Tribe of Gad: Symbol, History & Facts

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel had its own unique personality and role. In this lesson, we'll check out the Tribe of Gad and see how it reflected the life of its founder.

The Tribe of Gad

There are two groups of people who know the names of all the Twelve Tribes of Israel: Jews and theater geeks. The 1982 Broadway hit ''Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat'' introduced lay audiences to Jacob (progenitor of the Israelites) and his twelve sons. Thanks to this musical many people learned about Jacob's twelve sons who later became the twelve patriarchs of Israel's tribes.

The tale of Joseph (in both the Torah and the Broadway musical) showed that the twelve brothers fought amongst each other. At least one brother, however, benefitted from this. Gad was the seventh son of Jacob and the one who grew to become the greatest warrior of them all.

Gad was the seventh son of Jacob


The Twelve Tribes of Israel would forever be defined by the personalities of their founders, so we need to start by learning about Gad himself. Gad was a son of Zilpah, a handmaiden of Jacob's wife, Leah. In the Torah, Leah presents Zilpah to Jacob so that he may have more children, and then she raises those children as her own. Gad not being a biological son of Leah was known and accepted from the beginning. In fact, Leah proclaimed Gad's birth to be lucky or good fortune, which is what the name Gad actually means. Asher was also a son of Zilpah and Jacob, and Gad's only full brother.

Gad's position in the family may have had an impact on his personality. Being the seventh son and the son of a handmaiden was said to have forced him to assert himself. He had to become confident and make himself a part of the family. Like his brother Asher, however, he was also characterized by a very friendly temperament towards his siblings.

With his confidence and strength, Gad seemed to be a natural warrior. In fact, some sources claimed that Jacob hid Gad from the Pharaoh out of fear that the young boy would be conscripted as a royal bodyguard.

Jacob's Blessing

Near the end of his life, Jacob presented each of his sons with a blessing that contained a prophecy for them and the tribes they would found. Jacob's blessing of Gad was this:

Gad, a troop shall tramp upon him,

But he shall triumph at last.

So, what does it mean? To understand this, we need to see what happened to Gad's tribe. Gad's tribe became herders of cattle but also retained a reputation as some of the fiercest warriors amongst the Israelites. It's worth noting that they were renowned for the strength of body, as well as the strength of mind. After the conquest of Canaan, the land was divided up amongst the twelve tribes. The Tribe of Gad opted not to take the land in the protected center or along the fertile Mediterranean coast, but on the eastern border of the territory, east of the Jordan River.

The Tribe of Gad was one of three to settle east of the Jordan River

There are two reasons for this settlement. First, the wide and flat lands that the Tribe of Gad occupied were good for herding cattle. The second reason, however, had to do with Jacob's blessing. The Tribe of Gad knew that they would be invaded and tested, but that they would fight and ultimately prevail. Rather than hiding from this fate, they voluntarily occupied the lands most likely to be invaded. Like their founder, they asserted themselves, accepted their role in the Israelite community, and lived with confidence in their ultimate victory.

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