Jacob's Sons Covenants

Jacob fathers 12 sons. Those sons also participate in Abraham's covenant but they do not all claim the entire covenant. Certain pieces of the covenant move to certain sons. When we eventually do find each tribe, those tribes will be holding certain national components of Abraham's covenant. This article explores which promises land on which sons.

12 Sons of Jacob

While Jacob had been in Padan Aram he had 11 of his 12 sons. The last son, Benjamin, would be born on the way home, at the place today marked by Rachael's tomb between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

There is much we could say about this family and the sons, but in this section we are tracking the promises and covenant components that were given to Abraham and passed to his sons. So, we defer from exploring the other interesting stories about these men.

Israel's favorite son, Joseph, would be sold into slavery in Egypt by his 10 older brothers. While in Egypt, he becomes Prime Minister of the country, second only to Pharaoh, and in that office is given a wife. By her, he has two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. When Jacob finally gets around to blessing each of his sons, he will include these two sons as 13th and 14th sons, bringing the total number of names which make up any list of names of the tribes to 14. 14 total tribes.

As background, be aware: The tribes are usually listed as 12 not 14. But, whenever the 12 tribal names are listed, some set of the 14 names are given. The missing names giving a clue as to the purpose of the list. The normal pattern for missing tribes is that the names Levi and Joseph are omitted, and the remaining 12 names being the "landed tribes" of Israel. This general rule, though is often changed for other reasons.

A good memory peg for this is to consider than in any 14 day period two days will be days of rest, without work. Of the 14 men mentioned in this list, 2 are always omitted and they are called by "12".

The following table shows the names of each generation from Abraham to Manasseh and Ephraim. Italics are used to indicate mothers.

Generation 1 Generation 2 Generation 3 Generation 4 Generation 5
Abraham Hagar
Ishmael
Sarah
Isaac
Rebekah
Esau
Rebekah
Jacob
Leah
Reuben
Leah
Simeon
Leah
Levi
Leah
Judah
Bilhah
Dan
Bilhah
Naphtali
Zilpah
Gad
Zilpah
Asher
Leah
Issachar
Leah
Zebulun
Rachel
Joseph
Asenath
Manasseh
Asenath
Ephraim
Rachel
Benjamin

All the promises to Abraham passed on to Isaac. There were no changes at this generation since Isaac was the promised son. Similarly Abraham's promises passed from Isaac to Jacob. Not because Jacob deserved them, but because Esau despised his birthright and so God allowed Jacob to purchase that birthright and to steal Esau's blessing.

By the time of the sons of Jacob, though, there are 14 names which will be getting the promises to Abraham, and they do not just pass to the next generation. They split apart landing on various members of the family. Members who will become ancient tribes, and later, modern nations.

Note that there was a 5th generation under the other brothers but for the purposes of covenant making and eventual tribal and national fulfillment, those other sons do not matter. Indeed, Joseph was told that if he had further sons they were to be reconciled under their brothers Manasseh and Ephraim.

For our purposes here we are going to now shorten the list and only look at the 4th and 5th generations from Abraham. What we want to know is what promises, which are really covenant components, land on which of the tribes.

Split Promises to the 12 Sons of Israel

The promises to Abraham, which to this generation where on individual men, now start to spread out. Remember, the promise had been to turn this family into a group of nations, and that requires the separation of the family into multiple, competing groups. The promises, and the tribes through which they will fulfill will now spread out as God starts working his people towards their fulfillment.

By the end of the Book of Genesis, we find the promises explicitly spread out amount the patriarchs. This is our first glimpse at who will eventually inherit each promise. The following table quickly summarizes these promises with their essential details. When we return to each tribe in detail we will look at these promises more fully.

As you look through the following table, pay careful attention to two important tribes, Judah and Joseph. These two are the only ones with significant promises landing on them. Joseph gets the longest portion, and Judah a close second. The other tribes get what I like to call "fortune cookie" promises, not usually anything significant. Two, Simeon and Levi are down right cursed, being told they will be dispursed into the other tribes.

Generation 4 Generation 5 Promise
Leah
Reuben
...you will no longer excel...[1]
Leah
Simeon
...scatter them in Jacob and disperse in Israel.[2]
Leah
Levi
Leah
Judah
...scepter will not depart...until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.[3]
Bilhah
Dan
...will provide justice for his people...[4]
Bilhah
Naphtali
...a doe set free...[5]
Zilpah
Gad
...attacked by raiders...[6]
Zilpah
Asher
...food will be rich.[7]
Leah
Issachar
...submit to forced labor.[8]
Leah
Zebulun
...haven for ships.[9]
Rachel
Joseph
Asenath
Manasseh
...become a people, become great.[10]
Asenath
Ephraim
...greater and a group of nations.[11]
Rachel
Benjamin
...devours the pray...divides the plunder.[12]

This list of promises is given to these men after they have gone down to Egypt. Jacob is on his death bed and it is time to tell his sons what will befall them later, when God's promises have reached their full fulfillment. As we will be demonstrating clearly here shortly, these promises focus their attention on what will have happened to the nations they are starting, in the years before the end of the age. These are all end-times promises.

The tribes themselves, called families until later, will keep more or less to themselves, and at the time of the Exodus from Egypt, will number something like 2,000,000 souls. At that time, the counting of a census is really an enumeration of the population in order to find men old enough to serve in the army, so the census counts conducted at that part of the age are actually of men, in their 20th year or older, who can serve in the army. We do not know for sure how many other people were in the population at the time, but we can assume a wife for each man, and children. This pushes our estimates for the total population towards the 2,000,000 mark.

When Moses surveyed this massive crowd, one he could number, he proceeded to pronounce a blessing on the people. May you increase "a thousand fold" from what had left Egypt. This thousand fold increase suggests that this party, and the nations promised to some of these brothers, would encompass something like 2,000,000,000 people. This number is captured primarily in the community of nations promised to Ephraim.

At this point it should be obvious to even the most clueless reader that these promises do not exclusively fulfill in the people group we today call the Jews. They must include someone else.



1. Genesis 49:4
2. Genesis 49:7
3. Genesis 49:10
4. Genesis 49:16
5. Genesis 49:21
6. Genesis 49:19
7. Genesis 49:20
8. Genesis 49:15
9. Genesis 49:13
10. Genesis 48:19
11. Genesis 48:19
12. Genesis 49:27