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Family, Clan, Tribe, Nation

"Now The Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves." (Genesis 12:1-3 RSV)

Earth Although the modern-day definition of nation is commonly that of a politically organized body of people under a single government (i.e. a country), the original meaning of nation in Bible History was a grouping of related people. Beginning with a single individual (such as shown in the above example with Abraham - see also Hebrew), a nation was composed of tribes, which were composed of clans, which were composed of families.


A clan was a kinship group that was composed of more than a single family. Not always clearly defined, and with some variation in organization, clans are translated as "divisions," "kindred," "family," and sometimes even "tribe." Clans were however generally the subgroups of tribes, and were composed of families.

"Moses and Aaron took these men whose names had been given, and they called the whole community together on the first day of the second month. The people indicated their ancestry by their clans and families, and the men twenty years old or more were listed by name, one by one, as The Lord commanded Moses. And so he counted them in the Desert of Sinai." (Numbers 1:17-19 NIV)


Jacob had twelve sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin. God changed Jacob's name to Israel. From the descendants of these twelve sons of Israel came the Israelites, the nation of Israel.

Jacob had 2 wives, Rachel and Leah (who were sisters, and first-cousins of Jacob), and 2 concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah, an apparently common and accepted practice of the day. Rachel and Leah did not object to the other two women because it was their idea to have more children with them (Genesis 30:3,9).

  • Rachel - Jacob's favorite wife. She died while giving birth to Benjamin and is buried at Bethlehem. Her children were Joseph and Benjamin.

    • Joseph - 11th-born overall. Definitely his father's favorite son, from his favorite wife, it was Joseph who was sold for slavery into Egypt by his jealous brothers (see Coat Of Many Colors). There, with God's help, he rose to become the highest official of the Pharaoh, saving the nation from the famine that was prophesied. When the rest of Jacob's family moved to Egypt to escape the famine, it was Joseph who had made their survival possible (they would remain in Egypt 400 years, eventually becoming slaves until the Exodus). While there, Joseph had 2 sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were themselves made into individual tribes of Israel to bring the number back to 12 - the priestly tribe of Levi was not counted separately, but was absorbed among the other tribes.

      • Ephraim - Younger than Manasseh, he was never the less ranked higher in the family structure (Genesis 48:19). His descendants were to become a great future group of nations.

      • Manasseh - 1st-born of Joseph, he was prophesied to become a great single nation.

    • Benjamin - The youngest of the 12 sons. Rachel died while giving him birth. The apostle Paul (see On The Road To Damascus), who wrote much of the New Testament, is descended from Benjamin.

  • Leah - It seems that Jacob did not have a great deal of love for her, perhaps because she became his wife by deception (Genesis 29:16-30). Never the less, Leah is the mother of the greatest number of the Tribes of Israel, and is today buried with Jacob (along with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah) in the high-tension area of The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Her children are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Israel's only recorded daughter, Dinah.

    • Reuben - 1st-born overall. He was disqualified from his position as eldest son when he committed an act of sexual immorality with Jacob's concubine Bilhah (Genesis 35:22).

    • Simeon - 2nd-born overall.

    • Levi - 3rd-born overall. From Levi came the Levites who were dedicated to God's service. As such, they were later not counted as a separate tribe. Moses and Aaron and John The Baptist were descended from Levi.

    • Judah - 4th-born overall. Perhaps the most famous of Jacob's sons, it was from Judah that the Jews are descended. Jesus Christ (see also The Chosen People), and most Christians in the earliest days of the church, were descended from Judah. A vital element for understanding Bible Prophecy is that while all Jews are Israelites, not all Israelites are Jews (just the same as all Belgians are Europeans, but not all Europeans are Belgians). There are many millions of people around the world today who are Israelites, but are not Jews.

    • Issachar - 9th-born overall.

    • Zebulun - 10th-born overall.

    • Dinah - Israel's only daughter.

  • Bilhah - Rachel's maid, it was Rachel's idea that Jacob have children with her (Genesis 30:3-6). Her children were Dan and Naphtali.

    • Dan - 5th-born overall.

    • Naphtali - 6th-born overall.

  • Zilpah - Leah's maid, it was Leah's idea that Jacob have children with her (Genesis 30:9). Her children were Gad and Asher.

    • Gad - 7th-born overall.

    • Asher - 8th-born overall.

Fact Finder: When he knew that he was dying, did Jacob specifically request that he be taken out from Egypt and buried in the family tomb in Hebron?
Genesis 49:29-33

This Week's Bible Quiz

1. Which of the sons of Israel had twin sons with his widowed daughter-in-law?

2. What was the name of the widowed daughter-in-law in question 1?

3. What was Isaac's wife's name?

4. Who were the twin sons of Isaac?

5. Were Isaac's twin sons identical or fraternal twins?

6. Which of Isaac's twin sons had red hair?

7. Which of Isaac's twin sons was a hunter?

8. Which of Isaac's twin sons was a quiet man who remained at home?

9. Which son did Isaac favor?

10. Which son did Isaac's wife favor?

For the answers to this April 17 2001 quiz, see the Bible Quiz Answers Page

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