The Twelve Tribes of Israel

PULPIT: The Twelve Tribes of Israel

A Character Study

[EDITORIAL NOTE. Frequent requests have come to the Ministerial Association for material on a character study of the twelve tribes of ancient Israel. Many in our ranks remember the interesting chapters in The Cross and Its Shadow, by S. N. Haskell. Today this book is out of print. Brothers of the King, by A. W. Spalding, treats this subject most interestingly, but it is also out of print. Having some personal notes in outline form based largely on these two sources, I have been urged to share my material with the field. I make no claims to originality, but merely share my Bible study material discovered to have practical background value in connection with presenting prophetic subjects, such as the sealing message, mark of the beast, the true Israel, et cetera. This material has value also when following up a doctrinal series.

The textual background for this study of the twelve tribes is in Revelation 7; 21:7, 8, 12, 13, 24-27; 22:4, 14, 17; Ezekiel 9:1-6.

If these ideas will help to inspire more original thinking among us like that shown by the authors of the two books referred to, my outline of the twelve tribes may have some homiletical value. Should it appear too speculative for the more critical scholars among us, that too may present a challenge to you as a worker to submit something more realistic. One of the aims of the Ministerial Association is to aid our workers in their personal study of the Bible. Though maintaining Bible orthodoxy, workers of a few decades ago still found expression for original thinking. Perhaps today we might well profit by their example. L. c. K.]


A study of the character of the twelve tribes of ancient Israel reveals clearly that sinful man may be an overcomer. God has made provision in Christ for abundant victorious living. On the other hand, it shows the depth to which humanity will sink when Satan holds complete control.

Bible Names Reveal Character. Names were changed to fit the character. It is revealing to understand the true meaning of the name of each tribe. Consult Bible study helps. Gen. 32:24-28; Acts 4:36, 37; Rev. 2:17.


A. Reuben.

1. Reuben had despised his birthright. Joseph received double portion of earthly inheritance; Levi, the priesthood; Judah, the privilege of being a progenitor of Christ.

2. Dignity. "Unstable as water." It always runs downhill and seeks easiest course, curling around molehills. Gen. 49:3, 4. (Gen. 30:14; 37:21, 22, 29; 42:22.)

3. Because of rashness, father had no confidence in Reuben's word. Contrast with Judah. As older son Reuben should have been leader to check evil. Twenty-two years of sorrow. Zeal like a flood of water may sweep things, but may also be damaging. Gen. 42:37, 38; 43:8, 9, 13.

4. Selfishly asked first inheritance. Was first to be taken captive by Assyria. Num. 32'1-33- 1 Chron. 5:26."Shall not excel." Furnished no judge, prophet, or hero except Adina and "thirty rebels. 1 Chron. 11:42; Num. 16:1; Deut. 11:6 Idolatrous. 2 Kings 10:32, 33.

5. At Battle of Megiddo great heart searching by tribe. Judges 5:16.

6. "Cried to God" against Assyria, 740 B c 1 Chron. 5:20.

7. "Let Reuben live." Deut. 33:6. 

Reuben's character: religious, amiable, kind- hearted, weak, vacillating.

B. Simeon.

1. Associated with Levi in murderous deed Gen 49:5-7.

2. Simeon leader in sin at Shechem. Genesis 34.

3. Given no allotment when land divided; shared with Judah. 1 Chron. 4:24, 27, 39, 42'.

4. Later sought new territory and separated from tribes. A Simeonite slain for licentious ness. Num. 25:14.

Simeon's character: rash, revengeful, licentious dependent.

C. Levi.

1. Shared with Simeon in slaughter of Shechem. Anger, wrath, self-will.

2. Though weak bv nature, proved true in crisis Ex. 32:26.

3. Later worthy of priesthood. Ex. 32:10, 26-28.

4. Taught Israel. Deut. 33:8-11.

5. Inherited cities. Num. 18:20, 21; 35:7.

6. Barnabas of this tribe. Acts 4:36; also Mark, Moses, Aaron, Jochebed, Samuel, Abiathari Jeremiah, Phineas, Jehoiada, the Maccabees! and John the Baptist.

Levi's character: loyal, apt to teach, willful, cruel.



A. Judah.

1. Progenitor of Christ. "Prevailed above his brethren." 1 Chron. 5:1, 2.

2. In home life Judah prevailed where Reuben failed.

3. Judah a leader; his father had confidence in him. Gen. 43:8-13.

4. Scepter of Judah. Gen. 49:10.

5. "He washed his garments in wine," symbolic of Christ's applied blood. Gen. 49:11, 12.

6. Loyal, independent in action. 2 Sam. 2:4-11.

7. Also independent in spirit. Gen. 38:1.

8. Church should pray for slipping brother. Compare Deut. 33:7; James 5:19, 20.

9. Judah offered his life a ransom. Compare Gen. 44:33, 34; Mark 10:43-45; John 15:13.

10. Noted men of Judah: Jesus (Rev. 5:5); Caleb, Othniel, Ibzan, David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, all kings of Judah. 

Judah's character: broad-minded, courageous, resourceful, generous, independent in spirit.

B. Zebulun.

1. Youngest son of Leah. Gen. 30:20.

2. Rugged, seafaring tribe. Gen. 49:13.

3. "Sacrifices of righteousness." Deut. 33:18, 19.

4. Literary, artistic. Judges 5:14.

5. Jeopardized lives in high places. Judges 5: 18, 19.

6. "Not of double heart." "Expert in war." 1 Chron. 12:33.

7. Rich, but penurious. Compare Deut. 33:19; Judges 3:19.

8. Jesus was Zebulun's "great light." Isa. 9:1, 2. 

Zebulun's character: discreet, practical, thrifty, self-sacrificing, penurious,

C. Issachar.

1. "Strong ass." Strong, stolid, slow, clumsy. Gen. 49:14, 15.

2. The pleasant land. Compare Judges 5:15; Heb. 11:9, 10.

3. Scene of Battle of Megiddo in Issachar's borders. Judges 5:19.

4. Toiling, hardy, valiant, patient, invincible. 1 Chron. 7:5.

5. Tribe's sense of responsibility. 1 Chron. 12:32.

6. Thoughtful and generous. 2 Kings 4:8-10.

7. Issachar's neglect, but heart right. 2 Chron. 30:17-20.

8. Noted men of tribe: Tola (Judges 10:1, 2), Baasha (1 Kings 15:27).

Issachar's character: sincere, hopeful, burden- bearing, slow, awkward.



A. Dan.

1. Keen perception of right and wrong, sound judgment, faultfinder. Genesis 49:16-18. (How to deal with faults: Matt. 18:15-17; Gal. 6:1.)

2. Endowed with skill and wisdom. Ex. 31:3-6; 35:34.

3. Samson of tribe. Judges 13:2; 15:20.

4. Danite self-righteous, robbed neighbor of his religion. Judges 18:23-26.

5. Dan notorious for self-worship. Amos 8:14.

6. God bore with tribe of Dan. 2 Peter 3:9; Ps.101:5, 8."Christ is sitting for His portrait in every disciple." "Each is the architect of his own character." E. G. W.

Dan's character: keen, skilled, insincere, selfish, proud, critical.

B. Gad.

1. Buffeted by enemy, an overcorner. Gen. 49:19. (Contrast with Reuben who skirted difficulties.)

2. Persevered, showed determination. 1 Chron. 12:8, 15.

3. Source of Gad's victory: "They cried to God in the battle." 1 Chron. 5:18-20.

4. Elijah the Tishbite of Gad. Loyalty to God.

5. Gad typifies an overcoming backslider.

God's call and promises to backsliders: "Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord." Jer. 3:12-14. "Ye sold yourselves." Isa. 50:1. (1 John 1:9.) "Acknowledge." Jer. 3:13. "Reason together." Isa. 1:18. (Jer. 3:22.) "I will heal." Hosea 14:4. "Will not remember sins." Isa. 43:25.

Gad's character: prayerful, persevering, intolerant



A. Asher.

1. Refined, diplomatic, dependent on God. Gen. 49:20; Deut. 33:24-27.

2. Agreeable, acceptable unto brethren, a soul winner. Verse 24.

3. Strong, enduring as iron. Verse 25.

4. Recognized the "everlasting arms." Verses 26, 27.

5. Strong tribe, later mingled with heathen. Weak in David's day, 1 Chron. 27:16-22.

6. "Humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem." 2 Chron. 30:10, 11.

7. Prophetess Anna of tribe. Luke 2:36-38. 

Asher's character: refined, humble, diplomatic, compromising, crafty.

B. Naphtali.

1. Preacher tribe; fervor; power of analysis; faith in the cause.

2. Free as hind. Gen. 49:21.

3. "Goodly words" kind. Prov. 16:24; James 3: 5-8

4. "Jeopardized their lives unto the death." Judges 5:18.

5. "Satisfied with favour." Contentment. Deut. 33:23.

6. Influence of Christ in land of Naphtali. Isa. 9:1, 2.

7. Barak of tribe.

Naphtali's character: eloquent, free, kind, self- sacrificing, impractical.



A. Joseph.

1. In youth petted, cherished, self-righteous. Genesis 37."A young god in rectitude, and a fool to his sear-eyed brothers." A. W. SPALDING.

2. Dreamer! Trials made him practical. "Joseph went through the furnace. And when the blast of hate struck him, it seared off the tassels of his pride. And hard labor shriveled the days of dreaming." SPALDING.

3. Scornful of muddy speech.

4. Later virtuous, decisive, diligent. Gen. 49: 22-26; Deut. 33:13, 16.

5. Subtle and penetrating.

6. A double portion Ephraim and Manasseh both blessed. Genesis 48; Rev. 7:6, 8.

7. Triumphed while separated from his brethren.(Judah triumphed in home life; Levi triumphed in crisis.)

Joseph's character: administrator, discreet, for giving, self-righteous, overconfident.

B. Ephraim.

1. Joshua of tribe; chosen one of ten spies. Num. 13:8, 16, 17.

2. Single-minded: strenuous. Numbers 14.

3. Impulsive and arrogant. Quarrelsome tribe. Judges 8:1-3.

4. Deborah's faith and fortitude. Judges 4-6.

5. Jeroboam energetic and industrious. 1 Kings 11:26-28.

6. Ephraim's honesty; grieved over act of sons' stealing cattle. 1 Chron. 7:21-23.

7. Sherah of Ephraim (woman) builder of two cities. 1 Chron. 7:24.

8. Samuel of tribe. 1 Sam. 1:1; 7:9, 15.

9. Tribe had many advantages but failed to profit by them.

10. God drew with cords of love. Hosea 11:3-5.

11. God's prolonged mercy. Hosea 11:8.

12. Mixed with heathen. Hosea 7:8.

13. Destroyed themselves. Compare Deut. 33:17; Hosea 8:12; 4:17; 9:17.

Ephraim's character: full of faith, energetic, courageous, impulsive, dictatorial, compromising.

C. Manasseh.

1. First-born; second to receive Jacob's blessing. Name outlives Ephraim. Compare Genesis 48; Rev. 7:6.

2. First women inheritors. Num. 27:1-8.

3. Gideon of Manasseh. Judges 6:15.

4. Helpers; mighty men. 1 Chron. 12:19-22.

5. Wholehearted; loyal. 1 Chron. 15:8, 9.

6. Humble hearts; destroyed idolatry. 2 Chron. 30:1-18; 31:1.

7. Josiah's reform in Manasseh. Compare 2 Chron. 34:1-6; Rev. 14:6-12, 14. 

Manasseh's character: competent, loyal, shrinking.

D. Benjamin.

1. Jacob sees him daring, defiant. Gen. 49:27.

2. "Benevolent is he in Moses' eyes. . . . And such was the contradicting character of Benjamin: Headstrong, fiercely and unreasonably loyal to his word or his prejudice, undaunted by odds, contemptuous of danger, succeeding in the impossible; but to the hunted, the needy, the fearful, how careful and benign!" SPALMNG. Deut. 33:12,

3. Jonathan a true type of Benjamin. 1 Sam. 18: 1-4.

4. Tribe stubborn unto death. Judges 20:12-48.

5. Tribe's skilled archers. 2 Chron. 17:17; 2 Sam. 1:22; I Chron. 12:1, 2.

6. Samuel's influence on Ramah of Benjamin. 1 Sam. 7:15-17.

7. The destructive becomes protective. Compare Gen. 49:27; Deut. 33:12. 

a. Saul of Benjamin given another heart. 1Sam. 10:9. 

b. Saul of Tarsus converted. Rom. 11:1; Acts7:58; 8:1, 3; 9:1, 3-9.

c. Kind Mordecai a Benjamite. Esther 2:5. 

Benjamin's character: confiding, humble, daring, protective, warlike, fierce.


1. Twelve tribes possess Holy City. Overcomers. Rev. 21:12; 22:14.

2. Types found in the apostolic church. Eph. 2:19-22; Rev. 22:12-14.

"The unity of the early church was the more wonderful because the believers were of our common clay men of like passions with others. Peter had denied his master thrice. Thomas had doubted. Nicodemus had come to the Lord by night. Seven devils had dwelt in Mary Magdalene. Only yesterday, it seemed, the disciples had intrigued for pre-eminence, had rebuffed the children, had shrunk from the cross, had demanded the visible kingdom. Among them were Ananias and Sapphira, who kept back part of the price; Simon Magus, who offered money for the grace of God; Eutychus, who slept during a sermon; Rhoda, the excitable housemaid; Saul with his bigotry; Peter with his prejudices; the Corinthian women with their gossip. There were Galatians, bewitched by rabbis; Thessalonians, who put a date to the second coming; the Ephesians, who had lost their first love. Judaizers from Jerusalem wanted to lay burdens on the Gentiles, which were too strict; while at Pergamos the Christians ate things sacrificed to idols, which was too lax. At Thyatira, the un wary were seduced by a prophetess, Jezebel. And the Laodiceans were lukewarm neither hot nor cold." P. W. WILSON cited in Christian Faith and Life, October, 1932.

3. God's true children are overcomers. Rev. 21:7.

4. Robes washed in blood of Lamb. Dan and Ephraim failed. Revelation 7.

5. The redeemed will be without fault. Rev. 14:5.

6. All may be overcomers. Rev. 22:17.

7. God's successful experiment on human hearts. Verse 17.

"The true and lasting victory that extends throughout eternity does not depend upon tribal connections or hereditary tendencies, but upon a humble trust in God." --SPALDINC.



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