12 Tribes of Israel

We took a look at the sons of Jacob {Israel} who became the forefathers for the 12 tribes of Israel.  So where were the tribes located and what happened to them?

The sons of Jacob made up the tribes of Israel

Tribes of Israel:

  1. Reuben– occupied land allocated on the eastern side of Jordan River and Dead Sea; may have been an enclave in the territory of Gad; divided into four clans or families; raised sheep; refused to fight in war against Sisera while Deborah was judge; victoriously instigated war with the Hagarites during reign of King Saul; part of kingdom conquered by the Assyrians; disappears with the demise of the kingdom around 723 BC
  2. Simeon–occupied southwest border to Canaan and the tribe of Judah; may have been an enclave in the territory of Judah; not mentioned in the Song of Deborah; what remained was subjected to Babylonian captivity and lost tribe distinction
  3. Levi–descendants of Aaron {great-grandson of Levi} and the priestly class; responsible for religious duties; those who were not priest were often musicians; only tribe not allowed to be landowners; protected the Mosaic law and Ark of the Covenant; not mentioned in the Song of Deborah
  4. Judah–identified as first tribe to occupy land; invited tribe of Simeon to fight with them; remained loyal to the House of David when the tribes split in two and formed the Kingdom of Judah; conquered by Babylon in 586BC; leading tribe of Kingdom of Judah; Messiah would come from this line; King David descended from this line;
  5. Dan–described as using ephod and teraphim {idols} in worship; Samson was a member; treated as the archetype of wickedness; omitted from the 12 tribes of Israel in the book of Revelations
  6. Naphtali–one of the northern tribes; one of the ten lost tribes; assigned to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee; symbol–a gazelle, a very quick animal; said to be swift runners
  7. Gad–settled on east side of Jordan River; one of ten lost tribes; desired land as soon as saw it before crossing the Jordan; fell to the Assyrians;
  8. Asher–tribe most blessed with male children; abundance of oil in the land; renowned for wisdom; priests and princes sought to marry their women because they were so beautiful
  9. Issachar–dominated by religious scholars; part of ten lost tribes
  10. Zebulun-located on south end of Sea of Galilee; west bordered by Mediterranean Sea; south was the tribe of Issachar; northwest was the tribe of Asher; and Naphtali to the east; the Song of Deborah describes sending to battle those who handle the rod of the scribe; conquered by the Assyrians; tribe exiled and later lost; Jesus ministry took place in much of what was the Tribe of Zebulun
  11. Benjamin–located to the north of Judah; joined with Judah in the Tribe of Judah after the split of the kingdoms; King Saul came from this tribe; described for their military pugnaciousness; Song of Deborah describes being able to fight left handed to be able to wrong foot their enemies; portrayed as brave and skilled archers; the Apostle Paul also came from this tribe
  12. Tribes from the sons of Joseph {tribe of Joseph}:
    1. Manasseh–one of 10 lost tribes; originally formed two half-tribes on each side of the Jordan River; conquered by the Assyrians
    1. Ephraim–part of the 10 lost tribes; boarded by Manasseh, Dan and Benjamin; “In the account of the deuteronomic history, Ephraim is portrayed as domineering, haughty, discontented, and jealous, but in classical rabbinical literature, the biblical founder of the tribe is described as being modest and not selfish”; conquered by the Assyrians and became lost.
Map of the 12 tribes of Israel

Eventually the 12 tribes of Israel split in two. This was due to the sin of King Solomon and the Lord told him that He would do this but would honor his promise to King David. When Solomon’s son, Rehoboam became king the united Kingdom of Israel split into two. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin stayed with Rehoboam and became the Tribe of Judah. The other ten northern tribes broke away and became the Kingdom of Israel, under Jeroboam.

Map of the split Kingdom of Israel

Around 732 BC, the Assyrians captured the Kingdom of Israel and they continued to exist in a reduced territory.

Around 720 BC, they were invaded again by Assyria and the people were deported. They became known as the ten lost tribes. The tribe of Simeon was “absorbed” into Judah and the Tribe of Levi lived among the original Israelite naion in the Kingdom of Judah. Many of the people were deported or broken up and absorbed by the Assyrians.

In 589 BC, Nebuchadnezzar II returned to Judah and besieged Jerusalem. Many of the Jews fled to the surrouding areas seeking refuge. Nebuchadnezzar pillaged Jerusaleum and the temple, before destroying both.

The Kingdom of Judah was devastated and suffered a steep decline of both economy and population. Many fled to Egypt while those who stayed were absorbed by the Babylonians.

Temple in Jerusalem

The second temple was constructed around 520 BC. Judah became part of the Persian Empire and was greatly reduced.

The Roman Empire invaded the region in 63 BC. This was the world to which Jesus was born, lived, was crucified and returned from the dead. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah.

The Arabs conquered Jerusalem and the region in 634-641 AD.

The Ottoman Empire conquered the region in 1516 and held control until the end of the First World War in 1918.


Israel and the tribes of Israel ceased to exist during all of these centuries. In 1947, the United Nations formed the State of Israel. The area has held many tensions over the years, but is also part of the Holy Land where many Christians, as well as other religions, journey each year for religious worship and expierience.

Biblical prophecy indicates that the Kingdom of God will be established in Jerusalem with Jesus second coming.

The book of Revelations indicated the twelve tribes of Israel will be restored. A reference to 144,000 Jews is mentioned three times in scripture. {Revelations 7:3-8; Revelation 14:1; Revelation 14:3-5}.

Pictures from FreeBibleImages.org

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