The Twelve Tribes of Israel

A Brief History of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and his Sons

Israel's history is one of the most detailed and well kept histories of any nation. The nation of Israel was first promised to Abraham. He was told that through his decedents, a great nation would be born, and those people would be God's chosen people. It was through Abraham's son, Isaac, that the lineage of the Jewish people was established.

Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Through Jacob the nation of Israel was born. Jacob then had twelve sons and one daughter with his two wives and two concubines. Leah, his first wife, gave birth to six sons - Zebulun, Issachar, Reuben, Simon, Levi, and Judah. Rachel, his most beloved wife, had two sons - Joseph and Benjamin. His concubine, Zilpah, had Asher and Gad, and Bilhah had Dan and Naphtali.

When Jacob was on his deathbed, he gathered all of his sons together and gave each son his inheritance and a specific blessing. He also included the two grandsons he had from his favorite child, Joseph. This is where the twelve tribes of Israel originates.

It was not until many years later, after Moses freed the Jewish people and they actually entered into the Promised Land, that the land was divided according to their tribes and heritage. The land was divided by tribe at a meeting held in Shiloh where all twelve tribes were gathered and Joshua cast lots. He then assigned land areas accordingly.

There is often some confusion about the Twelve Tribes of Israel. If Jacob had twelve sons and included his two grandsons, then Israel would be divided fourteen ways, but this is not the case. The tribe of Levi was never given any land; they were instead given the responsibility to be the caretakers of the religion. There is no actual tribe of Joseph, because his two sons were included and he was elevated to a patriarch and not a landowner. As a first-born son, the extra territory he would have normally received was divided between his two sons, Ephraim and Menasseh.

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