Who Are the 12 Tribes of Israel?

Who are the 12 Tribes of Israel? Why do we find them mentioned so often in the Word of God? And why are they still important today?

Join us as we explore the 12 Tribes of Israel, discovering who they were and why they are important!

It Began with Abraham

When God entered into covenant with Abraham—telling Abraham that his descendants would be too numerous to count, promising to bless them, to give them a good land… the foundation of the twelve tribes was laid. Not only for the existence of each of the men who would form them, but also for the blessings, promises, and heritage as God’s children.

Who Are the 12 Tribes of Israel?

Who are the 12 Tribes of Israel? We know that they are descendants of Abraham and a part of the covenant blessings he had through God… but what else do we know? How many generations passed before the tribes came into being?

Abraham begot Isaac, who begot Jacob, whom God renamed Israel… and Israel begot twelve sons…

The sons of Israel would create the 12 tribes of Israel:

  1. Rueben 
  2. Simeon
  3. Levi
  4. Judah
  5. Dan
  6. Naphtali
  7. Gad
  8. Asher
  9. Issachar
  10. Zebulun
  11. Joseph [often known by the half-tribes of his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim]
  12. Benjamin

Listed here in their birth order—oldest to youngest—it is interesting to note that the order in which the tribes are mentioned within God’s Word varies from instance to instance. And, within certain passages—such as within the book of Revelation—some of the tribes are even left out.

How Do the 12 Tribes Differ from One Another?

So, we know the twelve tribes, but are there differences between them?

A mysterious close-up of man in robe holding a staff with one hand representing the question, who are the 12 tribes of Israel?

Of the twelve, we find many differences… from behaviors and choices to blessings and how they reacted to them. 

This is seen in the biblical stories of Israel’s sons; from the story of Joseph with his brothers, to their individual stories. And none of these accounts describe any of the brothers as perfect. Flaws and strengths are all laid out…

Yet, it is these, both their good and bad points, which provide us with a foundation for the characteristics that are often found within their descendants—within their entire tribe.

Joseph, for instance, had to learn discretion. He understood hidden things—dreams from God in particular. While not a natural aspect of his character, through God’s lessons he was able to walk in patience. He was a hard worker—though the work of his early years largely involved difficult lessons for the future yet to come. Though it took effort, he decided that forgiveness was better than revenge. He questioned things—some that he should and some that he shouldn’t have…

Certainly, these are only a few of the characteristics of Joseph. But in them we see a man who learned to balance the supernatural and the natural. A man who appears to have desired to walk with God, but had to go through seasons of refining to strengthen his character and soften his heart.

Joseph’s character would not easily be mistaken for his brother Judah’s, for instance. Judah’s character, being more passionate (in good and less good ways)—despite both men caring deeply for their family and, to different degrees, learning from their mistakes. 

Nor could Joseph’s character be mistaken for his brother Reuben, who possessed many good qualities but, through a poor decision, lost his rights as firstborn, creating a pattern echoed by his descendants. 

All in all, each tribe in the generations to follow, often repeated patterns seen within those who fathered the tribes. Yet, be it because of blessings, obedience, or other things entirely, what we see that each tribe accomplished varies dramatically…

Consider Reuben. That tribe, as their father indicated in Genesis 49, when Israel was blessing his sons and the sons of Joseph, would no longer excel due to Reuben’s erratic behavior—his sin. And, in many ways, this can certainly be seen within the tribe. Reuben’s tribe would have no major biblical figures. No positive major biblical events or remembrances that might lead us back to Reuben.

Alternatively, if we look at the tribe of Judah, the list of major biblical figures and positive events connected to this tribe is quite extensive. Including everything from a kingly line, and the King of kings within it, to Daniel and many other prophets. As well as many positive major events, such as the building of the Temple…

Judah, the man, and the tribe of Judah were not perfect—only our God and Messiah being perfect—but we do find an incredible pattern of blessing. One that not only relates to authority, but also to receiving and giving forgiveness… to being a part of redemption.

There is certainly a connection between the men whose namesake became their tribe and their descendants within that tribe. Choosing forgiveness and honor often came to be a common generational characteristic… as did their more negative traits and behavioral patterns. An important reminder that our choices matter.

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Why Are the 12 Tribes of Israel Important Today?

While we did not explore the characteristics of each of the men who made up the twelve tribes of Israel (as doing so would lengthen our study several times over), we did discover some valuable pieces of information… 

That the tribes are part of the covenant with Abraham!

That covenant promise is still in effect TO THIS DAY! And while Believers are grafted into that covenant… the descendants of the tribes (the Jewish people) are equally entitled to those benefits and promises. They have the first-born rights!

This alone brings an importance to the twelve tribes, but that is not the only thing that does.

Our Messiah came from the tribe of Judah!

Our Messiah is alive and sitting at the right hand of the Father. He is our King. To this day, His connection to the kingly tribe of Judah—David being of the tribe of Judah—has not been revoked. We have a Jewish Savior who has redeemed EVERYONE! Jew and non-Jew alike!

Understanding the 12 Tribes of Israel helps us to understand our biblical roots!

Connecting us to the Word of God!

And helping us understand prophetic promises; to understand what is to come!

Certainly, other reasons exist as to why the twelve tribes of Israel are important, but it is impossible to not consider the connection to our Messiah as extremely high! To understand the family that God chose to connect His Son with…

We are not called to have Jews become non-Jews, or non-Jews become Jews. It is not about that. Jesus tore down the middle wall of separation. We are One New Man in Messiah! 

Yet, there is still a need for us to know God’s Word and the history found within. To understand the culture that Jesus was living and teaching in. To empower our faith by a renewing of the Word. To make our way prosperous by understanding that Word. To reveal truth. To equip.

God’s Word is powerful. It allows us to know God! 

The 12 Tribes of Israel are a part of God’s Word… and while they should not be the main or only focus of the time we spend in God’s Word, their presence in the Word is enough to make them important today. Their stories, and others, draw us back to God and His incredible ways… His beautifully designed tapestry of life.