All of the tribes were named after the sons of Jacob and the two sons of Joseph. They are, in succession:

  • Ruben
  • Simeon
  • Levi
  • Judah
  • Dan
  • Naphtali
  • Gad
  • Asher
  • Issachar
  • Zebulun
  • Joseph
  • Benjamin
  • Manasseh
  • Ephraim

The last two were sons of Joseph. Joseph, per se, was not counted in this particular lineup, with his two sons having taken his place.

The Meaning of the Names

In a sense, all of these sons were types of Christ and, as well, what types the believer ought to be. They are as follows:

  • Ruben – The name actually means “See, a son.” It refers to Christ in the incarnation, born of woman into the world. It also refers to every person who is born into the world.
  • Simeon – His name means “Hearing.” The Son, Our Lord, heard only The Father. As believers, as quickly as we are old enough to comprehend anything, we are to “hear” the Gospel.
  • Levi – Levi means “Joined,” and it refers to Christ, Who joined the human race in order to redeem man. As it regards the believer, after we hear the Gospel, we are to “join” the side of The Lord.
  • Judah – The name of Judah means “Praise.” Jesus was a peon of praise to God the Father. As believers, we, as well, are to praise The Lord and do so constantly.

So, in these four sons we have a symbol of the entirety of the plan of redemption. The “son” is born; it “hears” the Gospel and is “joined” to The Lord, and it “praises” The Lord. However, as we shall see, it doesn’t end there.

  • Dan – This name means “Judging.” Jesus Christ is the Great Judge and has taken the judgement due us. Believers will, one day, judge angels.
  • Naphtali – His name means “Wrestling.” Jesus has “wrestled” the powers of darkness all on our behalf and has defeated the foe. As believers, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers…”
  • Gad – Gad means “Good fortune.” Jesus Christ is our “good fortune.” Consequently, every believer has “good fortune.”
  • Asher – His name means “Happy.” Jesus Christ is the Joy of The Lord, and every believer is happy in Christ.
  • Issachar – His name means “Reward.” Jesus is the reward given by The Father to the entirety of the world. To be sure, every believer constantly receives “rewards” as a result of living for The Lord.
  • Zebulun – His name means “Dwelling.” Jesus will dwell with believers forever, and believers will dwell with Jesus forever.
  • Joseph – Joseph’s name means “Adding.” Jesus has “added” all believers to the Kingdom. This is our privilege.
  • Benjamin – Benjamin means “A strong right hand.” Jesus is The Father’s “strong right hand” and, thereby, makes believers the same.
  • Manasseh – His name means to “Forget.” The Lord forgets all of our sins, and we should forget them as well.
  • Ephraim – His name means “Fruitful in the land of my affliction.” Jesus is fruitful in all things, and He alone makes us fruitful.

With Joseph stepping aside and Manasseh and Ephraim, Joseph’s sons, taking his place, we now have 13 tribes. Levi, being the priestly tribe, is looked at differently. So, the other twelve will now make up the twelve tribes of Israel. That is, these tribes springing from the loins of these brothers. I might quickly add, these brothers, who sold Joseph as a slave into Egypt, were changed and dramatically so. In other words, they are not the men they used to be. The Lord can change people, and The Lord alone can change people.

Why Was Judah Chosen as The Tribe Through Which the Messiah Would Come?

Ruben was the firstborn and by all rights, should have had the birthright, which would have included the Messiah coming from that tribe, but it was not to be. Why? The Scripture says, “And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine: and Israel heard it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve: (with this sin, Ruben, the firstborn, forfeited, as stated, the birthright; Jesus would not be born through that line but, rather, through the tribe of Judah)” (Genesis 35:22). That’s the reason that Ruben was cut out. Actually, he committed incest, which, even though The Lord forgave him, did forfeit his position. The next two sons born into the family were “Simeon” and “Levi.” They forfeited their position when they slaughtered all the men of Shechem because they had defiled their sister, Dinah. The Scripture says, “And it came to pass on the third day, when they were sore, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brethren, took each man his sword, and came upon the city boldly, and slew all the males” (Genesis 34:25).


Now, we come to Judah, the fourth in the line. Through him, the Son of David would be born, and yet, as we shall see, Judah was not a paragon of righteousness. First of all, we find Judah marrying a Canaanite, which was in opposition to the Word of God. The Scripture says, “And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her (Judah marrying a Canaanite sinned with his eyes open, for he must have known the will of God in that manner [Genesis 24:3; 26:35; 27:46; 28:1])” (Genesis 38:2). Next, we find Judah taking “…a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar” (Genesis 38:6). This 38th chapter of Genesis is placed here in order to show the connection between Christ and His predecessor, Judah. Chapter 1 of Matthew shows how truly Christ made Himself of no reputation by being born a member of the tribe of Judah. He humbled Himself, for in that genealogy, the names “Tamar” and “Bathsheba” appear. However, He, in no wise, inherited any taint of sin, for He was conceived of The Holy Spirit and though born of a woman, was wholly free from moral corruption. We now find that the two sons of Judah were wicked before The Lord and that The Lord killed them (Genesis 38:7-10). This left Tamar as a widow. By all rights, she was to marry the third son of Judah, but Judah made no move to bring together this union. The balance of this 38th chapter of Genesis proclaims Tamar painting herself to be a harlot, which she wasn’t, all done to entice her father-in-law, Judah. The upshot was, she became pregnant by him; however, he did not recognize her, thinking she was a harlot (Genesis 38:13-26).


The conduct of Tamar, though in every way reprehensible, is not to be attributed to mere lust or an inordinate desire for children but was, most likely, to assert her right to a place among the ancestresses of the patriarch family. We find from all of this that God will show that His choice is of grace and not of merit and that Christ came into the world to save sinners, even the chiefest of sinners, and is not ashamed, upon their repentance, to be allied to them. And yet, The Lord allowed Judah to remain in the lineage, and from that lineage, the Son of the Living God was born. The only explanation we can give is that the sins of Judah, as bad as they were, were not as a bad as the first three brothers. As we read this 38th chapter of Genesis, it is anything but flattering as it regards the one through whom The Lord would come to this world. Martin Luther asked why such things were placed in Scripture. He answers:

  • That no one should be self-righteous
  • That no one should despair; there is forgiveness for all who will humbly come to The Lord, with every evidence that Judah did exactly that
  • To remind us that Gentiles, by natural right, are brothers, mothers, and sisters to Our Lord; the Word of Salvation is a word for the whole world


I think it would be proper, at this juncture, to deal a little more with the first four sons of Jacob, including, of course, with Judah, as it concerns the Prophecy given to the Patriarch regarding these men and what the tribes would be. Given by The Holy Spirit, through the great Patriarch it proved to be amazingly accurate. The Scripture says, “And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days” (Genesis 49:1). This chapter forms one of the great dispensational prophecies of the Word of God. It concerns the “latter days” and the “last days.” This is the first occurrence of this expression, “the last days.” The prophecy may be thus divided:

  • Ruben, Simeon, and Levi represent the moral history of Israel up until the first advent of Christ
  • Judah, the apparition of The Messiah and His rejection
  • Zebulun and Issachar, the dispersion and subjugation of the Jews among the Gentiles
  • Dan, the appearing and kingdom of the antichrist
  • Gad, Asher, and Naphtali present the cry of anguish of the elect sons of Israel for the Second Coming of Christ
  • Joseph and Benjamin together predict the second coming in glory of Israel’s Messiah

Harken unto Israel Your Father

“Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father (in verses 1 and 2, the Holy Spirit impresses the use of both names for the patriarch, ‘Jacob’ and ‘Israel'; as the twelve sons gather in his presence, he is referred to as ‘Jacob'; however, when it refers to the prophecies that will be given, he is referred to by his princely name ‘Israel').”


“Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power (this is what Ruben should have been): Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel (no Prophet, Ruler or great man sprang out of the Tribe of Ruben); because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch (Genesis 35:22).”

Simeon and Levi

“Simeon and Levi are brethren (guilty of the same sin); instruments of cruelty are in their habitations (Genesis 34:25-29), O my soul, come not thou into their secret (secret plottings to murder the Shechemites); unto their assembly (prep for the slaughter), mine honour, be not thou united (Jacob had no part in the slaughter of the Shechemites): for in their anger they slew a man, and in their selfwill they digged down a wall (in their taking matters into their own hands instead of following The Lord, they greatly hindered the protective wall of The Lord around Jacob). Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel (the tribe of Simeon, when coming into the land of Israel several centuries into the future, would have no inheritance but in fact, would have their part in the inheritance of Judah; as well, Levi would have no inheritance at all but would have their curse turned into a blessing as they became the priestly tribe of Israel but yet, scattered over the nation, fulfilling the prophecy).”


“Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise (the name Judah means ‘Praise,’ and it is from this tribe that the Messiah would come): thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies (speaks of the great victory that Christ would win over satan and all the powers of darkness at The Cross [Colossians 2:14-15]); thy father's children shall bow down before thee (Israel will do this at the Second Coming). Judah is a lion's whelp (refers to a young lion in the power of its youth, absolutely invincible; this represented Christ in the flower of His manhood, full of The Holy Spirit, healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead, and doing great and mighty things, with every demon spirit trembling at His feet): from the prey  (the lion is always seeking the prey, never the prey seeking the lion), my son (Jesus is the Son of God), thou art gone up (means that Christ is always on the offensive): he stooped down, he couched as a lion (a rampant lion standing on his hind feet ready to pounce, which, in fact, was the emblem of the tribe of Judah), and as an old lion (referring to one ripening into its full strength and ferocity); who shall rouse him up? (Who would be so foolish as to contest the absolute invincibility of Christ?)


“The sceptre shall not depart from Judah (the ‘scepter’ is defined as ‘a staff of office and authority’, which pertains to Christ), nor a lawgiver from between his feet (refers to the fact that Judah was meant to be a guardian of the law, which they were. The temple is in Jerusalem, which is a part of the tribe of Judah, and which had to do with the law), until Shiloh come (when Jesus came, typified by the name ‘Shiloh’, Who, in fact, was and is the True Lawgiver, He fulfilled the law in totality by His life and death, thereby, satisfying all of its just demands); and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.

  • (The only way to God, the Father is through Christ, the Son [John 14:6]
  • The only way to Christ, The Son, is through The Cross [Luke 9:23-24]
  • The only way to The Cross is through an abnegation of self [Luke 14:27])


“Binding his foal unto the vine (the ‘vine’ speaks of fruit and, in fact, ‘the blood of grapes’, which speaks of what Jesus did on The Cross and the shedding of His life’s blood in order to bring forth this fruit [John 15:1]), and his ass's colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes (all of this speaks of The Cross and Jesus washing His garments in wine, i.e., ‘in blood’): His eyes shall be red with wine (His eyes ever toward The Cross), and his teeth white with milk (speaks of the righteousness of Christ; it is the righteousness which He has always had and now is made possible to us due to what He did in his sufferings, i.e., ‘the blood of grapes'  [Genesis 3:15])” (Genesis 49:2-12).

Ruth, The Great-Grandmother of David

I think this chapter would not be complete if we did not at least mention Ruth, the great-grandmother of David. She was from the land of Moab, thereby, a Moabitess. Without going into detail, the Scripture says, “Now these are the generations of Pharez: Pharez begat Hezron, And Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab, And Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon begat Salmon, And Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed, And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David” (Ruth 4:18-22). Most of the time, the genealogies given in the Bible, exactly as here, are not complete, and neither are they meant to be complete. They are merely meant to link certain individuals with others, although several times, at times, removed. We know that Jesse was the father of David, however, we don’t know for certain if Obed was the immediate father of Jesse or several times removed. Incidentally, in the Hebrew language, there is no word for grandfather, great-grandfather, grandmother, great-grandmother, etc. The men are all looked at as the “father.” We know that Rahab married Salmon (Matthew 1:5). We also know that Salmon was not the immediate father of Boaz, simply because Rahab and Salmon lived several hundreds of years before Boaz. However, we do know that Salmon was the father of Boaz several times removed. So, when these genealogies are observed, they must be observed with the idea in mind that the genealogy is not complete, and neither are they meant to be complete. As already stated, they are merely meant to link certain individuals with others, although, at times, several times removed. All of this is very important because it is an integral part of the genealogy of King David’s Great Descendant, his “Lord” and ours. In other words, it pertains to the incarnation of Christ, God becoming man in order to redeem humanity by dying on The Cross. Nothing is more important than that. I personally believe, even though it cannot be proved by the genealogies, that Ruth was actually the great-grandmother of David. Whether that is correct or not, the facts are, the faith of this woman stands out as a testimony to the grace of God. Due to that faith, she was linked with the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, and only because of her faith.

Up Calvary’s Mountain one dreadful morn

Walked Christ my Savior, weary and worn;

Facing, for sinners, death on The Cross

That He might save them from endless loss.

Father, forgive them, thus did He pray

Even while His life’s blood flowed fast away;

Praying for sinners while in such woe,

No one but Jesus ever loved so.

Oh, how I love Him, Savior and friend;

How can my praises ever find an end?

Thru years unnumbered on Heaven’s shore

My tongue shall praise Him forever more.

David was born in Bethlehem of the tribe of Judah, with that small village being its county seat, so to speak. It was only about four to five miles southwest of Jerusalem. Of course, the significance of all of this is that Jesus was of the tribe of Judah. As is obvious, He was born in Bethlehem. The question becomes, why the tribe of Judah?