Sons, tribes, kingdoms. The 12 tribes, southern tribes, northern tribes … It can be confusing. So who are the Tribes of Judah, and was Judah a person, a tribe or a kingdom?”
The equally confusing answer is: Yes. Judah is all three. Judah, son of Jacob, founded the tribe of Judah, which in turn become the name of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, comprised of two family lines or the Tribes of Judah.
Let’s back up.
Jacob –son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham – fathered 12 sons, including Judah. God later changed Jacob’s name to Israel (Genesis 32:25‒32), and the descendants of his sons became known as the 12 Tribes of Israel.
The tribes lived as a united nation through the reign of King David’s son, Solomon. After Solomon died, the Israelites divided into two separate kingdoms, each with its own king.
The Southern Kingdom was called Judah and included the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The Northern Kingdom was called Israel and comprised the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, Manasseh, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, Dan, Asher, Naphtali and Gad.
In 722 B.C.E., Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, either taking captive or driving out members of the 10 Tribes. Although there are other terms used, this is commonly referred to as the Assyrian exile. Some accounts say that the 10 Tribes, at this time, were “lost to history.” In reality, they were scattered throughout the known world, including the significant number who settled in the Northern Kingdom.
Then, in approximately 586 B.C.E, the Southern Kingdom fell to Babylon. The Temple was destroyed, and the Tribes of Judah were removed from the Land, largely to Babylon. Around 445 B.C.E., Nehemiah led a remnant of the Jewish people back to Jerusalem and rebuilt its walls and gates.
Then, more than 500 years later after the time of Yeshua, in 70 C.E., the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and, again, Jewish people scattered into the world at large. While all historical occurrences that caused dispersals of the chosen people – even to modern times – are referred to as general diaspora, this specific event is called “the Diaspora.”
Before the Assyrian invasion of Israel, some from the Northern Tribes had migrated to the Southern Kingdom and joined the Tribes of Judah. This remnant was eventually taken captive or scattered along with the Southern Tribes.
God promised the Jewish people that He would make the two nations one again and bring them back into the Land of Israel. In 1948, He fulfilled this prophecy when Israel was reborn as a single nation (Ezekiel 37:15‒17, 21‒22). Many Jewish people, however, remain scattered throughout the world.
Judah and Benjamin – the linked brothers
Judah was Jacob’s fourth son, born to Leah. Benjamin was the youngest, and his mother, Rachel, died moments after he was born.
When the families of Israel suffered a great famine, Judah promised his father that he would protect Benjamin on the journey to Egypt for grain. When Joseph threatened to keep Benjamin as a slave for stealing the planted silver cup, Judah pleaded to be held instead so the youngest brother could return to their father.
After Joshua led the Israelites in conquering the Promised Land, the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin settled near each other. Benjamin’s descendants took up residence in a small area northwest of the Dead Sea. Judah’s large territory was south of Benjamin’s, west of the Dead Sea, and included Jerusalem.
Tribe of Benjamin history
Benjamin’s was the smaller of the two Tribes of Judah and the least of the 12 Tribes as well. When Jacob neared his death, he pronounced blessings on each of his sons. He declared Benjamin a “ravening wolf devouring spoils and dividing plunder” – a fighter and warrior (Genesis 49:27).
Ehud, a Benjamite in the period of the judges, was a mighty warrior who freed Israel from the Moabites when he rallied the people to take control of the Jordan River’s crossings and strike down the men of Moab. With this, Ehud won 80 years of peace for Israel (Judges 3:12‒20).
Saul, Israel’s first king, was from the Tribe of Benjamin (1 Samuel 9:15‒27), as were Mordecai and Esther (Esther 2:5‒7) and the apostle Paul (Romans 11:1).
Tribe of Judah history
Judah was considered the foremost of the 12 Tribes of Israel. Jacob’s blessing on Judah identified his family as the royal line that would rule Israel eternally.
“The scepter will not pass from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs will come. To him will be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:10).
This Messianic prophecy declares that the Messiah would come from Judah’s line. Yeshua (Jesus), who descended from the tribe of kings through David and Solomon, fulfilled this prophecy, being the King of Kings who will reign forever.
Jacob’s blessing also referred to Judah as a lion’s cub (Genesis 49:9). This is the origin of one of Yeshua’s names; in Revelation 5:5, He is called the Lion of Judah.
Where are the Tribes of Judah today?
Ancient conquests by Assyria, Babylon and Rome dispersed Jewish people from their Land, and intense persecution in the following centuries scattered the Jewish people further. Today, members of the Tribes of Judah and Israel reside all around the world. Jewish populations live on every major continent and have been found in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mexico, South America, China, India, Somaliland, Afghanistan, Nigeria and beyond.