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.