The Twelve Tribes of Israel


  1. The Twelve Tribes
  2. Who were these Twelve Tribes?
        the sons of Israel
            there were 12 boys
                until Jacob adopted two more, making the count 14
            but they were still referred to as the twelve sons
        the nation of Israel
            we know there were 13 tribes
                but that Levi was not usually listed
            but they still called themselves the twelve tribes
                and they weren't snubbing Levi
            in the time of David, there were two tribes of Manasseh
                making 14 tribes in all
                    but they were still the 12 tribes
    The Twelve Tribes had become a name for the group
        regardless of who was listed or omitted
            it stood for the whole
        the lists are ordered for purposes sometimes obvious
            but many times unknown
                and always an interesting study
            the order somehow represented the status of the tribes
                at least, who was the current top dog
                    early lists start with Reuben
                        the first born
                    but Judah takes over by the time of David
                        who was of the tribe of Judah
                            as were all the kings descended from him
    The number Twelve
        there were 12 original sons
            and numbers were important to the Hebrews
                so maintaining the count would have been important
        it was the number of governmental perfection
            so all lists of their nation had to be 12 in length
                to be otherwise would be to deny God's omnipotence
                    by saying that his chosen people did not have a
                    perfect government
        lists would be kept to 12 members to keep them "perfect"
            so when Levi was left out someone else had to be added
    The Twelve Tribes became a symbol of God's provenance
        in establishing a system of government for his people
            which was perfect
        the length of the list became more important than its contents
            which were mutable
    
    

  3. The Twelve Sons
  4. By Hebrew tradition, there were proper ways to list the children
        making sure that the firstborn was mentioned first
    The order of their births was important
        by Leah, the unloved wife
            Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah
        by Bilhah, the maid of the jealous Rachel
            Dan, Naphtali
        by Zilpah, the maid of the barren, unloved Leah
            Gad, Asher
        by Leah, the unloved wife
            Issachar, Zebulun, Dinah
        by Rachel, repentant at last
            Joseph, Benjamin
    The order of their mothers was important
        Leah, the first wife
            Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun
        Rachel, the favourite wife
            Joseph, Benjamin
        Bilhah and Zilpah, the concubines
            Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher
    But many of the lists do not follow this order
        are they simply random?
            or is there an order we just cannot explain?
    
    

  5. The Twelve Tribes in Genesis 49
  6. This list gives the order in which Jacob blessed his sons
        and he seems to mostly follow traditional order
            and it the first list of the tribes of Israel
                Genesis 49:28
                    an editorial comment by Moses?
        first the sons of Leah
            Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar
        then the sons of the concubines
            Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali
        and then the youngest sons, the sons of Rachel
            Joseph, Benjamin
    It provides a base line for comparison
        albeit somewhat unexplainable
            why are the sons of the concubines lumped together
                not by age, nor by mother
    
    

  7. The Twelve Tribes in Numbers 1
  8. By Numbers 1 there are differences
        both in order and composition
    There are two lists in Numbers 1
        the list of leaders
            Reuben, Simeon Judah, Zebulun, Issachar
                sons of Leah
            Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin
                sons of Rachel
            Dan, Asher, Gad, Naphtali
                sons of the concubines
        the list of people
            Reuben, Simeon, Gad, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun
                Gad? why is he here?
            Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin
            Dan, Asher, Naphtali
    We notice that both lists are similar
        but they differ from themselves
            and from Genesis 49
    Levi is missing
        because God specifically excluded them from the census
            they were to be set apart as priests
                and would not receive a portion of the inheritance
                    in the promised land
    Joseph is missing
        instead of him, his two sons appear
            demonstrating that they were as sons of Israel
                that Joseph received the double share of the first born
            listed in the order that Jacob placed them
                with Ephraim, the youngest, before Manasseh
                    in the 2nd census Manasseh would be listed first
                        possibly because of the growth the tribe had
                            during the wandering in the dessert
        keeping the number of tribes at twelve
            legitimately, since they were sons of Jacob
                but keeping the numerological significance
        but Joseph's name appears with them
            underlining the fact that they were both of the tribe of Joseph
    Gad is promoted
        appearing in the slot vacated by Levi
            for no obvious reason
        an interesting coincidence is that Gad's count is by 50s
            where all others are by 100s
    
    

  9. The Twelve Tribes in Revelation 7
  10. Twelve tribes are listed, but the list in unorthodox
        it doesn't follow "standard" orders
        it lists Levi and doesn't list Dan
        it lists Joseph and Manasseh, but leaves Ephraim out
    What possible reason could there be for this list?
        the out-of-order reasoning
            it has been noted that if verses 5c, 6 (Gad to Manasseh)
                were moved after verse 8
                    then the rational (mother) order is almost restored
            this requires us to believe that a transcription error was made
                that some scribe got the order wrong while copying
            this still does not explain why Manasseh replaces Dan
        the antichrist reasoning
            Hebrew tradition suggests a reason for omitting Dan
                the antichrist is supposed to be of the line of Dan
                    so leaving him out of this list makes "sense"
        the idolatry reasoning
            Dan was early connected with idolatry
                Judges 18
            some people think that this could explain their loss
                as a tribe they weren't worthy of being listed
        neither of these last two explain Joseph, Ephraim, and Manasseh
            why is Joseph back?
            why is Manasseh here but Ephraim not?
    Let us look at this somewhat differently
        for there is a fact of Hebrew custom that we are ignoring
            and which we usually ignore when interpreting the bible
                unless we are hit over the head with it
        Genesis 29:31 - 30:24, 35:16-18
            the sons are named by their mothers (and father in one case)
                for particular reasons
            the names mean something
    Let us examine the list in Revelation along with the meanings
        Who's listed?
            Judah           praise or Praise the Lord
            Reuben          see, a son
            Gad             good fortune
            Asher           happy
            Naphtali        my struggle or obtained by wrestling
            Manasseh        causing forgetfulness
            Simeon          one who hears or hears and obeys
            Levi            attached or joined
            Issachar        reward
            Zebulun         honour or looking for a home
            Joseph          may God add
            Benjamin        son of the right hand
        Who's not listed?
            Dan             he has vindicates or he that judges
            Ephraim         doubly fruitful
        What's it mean?
            who does this list describe
                the 144,000 servants sealed by God
            what purpose does enumerating them serve?
                couldn't one have just said
                    12,000 from each of the tribes of Israel?
        How about taking the meaning of the names into consideration
            Those who praise the Lord       Judah
                seeing the Son              Reuben
                in good fortune             Gad
                and happiness               Asher
                but wrestling               Naphtali
                with forgetfulness.         Manasseh
                Hearing and obeying         Simeon
                and joined,                 Levi
                as a reward                 Issachar
                looking for a home,         Zebulun
                added as the                Joseph
                son of the right hand.      Benjamin
            we've lost an interpretive tool over the past centuries
                we have forgotten what the names meant
                    since our names rarely "mean" anything.
                        except to expectant parents
    
    

  11. Interpreting Lists
  12. It is difficult
        because we have to understand everything that the authors knew
            and put it into context
        they weren't necessarily writing so that we could understand
            rather, their sense of order and righteousness was being met
    But we do have two conclusions about lists of the Twelve Tribes
        they were ordered on purpose
            sometimes we know the purpose
            other times we don't
        it was important to ensure there were twelve in the list
            because of the meaning associated with twelve
                think of other uses of twelve in the Bible
                    the 12 disciples
                    the 12 apostles