The Significance of the "Twelve Tribes of ISRAEL"
What is the "Significance of the Twelve Tribes of Israel…?" What promises did God make to the 12 tribes of Israel? What were His plans and expectations for them? What is the significance of these things today?
The Bible lists 12 sons of the patriarch Israel who each became the father of a tribe of the ancient nation of Israel. Here is a list of the 12 tribes of Israel from Genesis 49: Reuben; Simeon; Levi (this priestly tribe did not receive a territory, and sometimes is not listed when the tribe of Joseph is listed as two separate tribes); Judah; Zebulun; Issachar; Dan; Gad; Asher; Naphtali; Joseph (often listed as two tribes named for his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh); Benjamin.
Let’s look at what the Bible tells us about the history and the future of the 12 tribes of Israel… There were promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God promised Abraham that his descendants would be numerous (Genesis 13:16; 17:2; 22:17) and that his descendants would eventually constitute “many nations” (Genesis 17:4-5). He also promised Abraham that his descendants would “possess the gate of their enemies” (Genesis 22:17) and be “blessed” mightily by God (Genesis 22:16-18). God also said that his descendants would be identified throughout history by the name of Abraham’s son, “Isaac” (Genesis 21:12).
The blessings given to Abraham and Isaac were called the “birthright” blessings because they were passed on to successive generations as a right of their birth… The “birthright” blessings given to Abraham were passed on to Isaac, who married Rebekah.
The blessing of numerous descendants who would possess the gates of their enemies was a continuation of the blessing God had promised Abraham that He would fulfill in Isaac (Genesis 17:17-19, 21).
It’s important to note here that… Abraham had a previous son, Ishmael, by Hagar, and Ishmael’s descendants were also prophesied to become numerous and constitute a “great nation” that would feature “twelve princes” (Genesis 17: 20). The “great nation” of Ishmael’s descendants today is the Arab world. But, Ishmael was not God’s promised son to Abraham and from whom the twelve tribes of Israel would come!
Isaac passed his “birthright” blessings on to his son, Jacob, even though the oldest son, Esau, would normally have received them. Genesis 25:30-34 informs us that Esau “sold” his birthright to Jacob for some red stew and Isaac, officially passed on the birthright to Jacob (Genesis 27). One of the blessings Jacob received from Isaac was that other nations would bow down to the nations that would descend from Jacob (Genesis 27:29). Clearly, for this prophecy to be fulfilled, Jacob’s descendants would have to become great nations and empires. This same blessing also promised that God would bless the nations that blessed Jacob’s descendants and would curse the nations that cursed Jacob’s descendants. God reiterated Abraham’s blessings to Jacob in Genesis 28:10-15 by saying Jacob’s descendants would be as numerous as “the dust of the earth” and they would eventually spread to all four corners of the earth from the region of the Promised Land. Jacob’s name was later changed to “Israel” (Genesis 32:28) and he had 12 sons who became the “12 tribes of Israel.”
The 12 tribes of Israel established… Before Jacob (Israel) died, he passed on the “birthright blessings” to his grandsons, who were named Ephraim and Manasseh. Israel gave prophetic blessings that were to be fulfilled in a time called “the latter days” to all 12 of his sons (Genesis 49:1). In Genesis 48:16 Israel blessed both Ephraim and Manasseh simultaneously with the words “let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” Israel decreed that his own name, “Israel”… and the name of his own father, “Isaac,” would be placed upon the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph, who were to each become a distinct tribe among Israel’s sons (Genesis 48:5). In doing this, Israel was giving Joseph a “double portion” among the 12 tribes of Israel.
Israel foretold in Genesis 48:19 that while the descendants of Manasseh would become a “great” people (or nation), the descendants of Ephraim would become a “multitude of nations.”
Since Joseph was expanded into two tribes, this meant that there would now be 13 tribes of Israel, although they were often still known as “the 12 tribes of Israel” because the priestly tribe, the Levites, did not receive a territorial inheritance in the Promised Land. In the blessings recorded in Genesis 49, Israel gave prophecies for each of the tribes named after his 12 sons. The 12 sons of Israel are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulon, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph and Benjamin. The tribe most recognized today is Judah. “Jews” have long been named after Judah… and is also where “Judea” comes from. Judah began as one individual who grew to become a family and Tribe of Judah, and then the Southern Kingdom, and finally came to represent the entire Jewish religion and nation.
When the 12 tribes of Israel entered the Promised Land, they eventually formed the nation of Israel under King David and Solomon. Soon after Solomon’s death, this empire was torn apart by a great civil war. The northern 10 tribes formed the kingdom of Israel, while the southern two tribes, Judah and Benjamin (joined by the priestly tribe of Levi), formed the southern kingdom of Judah. The northernkingdom of Israel was called “Israel” because it was led by the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh who bore the name of “Israel” (Genesis 48:16). The southern kingdom was led by the tribe of Judah.
The northern kingdom of Israel went into captivity in 722 B.C. because of sin and rebellion toward God. Judah was taken into captivity by the Babylonians between 604 and 586 B.C. Just before the fall of Israel, the prophet Amos noted that the northern 10 tribes were known by the name “house of Isaac” (Amos 7:16) just as the prophecies of Genesis 21:12 and 48:16 had predicted.
The Blessings and Cursing of Deuteronomy… The Mountain of Blessing: “These shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people when you have come over Jordan: Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin.” Deuteronomy 27:12
The Mountain of Cursing: “And these shall stand on Mount Ebal to curse: Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.” Deuteronomy 27:13
What’s the meaning of their names…?
Reuben - means “Seeing.” Born of Leah (Defiled his father’s bed).
Simeon - means “Hearing” – 2nd born of Leah. He was left as hostage in Egypt when the brothers went back to Canaan with orders to return with Benjamin.
Levi - means “Joined”- 3rd born of Leah. This was the priestly line--only Levites were permitted to be priests and even then they weren't allowed any physical blemishes.
Judah - means “Praise” – 4th born of Leah. His was the line that proceeded to the House of David and to Jesus. He acknowledged Tamar (means “Palm”) was more righteous than himself. Genesis 38:26.
Dan – means “God is judge” – 1st born of Bilhah. “Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path…” Genesis 49:17, also Amos 8:14.
Naphtali - means “Wrestling” – 2nd born of Bilhah, a “hind” too…Wrestling was what Jacob did prior to receiving the new name of Israel. It's a word used uniquely in Ephesians 6 - the Armour of God.
Gad - means “A troop comes” - 1st born of Zilpah. The blessing of Moses, Deuteronomy 33:20 says of Gad “he dwells as a lion, and tears the arm with the crown of the head.”
Asher - means “Blessed” – 2nd born of Zilpah. The blessing of Moses said of him: “...Let him dip his foot in oil”
Issachar - means “Wages” – 5th born of Leah.
Zebulun - means “Dwelling with husband” - 6th born of Leah. Spelled Zabulon, with an: a and o, in Matthew and Revelation, and the tribe called “Zebulonites” in Judges 12:12
Joseph - means “The Lord will add a son” – 1st born of Rachel. This Godly man is a figure (type) of Christ, and his coat of many colors was a precept of how Jesus had His vesture dipped in blood as savior to all colors and races of men. This Joseph was not in the father-son trail to Jesus.
Benjamin - means “Son of the right hand” - 2nd born of Rachel. Responsible for dismembering a body into twelve pieces, Judges 19:29. Now the church is described as a body with many members in 1Corinthians 12:13, and we see Jesus is the REAL son of the right hand.
Manasseh - means “To forget my toil and my father's house” - 1st born son of Joseph. This was Gideon's tribe.
A type of “the Jew First,” Romans 2: 9-10. Known as - ‘half-tribe’ because their inheritance was on either (both) side(s) of Jordan. Numbers 32:33
Ephraim - means “Fruitful”- 2nd son of Joseph. A type of… “and then the Gentile.” Romans 1:16. The ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom were also known as “Ephraim” Isaiah 7:8. This was Samuel’s tribe. Hosea 11:1-3 refers to a “son called out of Egypt.”
Very Interesting to note… The 7th chapter of the Book of Revelation lists the 12,000 each of the twelve tribes of: Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zabulon, Joseph, Benjamin. Some spelling is different, and note that both Joseph and Manasseh are included, but NOT Dan and Ephraim.
The “blessings” or “cursing” of Jacob to his sons are prophetic… “And Jacob called to his sons and said, ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in the days to come. Gather yourselves together, and hear, sons of Jacob, and listen to Israel your father.’” Genesis 49:1-2
Reuben, you are my first-born, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the Excellency of dignity and the Excellency of power. Unstable as water, you shall not excel, because you went up to your father's bed; then you defiled it. He went up to my couch. Vs. 3-4
Simeon and Levi are brothers; tools of violence are their weapons. Oh my soul, do not come into their secret. Let not my honour be united with their assembly. For in their anger they killed a man, and in their self-will they hamstrung a bull. Let their anger be cursed, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel. I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel. Vs. 5-7
Judah, may your brothers praise you. May your hand be in the neck of your enemies. May your father's sons bow before you. Judah is a lion's whelp. My son, you have gone up from the prey. He stooped; he crouched like a lion; and like a lioness, who shall rouse him? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a Lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come. And the obedience of the peoples to him. Binding his foal to the vine, and his ass's colt to the choice vine, he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes. His eyes shall be sparkling with wine, and his teeth white from milk. Vs. 8-12
Zebulun shall live at the sea shore. And he shall be a haven for ships, and his border beside Sidon. Vs. 13
Issachar is a strong ass crouching down between the sheepfolds. And he saw that rest was good and that the land was pleasant. And he bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a tribute-slave. Vs. 14-15
Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path that bites the horse's heels, so that its rider shall fall backward. I have waited for Your salvation, O Jehovah. Vs. 16-18
Gad, raiders shall attack him, and he shall attack their heel. Vs. 19
Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties. Vs. 20
Naphtali is a deer let loose. He gives goodly words. Vs. 21
Joseph is a fruitful son, a fruitful son by a well, whose branches run over the wall. The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and an archer lurks for him.
But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob (from the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel); by the God of your father, who shall help you. And may the Almighty bless you with blessings of Heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father are above the blessings of my ancestors, to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. They shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him, the ruler, and the leader of his brothers. Vs. 22-26
Benjamin is a wolf that tears in pieces. In the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil. Vs. 27
“All these were the twelve tribes of Israel. And this is what their father spoke to them, and blessed them; everyone according to his blessing he blessed them.” Genesis 49:28
Prophetic…? Yes! Jacob’s descendants will be blessed from the "deep that crouches beneath;" "for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills, and for the precious things of the earth." Issachar and Zebulun "shall suck of the abundance of the seas and of treasures hid in the sand." Asher will "dip his foot in oil." Deuteronomy 33:24
Oil has recently been discovered in Israel based on Bible passages predicting the discovery and its location in the area of Asher, near Haifa. The same Bible (Torah), passages used by Jim Spillman, back in 1981 in his book, "The Great Treasure Hunt."
The same passages Zion Oil & Gas Founder John Brown heard Jim teach on a Zion Temple in Michigan thirty years ago and took to heart… Included Jacob’s Blessing, recorded in Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33, is the prophecy of a last day’s oil discovery.
The stones of heaven…! The Twelve tribes of Israel are mentioned in Revelation, chapters 7 and 21… Their mention is far more than a "curiosity" (as it is treated in most studies of Revelation). Rather, God's prophetic plan through history and concluding in Revelation centers around Israel, as represented by the twelve sons of Jacob and their descendants. The "precious" stones of Exodus 28:17 – 21 represent each of the twelve tribes… are connected to the "New Jerusalem! They were grouped in a 6-6 configuration on the High Priest's breastplate (Exodus 28:6, 15), and spelled out in four rows of three. The "stones" were engraved with the name of the tribe onto a "signet ring!" (Exodus 28:21)
Revelation 21:19 lists the twelve foundations of New Jerusalem, and the gems aren't all the same or in the same order as in Exodus, but let us remember how spelling in Greek differs from Hebrew which reads from right to left, and omits vowels:
Agate the second stone in the third row of the breastplate. The stone was associated with health, longevity, and wealth. It was brought in by merchants - (Ezekiel 27:22). And… listed to be in the New Jerusalem wall foundations (Revelation 21:15-21)
Amethyst It also in the breastplate, the wall foundations, and among the king's treasure. It is supposed to provide deep and pure love. It is a brilliant purple, close to the color of red wine. It is also mentioned to be in the New Jerusalem wall foundations (Revelation 21:15-21)
Beryl is also in the breastplate and the wall foundations. It can be pale blue to yellowy green; can also be white or rose. It relates to happiness and everlasting youth. It is in the New Jerusalem wall foundations (Revelation 21:15-21)
Carbuncle is in the top row in the breastplate, and in the King of Tyre's treasure. It is a glittering red color. Holding it up to the sun makes it look like burning coal, and in the New Jerusalem wall foundations (Revelation 21:15-21)
Carnelian is a blood red color or it can be a pale skin color, and is in the first stone in the breastplate. It also appears in the king's treasure, and in the New Jerusalem wall foundations (Revelation 21:15-21)
Chalcedony is one of the stones in the New Jerusalem wall foundations (Revelation 21:15-21). It is milky or grayish color and is translucent.
Chrysolyte is an orangey yellow color stone in the foundations of the New Jerusalem Wall (Revelation 21:15-21).
Chrysoprasus is a green agate and is also a New Jerusalem foundation stone (Revelation 21:15-21).
Onyx appears in the breastplate and belongs to the Joseph tribe. Its color is white and black, and sometimes includes brown, and is also a New Jerusalem foundation stone (Revelation 21:15-21).
Other Gemstones – Biblical significance:
Amber (Ezekiel 1:4, 27; 8:2) – Hard, Translucent brownish yellow sometimes a glowing bronze - Symbol: “the presence and glory of God in Judgement, purification and sanctification.
Amethyst (Exodus 28:19, 39:1; Revelations 21:20) – Rich purple to blue-violet of transparent quartz. It is the 9th stone decorating the breastplate - Symbol: “the royal priesthood, kingship and majestic.
Diamond (Jeremiah 17:1; Exodus 28:18, 39:11; Ezekiel 28:13, 3:9; Zechariah 7:12) - Brilliance and colorless; it is the hardest natural substance – Symbol: “stability, virtuous brilliancy, and right standing with God.”
Emerald (Exodus 28:18, 39:11; Ezekiel 27:16, 28:13; Revelations 4:3, 21:19) - a variety of Beryl. Rich lush medium green heavily included to flawless. Symbol: “glories of God and His saints, fresh, flourishing, essence of life, growth, integrity, new life, increase and prosperity.”
Jasper (Exodus 28:15, 20; 39:13; Revelations 4:3, 21:11,
16, 18; Ezekiel 28:13) - Opaque variety of quartz and color ranges from green to reddish brown to yellow having a waxy lusture. Symbol: “glory of God, splendor, brightness, magnificence and beauty.”
Pearl (Job 28:18; Matthew 7:6, 13:45&46; I Timothy 2:9; Revelations 17:4, 18:12, 21:21) If an irritant such as a grain of sand becomes trapped within it's shell, the oyster gradually covers it with layers of nacre, which form the precious pearl inside. Symbol: “God's truth, God’s people formed through suffering, endure, and a costly experience. Greek term for pearl: “Margaret” meaning lovely gem.
Ruby (Job 28:18; Proverbs 3:15, 8:11, 20:15; Lam. 4:7) - fiery, deep-red, transparent form of corundum – Symbol: “preciousness, of great value, costly glories, wisdom, and prized treasure.”
Sapphire (Exodus 24:10, 28:13&18, 39:11; Job 28:6&16; Lam. 4:7; Isaiah 54:11; Ezekiel 1:26, 10:1, 28:13; Revelations 9:17, 21:19 & 20) - there are many hues of this form of corundum; the most recognized is the “Star of India.” Symbol: “beauty, hardness, natural excellence, the flower Hyacinth.”
Topaz (Exodus 28:13&17, 39:10; Job 28:12&19; Ezekiel 28:13; Revelations 21:20) - a colorless, blue, yellowish brown, or pink, aluminum silicate (mineral). The yellow graduating to pink are the most valued. Symbol: “beauty, worthiness, precious gem and seasonable.”
A Remembrance… Like the two sardonyx shoulder stones in the breastplate (Exodus 28:9-10), the Bible states that the purpose of the twelve stones is “to be a perpetual remembrance before the Lord” (Exodus 28:29). When the High Priest bore the breastplate into the holy place, Israel was remembered for peace. The sages taught that the ephod served to invoke the cause of Israel's sustenance and material welfare… and the breastplate - her salvation, and deliverance from her enemies.
There is also a tradition which Moses received at the Sinai revelation, that all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet should be present on the stones. Since all of these letters are not found in the names of Jacob's descendants, several other words were also engraved upon the stones: the names of the patriarchs, Abraham Isaac and Jacob, and the words “the tribes of Jeshurun.” One opinion is that the words Abraham, Isaac and Jacob appeared at the top of the first stone, over the name Reuben, and the other words on the last stone. Others maintain that all these extra letters were divided among the stones.
Jeshurun in the Bible is a “poetic” name for Israel... and is derived from root word meaning; upright, just, straight. Jeshurun appears four times in the Bible… three times in Deuteronomy and once in Isaiah. It can mean the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 32:15; 33:26), the Land of Israel (Deuteronomy 33:5) …or the Patriarch Jacob - renamed Israel in Genesis 32:29 and Isaiah 44:2.
“You have been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, the ruby, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the turquoise, and the emerald, and gold. The workmanship of your tambourines and of your flutes was prepared in you in the day that you were created.” Ezekiel 28:13