The Tribes Of Israel
by Wayne Blank
God changed Jacob's name to Israel. From this one man came the nation (family) of Israel.
Israel had twelve sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin. From the descendants of these twelve sons of Israel came the twelve tribes of Israel.
The tribe of Levi formed the priesthood (see Levites) and were effectively dispersed throughout the other eleven tribes. Moses, Aaron, and John The Baptist are some of the best known members of the tribe of Levi. Two of Israel's grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph, were designated as individual tribes to bring the number back to twelve.
The most famous of the tribes of Israel is of course Judah. From Judah's descendants came the "Jews." King David descended from Judah, as did Jesus Christ much later. It is important to note that while all Jews are Israelites, not all Israelites are Jews. See The Chosen People.
After the death of David's son Solomon, the Israelites split into two kingdoms. Judah and Benjamin formed the southern kingdom of "Judah" with their capital at Jerusalem, while the other ten tribes formed the northern kingdom of "Israel" with their capital at Samaria. From time to time Judah and Israel actually fought wars against each other! See Jews At War With Israel.
The northern kingdom of Israel was conquered and taken away by the Assyrians (see Ancient Empires - Assyria) in the eighth century B.C. They effectively disappeared from history and became known as the "Lost Ten Tribes" of Israel. Many millions of their descendants exist today in many parts of the world, but very few have any idea of their origin. Despite their various modern-day political "nationalities," they are however, as far as The Bible is concerned, still all Israelites. The knowledge of who they are is vital to the understanding of Prophecy!
The southern kingdom of Judah was also conquered and transported away, by the Babylonians (see Why Babylon? and King Nebuchadnezzar), about two centuries after the northern kingdom. However, after the Babylonians were themselves conquered by the Persians (see Ancient Empires - Persia), the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem where they were again conquered in turn by the Greeks (see Ancient Empires - Greece) and Romans (see Ancient Empires - Rome). The Jews did however manage to keep their hold on Jerusalem, on and off, right to the present day.
Fact Finder: Jacob/Israel also had a daughter. What was her name?