The 12 Sons of Israel and the 12 Tribes of Israel

The 12 Sons of Israel and the 12 Tribes of Israel

Have you ever wondered why the order of Israel’s sons is listed different in certain areas of the Bible? If so, this was one of my questions because as always, there is a reason why we read passages written in certain ways. This answer would be something for you if you were looking for the order his children were born. You may google this particular question and you would find different orders. It can be confusing for sure!

So to help you I have created this chart so you can see clearly the ways Israel’s children have been listed. If you did not know this you may think the author of the particular book is wrong or that you may find yourself listing them in the wrong order for the wrong topic. Let us go over the columns so you can have a simple understanding.

Genesis 30Genesis 49Numbers 2 Revelation 7
Sons of Israel Blessing Order Tribes of Israel (4 group)Mark on forehead
Reuben (Leah) 1Reuben Judah  (E)Judah
Simeon  (Leah) 2SimeonIssachar  (E)Reuben (1)
Levi  (Leah) 3LeviZebulon  (E)Gad (1)
Judah  (Leah) 4JudahReuben  (S)Aser (2)
Issachar  (Leah 9)    [Dan 5]ZebulonSimeon  (S)Nephtali (2)
Zebulon  (Leah 10)   [Nephtali 6]IssacharGad  (S)Manasses (1)
Dan  (Bilhah 5)  [Gad 7]DanEphraim  (W)Simeon (2)
Naphtali  (Bilhah 6)  [Asher 8]GadManasseh  (W)Levi (3)
Gad (Zilpah 7)  [Issachar 9]AsherBenjamin  (W)Issachar (4)
Asher (Zilpah 8)   [Zebulon 10]NephtaliDan  (N)Zabulon (5)
Joseph (Rachel) 11JosephAsher  (N)Joseph (1)
Benjamin (Rachel) 12BenjaminNephtali  (N)Benjamin (2)

* First Column *

In the first column we find this order listed in Genesis chapter 30. This listing is the account of Jacob’s wives and the handmaids that bore him children. This column lists the sons with Leah, then both the handmaids and Rachel last. When you read it you will see them listed from Bilhah first and then Zilpah. This is why you see the numbers of the actual order beside them. While one was pregnant the other delivered the child and therefore the order is adjusted to the right within the same column.

This is also the order of the stones found in Exodus 28 which describes the breast plate of judgment. The scripture of Exodus 28:9 the scripture states to engrave the names of the children of Israel on the stones. So in this first column they were known as the “children of Israel” and they are listed from oldest to youngest.

* Second Column *

In the second column they are listed according to the blessing Israel made before he passed away found in Genesis 49. They are not in the correct descending order because he chose to bless them this way. If you recall he crossed his arms to bless the second son of Joseph before the first born. He did this intentionally even though Joseph was trying to put his father’s hand on the first born. If you notice he did this a few times with the brothers as well. 

* Third Column *

In the 3rd column you will find the tribes of Israel were divided into 4 groups and these groups surrounded the tabernacle of God as they traveled through the desert. This is found in Numbers chapter 2. They were referred to as the “tribes of Israel” in this column. There were 3 brothers and their families on four sides (North, south, east and west). You will find the direction they were located around the tabernacle by the letter indicated to the right on the chart.

* Fourth Column *

In the 4th and last column you will find the tribes listed again and once more in a different order. The were still referred to as the tribes of Israel found in Revelation chapter 7. In this column it is a vision the apostle John had and he sees they are about to receive the mark of God on their forehead before they descend with the Lord at his second coming. Notice the numbers I placed on the right of each name. Although Reuben is Israel’s first born he comes after Judah and Jesus is from the direct lineage of Judah. So in this instance Judah was moved to first mention.

  • Reuben is next because he is the first born of Israel.
  • Gad is the first born of Israel with Zilpah (Leah’s handmaid).
  • Asher is the second born of Israel with Zilpah (Leah’s handmaid).
  • Nephtali is the second born of Israel with Bilhah Rachel’s handmaid).
  • Manasses is the first born of Joseph.
  • Simeon is the second born of Israel.
  • Levi is the third born of Israel and third in line.
  • Issachar is the fourth in line.
  • Zabulon is the last born of Leah with Israel.
  • Joseph is the first born of Rachel with Israel.
  • Benjamin is the second and last born of Rachel with Israel.

In this whole list you will find there is one son missing. Who is it? It is Dan the first born of Bilhah with Israel. He has been separated from all the rest. There is a reason for this as well. Look at the blessing Israel spoke of Dan before he passed away.

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. Genesis 49:16-17 KJV

Dan has been separated as a judge for his people. This is interesting because the bible tells us that judgment will begin with the house of God. 

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? 1 Peter 4:17 KJV

His family will be the judges of the house of God. It appears there may be a difference between the judgment of the house of God and those who are in Christ. It is not for certain but it seems that way from the scriptures.

From this teaching we can see there is a difference of order between the sons of Israel and the tribes of Israel. We hope you enjoyed this journey of learning the reasons why the sons of Israel are listed certain ways in the Bible. I know I learn a lot when the scriptures are dissected and studied. If you are being blessed by these short studies please prayerfully consider to partner with Logos Ministries Intl. If you would like to donate you can do so here. Thank you!