What is a…
tribe in the Bible

Generally a tribe is a collection of families descending from one patriarchal ancestor.

Tribes of Israel

also known as: Israelites, The 12 Tribes of Israel, Hebrews (having sprung from Heber (Eber) the founder of the Hebrew race)

The “12 tribes” of the Hebrews were the 12 collections of families which descended from the sons of Jacob (Israel). Collectively, the tribes were known as “Israel” and the “Israelites.”

Sons of Israel (Jacob), listed by mother

  1. Sons of Leah: Judah, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun

  2. Sons of Zilpah: Gad, Asher

  3. Sons of Bilhah: Naphtali, Dan

  4. Sons of Rachel: Joseph, Benjamin

List of Israelite tribes

Learn about each one…
  1. Asher
  2. Benjamin
  3. Dan
  4. Ephraim
  5. Gad
  6. Issachar
  7. Judah
  8. Manasseh
  9. Naphtali
  10. Reuben
  11. Simeon
  12. Zebulun
  13. Levi (excluded from land division)

Map of the tribal division of land

Map of the ancient Israelite tribal territories in the Promised Land. CC BY-SA 3.0
The approximate location and boundaries of the 12 landed Israelite tribes, based on records in the Book of Joshua. This, and more, was The Promised Land given by God to the descendants of Israel, the grandson of Abraham. The full extent of the Canaanite land promised was never acquired, due to the repeated disobedience of the Israelites during the their commanded conquest of this very idolatrous, heathen land, after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt and the following 40 years of Divine punishment wandering in the wilderness, before Joshua and the living descendants were allowed to enter the land, following the death of Moses.
Compare the modern State of Israel (population 8.7-million people—2017 estimate)

144-thousand Messianic Hebrew evangelists to be revealed

The modern identity of the descendants of tribes of Israel were thought by most to be almost totally lost, leaving only the Jews known (the descendants of Judah). However, the identity of all descendants of the tribes is known to God, and 21st century research the 21st century is revealing their modern identities.

In the book of Revelation, God reveals that 12-thousand repentant and regenerate descendants from each of 12 tribes of Israel will be revealed for a special task. These will be followers of the true Messiah (the 2nd Adam, the Son of God). These 144,000 will be revealed on Earth during the Tribulation period, prior to the Millennium. The

List of specified tribes that God has chosen for this task

  1. Judah
  2. Reuben
  3. Gad
  4. Asher
  5. Naphtali
  6. Manasseh, a son of Joseph, and a large tribe
  7. Joseph—apparently referring to descendants of his other son, Ephraim
  8. Simeon
  9. Levi
  10. Issachar
  11. Zebulun
  12. Benjamin

Note: The tribe of Dan is not included on this list. If there is a reason (and not a scribal error), it is not explicitly explained in Scripture. Various interesting, but unproven, theories have been proposed.

The 144,000 will be divinely marked with a seal on their foreheads

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying,

“Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”

And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel…” —from Revelation 7:1-10 NASB

These evangelists of Hebrew lineage will receive Divine protection as they go about their task of spreading the Gospel throughout the world.

Tribes of the Earth

In Matthew 24:30 the word ‘tribe’ has a wider significance.

“And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.” —Matthew 24:30 NASB

More information

Article Version: July 27, 2021