Twelve is an interesting number. A lot of interesting facts revolve around this number. For instance, there are 12 months in a year. There are 12 inches in a foot. There are 12 pairs of ribs in the human body – normally. In the Bible, Jesus had 12 disciples. Jacob had 12 sons and 12 tribes were started after Moses led his people out of Egypt. 1
Let’s consider those twelve tribes of Israel, their roots and what happened to them. These twelve tribes begin with Jacob in around the year 1920 BC. It is around this time that Jacob with the help of his two wives and both of their maidservants (yes, four different women) becomes the father of twelve sons. Joseph (one of the twelve sons) later comes to a powerful position in Egypt and saves his people from famine, bringing his father Jacob, all his brothers and all of their wives and children to stay in Egypt. For 430 years the descendants of the original twelve sons stay in Egypt. They went from being ‘embraced’ by the Egyptians, as Joseph’s family, to becoming ‘slaves’ of the Egyptians, as the Egyptians soon forgot about Joseph and his contribution to Egypt. God heard the cries of his people and worked through Moses and Aaron, and eventually God’s people were released from their bondage and in about 1446 BC, the exodus from Egypt occurred and the twelve tribes of Israel begin to be established. Looking at the people of Israel, who left Egypt, they spent a time in the wilderness under Moses’ rule. Later, Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land (1273 BC) and divided the territory among the twelve tribes. 2
The first was the tribe of Reuben. Reuben was the first son of Jacob and Leah. Reuben means ‘behold, a son’ in Hebrew. The tribe of Reuben apparently settled east of the Dead Sea considered part of “the wilderness,” not within the Promised land. Reuben became known as one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. 2
These 10 Lost Tribes are directly linked to the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom of Israel in 721 BC. It was this event that led to the dispersion of the 10 northern tribes and their assimilation by other peoples. This assimilation is what caused the “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.”
An interesting note about Reuben is that he was cursed by his father because he slept with Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah. A rather messy situation but the Bible notes the reason that Jacob was not too happy with his oldest son. 3
Jacob’s second son was Simeon. The tribe of Simeon has a history of deceit and murder, which resulted in the lack of an inheritance for its founder and subsequent tribe. Since his older brother Reuben lost his inheritance, why didn’t Simeon not receive it as next in line? While Reuben’s was a result of incest, Simeon’s was a lack of self-control – and an excess of murder.
According to the Book of Genesis, chapter 49, both Simeon and Jacob’s 3rd son, Levi, were violent and unworthy of Jacob’s blessing. 4 “Simeon and Levi are brothers—their swords are weapons of violence. Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased. Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel” (Genesis 49:5–7)
Jacob’s pronouncement, “I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel” (Genesis 49:7) certainly came true for the tribe of Levi. It was scattered through Israel. But by God’s grace they became the priestly tribe and residents of all cities of refuge. The tribe of Levi never possessed their own designated region, as the other tribes did, but Levi’s priestly office was certainly a privileged one. 5
Jacob’s fourth son was Judah. Judah was one of the most significant sons of Jacob. Judah was significant because he was a forefather of David and Solomon. More importantly, here we have a direct forefather of Jesus Christ himself. The tribe of Judah had its beginnings with Judah, the son of Jacob and Leah. This tribe, upon settling into the Promised Land, settled in the region south of Jerusalem and in time became the most powerful and most important tribe. The tribe of Judah became the seat of the Israelite monarchy, making Judahites extremely important since they were the rulers. Because they were rulers and because of Jacob’s blessing of Judah which stated, “the scepter will not depart from Judah nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,” (Genesis 49:10) the lion became the symbol of the tribe. 3
The fifth son of Jacob was Dan. Dan was the first of two sons born to Jacob and Bilhah, the maidservant of Jacob’s second wife, Rachel. The portion of the Promised Land assigned to the tribe of Dan was a region west of Jerusalem. At least part of the tribe later moved to the extreme northeast and took the city of Laish, renaming it Dan. As the northernmost Israelite city it became a point of reference in the familiar phrase, “from Dan to Beersheba.”
The great hero of the Danites was Samson, who, until his betrayal by Delilah, used his mighty strength against the Philistine invaders. Dan was one of the 10 northern tribes that disappeared from history, again, after the Assyrian conquest of Israel in 721 BC. 6
Jacob’s sixth son was Naphtali. Naphtali, which was named after the younger of two sons born to Jacob and Bilhah, again, a maidservant of Jacob’s second wife, Rachel. The tribe of Naphtali was assigned a region northwest of the Sea of Galilee. 7
Jacob’s seventh son was Gad. Gad was the first son of Jacob and Zilpah. The tribe of Gad is given a place in the wilderness with Reuben and half the tribe of Manasseh. In other words, they settled on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Gad, as well as Reuben and Manasseh are eventually lost and become part of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. According to the Hebrew Bible, the Tribe of Gad means good fortune or luck, which is rather contrary to the fact that they ultimately became a “lost tribe.” 8
Jacob’s eighth son was Asher. Asher was the younger of two sons born to Jacob and Zilpah, the maidservant of Jacob’s first wife, Leah. He was the 8th son of Jacob. After the Israelites took possession of the Promised Land, the tribe of Asher apparently settled among the Phoenicians in the upper region of Palestine, beyond the tribe of Zebulun and west of the tribe of Naphtali. 9
Jacob’s ninth son was Issachar. The tribe of Issachar was named after the fifth son born to Jacob and his first wife, Leah; but the 9th son of Jacob. The tribe of Issachar settled on land lying west of the Jordan River and southeast of the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee. After the death of King Solomon (922 BC), Issachar was one of the 10 northern tribes that established the independent Kingdom of Israel that, once again, became the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. 10
Jacob’s tenth son was Zebulun. The tribe of Zebulun was named for the sixth son born of Jacob and his first wife, Leah; but the tenth son of Jacob. The tribe of Zebulun was assigned a fertile section of land roughly northeast of the Plain of Jezreel. After the death of King Solomon (922 BC), the Israelites separated into the northern Kingdom of Israel (representing 10 tribes) and the Kingdom of Judah in the south. Again, those 10 tribes of Israel became the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. 11
Jacob’s eleventh son was Joseph. The tribe of Joseph actually never existed because it was split into two tribes, named after his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. All the other tribes were named after sons of Jacob, while these two bear the names of Jacob’s grandsons, who were the children of Joseph. When King Hezekiah became king he gave a speech to the people of Judah stating if anyone comes to Israel they can come to Judah to celebrates the Passover feast.
Benjamin, the twelfth son, was the last son of Jacob, and second son of Rachel, and it’s from the Benjamites that the first king of Israel arose. About 800 years after Benjamin lived, Saul, who was a Benjamite, became king over all Israel. After Saul became king, the tribe of Benjamin became the southern kingdom of Judah and also went into exile with Judah in Babylon. They eventually returned to the promised land. This Hebrew tribe, Benjamin, according to biblical tradition, was one of the twelve tribes that constituted the people of Israel, and one of the two tribes (along with Judah) that later became the Jewish people. 12
So, of the twelve tribes the southern kingdoms of Judah and Benjamin were the ‘survivors.’ They became the Jewish people we’ve studied since about 500 BC. All the other tribes are rather forgotten as predecessors of present day Jews.
Returning now to a few more interesting facts about the number 12… Did you know that exactly twelve men have walked on the Earth’s moon? Also, under British law, when you reach the age of 12 you can buy a pet. 1
Jesus had twelve disciples and there were twelve tribes of Israel. Because of these facts I know twelve is a special number and I hope you have found this speech informative.