All Eyes on Israel
Chapter 2 - Is Modern Israel the Israel of Promise?
Page 4 - The 12 Tribes of Israel
(Go Back to Page 3 -
The Origin of the Jews)
The 12 Tribes of Israel originated from Jacob (or Israel) who had twelve sons - a good start if you are to be the ancestor of a nation. One of those sons was a dreamer; his name was Joseph. He was sold into slavery into Egypt. And we know the story of how he gained favour and even a high position in Egypt, of how he was reconciled to his brothers and how finally Jacob or Israel and all his family came to live in Egypt. Generations later, their situation had changed and they were enslaved by the Egyptians. God chose Moses to lead them out of slavery and told him:
"Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt." (Exo 3:10)
Then he was instructed on how to perform this task and he was told:
"And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn:" (Exo 4:22)
God called the descendents of Jacob or Israel, "the children of Israel" - and they were Jacob's literal descendents. It was afterwards shortened it to just "Israel." The name "Israel" from that point on applied not just to the man Jacob, but to all of his descendents collectively. It was used many times as such in the remainder of the Old and New Testaments. They were referred to as the 12 tribes of Israel, each tribe being composed of the family of one of Jacob's sons. And the name Jacob was frequently used to refer to the single man Jacob in order to distinguish him from Israel, the nation.
Eventually, the Israelites were rescued from Egypt with great signs and wonders. The surrounding countries would have taken notice of this and would have been aware of their claim to be God's chosen people. But Israel did not live up to the stature they should have as the people of God. As the chosen people of God they were expected to carry out an important role in God's plan for the world:
"I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles;" (Isa 42:6)
"That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations." (Psa 67:2)
Despite their high calling, much of the rest of the Old Testament is full of accounts of their turning from God and to the ways of the world they lived in. After the first three kings of the new nation - Saul, David and Solomon - Israel was divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The southern kingdom was made up primarily of the tribe of Judah along with the much smaller tribe of Benjamin. The northern kingdom, named Israel, was eventually carried off into captivity by the country of Assyria. The southern kingdom, commonly referred to as "Judah" after its predominate tribe, continued for a couple more generations until they were carried off into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.