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The 12 Tribes of Israel

These are the twelve tribes of Israel--or ancestors.
Jacob's prophetic words obviously refer not so much to the sons as to the tribes of
Israel

Genesis 49: 1 - 33 - Study This Chapter

 

1 Then Jacob called his sons, and said: "Gather around, that I may tell you what will happen to you in days to come. 2 Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob; listen to Israel your father. 3 Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might and the first fruits of my vigor, excelling in rank and excelling in power. 4 Unstable as water, you shall no longer excel because you went up onto your father's bed; then you defiled it—you F185 went up onto my couch!

5 Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. 6 May I never come into their council; may I not be joined to their company— for in their anger they killed men, and at their whim they hamstrung oxen. 7 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.

8 Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons shall bow down before you. 9 Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He crouches down, he stretches out like a lion, like a lioness—who dares rouse him up? 10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; F186 and the obedience of the peoples is his. 11 Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey's colt to the choice vine, he washes his garments in wine and his robe in the blood of grapes; 12 his eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.

13 Zebulun shall settle at the shore of the sea; he shall be a haven for ships, and his border shall be at Sidon. 14 Issachar is a strong donkey, lying down between the sheepfolds; 15 he saw that a resting place was good, and that the land was pleasant; so he bowed his shoulder to the burden, and became a slave at forced labor. 16 Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. 17 Dan shall be a snake by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse's heels so that its rider falls backward. 18 I wait for your salvation, O Lord. 19 Gad shall be raided by raiders, but he shall raid at their heels. 20 Asher's F187 food shall be rich, and he shall provide royal delicacies. 21 Naphtali is a doe let loose that bears lovely fawns. F188

22 Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall. F189 23 The archers fiercely attacked him; they shot at him and pressed him hard. 24 Yet his bow remained taut, and his arms F190 were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, 25 by the God of your father, who will help you, by the Almighty F191 who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. 26 The blessings of your father are stronger than the blessings of the eternal mountains, the bounties F192 of the everlasting hills; may they be on the head of Joseph, on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers. 27 Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey, and at evening dividing the spoil."

28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, blessing each one of them with a suitable blessing. 29 Then he charged them, saying to them, "I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my ancestors—in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 in the cave in the field at Machpelah, near Mamre, in the land of Canaan, in the field that Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite as a burial site. 31 There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried; there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried; and there I buried Leah— 32 the field and the cave that is in it were purchased from the Hittites." 33 When Jacob ended his charge to his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.

 

PATRIARCHAL BLESSING of the 12 Tribes
Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

CHAPTER 49

Genesis 49:1-33. PATRIARCHAL BLESSING.

1. Jacob called unto his sons--It is not to the sayings of the dying saint, so much as of the inspired prophet, that attention is called in this chapter. Under the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit he pronounced his prophetic benediction and described the condition of their respective descendants in the last days, or future times.

Genesis 49:3,4. REUBEN forfeited by his crime the rights and honors of primogeniture. His posterity never made any figure; no judge, prophet, nor ruler, sprang from this tribe.

Genesis 49:5-7. SIMEON AND LEVI were associate in wickedness, and the same prediction would be equally applicable to both their tribes. Levi had cities allotted to them (Joshua 21:1-45) in every tribe. On account of their zeal against idolatry, they were honorably "divided in Jacob"; whereas the tribe of Simeon, which was guilty of the grossest idolatry and the vices inseparable from it, were ignominiously "scattered."

Genesis 49:8-12. JUDAH--A high pre-eminence is destined to this tribe (Numbers 10:14, Judges 1:2). Besides the honor of giving name to the Promised Land, David, and a greater than David--the Messiah--sprang from it. Chief among the tribes, "it grew up from a lion's whelp"--that is, a little power--till it became "an old lion"--that is, calm and quiet, yet still formidable.

10. until Shiloh come--Shiloh--this obscure word is variously interpreted to mean "the sent" (John 17:3), "the seed" (Isaiah 11:1), the "peaceable or prosperous one" (Ephesians 2:14)--that is, the Messiah (Isaiah 11:10, Romans 15:12); and when He should come, "the tribe of Judah should no longer boast either an independent king or a judge of their own" [CALVIN]. The Jews have been for eighteen centuries without a ruler and without a judge since Shiloh came, and "to Him the gathering of the people has been."

Genesis 49:13. ZEBULUN was to have its lot on the seacoast, close to Zidon, and to engage, like that state, in maritime pursuits and commerce.

Genesis 49:14,15. ISSACHAR--

14. a strong ass couching down between two burdens--that is, it was to be active, patient, given to agricultural labors. It was established in lower Galilee--a "good land," settling down in the midst of the Canaanites, where, for the sake of quiet, they "bowed their shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute."

Genesis 49:16-18. DAN--though the son of a secondary wife, was to be "as one of the tribes of Israel."

17. Dan--"a judge."
a serpent . . . an adder--A serpent, an adder, implies subtlety and stratagem; such was pre-eminently the character of Samson, the most illustrious of its judges.

Genesis 49:19. GAD--This tribe should be often attacked and wasted by hostile powers on their borders (Judges 10:8, Jeremiah 49:1). But they were generally victorious in the close of their wars.

Genesis 49:20. ASHER--"Blessed." Its allotment was the seacoast between Tyre and Carmel, a district fertile in the production of the finest corn and oil in all Palestine.

Genesis 49:21. NAPHTALI--The best rendering we know is this, "Naphtali is a deer roaming at liberty; he shooteth forth goodly branches," or majestic antlers [TAYLOR, Scripture Illustrations], and the meaning of the prophecy seems to be that the tribe of Naphtali would be located in a territory so fertile and peaceable, that, feeding on the richest pasture, he would spread out, like a deer, branching antlers.

Genesis 49:22-26. JOSEPH--

22. a fruitful bough, &c.--denotes the extraordinary increase of that tribe (compare Numbers 1:33-35, Joshua 17:17, Deuteronomy 33:17). The patriarch describes him as attacked by envy, revenge, temptation, ingratitude; yet still, by the grace of God, he triumphed over all opposition, so that he became the sustainer of Israel; and then he proceeds to shower blessings of every kind upon the head of this favorite son. The history of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh shows how fully these blessings were realized.

Genesis 49:27-33. BENJAMIN

27. shall ravin like a wolf--This tribe in its early history spent its energies in petty or inglorious warfare and especially in the violent and unjust contest (Judges 19:1-20:48'), in which it engaged with the other tribes, when, notwithstanding two victories, it was almost exterminated.

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28. all these are the twelve tribes of Israel--or ancestors. Jacob's prophetic words obviously refer not so much to the sons as to the tribes of Israel.

29. he charged them--The charge had already been given and solemnly undertaken (Genesis 47:31). But in mentioning his wishes now and rehearsing all the circumstances connected with the purchase of Machpelah, he wished to declare, with his latest breath, before all his family, that he died in the same faith as Abraham.

33. when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons--It is probable that he was supernaturally strengthened for this last momentous office of the patriarch, and that when the divine afflatus ceased, his exhausted powers giving way, he yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.

Meaning of the Names

Reuben [N] [H] [S]

behold a son!, the eldest son of Jacob and Leah (Genesis 29:32). His sinful conduct, referred to in Genesis 35:22, brought down upon him his dying father's malediction (48:4). He showed kindness to Joseph, and was the means of saving his life when his other brothers would have put him to death (37:21,22). It was he also who pledged his life and the life of his sons when Jacob was unwilling to let Benjamin go down into Egypt. After Jacob and his family went down into Egypt (46:8) no further mention is made of Reuben beyond what is recorded in ch 49:3,4.

Simeon [N] [H] [S]

hearing.

The second son of Jacob by Leah (Genesis 29:33). He was associated with Levi in the terrible act of vengeance against Hamor and the Shechemites (34:25,26). He was detained by Joseph in Egypt as a hostage (42:24). His father, when dying, pronounced a malediction against him (49:5-7). The words in the Authorized Version (49:6), "they digged down a wall," ought to be, as correctly rendered in the Revised Version, "they houghed an ox."

Le’vi [N] [E] [H]

(joined ).

The name of the third son of Jacob by his wife Leah. (B.C. about 1753.) The name, derived from lavah , "to adhere," gave utterance to the hope of the mother that the affections of her husband, which had hitherto rested on the favored Rachel, would at last be drawn to her: "This time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have borne him three sons." (Genesis 29:34) Levi, with his brother Simeon, avenged with a cruel slaughter the outrage of their sister Dinah. [DINAH] Levi, with his three sons, Gershon, Kohath and Merari, went down to Egypt with his father Jacob. (Genesis 47:11) When Jacob’s death draws near, and the sons are gathered round him, Levi and Simeon hear the old crime brought up again to receive its sentence. They no less than Reuben, the incestuous firstborn, had forfeited the privileges of their birthright.

Judah [N] [H] [S]

praise, the fourth son of Jacob by Leah. The name originated in Leah's words of praise to the Lord on account of his birth: "Now will I praise [Heb. odeh] Jehovah, and she called his name Yehudah" (Genesis 29:35).

It was Judah that interposed in behalf of Joseph, so that his life was spared (Genesis 37:26,27). He took a lead in the affairs of the family, and "prevailed above his brethren" (Genesis 43:3-10; 44:14,16-34; 46:28; 1 Chronicles 5:2).

Soon after the sale of Joseph to the Ishmaelites, Judah went to reside at Adullam, where he married a woman of Canaan. (See ONAN; TAMAR .) After the death of his wife Shuah, he returned to his father's house, and there exercised much influence over the patriarch, taking a principal part in the events which led to the whole family at length going down into Egypt. We hear nothing more of him till he received his father's blessing (Genesis 49:8-12).

Zeb’ulun [N] [E] [H]

(a habitation ), the tenth of the sons of Jacob, according to the order in which their births are enumerated, the sixth and last of Leah. (Genesis 30:20; 35:23; 46:14; 1 Chronicles 2:1) His birth is mentioned in (Genesis 30:19,20) Of the individual Zebulun nothing is recorded. The list of Genesis46 ascribes to him three sons, founders of the chief families of the tribe (comp.) (Numbers 26:26) at the time of the migration to Egypt. The tribe is not recorded to have taken part, for evil or good, in any of the events of the wandering or the conquest. The statement of Josephus is probably in the main correct, that it reached on the one side to the Lake of Gennesareth and on the other to Carmel and the Mediterranean. On the south it was bounded by Issachar, who lay in the great plain or valley of the Kishon; on the north it had Naphtali and Asher. Thus remote from the centre of government, Zebulun remains throughout the history with one exception, in the obscurity which envelops the whole of the northern tribes. That exception, however, is a remarkable one. The conduct of the tribe during the struggle with Sisera, when they fought with desperate valor side by side with their brethren of Naphtali, was such as to draw down the special praise of Deborah, who singles them out from cell the other tribes. (Judges 5:18)

Issachar [N] [H] [S]

hired (Genesis 30:18). "God hath given me," said Leah, "my hire (Heb. sekhari)...and she called his name Issachar." He was Jacob's ninth son, and was born in Padan-aram (comp 28:2). He had four sons at the going down into Egypt (46:13; Numbers 26:23,25).

Issachar, Tribe of, during the journey through the wilderness, along with Judah and Zebulun (Numbers 2:5), marched on the east of the tabernacle. This tribe contained 54,400 fighting men when the census was taken at Sinai. After the entrance into the Promised Land, this tribe was one of the six which stood on Gerizim during the ceremony of the blessing and cursing (Deuteronomy 27:12). The allotment of Issachar is described in Joshua 19:17-23. It included the plain of Esdraelon (=Jezreel), which was and still is the richest portion of Palestine (Deuteronomy 33:18,19; 1 Chronicles 12:40).

The prophetic blessing pronounced by Jacob on Issachar corresponds with that of Moses (Genesis 49:14,15; Compare Deuteronomy 33:18,19).

Dan [N] [H] [S]

a judge.

·  The fifth son of Jacob. His mother was Bilhah, Rachel's maid (Genesis 30:6, "God hath judged me", Heb. dananni). The blessing pronounced on him by his father was, "Dan shall judge his people" (49:16), probably in allusion to the judgeship of Samson, who was of the tribe of Dan.

The tribe of Dan had their place in the march through the wilderness on the north side of the tabernacle (Numbers 2:25,31; 10:25). It was the last of the tribes to receive a portion in the Land of Promise. Its position and extent are described in Joshua 19:40-48.

The territory of Dan extended from the west of that of Ephraim and Benjamin to the sea. It was a small territory, but was very fertile. It included in it, among others, the cities of Lydda, Ekron, and Joppa, which formed its northern boundary. But this district was too limited. "Squeezed into the narrow strip between the mountains and the sea, its energies were great beyond its numbers." Being pressed by the Amorites and the Philistines, whom they were unable to conquer, they longed for a wider space. They accordingly sent out five spies from two of their towns, who went north to the sources of the Jordan, and brought back a favourable report regarding that region. "Arise," they said, "be not slothful to go, and to possess the land," for it is "a place where there is no want of any thing that is in the earth" (Judges 18:10). On receiving this report, 600 Danites girded on their weapons of war, and taking with them their wives and their children, marched to the foot of Hermon, and fought against Leshem, and took it from the Sidonians, and dwelt therein, and changed the name of the conquered town to Dan (Joshua 19:47). This new city of Dan became to them a new home, and was wont to be spoken of as the northern limit of Palestine, the length of which came to be denoted by the expression "from Dan to Beersheba", i.e., about 144 miles.

"But like Lot under a similar temptation, they seem to have succumbed to the evil influences around them, and to have sunk down into a condition of semi-heathenism from which they never emerged. The mounds of ruins which mark the site of the city show that it covered a considerable extent of ground. But there remains no record of any noble deed wrought by the degenerate tribe. Their name disappears from the roll-book of the natural and the spiritual Israel.", Manning's Those Holy Fields.

This old border city was originally called Laish. Its modern name is Tell el-Kady, "Hill of the Judge." It stands about four miles below Caesarea Philippi, in the midst of a region of surpassing richness and beauty.

·  This name occurs in Ezekiel 27:19, Authorize Version; but the words there, "Dan also," should be simply, as in the Revised Version, "Vedan," an Arabian city, from which various kinds of merchandise were brought to Tyre. Some suppose it to have been the city of Aden in Arabia. (See MAHANEH-DAN.)

Gad [N] [H] [S]

fortune; luck.

·  Jacob's seventh son, by Zilpah, Leah's handmaid, and the brother of Asher (Genesis 30:11-13; 46:16,18). In the Authorized Version of 30:11 the words, "A troop cometh: and she called," etc., should rather be rendered, "In fortune [RSV, 'Fortunate']: and she called," etc., or "Fortune cometh," etc.

The tribe of Gad during the march through the wilderness had their place with Simeon and Reuben on the south side of the tabernacle (Numbers 2:14). The tribes of Reuben and Gad continued all through their history to follow the pastoral pursuits of the patriarchs (Numbers 32:1-5).

The portion allotted to the tribe of Gad was on the east of Jordan, and comprehended the half of Gilead, a region of great beauty and fertility (Deuteronomy 3:12), bounded on the east by the Arabian desert, on the west by the Jordan (Joshua 13:27), and on the north by the river Jabbok. It thus included the whole of the Jordan valley as far north as to the Sea of Galilee, where it narrowed almost to a point.

This tribe was fierce and warlike; they were "strong men of might, men of war for the battle, that could handle shield and buckler, their faces the faces of lions, and like roes upon the mountains for swiftness" (1 Chronicles 12:8; 5:19-22). Barzillai (2 Samuel 17:27) and Elijah (1 Kings 17:1) were of this tribe. It was carried into captivity at the same time as the other tribes of the northern kingdom by Tiglath-pileser (1 Chronicles 5:26), and in the time of (Jeremiah 49:1) their cities were inhabited by the Ammonites.

·  A prophet who joined David in the "hold," and at whose advice he quitted it for the forest of Hareth (1 Chronicles 29:29; 2Chr 29:25; 1 Samuel 22:5). Many years after we find mention made of him in connection with the punishment inflicted for numbering the people (2 Samuel 24:11-19; 1 Chronicles 21:9-19). He wrote a book called the "Acts of David" (1 Chronicles 29:29), and assisted in the arrangements for the musical services of the "house of God" (2 Chronicles 29:25). He bore the title of "the king's seer" (2 Samuel 24:11,13; 1 Chronicles 21:9).

Asher [N] [H] [S]

happy, Jacob's eigth son; his mother was Zilpah, Leah's handmaid (Genesis 30:13). Of the tribe founded by him nothing is recorded beyond its holding a place in the list of the tribes (35:26; 46:17; Exodus 1:4, etc.) It increased in numbers twenty-nine percent, during the thirty-eight years' wanderings. The place of this tribe during the march through the desert was between Dan and Naphtali (Numbers 2:27). The boundaries of the inheritance given to it, which contained some of the richest soil in Palestine, and the names of its towns, are recorded in Joshua 19:24-31; Judges 1:31,32. Asher and Simeon were the only tribes west of the Jordan which furnished no hero or judge for the nation. Anna the prophetess was of this tribe (Luke 2:36).

Naphtali [N] [H] [S]

my wrestling, the fifth son of Jacob. His mother was Bilhah, Rachel's handmaid (Genesis 30:8). When Jacob went down into Egypt, Naphtali had four sons (Genesis 46:24). Little is known of him as an individual.

Joseph [N] [H] [S]

remover or increaser.

The elder of the two sons of Jacob by Rachel (Genesis 30:23,24), who, on the occasion of his birth, said, "God hath taken away [Heb. 'asaph] my reproach." "The Lord shall add [Heb. yoseph] to me another son" (Genesis 30:24). He was a child of probably six years of age when his father returned from Haran to Canaan and took up his residence in the old patriarchal town of Hebron. "Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age," and he "made him a long garment with sleeves" (Genesis 37:3, RSV marg.), i.e., a garment long and full, such as was worn by the children of nobles. This seems to be the correct rendering of the words. The phrase, however, may also be rendered, "a coat of many pieces", i.e., a patchwork of many small pieces of divers colours.

Benjamin [N] [H] [S]

son of my right hand.

The younger son of Jacob by Rachel (Genesis 35:18). His birth took place at Ephrath, on the road between Bethel and Bethlehem, at a short distance from the latter place. His mother died in giving him birth, and with her last breath named him Ben-oni, son of my pain, a name which was changed by his father into Benjamin. His posterity are called Benjamites (Genesis 49:27; Deuteronomy 33:12; Joshua 18:21).

The tribe of Benjamin at the Exodus was the smallest but one (Numbers 1:36,37; Psalms 68:27). During the march its place was along with Manasseh and Ephraim on the west of the tabernacle. At the entrance into Canaan it counted 45,600 warriors. It has been inferred by some from the words of Jacob (Genesis 49:27) that the figure of a wolf was on the tribal standard. This tribe is mentioned in Romans 11:1; Phil 3:5.

The inheritance of this tribe lay immediately to the south of that of Ephraim, and was about 26 miles in length and 12 in breadth. Its eastern boundary was the Jordan. Dan intervened between it and the Philistines. Its chief towns are named in Joshua 18:21-28.

The history of the tribe contains a sad record of a desolating civil war in which they were engaged with the other eleven tribes. By it they were almost exterminated (Judges 20:20,21; 21:10). (See GIBEAH .)

The first king of the Jews was Saul, a Benjamite. A close alliance was formed between this tribe and that of Judah in the time of David (2 Samuel 19:16,17), which continued after his death (1 Kings 11:13; 12:20). After the Exile these two tribes formed the great body of the Jewish nation (Ezra 1:5; 10:9).

The tribe of Benjamin was famous for its archers (1 Samuel 20:20,36; 2Sam 1:22; 1 Chronicles 8:40; 12:2) and slingers (Judge. 20:6).

The gate of Benjamin, on the north side of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 37:13; 38:7; Zechariah 14:10), was so called because it led in the direction of the territory of the tribe of Benjamin. It is called by (Jeremiah 20:2) "the high gate of Benjamin;" also "the gate of the children of the people" (17:19). (Compare 2 Kings 14:13.)

 

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