Home > Antisemitism, Israel, Replacement Theology > Who are the 12 Tribes of Israel?

Who are the 12 Tribes of Israel?

Dr. Larry Spargimino

Almost every time a new crisis looms in Israel and Christian Zionists call for Christians to back Israel, many in the Christian community issue a challenge: “Why should the followers of Christ support a nation that has turned its back on Christ?”

Those who raise this challenge claim to be offended by Christian support for Israel. They claim that Israel is in disobedience. “After all,” they argue, “there are many faithful Christian missions and missionaries who need our help. Why should Christians reward that disobedience with support?”

This attitude has been gaining support in the last couple of decades. In the spring of 1992 Christianity Today did a cover story entitled “For the Love of Zion” [3/9/92). It claimed that Christian support for Israel was waning. Several years later the tone became more militant. In its May 23, 2002, edition, the Wall Street Journal featured an article entitled “How Israel Became a Favorite Cause of Christian Right.” This was seen as a clear example of mixing religion and politics.

Still more recently a Los Angeles Times article [10/24/08) wrote of a National Council of Churches publication that would prove that Christian Zionism is not only wrong, but dangerous to world peace. The brochure claims that “Christian Zionism fosters fear and hatred of Muslims…” and can lead “to the dehumanization of Israelis and Palestinians.”

I believe that these statements are not valid because they; are based on human logic rather than divine revelation, and because they show the influence of an anti-biblical world and life mindset. Here are four important arguments that I believe demonstrate that Christians should support Israel no matter what her spiritual condition at the present time.

First, Israel’s rejection of Christ is a present fact, not a permanent reality. In Romans 11:1-2 the Apostle Paul writes: “I say then. Hath God cast away his people? God forbid … God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew.” Even within ethnic Israel at the present time, there is a core group, “a remnant according to the election of grace” [vs. 5). After the fullness of the Gentiles is brought to salvation. God will again work in a mighty way with the Jews. Israel’s hardening is only temporary (vs. 25).

Second, the New Testament warns Gentiles about speaking against Israel. Romans 11:17ff Scripture speaks of Israel as an olive tree, and we Gentiles as a wild olive tree that has been grafted in to the natural olive tree. Some of the branches were broken off of the natural olive tree, but we shouldn’t boast against the branches. “Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee…. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee” [vss. 18,20-21).

The Scripture is emphatic. Romans 11:24 tells us that if Gentiles were grafted in to a good olive tree and prospered spiritually, how much more shall the natural branches prosper spiritually when they are grafted in.

Third, we should remember God’s plan and purpose. We should remember God’s unconditional covenant with Abraham and his descendants. This covenant has never been revoked. How could it? It is a grace covenant and grace covenants are immutable. In Genesis 17:6-8 the Abrahamic covenant is reconfirmed. A study of biblical history shows that God’s method of fulfilling the Abrahamic covenant has been literal. Abraham was blessed spiritually and temporally. He came to have a great name, and he was a channel of blessing to others. We have every reason to believe that this method of fulfillment will continue until God’s promises are literally fulfilled in every way.

In a world of uncertainty and fear, Christians need to remember God’s plan and purpose. Man is often unfaithful, but God is always faithful. Recent attempts to “remove” Israel from God’s plan appeals to those who are seeking to “create God in man’s image.” We thank God that His Word makes it clear that God is not man.

Fourth, the Apostle taught that Christians have an obligation to Israel because of our spiritual indebtedness to them. Paul speaks the heart desire of the saints of Macedonia and Achaia to give to the needs of the poor saints in Jerusalem. “It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things”(Romans 15:27). Those who argue that the only way that Israel can have a right to the land and to the support and backing of Christians is that they first receive Jesus Christ are putting the cart before the horse. God’s relationship to Israel is not based on Israel. It is based on God’s unchanging covenant.

The claim that Israel is not a Christian nation and should not be supported by Christians is nothing more than a sanctimonious way of voicing sentiments that are totally without biblical warrant. [i]

Who are the twelve tribes of Israel?

Answer: The Bible lists the twelve tribes of Israel in several locations: (Genesis 35:23-26; Exodus 1:2-5; Numbers 1:20-43; 1 Chronicles 2:2; Revelation 7:5-8). It is interesting that there are slight differences in some places. The 12 sons of Israel (Jacob) were: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher and Joseph. These were the ancestors of the original twelve tribes. However, Reuben lost his rights as firstborn by defiling Jacob’s bed (Genesis 35:22; 49:3-4). In Reuben and Joseph’s place, Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, became tribes of Israel (Genesis 48:5-6). As a result, the twelve tribes became Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Ephraim and Manasseh. In some other lists of the twelve tribes of Israel, Levi is not mentioned, presumably because the Levites were assigned to serve at the temple and therefore were not apportioned land of their own in Israel (Joshua 14:3).

Naming the twelve tribes is a confusing task. Revelation 7:5-8 lists the 12 tribes as: Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin. This is interesting…for the first time Joseph is listed as a tribe along with his son Manasseh. Why isn’t Ephraim listed? Why is Reuben listed, but not Dan? There are no perfect answers to these questions. Technically, there were more than twelve tribes if you count both of Joseph’s sons as tribes in addition to Joseph. Revelation 7 presents a list of 144,000 witnesses from twelve different tribes. It does not say why Ephraim and Dan are not listed. The best answer is that God decided not to choose any witnesses from those two tribes. Some Bible teachers understand Dan being left off the list in Revelation 7 because of what is said in Genesis 49:17, “Dan will be a serpent by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider tumbles backward.”

With all of that said, what are the twelve tribes of Israel? Every list in the Bible contains Simeon, Judah, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin. In addition to those nine tribes, there are Ephraim, Reuben, Joseph, Dan, and Levi. Most Bible teachers would view Ephraim, Dan, and Levi as the additional three to result in twelve tribes. Whatever the case, God is free to re-adjust and re-account the twelve tribes of Israel as He sees fit. [ii]

Recommended Resource: Bible Answers for Almost all Your Questions by Elmer Towns.

[i] © 2009 Larry Spargimino/Southwest Radio Church of the Air

[ii] Copied from http://www.gotquestions.org/twelve-tribes-Israel.html

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