The Origin of the Twelve Tribes
The twelve tribes of Israel came from the twelve sons of Jacob. The book of Genesis tells us that Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebecca. He was the grandson of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 21-35). Jacobs name was later changed by God to Israel because of a new experience with the Lord (Genesis 32:28). This spiritual change indicated the nature of his new relationship to God. It represented his transformation from a “deceiver” of men to a “victor of God.” Jacob’s new name, Israel, became the name of the nation that sprang from him. The name was transferred first to his literal offspring and later to his spiritual generations to come, who also were to be victors as he had been (John 1:47; Romans 9:6).
The twelve sons of Jacob are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. This list is given in Genesis 35:23-26; Exodus 1:1–4; 1 Chronicles 2:1–2. The twelve sons were called later the 12 patriarchs (Acts 7:8). And they became heads of many families. The 12 tribes (Acts 26:7; James 1:1) are the people that descended from them. In ancient times, the number 12 meant fullness.
The Promised Land
When the tribes possessed the Land of Promise, Levi’s offspring did not have a land for themselves (Joshua 13:14). Instead, they became priests for God who gave them several cities throughout all of Israel. Joseph’s tribe split in two. For Jacob had adopted Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. And he basically gave Joseph a double portion for his great deed of saving his family from starvation (Genesis 47:11–12). Therefore, the tribes that received land in Canaan were Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh.
The Division of the Nation
After King Solomon passed away, Israel was divided into two kingdoms. Judah to the south comprised the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Israel to the North, comprised the ten remaining tribes. In the subsequent years, many Israelites in the north left to Judah in the south. They wanted to escape the corruption of their land (2 Chronicles 11:16; 15:9). Finally, Israel was overcome by the Assyrians. And most of the inhabitants of the ten tribes were either destroyed or exiled. The ones that remained joined with Judah.
Spiritual of Israel
In the New Testament, we learn that the Son of God came from the tribe of Judah. When Israel as a nation didn’t accept the Messiah and crucified Him, they were rejected by God. Consequently, they were destroyed by by the Romans in 70 AD, and disintegrated. But the good new is that anyone (Jews or Gentiles) can be part of spiritual Israel or the church of Jesus Christ. In this church, there is no division of race, nationality, or class (Galatians 3:28, 29; Colossians 3:11).
In His service,