The Story of Jesus and Israel through the 12 Tribes

Today’s Reading: Genesis 29-31

In today’ reading, Jacob has 11 sons by his wives Leah and Rachel and their servants Zilpah and Bilhah. We need to skip ahead to Genesis 35 to see the 12th son both to Rachel. (It’s interesting that only the 12th son is born after God changes Jacob’s name to Israel.)

Knowing the meaning of names is important to reading the Bible in the language of Son, to hearing the witness of the Bible to Jesus, and to seeing Jesus in all the scripture. Let’s look at the meanings of the names of Jacob’s sons in the order they were born.

  • Rueben – to see, show, or behold a son
  • Simeon – to hear, listen
  • Levi – to accompany, to join oneself to
  • Judah – praised, celebrated
  • Dan – to plead one’s cause, to contend, to quarrel, to argue, to execute judgment
  • Naphtali – to wrestle
  • Gad – fortune
  • Asher – to consider fortunate, to call happy
  • Issachar – he will bring a reward, there will be recompense
  • Zebulun – to raise, lofty residence
  • Joesph – to increase, to add, to continue to do, to do again
  • Benjamin – son of my right hand, the highly regarded son (although Rachel, as she was dying, called him Ben-oni or the son of lament)

What’s also interesting is that Leah and Rachel spoke a sentence when each son was born. These sentences include the meaning of the name and help tell a story about Jesus and Israel. Here are the sentences.

  • Rueben – Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction, my husband will love me.
  • Simeon – Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.
  • Levi – This time my husband will be attached to me.
  • Judah – I will praise the Lord
  • Dan – God has judged me and heard my voice.
  • Naphtali – With many wrestlings I have wrestled and prevailed.
  • Gad – Good fortune has come.
  • Asher – Happy am I for women have called me happy.
  • Issachar – God has given me my wages because I gave my servant to my husband.
  • Zebulun – God has endowed me with a good endowment and now my husband will honor me.
  • Joesph – God has taken away my reproach. May the Lord add to me another son.
  • Benjamin – The son of my right hand. The highly regard son.

We should remember throughout the Old Testament Israel was pictured as God’s wife. So, we can string these sentences together to tell a story about God, Israel, and Jesus.

“The Lord has looked upon my affliction and heard that I am hated. My husband will be attached to me and I will praise the Lord. God has heard my voice and judged me. I have wrestled and prevailed. Good fortune has come. I am happy. God has given me my wages because I gave my servant. God has given me a good endowment and will honor me. God has taken away my reproach and will add to me another son, the son of the right hand, the highly regarded son.”

That fits the overall story of Israel that is laid out in the Old Testament, which makes since given that it is the birth order of the Jacob’s (Israel’s) 12 sons.

The 12 tribes are almost always listed in a different order in scripture. And, eventually there are 13 tribes as Levi is set apart as priests and Joseph’s tribe is split into Manasseh and Ephraim (a sentence is spoken over them too). Out of the 13 tribes, typically 12 are listed. But, it’s almost always a different 12 in a different order. Usually you can take the meaning of the names and the sentences spoken at the birth of the sons and form a sentence that fits the context of the story where the tribes are listed.

In Genesis 35, the family is completed by the birth of Benjamin. Israel was journeying from Bethel. They were leaving the house of God. Israel pitched their tent beyond the tower of Eder, or the tower of the great herd. Then they were reunited with Isaac (who is a type of Jesus) at Hebron, which means to join together.

The 12 sons are now listed in a different order from their birth.

  • Rueben
  • Simeon
  • Levi
  • Judah
  • Issachar
  • Zebulun
  • Joseph
  • Benjamin
  • Dan
  • Naphtali
  • Gad
  • Asher

What is the story now?

“The Lord has looked upon my affliction and heard that I am hated. My husband will be attached to me and I will praise the Lord. God has given me my wages because I gave my servant. God has given me a good endowment and will honor me. God has taken away my reproach and will add to me another son, the son of the right hand, the highly regarded son. God has heard my voice and judged me. I have wrestled and prevailed. Good fortune has come. I am happy.”

Notice how this time the giving of the son of the right hand, Jesus, is in the middle story. Here, Israel’s wrestling and prevailing is after Jesus is given. But, in the end, good fortune has come and Israel is happy.

 

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