The Twelve Tribes of Israel: In Symbol & Blessing / July 2002
- Now the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bore a son and named him Reuben, for she said, "Because the Lord has seen my affliction; surely now my husband will love me."
- Genesis 29:31–32
- Then she conceived again and bore a son and said, "Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also." So she named him Simeon.
- Genesis 29:33
- And she conceived again and bore a son and said, "Now this time my husband will become attached to [love] me, because I have borne him three sons." Therefore he was named Levi.
- Genesis 29:34
- And she conceived again and bore a son and said, "This time I will praise the Lord." Therefore she named him Judah.
- Genesis 29:35
- Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she became jealous of her sister; and she said to Jacob, "Give me children, or else I die." And she said, "Here is my maid Bilhah, go in to her, that she may bear on my knees, that through her I too may have children." So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her. And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, "God has vindicated me, and has indeed heard my voice and has given me a son." Therefore she named him Dan. And Rachel's maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. So Rachel said, "With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and I have indeed prevailed." And she named him Naphtali.
- Genesis 30:1–8
- When Leah saw that she had stopped bearing, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. And Leah's maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. Then Leah said, "How fortunate!" So she named him Gad. And Leah's maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. Then Leah said, "Happy am I! For women will call me happy." So she named him Asher.
- Genesis 30:9–13
- Now in the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, "Please give me some of your son's mandrakes." But she said to her, "Is it a small matter for you to take my husband? And would you take my son's mandrakes also?" So Rachel said, "Therefore he may lie with you tonight in return for your son's mandrakes." When Jacob came in from the field in the evening, then Leah went out to meet him and said, "You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son's mandrakes." So he lay with her that night. And God gave heed to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Then Leah said, "God has given me my wages, because I gave my maid to my husband." So she named him Issachar. And Leah conceived again and bore a sixth son to Jacob. Then Leah said, "God has endowed me with a good gift; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons." So she named him Zebulun.
- Genesis 30:14–20
- And afterward she bore a daughter and named her Dinah.
- Genesis 30:21
- Then God remembered Rachel, and God gave heed to her and opened her womb. So she conceived and bore a son and said, "God has taken away my reproach." And she named him Joseph, saying, "May the Lord give me another son."
- Genesis 30:22–24
- And it came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).
- Genesis 35:18–19
- Now there were twelve sons of Jacob—the sons of Leah: Reuben, Jacob's first-born, then Simeon and Levi and Judah and Issachar and Zebulun; the sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin; and the sons of Bilhah, Rachel's maid: Dan and Naphtali; and the sons of Zilpah, Leah's maid: Gad and Asher. These are the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.
- Genesis 35:22–26
- And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manassah shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. But your offspring that have been born after them shall be yours; they shall be called by the names of their brothers in their inheritance.
- Genesis 48:5–6
- Then Jacob summoned his sons and said, "Assemble yourselves that I may tell you what shall befall you in the days to come."
- Genesis 49:1
- All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them. He blessed them, every one with the blessing appropriate to him.
- Genesis 49:28
- Reuben, you are my first-born; My might and the beginning of my strength, Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father's bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch.
- Genesis 49:3–4
- Simeon and Levi are brothers; their swords are implements of violence. Let my soul not enter into their council; let not my glory be united with their assembly; because in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they lamed oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; and their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.
- Genesis 49:5–7
- Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons shall bow down to you. Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, and as a lion, who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. He ties his foal to the vine, and his donkey's colt to the choice vine; he washes his garments in wine, and his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are dull from wine, and his teeth white from milk.
- Genesis 49:8–12
- Zebulun shall dwell at the seashore; and he shall be a haven for ships, and his flank shall be toward Sidon.
- Genesis 49:13
- Issachar is a strong donkey, lying down between the sheepfolds. When he saw that a resting place was good and that the land was pleasant, he bowed his shoulder to bear burdens, and became a slave at forced labor.
- Genesis 49:14–15
- Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a horned snake in the path, that bites the horse's heels, so that his rider falls backward.
- Genesis 49:16–17
- For Thy salvation I wait, O Lord.
- Genesis 49:18
- As for Gad, raiders shall raid him, but he shall raid at their heels.
- Genesis 49:19
- As for Asher, his food shall be rich, and he shall yield royal dainties.
- Genesis 49:20
- Naphtali is a doe let loose, he gives beautiful words.
- Genesis 49:21
- Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; its branches run over a wall. The archers bitterly attacked him, and shot at him and harassed him; but his bow remained firm, and his arms were agile, from the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), from the God of your father who helps you, and by the Almighty who blesses you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; may they be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers.
- Genesis 49:22–26
- Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, and in the evening he divides the spoil.
- Genesis 49:27
- May Reuben live and not die, nor his men be few.
- Deuteronomy 33:6
- And this regarding Judah; so he said, "Hear, O Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him to his people. With his hands he contended for them; and mayest Thou be a help against his adversaries."
- Deuteronomy 33:7
- And of Levi he said, "Let Thy Thummim and Thy Urim belong to Thy godly man, Whom Thou didst prove at Massah, With whom Thou didst contend at the waters of Meribah; Who said of his father and his mother, ‘I did not consider them’; and he did not acknowledge his brothers, nor did he regard his own sons, for they observed Thy word, and kept Thy covenant. They shall teach Thine ordinances to Jacob, and Thy law to Israel. They shall put incense before Thee, and whole burnt offerings on Thine altar. O Lord, bless his substance, and accept the work of his hands; shatter the loins of those who rise up against him, and those who hate him, so that they may not rise again."
- Deuteronomy 33:8–11
- Of Benjamin he said, "May the beloved of the Lord dwell in security by Him, who shields him all the day, and he dwells between His shoulders."
- Deuteronomy 33:12
- And of Joseph he said, "Blessed of the Lord be his land, with the choice things of heaven, with the dew, and from the deep lying beneath, and with the choice yield of the sun, and with the choice produce of the months. And with the best things of the ancient mountains, and with the choice things of the everlasting hills, and with the choice things of the earth and its fulness, And the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush. Let it come to the head of Joseph, and to the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers. As the first-born of his ox, majesty is his, and his horns are the horns of the wild ox; with them he shall push the peoples, all at once, to the ends of the earth. And those are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and those are the thousands of Manassah."
- Deuteronomy 33:13–17
- And of Zebulun he said, "Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going forth, And, Issachar, in your tents. They shall call peoples to the mountain; there they shall offer righteous sacrifices; for they shall draw out the abundance of the seas, and the hidden treasures of the sand."
- Deuteronomy 33:18–19
- And of Gad he said, "Blessed is the one who enlarges Gad; he lies down as a lion, and tears the arm, also the crown of the head. Then he provided the first part for himself, for there the ruler's portion was reserved; and he came with the leaders of the people; he executed the justice of the Lord, and His ordinances with Israel."
- Deuteronomy 33:20–21
- And of Dan he said, "Dan is a lion's whelp, that leaps forth from Bashan."
- Deuteronomy 33:22
- And of Naphtali he said, "O Naphtali, satisfied with favor, and full of the blessing of the Lord, take possession of the sea and the south."
- Deuteronomy 33:23
- And of Asher he said, "More blessed than sons is Asher; may he be favored by his brothers, and may he dip his foot in oil. Your locks shall be iron and bronze, and according to your days, so shall your leisurely walk be."
- Deuteronomy 33:24–25
- "We note the omission of Simeon, who is joined with Levi in Jacob's blessing, Gen 49:5. The probable explanation is that Jacob had foretold that both Simeon and Levi should have their territories divided up among the other tribes. As Simeon's possessions consisted of only 19 unconnected cities within the territory of Judah (Joshua 19:2–9), the tribe of Simeon was regarded as included in Judah."
- The Penteteuch and Haftorahs, Edited by J. H. Hertz, page 911.
- And he said to me, "What do you see?" And I said, "I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side."
- Zechariah 4:2–3
All students of the Bible have heard the story of Jacob and his four wives. Jacob labored seven years for Rachel only to be tricked into marrying her sister Leah. From this beginning, Jacob ended up marrying Leah and her handmaid Zilpah, Rachel and her handmaid Bilhah. From these mothers, twelve sons and a daughter were born. The basic story is given to us in Genesis. When Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, God used Joseph to preserve Jacob's family by raising him up as the Viceroy of Egypt. Jacob's family moved to Egypt and from there a great nation was born. From twelve sons, twelve tribes were formed to become the nation of Israel. But that is where the fun begins. The twelve tribes don't quite line up with Jacob's sons, and there really are thirteen tribes, not twelve. Jacob blessed his sons, but Moses blessed the tribes. Keeping this all straight is a minor Bible Study in its own right. But it is through that study that the story of the Messiah and His redemption comes forth. Oh, let us not forget Israel's future at the return of Messiah. The twelve tribes become the 144,000 sealed sons of Israel with an important ministry just before the Messiah's return.
The transformation of Jacob's sons into tribes and finally into sealed servants is a fascinating journey through Scripture. In fact, it is a testimony of God's mercy and grace. As they say when you're about to fly away on a journey, "Buckle your seat belt, put your seat in the full upright position and make sure your tray tables are stowed in the up and locked position." We are going on a Biblical journey that is filled with mysteries of the Messiah given to us in symbols and blessings.
Leah bore Jacob six sons and one daughter: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah. Bilhah, the handmaid of Rachel bore two sons: Dan and Naphtali. Zilpah, the handmaid of Leah, bore two sons: Gad and Asher. Rachel finally bore two sons: Joseph and Benjamin. The meaning of each name given is a fascinating story of conflict between the two sisters, Leah and Rachel, vying for the affections of Jacob. There really was no contest; Jacob loved Rachel dearly. However, in the course of naming the sons out of this conflict, a great Messianic prophecy was revealed.
Let's quickly review how the sons were named.
Leah and Rachel were in a conflict. They both loved Jacob, but Jacob's heart was for Rachel. However, it was Leah who began bearing him sons, while Rachel was without child.
First, Leah had Reuben "See! A son!"
Leah had Simeon "hated."
Leah had Levi "loved."
Then Leah had Judah "praise."
Then she stopped bearing. Rachel had to do something. She desperately wanted to bear children for Jacob. So Rachel gave her handmaid to Jacob to father children for her to keep, Dan "vindicated - judged" and Naphtali "prevailed."
Leah was not going to idly sit by and let Rachel catch up, so she gave her handmaid Zilpah to bear children by Jacob, Gad "fortunate" and Asher "happy."
Then Leah again had two more sons, Issachar "wages" and Zebulun "dwell."
Finally, Leah bore a daughter she called Dinah "justice."
This was the only daughter born to Jacob and she symbolizes the female/bride elements of the story. Not much is told of her until we come to her controversial story of courtship and wedding that are told later. It is in her role as a bride that we seen the plan of God.
Finally, Rachel conceived Joseph "add to me."
Jacob and his wives and children returned to the promised land. Near Bethlehem, Rachel died while giving birth to her second son. She called him the son of sorrows, but Jacob called him the "son of the right hand," Benjamin.
A very mysterious Messianic picture is given to us in the naming of Benjamin. He actually has two names: son of sorrows and son of the right hand. These are the two titles of the Messiah Himself. The Messiah was the man of sorrows for us, but He became the Son of the right hand of the Father.
The Scripture reviews for us at this point the twelve sons of Jacob.
In hindsight we can see that God purposed Jacob to marry Leah although he deeply loved Rachel. It is from Leah's child, Judah, that the Messiah was brought forth. Therefore, there is a specific prophetic picture of the Messiah given to us as well in Leah's children.
The names of Leah's seven children (God's plan) tells the great Messianic story. By referring to the meaning of their names, the pattern is given.
The Messiah will be God's Song of Solomon (Reuben). He will be HATED (Simeon) by some and LOVED (Levi) by others. He will be the WAGES (Issachar) for sin so that we can DWELL (Zebulun) with Him when we become His BRIDE (Dinah).
God then gave us another Messianic theme in the life of Joseph. Joseph's trip to Egypt, his rise to power and the resulting reconciliation of his brethren to him in Egypt is a classic piece of Messianic prophecy. Joseph was the rejected son who became the "Bread man of Life." Yeshua was rejected of His brethren and was the "True Bread from Heaven."
Jacob and his sons settled in Egypt under Joseph's care and the first of the blessings and symbols began to emerge. This is where the story takes a twist. Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manassah were promoted to the position of Jacob's sons. Jacob's sons now numbered thirteen.
Jacob's first blessing was put upon Ephraim (the younger over Manassah who was older). This follows the previous generations of Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau. Jacob later blessed all his sons with unique and specific blessings. It is from these blessings that some of the symbolism for the twelve tribes begins.
The Blessings of Jacob upon his Sons
Jacob's blessings carried a prophetic tone and used a word picture (symbol) to illustrate it. He made each blessing appropriate for each son. In some cases, no symbol comes forth; it comes from the blessings of Moses for each tribe.
Reuben's blessing is more of an explanation to him and us as to why he is not in leadership. Throughout the centuries, even the sages have commented that not even a prophet has come from Reuben. Therefore, a tribal symbol is not seen here yet.
Simeon and Levi
Simeon and Levi are grouped together because of their violent tendencies. Jacob called for their scattering in the land of Israel and that is what happened. The Levites, as priests, would have no land inheritance, but instead, were scattered. Simeon was likewise scattered, predominantly into the Judean wilderness. Again, there is no tribal symbol given here.
The lion of Judah is one of the strongest and most enduring symbols for the tribes of Israel. The Messiah came from this tribe and the tribal symbol is equally adapted to the Messiah. There is much argument as to what "until Shiloh comes" means. I take a much simpler view of this prophetic element and link it with the Messiah second coming. Shiloh was where the tabernacles was set-up in the land. I view this expression as a future reference to when the Messiah will tabernacle with us in the land. The words following Shiloh are a picture of the Messiah with us.
They are all descriptions that invoke reverence and esteem.
Ship is the symbol for Zebulun. Zebulun was marked by his skill as a trading merchant (the commerce of ships).
Issachar is sometimes symbolized by the donkey carrying a load, but the predominate symbol is a set of tents that we'll explain later. The donkey is said to be carrying the burden of Torah.
Dan is symbolized as a serpent. Generally, a serpent is not viewed as a positive symbol in the western world. However, in eastern logic the serpent is seen as wise and stealthy. That is its intended meaning here. Dan was to be able to take on enemies far greater than himself by using strategy and stealth.
Between Dan's and Gad's blessing is this singular thought.
In the Hebrew, Yeshua's name is given directly. "For Thy Yeshua I wait, O Lord." The sages have debated for some time as to whether this is part of Dan's blessing, part of Gad's, or a stand alone thought parenthetically inserted. I tend to favor the last option. I view Jacob's request as an acknowledged condition for all blessings. A blessing in this mortal life grows rapidly pale without the redemption and salvation of God to enjoy it.
Gad is symbolized by a band of warriors working together. Raiders were considered to be highly trained and disciplined fighters that use a variety of weapons from sword to spear and arrows.
Asher is symbolized by flowers, but you will note that they are to be "royal." Royal dainties are befitting the King and the value of the symbol strikes the chord of the Messiah.
Naphtali is symbolized by a deer or a hind. When a deer bucks, it rears up on his hind legs and literally jumps or bucks to begin its run. Its agile feet and strong legs are matched by a great sense of balance. Therefore, a deer can dart and run straight up a mountain leaping over terrain that others can not travel. Napthali's blessing and symbol was for agility and strength.
Joseph is the dominant figure in the book of Genesis as compared to the other sons of Jacob. He is a profound Messianic picture for us. He was rejected, cast into a pit, sold, only to be raised up above them all. Jacob's blessing speaks to God's choice of him to provide for them all. This is the Biblical definition and theme of what a Messiah is and does (One who is sent for others, who pays the price and provides salvation for all.) One of the symbols for Joseph is a great tree with access to the living waters of life whose branch reaches to others that are blocked by a wall. This is another symbol of the Messiah as well. He is the source of living waters (the Rock), the first fruits (of many brethren), and the Branch (springing from the root).
Benjamin is symbolized by the wolf. The wolf has come to also symbolize the menace of some. In this case, Benjamin is a menace to the enemies of Israel. The Messiah will ultimately divide the spoil of His enemies in His kingdom.
The Twelve Tribes in the Wilderness
With the advent of Moses, generations later, God prospered and increased Israel dramatically even though they were enslaved and oppressed by the Egyptians. They had arrived in Egypt as 70 persons, but would leave as an army of more than 600,000 men. Using simple approximations, many teachers believe that the nation of Israel (men, women and children) numbered more than 3,000,000 when they left Egypt. By this point, the twelve sons of Jacob had passed on but there were now thirteen tribes.
The book of Numbers (Bamidbar) gives us the census for the new nation of Israel with their tribal leaders. Another twist in our story now takes place. Levi, the tribe of Moses and Aaron, distinguished themselves while in Egypt. As a result, God chose Levi to be His possession and the sons of Aaron become the priesthood of Israel. Therefore, the thirteen tribes of Jacob's descendants were called the twelve tribes of Israel with Levi being the Lord's portion.
This is when the government of God (theocracy) began to take shape on the earth first. Israel's tribes were formed into an army with four divisions made of up of three tribes each. They went therefore in "martial array." Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun served as the vanguard force. To the right flank was Reuben, Simeon, and Gad. To the left flank was Dan, Asher, and Naphtali. The Rear Guard and reserve force was lead by Ephraim, Manassah, and Dan. Each tribe carried a standard and a symbol for their force. Here is listing of each tribes banners and standards referencing The Chumash, the Stone Edition, pages 732–733.
Judah was symbolized by the Lion with a blue banner.
Issachar was symbolized by the Sun and Moon on blue/black banner.
Zebulun was symbolized by a ship on a white banner.
Reuben was symbolized by flowers on a red banner.
Simeon was symbolized by the city of Shechem on a green banner.
Gad was symbolized by a band of soldiers on a gray banner.
Dan was symbolized by a serpent on a blue sapphire banner.
Asher was symbolized by an olive tree on a flaming oil colored banner.
Naphtali was symbolized by a deer (hind) on a pale red banner.
Ephraim was symbolized by an oxen on a jet black banner.
Manassah was symbolized by a re'en on a jet black banner.
Benjamin wa symbolized by a wolf with a multicolored banner.
The Center with the Tabernacle
The Levites were symbolized by the Urim and Thumim in the Ephod and breastplace on a white/black/red banner. The Levities were further divided along the lines of the divisions. The sons of Aaron (the cohen) were with Judah. The Kohathites were with Reuben. The Merarites were with Dan. Finally, the Gershonites were with Ephraim.
At the completion of the 40 year wilderness experience, Moses put a blessing on the tribes of Israel. It is from these blessings that the final symbolism of the tribes of Israel is completed.
The Blessings of Moses upon the tribes of Israel
As Moses prepared to turn over the leadership of Israel to Joshua, he issued his own set of blessings upon them, not as his own sons, but as tribes of a nation. Each of them were individualized bearing a prophetic utterance and the basis for some symbols.
As we discussed earlier, Reuben lost his preeminent position earlier. Therefore, it was of concern to Moses that they not dwindle as a tribe or in number any further without strong leadership.
Moses knew that Judah would be the first to face future enemies so he asked for God to help him in battle.
Levi was the tribe that joined Moses at the golden calf incident. The sons of Levi slew whomever had sacrificed to the golden calf, regardless of who they were. Therefore, Moses asked that their priestly role would remain. The predominant symbol for Levi is the breastplate worn by the High Priest. In this breastplate was the ephod with the Urim and Thummin (the stones of light and determination).
Many are not aware that the temple mount in Jerusalem straddles two tribal lands. While most of it is in Judah, a portion of it belongs to Benjamin. Therefore, it was said that you went to Judah and Jerusalem, but the Lord sat at the edge, seated in Benjamin. I remind you again about the meaning of Benjamin's name – the Son of the Right Hand and Yeshua is said to be seated at the Right Hand of the Father!
Joseph (Ephraim and Manassah)
Ephraim was the son who Jacob elevated above Manassah and equal to his sons Reuben and Simeon. Ephraim became the prosperous and numerous tribe to the north. In leading the great rebellion from the House of Judah, he also pushed Israel into the nations "to the ends of the earth." Ephraim's name means "fruitful and bountiful." Ephraim is to far outnumber any of the other tribes into the future.
Zebulun and Issachar
Zebulun and Issachar are joined in this blessing to illustrate the cooperation of brethren. Zebulun were the merchants symbolized by ships while Issachar setup tents of study (Torah). One produced material blessing while the other produced spiritual blessing. The cooperation of themselves together set the example for us all. A healthy community has both financial and spiritual leadership. Calling peoples to the mountain is calling upon all to worship the Lord at God's appointed times. There they offer sacrifices of worship and enjoy festival and joy. Issachar was known for their study tents and keeping track of the sun and moon calculations to announce God's appointed times. The abundance of the seas and the treasures of the sand represent the material working with the spiritual in balance.
Gad became a very strong military component of Israel. The reference to "the ruler's portion is reserved" as the picture of the commander of the host. Whenever an army camps, the commander of that army has the right to pick any place in the camp for his own tent. This blessing means that the true Commander of the Host (the Lord) likes to make his camp in the area where Gad is at. This is a very powerful blessing and encouragement.
Dan, whose name means "judge" received a blessing about final judgment. The Messiah will return as the Lion of Judah. There will be a Lion's roar heard from Bashan. Bashan is the region east of the Jordan river extending up into the Golan Heights of today. This is the same area where many modern battles have been fought between Israel and Syria.
Naphtali has the tribal lands associated with the Sea of Galilee. This is also the predominant land where Yeshua's ministry grew and prospered before going to Jerusalem.
Olive oil is almost as important in the Middle East as blood and water are. Asher's blessing concerning the (olive) oil was a blessing of health and life. You may have heard another expression common today, "If you don't have your health, then you don't have anything." The blessing of Moses upon Asher was one of health and the enjoyment of life (leisure).
What about Simeon?
I don't know if you picked up on it yet, but there appears to be no blessing on Simeon. Did Moses make a mistake and forget one of the tribes? It is a very reasonable question to ask at this point. The answer is given by the sages this way.
The Ancient Symbol and Modern Symbol of Israel
The ancient symbol of Israel was a large cluster of grapes. This symbol was depicted in gold above the entrance into the sanctuary of Solomon's temple. It was modeled after the spies sent into the land that brought back the cluster of grapes from Eschol (which means cluster). This is also the symbol for the modern nation of Israel today for the ministry of tourism. They are asking visitors to come and "spy out the land."
Once the twelve tribes entered the land of Israel and began to inhabit their tribal lands, difficulties followed. The children of Israel began to depart from the teaching of Moses and calamity came. Two particularly events occurred that had profound future consequences. The first was when the tribe of Dan introduced idolatry into the land. A civil war broke out. The second with Ephraim's leadership in splitting the tribes of Israel away from the leadership of the House of Judah (the Kings of Israel). To this day consequences are seen and understood from these events.
While the tribes of Israel following Ephraim were scattered and lost among the nations, even they are not sure who they are, according to the prophecy, Judah became known simply as the land of Judah or the Judeans. The shortened expression has been predominant for them even to this day – Jews. Jew is the shortened expression for Judah. Various symbols have depicted them for the past 1900 years, but in the last couple of hundred years the star of David has become a universally accepted symbol for them. The modern flag of Israel is a Star of David upon a tallit. The tallit is the white prayer shawl with the stripes. In this case, the white cloth with the two blue stripes serves as the background for the Star of David. An even more significant symbol today is the crest of Israel. The crest is symbolized with a seven candelabrum (temple menorah) with two olive branches on either side. This is symbolized from the prophecy of Zechariah.
The Future 144,000 Sons of Israel
Before we can conclude a discussion of the twelves son and twelves tribes of Israel, some attention must be given to Israel's greatest destiny and role yet to occur – the 144,000 in the Great Tribulation.
In Revelation chapter 7, the prophecy is given where 144,000 sons of Israel are sealed. The specifics of their sealing is given as 12,000 each by tribe. There is some question as how this listing of the twelve tribes compares with everything (the history) we have covered so far concerning the tribes. The sequence of the sealing is as follows: Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manassah, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin.
The question that is most frequently asked about this prophecy is the absence of Ephraim's and Dan's names. There are variety of answers but one I prefer is as follows. Ephraim and the name Joseph are one and the same. Ezekiel's prophecy in chapter 37 interchanges Joseph and Ephraim frequently. The tougher question is Dan. Levi, the Lord's portion, can stand in for any other tribe, and I believe that is what is happening here. Therefore, Dan is present but covered by Levi being specifically noted. The reason why Dan's name is missing may have more to do with their past. Dan's introduction of idolatry may have cost him some honor in the end. The Lord has warned that idolatry can have great consequences for your name. The final judgment is having your name blotted out of the book of life.
The 144,000 are sealed for protection and service unto the Lord during the Great Tribulation. Trying to find out who they are prior to the Great Tribulation is like trying to find the "lost" tribes of Israel scattered in the world. Which brings me to my final point concerning this topic.
In the kingdom, we will not be asserting ourselves as Jews or Gentiles, nor will we be expressing ourselves as one tribe or another in Israel; instead, we will calling ourselves the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We will be the sons of God. You see, all these blessings and symbols were really about our blessing in the Messiah, and we have all been called to help symbolize and reveal him to the world. Maybe that is why the Messiah is the Light and we are to be a light to the nations. The 144,000 will show us how it is done in the last days.