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The Twelve Sons of Jacob Who Became The Twelve Tribes Of Israel

Updated on July 14, 2011
Jacob blessing the twelve
Jacob blessing the twelve

The Book of Genesis is where we first meet Jacob. He is the son of Isaac and Rebekah. Jacob marries Leah and Rachel and from them, as well as their maidservants, come the twelve children who are referred to as the twelve tribes of Israel.

The first question you may have could have to do with the fact that they are referred to as the tribes of Israel when they were the sons of Jacob. You may ask where did the name Israel come from? Well God changed Jacob's name to Israel when one night, on his way to meet his brother Esau, Jacob wrestled with God. (See Genesis 32) The name Jacob means supplanter and that was exactly what Jacob was. He had supplanted his brother and taken the place of the first born just as God said he would when he was in the womb of Rebekah. Jacob not only got Esau's birthright in exchange for a bowl of pottage but he received the great blessing his father meant for Esau. God changed his name to Israel for he said, "...for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed." Thus the twelves sons of Jacob and the twelve tribes of Israel are one and the same.

From these twelve sons came the nation of the Israelites. A great and mighty people as God had promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Jacob's twelve sons were:

  1. Reuben - meaning see a son
  2. Simeon - meaning he that hears
  3. Levi - meaning associated with Him
  4. Judah- meaning praise
  5. Dan - meaning a judge or judgment
  6. Naphtali - meaning that which struggles
  7. Gad - meaning a troop
  8. Asher - meaning happiness
  9. Issachar - meaning there is a reward or man of hire
  10. Zebulun - meaning dwelling
  11. Joseph- meaning fruitful or addition
  12. Benjamin - meaning son of the right hand

Of these the sons of Leah were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel were Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, Rachel's maidservant were Dan and Naphtali, and the sons of Zilpah, Leah's maidservant were Gad and Asher.

It is interesting to note that Dinah, the sister of the twelve brothers, is the female version to the name Dan. Both mean judge or judgment. However, the Bible clearly states that she was born after. Dan was born of Bilhah, Rachel's maidservant and Dinah was Leah's daughter. It is of some interest to note as well that with Dinah there falls judgment on the people of Shechem whereby her brothers, Simeon and Levi, slay them all.

Another item of interest could be the fact that the twelve were sons of Israel who was the son of Isaac. Isaac's brother Ishmael also had twelve sons! Here are those twelve:

  1. Nebajoth -meaning words, prophesies, or buds
  2. Kedar - meaning blackness or sorrow
  3. Adbeel - meaning a cloud of God
  4. Mibsam - meaning smelling sweet
  5. Mishma - meaning obeying or hearing
  6. Duma - meaning silence
  7. Massa - meaning prophecy
  8. Hadar - meaning greatness or power
  9. Tema - meaning perfection
  10. Jetur - meaning succession or order
  11. Naphish - meaning he that rests or refreshes himself
  12. Kedemah - meaning ancient or first

The twelve sons of Jacob were blessed by Jacob at the end of his life. He also blessed Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph.

The following is the blessing of Jacob from Genesis 49:

Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power:

Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.

Reuben, though first born did not get the benefits of it because of his sin. His inheritance fell to Judah instead.

Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations.

O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their selfwill they digged down a wall.

Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.

Simeon and Levi were indeed scattered and Levi especially as the Lord instructed this tribe that the only inheritance it was to receive was the Lord, Himself.When the tribes are counted later on, in some cases the names Levi and Joseph are omitted being replaced with Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. From Levi came the priests of Israel and so they were truly associated with Him. Some of the line of Levi include Aaron and Moses.

Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee.

Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?

The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.

Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes:

His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.

Out of the tribe of Judah came the line of David and from this line came Jesus the Messiah. So Judah becomes the first born in place of Reuben.

Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for a haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon.

Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens:

And he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute.

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 biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward.

I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD.

Of the tribe of Dan came Samson one of the most well known Judges of Israel. He was a serpent in the way as he truly caught many by surprise. He judged Israel and in his death he killed more Philistines than he ever did when alive. In the Book of Revelation, the tribe of Dan is not mentioned at all. Instead these are the twelve tribes from whom the hundred and forty-four thousand will come- Judah, Reuben,Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin. Note both Joseph and his son are mentioned. (See The Book of Revelation Chapter 7)

Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last.

Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties.

Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words.

Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall:

The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated 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 thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:)

Joseph himself was hated by his brothers who plotted and conspired against him out of jealousy. Joseph's story is perhaps the one that is recognized featuring the twelve. He is sold to traders and taken to Egypt as a slave and his father is told that his favorite son is dead. But God used what they meant for evil as good and Joseph rescued his brothers from the famine by relocating them to Egypt.

Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb:

The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.

Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.

The line of Kings of Israel originally started with Benjamin as Saul, the first King of Israel was of that tribe. But because he was disobedient to the Lord, the kingdom was taken from him and given to David of the tribe of Judah.

Of these twelve people came twelve tribes - all descended from the men mentioned. Judah stands out most today because the children of Israel, also known as the Hebrews are now known today as Jewish, a word meaning of the tribe of Judah.



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    • The0NatureBoy profile image

      Elijah A Alexander Jr 

      17 months ago from Washington DC

      North Wind,

      You might want to read my hub Why It's Written "In The Name 'OF' Jesus" since I agree whole heartedly with your presentation. However, you didn't being certain things concerning them to light which I have there. I thank you for it though.

    • profile image

      B. M. R. 

      4 years ago

      Thank for all the information I have read from this Jacob, story it really help me out in so many ways.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Thanks for such a great fullfing information

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I'd. Read about. The twelve. Sons which. Question. Was answered. That Joseph. Was the blessed. One

    • profile image

      edlynxcha soakai 

      5 years ago

      that was a nice history this piece of information can help me with my life

    • North Wind profile imageAUTHOR

      North Wind 

      6 years ago from The World (for now)

      Hi Michele,

      The Bible does not tell us why Dan is excluded but it does tell us that the tribe of Dan was involved in idolatry. We can only speculate that that was the reason. We read about Dan's idolatry in the Book of Judges.

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 

      6 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      Thank you for writing this hub, it is very interesting. I have always been wondering why the tribe of Dan, was not listed among the 12 tribes of Israel when it comes to the book of Revelation.

      Thank you for letting me know about this.


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