The Tribe of Zebulun: History, Prophecy and What We Can Learn From the Little-Known Tribe

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Looking at the tribe of Zebulun, the first thing to note is that Zebulun is Jacob’s tenth son, the youngest of six borne by Leah. When he was born, Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons”.

Then Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons.” So she called his name Zebulun. – Genesis 30:20 (ESV)

ruins in Israel, tribe of Zebulun

The name Zebulun means “exaltation” or “little dwelling”.

Zebulun is head of one of Israel’s twelve tribes. In the time of Moses, Zebulun was divided into three clans: the Seredites, the Elonites, and the Jahleelites, named after Zebulun’s sons.

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The sons of Zebulun, according to their clans: of Sered, the clan of the Seredites; of Elon, the clan of the Elonites; of Jahleel, the clan of the Jahleelites. – Numbers 26:26 (ESV)

The tribes, of course, were named for Jacob’s children (or grandchildren, in the cases of Ephraim and Manasseh).

History of the Tribe of Zebulun

Zebulun was part of the plot to sell Joseph in slavery, and later a member of the group sent to Egypt to buy corn.

Zebulun was one of six tribes chosen to stand on Mount Ebal and pronounce curses.

ruins in Israel; deuteronomy 27:13, Zebulun

And these shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. – Deuteronomy 27:13 (ESV)

The people promised to avoid certain behaviors mentioned in the curses.

Some of the curses included:

“‘Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the Lord, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’ – Deuteronomy 27:15 (ESV)

‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ – Deuteronomy 27:26 (ESV)

“‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ – Deuteronomy 27:19 (ESV)

In all, there were twelve admonishments that Zebulun helped to deliver. You can read all twelve in Deuteronomy 27:15-26

The Tribe of Zebulun is not mentioned often in Scripture. The judge, Elon, whose name appears only in passing in Judges 12:11, was descended from Zebulun.

After him Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel, and he judged Israel ten years. – Judges 12:11 (ESV)

The tribe of Zebulun, though, was highly praised by Deborah in her poetic song of the war against Sisera:

From Ephraim their root they marched down into the valley,

    following you, Benjamin, with your kinsmen;

from Machir marched down the commanders,

    and from Zebulun those who bear the lieutenant’s staff; – Judges 5:14 (ESV)

Zebulun is a people who risked their lives to the death;

    Naphtali, too, on the heights of the field. – Judges 5:18 (ESV)

Jonah also hails from the tribe of Zebulun.

The tribe was renowned as seafarers.

Zebulun is best known for its partnership with the tribe of Issachar.

sand and mountains; deuteronomy 33:18-19; tribe of Zebulun

Zebulun and Issachar had a truly unique partnership. It is recorded that the proceeds of Zebulun’s trade supported the Torah scholars of Issachar. Not only did the Zebulunites receive a share of the spiritual merit earned by those of Issachar, but they were rewarded for their generosity with the blessing for “the abundance of the seas, and the hidden treasures of the sand”

Territory of the Tribe of Zebulun

Zebulun’s territory was located in what later became known as Galilee, in Northern Israel; the northern land of Canaan.

Adjoining the territory of Issachar, from the east side to the west, Zebulun, one portion. – Ezekiel 48:26 (ESV)

map of tribe of Zebulun

Blessings to Zebulun

Jacob’s deathbed blessing to Zebulun was, perhaps, the most straight-forward message:

“Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea;

    he shall become a haven for ships,

    and his border shall be at Sidon. – Genesis 49:13 (ESV)

The descendants of Zebulun were destined to become the great businessmen of Israel. From the land that they settled on the banks of the Mediterranean, the Zebulunites created a renowned merchant fleet.

At the end of his life, when Moses blessed the tribes, he spoke of Issachar and Zebulun together, saying:

And of Zebulun he said,

“Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out,

    and Issachar, in your tents.

They shall call peoples to their mountain;

    there they offer right sacrifices;

for they draw from the abundance of the seas

    and the hidden treasures of the sand.” – Deuteronomy 33:18-19 (ESV)

Isaiah Prophecy Regarding Zebulun

Isaiah’s prophesized that the tribe of Zebulun would be the first to hear Christ’s preaching.

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness

    have seen a great light;

those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,

    on them has light shone. – Isaiah 9:1-2 (ESV)

and, in fact, we learn that this prophecy was fulfilled in the New Testament:

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,

    the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

the people dwelling in darkness

    have seen a great light,

and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,

    on them a light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. – Matthew 4:12-19 (ESV)

It is so thrilling to see prophecy fulfilled, isn’t it?

Lessons We Can Learn From the Tribe of Zebulun

  • God is always there when we turn to Him

While not immediately obvious, the history of the tribe of Zebulun reminds us that God is always there when we turn to Him or return to Him. No matter how broken or weak we may be or how shameful we feel about past sins, God can still use us.

  • When we return to Him, we want to obey Him’

After some time, Zebulun returned to God and followed His commands. His tribe joined others in battles led by Deborah and Barak, and they fought valiantly.

desert in Israel; Judges 4:6; Zebulun in the Bible

She sent and 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 at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. – Judges 4:6 (ESV)

During the kingdom years, Zebulun joined David at Hebron to transfer Saul’s kingdom to David.

Of Zebulun 50,000 seasoned troops, equipped for battle with all the weapons of war, to help David with singleness of purpose. – 1 Chronicles 12:33 (ESV)

This, too, provides insight into our behavior. While at times we turn away from God, His love for us, and ours for Him, draws us back into communion with Him and compliance with His will.

  • Always Follow God’s Will

Upon entering the Promised Land, Zebulun failed to drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron and Nahalol, although Zebulun did subject them to forced labor (Judges 1:30). This was incomplete obedience to God’s clear command to drive out all the inhabitants of the land (Numbers 33:52). Not responding fully to God’s Word, as Zebulun demonstrated, is a trait to which we all can relate. How often do we choose to follow our own paths for various reasons, many of which may not be in concert with God’s wishes?

Did you learn something new about the tribe of Zebulun? What is it about Zebulun that stood out to you most?

You may enjoy this video about the tribe of Zebulun by Pastor Omar Thibeaux:

Or, one of these recommended resources:

As always, I’m praying for you.

Because of Him,


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.

Susan runs on Jesus, coffee and not enough sleep.

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