Why Are the Twelve Tribes of Israel Listed Differently?


Supposed contradiction and verses: The 12 tribes of Israel are different from Jacob’s (Israel’s) sons.

Jacob’s Sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, & Benjamin.  They are listed in Genesis 49:3-27.

First listing of tribes: Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Benjamin, Ephraim, & Manasseh. This list is found throughout the bible when the tribes are listed in places such as Numbers 1:5-16, Numbers 13:4-15, Deuteronomy 33:6-29.

Final listing of tribes: Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Benjamin, Levi, Dan, & Manasseh. This list is found in Revelation 7:4-8.


   Jacob’s sons are plainly listed in Genesis. There is no mistake about it. They are the basis from which the nation of Israel is derived. So why in the Old Testament is there a difference in the listing? The tribe of Levi, and the tribe of Joseph are not listed, yet Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh are. First we will understand about Levi, and then move on to Joseph.

   The tribe of Levi was the tribe that the priests were set aside to come from. As such, parts of cities in the land of Israel were set aside for them so that they could be provided for. Their allotment was the temple, which was what their job was as well as ministering to the people of the land. As such, they would not be listed in the armies, nor have land stakes since they would be provided for. They are listed in Ezekiel 48:1-29 with the 12 tribes for this exact reason, and it shows their land is set apart as a district for them.

   That shows why Levi is not listed, but what about Joseph, and why his two sons? We all remember the story of Joseph, how his brothers sold him into slavery, yet God made him mighty in Egypt. This was God’s plan to provide for Israel when the famine struck. The entire family was reunited in Egypt with Joseph. Because of this, Jacob made a special blessing upon Joseph’s two sons.

Genesis 48:5

And now thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.

   Jacob made them equal as two of his sons, and not just any two, but as of the first and second born. Thus, with the tribe of Levi removed for its purpose, Jospeh placed two spots with his sons. This is where we get all the listings of the tribes in the Old Testament?

   Why is the list in Revelation different? Dan and Ephraim are removed, and Joseph and Levi are now listed. Dan and Ephraim are removed from this final show of the twelve tribes, this final blessing, due to their fall into idolatry and curse from it (Judges 18:30 & Hosea 4:17). That leaves two places. Joseph would be included since he was an actual son of Jacob as well as to represent those of the tribe of Ephraim that did not fall into idolatry. Levi is now included because their job as a priest is over. Jesus Christ is our high priest, after the order of Melchisedec (Hebrews 5:5-10).

There is no contradiction!

In His Grace,

            Mike Harris


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