Judges 5:17, The Twelve Tribes of Israel, part I of II

Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan. And Dan, why did he linger by the ships? Asher remained on the coast and stayed in his coves.

//As the story goes, Jacob (later named Israel) had twelve sons, and these twelve sons became the twelve tribes of Israel. Here is a list of the twelve as we usually see them:

Reuben

Judah

Naphtali

Issachar

Zebulun

Simeon

Dan

Gad

Asher

Benjamin

Ephraim

Manasseh

But something is amiss with this list. What about the other tribes the Bible tells of? Where are the Gileadites, Calebites, Kenites, Gibeonites? Today’s verse, for example, includes Gilead and asks why the tribe of Dan remained “by the ships.” Indeed, Judges 18:1 verifies that Dan had not settled at the same time as the other “eleven:”

In those days Israel had no king. And in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking a place of their own where they might settle, because they had not yet come into an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.

Dan never did quite fit in. In the book of Revelation, he is excluded from the City of God. Genesis 49:16, the blessings of the twelve sons, speaks of Dan as disconnected from the rest:

“Dan will provide justice for his people as one of the tribes of Israel.”

Is Dan a latecomer to the twelve? What about the other tribes, not listed among the sons? Indeed, the Bible lists more than twenty tribes, though never all at the same time. Is “twelve” an artificial number, though there were many more? Is the story of the twelve sons of Jacob nothing more than an attempt to present already-existent tribes as related, so as to encourage unity?

Tomorrow we’ll look at a few of the twelve individually, and see if we can uncover some clues.

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