Choosing a Tribe: The Characteristics of the 12 Tribes of Israel

 

Overview

When a Gentile converts and becomes an Israelite, he/she joins a tribe. This teaching is based on two passages, the first is from Ezekiel 47:21-23

“You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who have settled among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the alien settles, there you are to give him his inheritance,” declares YHVH God.

 

And Isaiah 14:1

“YHVH will have compassion on Jacob; once again he will choose Israel and will settle them in their own land. Aliens will join them and unite with the house of Jacob.”

Our ancestors become their ancestors, so our tribes become their tribes. In the Talmidi Jewish community, a convert is required to choose a tribe, which they are asked to do through careful prayer and meditation.

The tribes:

The nine tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel (poetically referred to as ‘Ephraim' or 'Joseph’; individually known as Ephrathites):

  Reuben

  Issachar

  Zebulun

  Gad

  Asher

  Ephraim

  Manasseh

  Dan

  Naphtali

The three tribes of the southern kingdom of Judah (individually known as Jews)

  Judah

  Benjamin

  Simeon

The tribe of Levi was not allotted land; they were found amongst the lands of both kingdoms. A convert cannot join the tribe of Levi, because one can only be a Priest or Levite by descent, NOT conversion.

 

The characteristics of the tribes

When a Gentile converts, they are encouraged to choose a tribe with which they have personality traits in common. This is how the different tribes are portrayed in the Bible. The characteristics of the tribes are to be found in Gen 49:3-27 & Deut 33. A convert should also feel some affinity for the part of Israel that was apportioned to the tribe they have chosen. Levi is not included in this list, because one can only be a Priest or Levite by descent, NOT conversion.

PART ONE: SUMMARY OF TRAITS

The nine northern tribes of the Kingdom of Israel

 

Reubenites:

Strong-minded and strong-willed; powerful, excelling in strength,

Turbulent in emotion; quick and fiery in anger

Determined to get their own way

Fierce warriors

cattle herders;

Issacharites

Hardworking, great stamina;

down to earth,

Good business acumen – able to make much out of their hard work

Scholarly, academic, good students of Torah;

Persuasive in argument, eager to make converts

astronomers

Zebulunites

Strong connection with the sea, sea-farers,

Good at trade and commerce with all kinds of people

Good at dealing with outsiders

Gadites

Cunning, resourceful, strong defenders;

Warlike and strong, yet loyal and courageous

They don’t put up with nonsense or fools; quarrelsome

Strong sense of justice

Cattle-breeders

Aloof sometimes

someone who enjoys unusually good fortune

Asherites

Love food and cooking; very social

Like the good things of life, but still provide for others

virtuous people who with single-mindedness strive for the general good.

Generally happy good-natured dispositions

Ephraimites

Strong, rugged; fruitful, influential

good soldier, a warrior clan

modest and not selfish

Able to overcome overwhelming odds

Able to make the most out a little

Jealous and defensive of position once gained; impulsive

(also, the Ephraimites could not say the ‘sh’ sound, instead saying ‘s’)

Ephraim is the royal tribe of the northern kingdom, just as Judah was the royal tribe of the southern kingdom.

Manassites

Strong, stoical

good farmers,

Good at languages

Blessed with good fortune

Full of courage and valour

Danites

Strong sense of justice and fairness; suspicious nature

Artists and craftsmen

Restless, insecure, occasionally paranoid

Naftalites

Good orators, writers, poets, teachers

swift of mind or body;

values nature, love natural beauty around them, looks after nature

has endured much hardship;

studies under difficult conditions to acquire knowledge;

The three southern tribes of the Kingdom of Judah

Judahites

Able to command the respect of others,

Born leaders and strong defenders of the nation

good organisers,

Good entrepreneurs, able to make wealth out of little;

stubborn, obstinate,

Benjaminites

The ‘little brother’ type, someone everyone wants to protect,

someone who gains strength from needing others, thereby binding them together

astute and pugnacious in nature

strong defenders – skilled archers

Someone whose strength is often underestimated, surprising his friends and foes alike.

Simeonites

Volatile, quick to anger, fierce, furious

Do first and think afterwards

Conservative in nature

Portion of the Falashas of Ethiopia are said to be descended from Simeon

loves the desert lands

PART TWO

The characteristics of the tribes from Gen 49:3-27 & Deut 33

 

Reuben:

Gen 49:3-4 ‘[Jacob said] “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power. Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it.”

Deut 33:6 ‘[And this Moses said about Reuben] “Let Reuben live and not die, nor his men be few.”

 

Issachar:

Gen 49:14-15 ‘[Jacob said] “Issachar is a rawboned donkey lying down between two saddlebags. When he sees how good is his resting place and how pleasant is his land, he will bend his shoulder to the burden and submit to forced labour.”

Deut 33:18-19 ‘About Issachar [Moses] said: “Rejoice, […] Issachar, in your tents. They will summon peoples to the mountain and there offer sacrifices of righteousness; they will feast […] on the treasures hidden in the sand.”

 

Zebulun:

Gen 49:13 ‘[Jacob said] “Zebulun will live by the seashore and become a haven for ships; his border will extend toward Sidon.

Deut 33:18-19 ‘About Zebulun [Moses] said: “Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out, […] They will summon peoples to the mountain and there offer sacrifices of righteousness; they will feast on the abundance of the seas, […].”

 

Gad:

Gen 49:19 ‘[Jacob said] “Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels.”

Deut 33:20-21 ‘About Gad [Moses] said: “Blessed is he who enlarges Gad’s domain! Gad lives there like a lion, tearing at arm or head. He chose the best land for himself; the leader’s portion was kept for him. When the heads of the people assembled, he carried out YHVH’s righteous will, and his judgments concerning Israel.”

 

Asher:

Gen 49:20 ‘[Jacob said] “Asher’s food will be rich; he will provide delicacies fit for a king.”

Deut 33:24-25 ‘About Asher [Moses] said: “Most blessed of sons is Asher; let him be favored by his brothers, and let him bathe his feet in oil. The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze, and your strength will equal your days.”

 

Joseph (Ephraim & Manasseh):

Gen 49:22-26 ‘[Jacob said] “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall. With bitterness archers attacked him; they shot at him with hostility. But his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below, blessings of the breast and womb. Your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills. Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers.”

Deut 33:13-17 ‘About Joseph [Moses] said: “May YHVH bless his land with the precious dew from heaven above and with the deep waters that lie below; with the best the sun brings forth and the finest the moon can yield; with the choicest gifts of the ancient mountains and the fruitfulness of the everlasting hills; with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness and the favor of him who dwelt in the burning bush. Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers. In majesty he is like a firstborn bull; his horns are the horns of a wild ox. With them he will gore the nations, even those at the ends of the earth. Such are the ten thousands of Ephraim; such are the thousands of Manasseh.”

 

Dan:

Gen 49:16-18 ‘[Jacob said] “Dan will provide justice for his people as one of the tribes of Israel. 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. “I look for your deliverance, O YHVH .”

Deut 33:22 ‘About Dan [Moses] said: “Dan is a lion’s cub, springing out of Bashan.”

 

Naftali:

Gen 49:21 ‘[Jacob said] “Naftali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns.

Deut 33:23 ‘About Naftali [Moses] said: “Naphtali is abounding with the favour of YHVH and is full of his blessing; he will inherit southward to the lake.”

 

Judah:

Gen 49:8-12 ‘[Jacob said] “Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. You are a lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness-who dares to rouse him? The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.

Deut 33:7 ‘And this [Moses] said about Judah: “Hear, O YHVH , the cry of Judah; bring him to his people. With his own hands he defends his cause. Oh, be his help against his foes!”

 

Benjamin:

Gen 49:27 ‘[Jacob said] “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder.”

Deut 33:12 ‘About Benjamin [Moses] said: “Let the beloved of YHVH rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one YHVH loves rests between his shoulders.”

 

Simeon:

Gen 49:5-7 ‘[Jacob said] “Simeon and Levi are brothers – their swords are weapons of violence. Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased. Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel.”



   
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