MEANING: “SEE, A SON!”
SYMBOL: WATER (OR MANDRAKE PLANT: GEN 30:14)
STONE/COLOR: TURQUOISE (OR EMERALD)/GREENISH-BLUE
FAMILY: FIRST SON OF JACOB, BORN TO LEAH
SIZE: First Census 46,500. Second Census: 43,730
LOCATION: The tribe settled outside the Promised Land, east of the Jordan River in rich pasture lands suitable for their large herds and flocks (Num 32:1). Included Mt. Nebo form which Moses viewed the Promise Land.
JACOB’S BLESSINGS: Jacob called his firstborn “my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power.” But Reuben had relations with Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaiden (Gen 35:22), so Jacob rebuked him saying that he is “unstable as water” and he will “no longer excel” (Gen 49:3-4 NKJV).
MOSES’ BLESSING: “Let Reuben live and not die, nor his people be few” (Deut 33:6).
NOTABLE: Reuben intervened on behalf of Joseph to save him from being killed by his brothers. Nevertheless, when Reuben retuned, he discovered that his brothers had sold Joseph to slave traders (Gen 37).
The tribe of Reuben kept their word by helping the other tribes conquer the Promised Land, though they themselves settled outside the land (Num 32; Josh 1:12-18). Yet at other times, they seemed indecisive and failed to assist in battle (Judg 5:15-17).
MEANING: “Hearing” -God has heard
SYMBOL: Gate, like the gate of Shechem (or a sword)
STONE/COLOR: Lapis Iazuli (or sapphire)/Blue
FAMILY: Second son of Jacob born to Leah.
SIZE: First Census: 59,300. Second Census: 22,200. Between the two censuses-a span of 40 years-the size of the tribe significantly decreased. Though it’s not clear why, it’s possible that they suffered more severely than the other tribes from the plagues recorded in the book of Numbers (See Num 25).
LOCATION: Enclave of land in Judah, likely with scattered settlements in Judah included Beersheba.
JACOB’S BLESSINGS: Along with his brother Levi, Simeon attacked the people of the city of Shechem to avenge the assault on his sister Dinah (Gen 34:24-31). Jacob rebuked Levi and Simeon saying, “their swords are weapons of violence. Let me not enter their council . . . for they have killed men in their anger. . . I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel” (Gen 49:5-7).
MOSES’ BLESSINGS: Moses does not mention the tribe of Simeon.
NOTABLE: When Jacob’s sons went to Egypt to buy food during a famine, Joseph imprisoned Simeon as a guarantee that Benjamin, their youngest brother, would be brought to Joseph (Gen 42-43).
The tribe was known for being shepherds. Often migrating in search of pasturelands for their flocks, possibly a fulfillment of Jacob’s prophecy that Simeon will be scattered and dispersed (1 Chron 4:24-43).
MEANING: “Attached” Leah believed that having given birth to another son, Jacob would become attached to her.
SYMBOL: Breastplate of the high priest
STONE/COLOR: Not represented on the breastplate/Often associated with the tabernacle colors: gold, purple, blue, and red.
FAMILY: Third son of Jacob, born to Leah.
SIZE: First Census: Not counted with the other tribes because they were caretakers of the tabernacle, not fighting men. They were counted separately and numbered 22,000. Second Census: 23,000.
LOCATION: Joshua gave them 48 towns throughout the Promised Land in which to live and serve as ministers of the law among the tribes.
JACOB’S BLESSINGS: Along with his brother Simeon, Levi attacked the people of the city of Shechem to avenge the assault on his sister Dinah (Gen 34:24-31). Jacob rebuked them for the attack (Gen 49:5-7).
MOSES’S BLESSINGS: “Bless all his skills, Lord, and be pleased with the work of his hands” (Deut 33:11).
NOTALBLE: The priests were chosen from the tribe of Levi. Levites who were not chosen to be priests, however, still participated in caretaking of the tabernacle (Num 3;5-10). Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest wore the breastplate with the precious stones and entered the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle. He sprinkled a sacrificed animal’s blood on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant to atone for the people’s sins (Lev 16). The Levites sided with the Southern Kingdom of Judah and migrated to Jerusalem after the Northern Kingdom engaged in idol worship and rejected the Levites as priest (2 Chron 11:13-17). When the Jews returned to the land after exile, Ezra had to send a special delegation to persuade some of the Levites to return (Ezra 8:15-36). Moses, Aaron (the first high priest), Miriam, Ezra, Ezekiel, John the Baptist, and Barnabas were from the tribe of Levi.