Much of what we have been taught surrounds the twelve tribes of Israel. Having laid out the foundation we will go back a bit and pick up some the historical pieces of history. We need to place all this into perspective because the three sons of Noah Shem, Ham and Japheth built all the nations after the flood with their linage. So where did the 12 tribes come from.
This all started with God’s Covenant with Abraham. Now before the covenant Abraham’s name was Abram. As soon as God made the covenant with Abram He changed Abram’s name to Abraham. The name Abraham means Father Of Nations and is of Hebrew origin. Abraham was born in the linage of Shem; the bloodline of Jesus. It was from this bloodline that the 12 tribes came from. The 12 tribes came from the sons and grandsons of Jacob. Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebecca and the grandson of Abraham.
The 12 tribes are as follows.
Judah. The tribe of kings, and the most preeminent of the 12 tribes in the biblical narrative. Judah “prevailed over his brothers,” (1 Chronicles 5:2), and the tribe’s territory included the city of Jerusalem and the holy temple. King David was part of this tribe, and his royal line ruled in Jerusalem from around 1,000 BC until the city fell to Babylonian forces in 586 BC. Jerusalem was the capital of Israel and the capital of the Southern Kingdom after the nation divided. Jesus is of the tribe of Judah (Matthew 1:1–2). Notable tribesmen: Jesus, David, Mary, Solomon, Caleb
Reuben. Descended from Jacob’s firstborn, whom Jacob said was as “uncontrolled as water” (Genesis 49:4). The tribe chose not to settle in the Promised Land, and instead asked Moses for some of the territory that they conquered east of the Jordan River. Moses agreed to this, on the condition that they assist the western tribes in conquering Canaan (Numbers 32:28–32). They did so, but they did not assist the other tribes in battle during the period of judges (Judges 5:16), and the tribe falls into scriptural obscurity.
Simeon. The man Simeon (with his brother Levi) slaughtered the men of an entire city to avenge his sister (Genesis 34:25–31). The tribe’s portion of land was within the midst of Judah’s territory (Joshua 19:1); however, Simeon did not grow as rapidly as Judah and seems to have dispersed across multiple territories (1 Chronicles 4:38–43; 2 Chronicles 15:8–9). This is consistent with Jacob’s prophecy concerning Simeon and his brother Levi: “I will disperse them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.”
Levi. The tribe of the priesthood. The tribe of Levi stood by Moses (a Levite) during the golden calf incident at Mount Sinai (Exodus 32:25–29), and later took their place as ministers to the tabernacle, and later the Temple. Levi had no tribal territory—the Lord was the tribe’s inheritance (Numbers 18:19–20)—though they did receive pasture lands for their cattle (Joshua 21). Levitical duties were extensive (read Leviticus!), but Moses gives a brief summary of their significance in his blessing for the tribe (Deuteronomy 33:8–11). Notable tribesmen: Moses, Aaron, John the Baptist, Barnabas
Zebulun. Zebulun doesn’t get very much attention in the Bible. The tribe does boast a strong, loyal fighting force during the days of the judges and King David. In fact, Zebulun had the largest presence in the army that made David king of Israel at Hebron, and they served him with “an undivided heart” (1 Chronicles 12:33).
Issachar. Issachar has even less biblical presence than Zebulun, but the tribe was loyal to Deborah and Barak (Judges 5:15). They’re also remembered as “men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).
Dan. We don’t read much about the man Dan, but we do see his tribe up to no good in the book of Judges. The tribe did not secure their original portion of land (Judges 1:34; 18:1), and instead migrated northward. In the process, they took for themselves other gods (Judges 18:14–17) and set up a new priesthood (Judges 18–20). The tribe later joins Jeroboam in idolatry when the kingdom of Israel divides (1 Kings 12:28–29). Notable tribesman: Samson
Gad. Little is said of Gad, the man or the tribe. They, like Reuben, settled east of the Jordan.
Asher. Jacob prophesied that Asher’s tribe would enjoy rich foods (Genesis 49:20), and the tribe went on to possess a region of eastern Galilee which is still known for its olive groves.
Naphtali. Naphtali, with Zebulun, is mentioned by the prophet Isaiah in a passage we read often during Christmastime: “For a child will be born to us . . . .” This promise was given concerning the land of Galilee, specifically, the “land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali.” You can read the whole prophecy in Isaiah 9.
Ephraim. This tribe is named after Joseph’s son. Joseph received the birthright from Jacob, and instead of just one tribe, he is the ancestor of two (Manasseh is the other). After the kingdom divides, the Northern Kingdom’s capital is in Ephraim’s territory, and the prophets sometimes refer to the entire nation as “Ephraim” (Jeremiah 31:9, Hosea 5:3). Notable tribesmen: Joshua, Samuel
Benjamin. This small tribe has played several important roles in Israel’s history. Benjamin stood against the rest of Israel in a national civil war (Judges 20:14–21:24). Saul, the first anointed king of Israel, was from Benjamin. The tribe was also loyal to David’s descendants when the northern tribes seceded (1 Kings 12:16–24). Notable tribesmen: King Saul, Mordecai, Paul
Manasseh. This tribe descended from Joseph’s firstborn son, and uniquely settled on both sides of the Jordan River (Joshua 17:5–6). The eastern settlement is often referred to as the “half-tribe of Manasseh.”
There were actually 14 tribes called by name; twelve sons of Jacob and Ephraim and Manasseh. There were twelve (12) patriarchs and twelve (12) territories.
The Bible tells us that as the patriarch Jacob lay dying he bestowed blessings on each of his twelve sons (Genesis 49:1-28). These blessings also included prophecies as to the fate of each son’s tribe in Canaan.
These tribes were known as the twelve tribes of Israel, named in honor of Jacob, whose name was also Israel (Genesis 32:28).
The twelve tribes individually bore the names of Jacob’s sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin.
Below is a discussion of each tribe’s blessings and the lessons we can learn from them.
What Can We Learn from the Tribe of Reuben?
To his firstborn son, Reuben, Jacob said: “Reuben, you are my firstborn…excelling in honor [and] power. Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed [and] defiled it” (Genesis 49:3-4).
As the firstborn male, Reuben was entitled to a double inheritance, the royal kingdom, and the priesthood. However, Reuben lost all of this when he committed adultery with Bilhah, Jacob’s concubine (Genesis 35:22).
As a consequence of Reuben’s sin, Jacob adopted Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim as his own, effectively transferring Reuben’s firstborn right to a double inheritance to his younger brother Joseph (Genesis 48:5).
Jacob further skipped over Reuben by giving the kingdom to his son Judah and the priesthood to his son Levi.
Thus, although Reuben wasn’t disinherited outright, he and his tribe lost their prominence because of his sin.
The story of Reuben’s tribe stands as a testament to the ruinous consequences that result when we don’t control our desires. Jacob described Reuben as “turbulent as water.”
Water is unpredictable and can either sustain life or destroy it. Likewise, a person’s level of self-control can bring that person’s life success or destruction.
What Can We Learn from the Tribe of Simeon?
Jacob combined the blessing of his second son, Simeon, with that of his third son Levi: “Simeon and Levi are brothers — their swords are weapons of violence…for they have killed men in their anger…Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel” (Genesis 49:5-7).
Jacob cursed Simeon and Levi for their anger, due, in part, to their vicious destruction of the Shechemites, who had attacked their sister Dinah (Genesis 34:24-30). Simeon and Levi’s anger was characterized by acts of fierce cruelty, not by deeds of righteous indignation.
As punishment for their cruelty, Jacob cursed the tribes of Simeon and Levi to be scattered throughout Israel.
This prophecy came true for the tribe of Simeon in that the tribe was so small that it had to share its territory with the larger and more powerful tribe of Judah (Numbers 26:14; Joshua 19:1-9).
The lesson from the tribe of Simeon is that vicious anger prevents us from separating the sinner from the sin, which can cause us to engage in sinful acts ourselves.
What Can We Learn from the Tribe of Levi?
Unlike the fate of Simeon’s tribe, the fate of Levi’s tribe is a lesson in punishment as well as grace.
Specifically, Levi’s tribe was, indeed, punished by not receiving any land of its own and having to live scattered in lands owned by its brother tribes (Joshua 13:14; Numbers 35:2).
However, the tribe of Levi was also shown grace in that God ordained the Levites to be priests, and only God’s grace could transform the vicious Levi into the founder of a priestly tribe!
As Christians, this teaches us that even those afflicted with a brutal nature can receive grace if they devote their lives to humility and service.
What Can We Learn from the Tribe of Judah?
Any discussion on the tribe of Judah must begin with its most notable descendant — Jesus Christ. Jacob’s blessing for his fourth son, Judah, was prophetic indeed: “Judah, your brothers will praise you…your father’s sons will bow down to you...Like a lion he crouches and lies down…The scepter will not depart from Judah [until] the obedience of the nations shall be his” (Genesis 49:8-10).
We learn from this blessing that Judah would be a powerful nation, worthy of praise. Jacob’s blessing also compares the tribe of Judah to a lion, the king of all beasts who fears no other animal despite having enemies who wish to kill it.
In comparison, Scripture calls Jesus “the King of kings” (Revelation 17:14), who also fears no one and yet has enemies who wish to obliterate His name from the Earth.