What are the twelve tribes of Israel or should we ask who the twelve tribes of Israel are?
What is a Tribe?
A tribe is actually a part of the nation of Israel that started with one man and his family. We go back to Genesis 49:28 to read about the naming of the twelve tribes of Israel “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them. He blessed them, everyone with the blessing appropriate to him.” In chapter 49 of Genesis, Jacob, whose name God changed to Israel, names and blesses each of his sons who became the tribes of Israel. In other words, each of Jacob’s sons had a family of their own and these families grew over the centuries and became the tribes of Israel so a tribe is a son of Jacob or Israel and the descendants of each of these men.
Who are the Tribes of Israel?
Here is a list of each of the tribes of Israel:
- Ephraim and
You will notice that Joseph’s name is actually listed among the twelve tribes in Genesis 49 but Manasseh and Ephraim are missing and this is because Jacob (who is also Israel) claimed Joseph’s two sons as his own and Joseph’s sons were Ephraim and Manasseh and so that is why they are not listed in Genesis 49 but they are found in the rest of the Old Testament writings when they are talking about the twelve tribes of Israel. These men’s families grew large but started with one man and became large tribes that eventually made up the entire nation of Israel. In the later writings, Dan is dropped from the list and is not mentioned by the time the tribes are spoken of in the Book of Revelation  but is replaced by the tribe of Levi. Levi originally was not a tribe at all as they were the descendants of Levi the high priest and became known as the Levites.
Why the Tribe of Dan was Removed
Dan was originally one of the twelve tribes of Israel and was one of the sons of Jacob but they began to invent their own man-made religion instead of following God. Dan lacked the faith of the other tribes of Israel and as a result, they never fully conquered the land and failed to rid the land of the pagans who had lived there before. As a result of the remaining pagan influence there, the tribe of Dan fell into idolatry and it was a fall from which they would never recover (Judges 18:1-31). The tribe of Dan had a smaller section of land than the other tribes of Israel and although it was perhaps the most fertile land of all in Canaan, they were still begrudging their inheritance and so without godly counsel, they attacked and took over a land adjacent to their own and even established their own capital, calling it, quite naturally, Dan. This man-made worship severed them from the other tribes of Israel and that is why they were no longer considered to be a part of the nation of Israel which carried over into the end times as we read in the Book of Revelation where all the tribes are mentioned; all that is except Dan as they were omitted (Rev 7:5-8) and replaced by the tribe of Levi. This shows what happens to any people that doesn’t worship God in spirit and in truth since that is what the Father seeks and requires (John 4:23-24).
The Joining of the Tribes
The confederation of the twelve tribes of Israel was primarily religious and was based upon belief in the one, true “God of Israel” with whom the tribes had made a covenant with and whom they worshiped as the “people of the Lord.” In the beginning, each of the twelve tribes enjoyed a good deal of autonomy in deciding their own affairs. This was very much like when the U.S. was in her infancy and states had more independence and different laws from one another. As with the America, it took a crisis to unite the differing tribes into a single, unified nation but even that later became fractured with the Northern Kingdom (called Israel) separated from the Southern Kingdom (called Judah) and eventually they became enemies, going to war with one another. These Northern Kingdom tribes were taken into captivity and today it appears that they’ve lost their identity as the people of God, even though many of them are aware of their heritage. Today we think of Israel as Jewish or as belonging to the ancient tribe of Judah which includes small remnants of the other tribes but predominantly consisted of Judah, Levi, Simeon, and Benjamin.
Today God is still choosing a people for Himself and it doesn’t depend on race but upon grace . This is what Paul meant when he wrote that “no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Rom 2:28-29) which is why God said long ago “circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (Deut 30:6). The conclusion is that “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29).
Here is some related reading for you: Jacob in the Bible 
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.