Tribes of Israel – A timeline

This is a new timeline of Jacob and Joseph. I now understand how hard it is to make an accurate line from verb descriptions. To do this I started at the end (Jacob’s life) and moved to Joseph’s birth and and the twenty years of service; transition/travel times also add error into my dates. The numbers surprised me, I have always thought that Jacob left around forty years of age because Esau’s age is mentioned when he married (Genesis 26: 34) and the text moves right to Isaac being tricked and Jacob leaving. My first timeline is wrong, especially when it comes to Isaac and Jacob and Isaac’s death. So please except my “close” and use it that way. I used Excel and took screen shots to get my graphics so you will need to double click on them to view them.




The Tribes of Israel – How Old Were These Guys

If you have watched movies about the Old Testament you may have the idea that the sons of Jacob must have been “old” just because of Jacob’s age. Now Jacob did have some age on him and the boys are always pictured as “older.”

Lets put a time line together.

Jacob works seven years and gets Leah instead of Rachael. Now he had to wait a week before he got her and then he worked off the other seven years. So let’s put Reuben being born about year 8 into the 20 years Jacob stayed with Laban. The first four children came one after another so when they left Laban to go back to Canaan that would make

  • 1 Reuben* 12 years old and maybe 14 or 15 when they got to Shechem
  • 2 Simeon – 11
  • 3 Levi – 10
  • 4 Judah – 9
  • 5 Dan* – 8 or 9
  • 6 Naphtali – one year younger than Dan
  • 7 Gad* – possible 8
  • 8 Asher – one year younger than Gad – 7
  • 9 Issachar – possibly 7
  • 10 Zebulun – 6
  • 11 Dinah – 5
  • 12 Joseph*  – I cannot find a reference for this but I always think he is two when they leave.
  • 13 Benjamin – was not born until they had been Canaan for a while. (Genesis 35)

Let’s give them a two-year trip back to Canaan. We don’t know how long Jacob camped/owned land in Shechem before Dinah got violated but lets add eight years to everyone’s age making Dinah thirteen and Simeon (19 yrs.) and Levi (18 yrs.) when they killed all the males in Shechem. It may have been longer so they would have been older but we don’t know.

The next definite age we have is Joseph at seventeen in Genesis 37.  So adding fifteen years to everyone makes Reuben twenty-seven when Joseph was sold. (He slept with Bilhah before this in Genesis 35.) That would make Judah twenty-five/six years old when he moved out in Genesis 38. From here we will need to use Joseph and seven good and bad years to reference ages.

Joseph was thirty when he became Governor of Egypt; that will make Reuben forty and Judah thirty-eight years old. Joseph reveals himself to his brothers in Genesis 45 and says there are five years of famine left so that is another nine years making Joseph 39, Reuben 49 and Judah 47.

Remember, Judah marries raises three sons and is tricked by his daughter-law in this time period. Some of this drama very possibly was taking place right around the trips to Egypt. (Reuben had two sons at this time – Genesis 42:37.)

Jacob died at 147 years old (Genesis 47:9 and 28). Honestly, I thought that Jacob was forty when he left for Paddan-aram but after reading (Genesis 26 -28) it several times all it says was that Esau married at 40 and then Isaac was old. I did a Patriarch timeline and will have to up-date it soon.

The Tribes of Israel and Shechem

Shechem in Genesis 33 and 34 is a family and a town. In my tribe series, its importance is that it is the places where Simeon and Levi incur their father’s wrath by killing all the men of Shechem. It is also where Jacob built an altar and bought a piece of land that he later gave to Joseph.

After Joshua brought the children into the Promised Land they were instructed in Deuteronomy 27 to have some tribes stand on Mount Gerizim and pronounce blessings for Israel and the other tribes to stand on Mount Ebal to pronounce curses.

The land went to Ephraim in the allotment and Shechem became a city of refuge as stated in Joshua 17:17.

We see it again in Judges 9 being associated with Abimelech.

When the Northern Kingdom went into exile the Samaritans were brought in to occupy the land.  They accepted some of the beliefs of Israel; one thing they did was to build a shrine on Mt. Gerizim to offer sacrifices. Years later in John 4 Jesus meet the women at the well in a town of Sychar, which is believed to be Shechem. If you remember this meeting was at Jacob’s well.

Tribes of Israel – Judah

Judah is the fourth son of Jacob and Leah and became the family leader. His name means “praise” because Leah decided to praise God at the birth of this son. The tension in this family that is reflected in the names of the sons is astonishing; the lesson here is don’t marry sisters:-)

His first recorded act after being tapped to be family leader was to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites; so that they would profit from the loss of a brother. I read the story in chapter 38 as occurring quickly but Er, the first born, would have been only thirteen when Joseph became ruler of Egypt so the incident with Tamar must have been around the beginning of the famine. (a movie made an interesting point that he moved out to get away from a grieving Jacob) Remember Tamar is a grandmother of Jesus which is why this part is included in Scripture. He does seem to take a positive lead of the family in chapter 43 when he repeats the deal Reuben tried to make with Joseph. He is the main spokesman in chapter 44:16 and Jacob sent him for directions in 46:28.

Jacob at the end of Genesis leaves this blessing for Judah: Genesis 49:“Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you.
You are a lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.
11 He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. 12 His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.

That blessing pretty well covers everything: family leadership, authority over his enemies, personal wealth and good looks.

The two main people from Judah in the Exodus story are Bezalel, the artist, found in Exodus 35:30 and Caleb, the faithful spy, first mentioned in Numbers 13:6. Both of these men are again mentioned in 1 Chronicles 2 where the clans of Judah and the family of Jesse, David’s father, and David’s sons are discussed. This family history goes to chapter 4:23 and covers Jabez and his pray. It also covers the rulers after the Exile. This family tree is repeated again in Matthew 1, which is Joseph’s line, and again in Luke 3:23, which is Mary’s family line.

Deuteronomy 33:And this he (Moses) said about Judah: “Hear, O Lord, the cry of Judah; bring him to his people. With his own hands he defends his cause.
Oh, be his help against his foes!”

Jesus is from Judah through David’s son Nathan, brother of Solomon. In one sense much of the Old Testament is about that family; 1 & 2 Samuel, much of 1 Chronicles and the books of the Kings and 2 Chronicles covers that family. While the prophets spend many of their words talking about Jesus and His coming.

Pictures are from


Now that we are getting things “ironed out” we can go on to the “valuable” metals.

Copper, like iron, is native to Israel and is an interesting and useful metal.  It is in the same chemical family as silver and gold.  Copper was used in making every day items and it was used in the making of the Tabernacle.  Pots, forks, utensils, fire grates, and bases for the tent and curtain poles were some of the items that were made of copper in the Tabernacle.  In the Bible, the same word is used for copper and bronze/brass.  Bronze is copper with tin or lead added.  So we know alloys and metallurgy appeared very early in Israel’s history.

The “copper” in our lives maybe natural character traits and habits, but these personal qualities may be what God wants to use in developing our ministry.  Our “copper” may have fears and other peoples expectations added to it just as bronze is combined with tin or lead.  I have found that these additions may be either good or bad.  In Genesis 37 we read of the dreams God gave Joseph.  Joseph had natural qualities that God wanted to use, but the way the story plays out it would seem that he had to add patience and humility and his pride and arrogance had to be removed before his “copper” was ready for use before God and man.

See “iron” in part three.…are-you-part-3