The Thirteen Tribes of Israel

On, and on is the mention of the twelve tribes of Israel, the sons of Jacob, and yet we find the land divided into 13 territories. Most people, who’s study of Scripture includes the Hebrew Scriptures, know this. Most, even those who study those Scriptures, haven’t really thought about it, though.

Now these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob; they came each one with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the persons who came from the loins of Jacob were seventy in number, but Joseph was already in Egypt.

Exodus 1:1-5 (NASB)

There are twelve sons, and Joseph is given two spots in the land. That’s what happened to give us 13 instead of 12 tribes. And it shouldn’t have surprised us, the elder son was supposed to get an extra portion, so with 12 children, there should have been 13 portions anyway. But there’s a lesson in this.

Back in the final words of Jacob in Genesis 48 and 49, Jacob specifically tells Joseph that his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, would be considered Jacob’s. His father adopts these two and places them ahead of his first two sons, Reuben and Simeon (Genesis 48:5). So, Jacob has given Joseph the extra portion reserved for the first-born. And this carries on a series of reversals among Abraham’s descendants.

Jacob was blessed over Esau, and Isaac over Ishmael. And all this was from the God who led Abraham from the land of the Chaldeans to a new land. These reversals would continue. The lessor would become master of the greater, the first last, and the last first. Reversals become thematic throughout Scripture.

Even in the blessing of Jacob on the sons of Joseph, the reversals continue. Joseph arranges his sons before his father so the correct son is under the correct hand, yet Jacob reverses his hands as he blesses Joseph (Gen. 48:14). It’s another reversal, and Jacob does it intentionally. Jacob blesses Joseph with his hands reversed on the the heads of Joseph’s sons, and then blesses the two boys.

Reversals are supposed to happen. They’re not flaws, they’re features. We don’t like reversals, at least not in our own lives. We like it when the successful evil guy finally looses big time. We like it when our enemies stumble and crash and burn. But we’re not so likely to enjoy our own problems, foibles, setbacks, and failures. Even when we do what is right, obey, pray, read Scripture, and participate in the Kingdom of God, we still suffer. That’s how our Master designed it.

So, don’t be discouraged when the going gets tough. We don’t need more duct tape, we need more Jesus. And He may not make the going easier, but He will never abandon us as we go through it. If Paul sought to make up what was lacking in the sufferings of Jesus (Col. 1:24), why should we expect to suffer less? It’s not necessarily punishment, but often it’s character-building. Just what we wanted, right?

Keep in mind also, that reversals are also blessings. Joseph was blessed twice as much as his brothers through his sons. It wasn’t that the other sons of Jacob didn’t receive territory in the land of promise. It was that Joseph received two of them. Jacob loved all his sons, and he blessed all his sons, but he blessed Joseph twice as much. As much as this may have been difficult for his brothers, it was also expected. Jacob had favored Joseph before, and their jealousy of him is what God used to get Joseph into Egypt.

But this wasn’t the end of the story, it was another chapter. Joseph in Egypt is how God provided for His chosen people during the famine. He used Joseph to rescue Israel, but also Egypt. So, the brothers of Joseph understood that it wasn’t their father who preferred Joseph, but it was God Almighty who chose him to provide for them. To the degree they were able to understand that, and Joseph explains it to them twice, at least, they would understand the double-portion falling to Joseph.

Perhaps the reversal in your life is a double portion you weren’t supposed to get. Perhaps it’s a loss of the portion you expected. Whatever it is, rejoice in the continued work of our Master in your life. Paul says in Philippians 4 that he has learned the secret of being content in every situation because he can do all things through Jesus, the One strengthening him. So can we. We can learn that same lesson, because we can also do all things through Jesus, the One strengthening us.

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2 Comments

  1. Clarice LaRose says:

    Thank you for this post. I was just pondering the fact that God kept blessing the youngest over the eldest. Then Jesus said the first will be last and the last first . The Israelites were first and the Gentiles were the last. I think it all has to do with a heart issue and choices of who they will serve, God or themselves. Cain’s offering was not accepted but Abel’s was. I now think it was because Cain did not have the right heart in giving his best to God, but it says that Abel sacrificed his very best lamb. Esau cared more about his belly than his birth right. David was the youngest and out in the field when Samuel went to anoint the king and David’s family never thought about David because he was youngest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Matt Brumage says:

      Good examples! Such a peculiar trend, and sometimes having little to do with the parties. Ephraim was chosen over Manasseh before there was much of a choice to be made by either one. Sometimes God just does it, but as you pointed out, sometimes the younger gets it right. David’s brothers weren’t unrighteous, but he was chosen for a deeper quality. Even so, David still fails horribly. Sometimes the reversal simply displays the Sovereign Grace of our Creator. Sometimes the reversal displays His justice. Either way, doesn’t it seem He likes reversals? What quality of our Savior do you think is best revealed to us through these reversals He brings about so often? They must be important, He does them all over.

      Like

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