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What are the twelve tribes of Israel?

Question: "What are the twelve tribes of Israel?"

The Bible lists the twelve tribes of Israel in several locations: (Genesis 35:23-26; Exodus 1:2-5; Numbers 1:20-43; 1 Chronicles 2:2; Revelation 7:5-8). It is interesting that there are slight differences in some places. The 12 sons of Israel (Jacob) were: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher and Joseph. These were the ancestors of the original twelve tribes. However, Reuben lost his rights as firstborn by defiling Jacob’s bed (Genesis 35:22; 49:3-4). In Reuben and Joseph's place, Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, became tribes of Israel (Genesis 48:5-6). As a result, the twelve tribes became Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Ephraim and Manasseh. In some other lists of the twelve tribes of Israel, Levi is not mentioned, presumably because the Levites were assigned to serve at the temple and therefore were not apportioned land of their own in Israel (Joshua 14:3).

Naming the twelve tribes is a confusing task. Revelation 7:5-8 lists the 12 tribes as: Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin. This is interesting…for the first time Joseph is listed as a tribe along with his son Manasseh. Why isn’t Ephraim listed? Why is Reuben listed, but not Dan? There are no perfect answers to these questions. Technically, there were more than twelve tribes if you count both of Joseph’s sons as tribes in addition to Joseph. Revelation 7 presents a list of 144,000 witnesses from twelve different tribes. It does not say why Ephraim and Dan are not listed. The best answer is that God decided not to choose any witnesses from those two tribes. Some Bible teachers understand Dan being left off the list in Revelation 7 because of what is said in Genesis 49:17, “Dan will be a serpent by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse's heels so that its rider tumbles backward.”

With all of that said, what are the twelve tribes of Israel? Every list in the Bible contains Simeon, Judah, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin. In addition to those nine tribes, there are Ephraim, Reuben, Joseph, Dan, and Levi. Most Bible teachers would view Ephraim, Dan, and Levi as the additional three to result in twelve tribes. Whatever the case, God is free to re-adjust and re-account the twelve tribes of Israel as He sees fit.

Recommended Resource: Bible Answers for Almost all Your Questions by Elmer Towns.

Related Topics:

Who are the 144,000?

Who were the kings of Israel and Judah?

What is the land that God promised to Israel?

What happened to the lost tribes of Israel?

What happened to the Ark of the Covenant?

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What are the twelve tribes of Israel?