing was combined with Simeon’s, the future of the tribe of Levi shows both punishment and grace. It is considered the “chosen tribe”.
Levi’s tribe was also penalized by not receiving its own land and was forced to live in
scattered lands owned by the other tribes of Israel.
To thetribe of Levi alone Moses gave no inheritance. The offerings by fire to theLord God of Israel are their inheritance, as he said to him. – Joshua 13:14(ESV)
They were, however, shown grace by God as they were the ones chosen to be priests. God uses sinners, too, to transform us into more than we could ask or imagine!
brothers shall praise you;
your hand shall be on the neck of your
your father's sons shall bow down before
Judah is a
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall
not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler's staff from between his
tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the
The prophecy for Judah is that his tribe would become a powerful nation. Jacob compares Judah to a lion’s cub. A lion, of course, is the king of beasts. He fears nothing.
The prophecy that the scepter “shall not depart from Judah” foretells that Jesus would descend from the line of Judah and, of course, Jesus is the King of all Kings and will eternally rule overall.
“Dan shall judge his people
as one of the tribes of Israel.
Dan shall be a serpent in the way,
a viper by the path,
that bites the horse's heels
so that his rider falls backward. –
Jacob calls Dan a serpent. This is a hint of the trouble that this tribe would face. One such trouble is that while Dan was provided fertile land in Canaan, he was unable to conquer the territory.
Even though the Lord had promised the tribe of Dan this land, he and the tribe took matters into their own hands and invaded the nation to try to take the land forcefully, instead.
Worse, however, was that this tribe of Israel, Dan’s, began worshipping idols.
This is likely why the tribe of Dan is not included in the tribes of Israel mentioned
in the Tribulation (Revelation7:4-8).
The story of this tribe is a reminder that our faith can be easily compromised when we don’t follow God’s will and try to follow our own.
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.
“Raiders shall raid Gad
but he shall raid at their heels. –
Genesis 49:19 (ESV)
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.
“Asher's food shall be rich,
and he shall yield royal delicacies. –
Genesis 49:20 (ESV)
Moses also has a positive blessing for Asher:
And of Asher he said,
“Most blessed of sons be Asher;
let him be the favorite of his brothers,
and let him dip his foot in oil. –
Deuteronomy 33:24 (ESV)
At times, Gad and his tribe did what they wanted to do and others when they did what God wanted them to do, such as helping Gideon defeat Israel’s enemies.
It sounds like us, as modern-day Christians, right? Even though, we are blessed, we often do what we shouldn’t rather than what God wants us to.
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. – Genesis49:14-15 (ESV)
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
“Joseph is a fruitful bough,
a fruitful bough by a spring;
his branches run over the wall.
The archers bitterly attacked him,
shot at him, and harassed him severely,
yet his bow remained unmoved;
his arms were made agile
by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob
(from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of
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
up to the bounties of the everlasting
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.
One of the half-tribers of Joseph
The other half-tribe of Joseph
The form you have selected does not exist.
The tribes of Israel are fascinating studies on the character of not just each tribe, but God as well. We learn of punishment, redemption, grace, and love.
Each of the posts above includes history, territory, prominent members of the tribe and lessons we can learn from each of these tribes of Israel.
You may also wish to grab my new book, The Twelve Tribes of Israel (or is it 14?) and Lessons We Can Learn.
Which tribe of Israel do you find most interesting?
Because He Lives,