Tribe of Zebulun: History, Symbol & Characteristics

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

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

There were twelve tribes of Israel, each defined by the personality of its founder. In this lesson, we'll get to know Zebulun, and see how his life established the basis for his future tribe.

Zebulun

In many families, there are dreamers and artists and scholars and people who want to make the world a better place with their minds. That's great, but who's going to pay for everything while you sit around and think? This isn't just a random hypothetical; it's important. In fact, it's Biblical.

In the Old Testament of the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah, the Biblical first family of the Israelite people were the sons of Jacob. Each son had a role. Issachar's role was to be the brainy one, but how would he provide for himself? Luckily, Issachar had an entrepreneurial brother named Zebulun. Zebulun made the money that supported Issachar's studies, which Zebulun was allowed to profit from. It was a mutually beneficial relationship, and one that their heirs never forget.

The Life of Zebulun

Zebulun was the tenth of Jacob's twelve sons, being born right after Issachar (the two were close from the beginning). His mother was Leah, Jacob's secondary wife, which may have something to do with Zebulun's name. Biblical scholars think the name comes from the word zabal, to dwell. This would indicate that Leah was celebrating because the birth of a new son would mean Jacob would be dwelling with her for a while, as opposed to her sister Rachel (Jacob's favorite wife).

Throughout his life, Zebulun would prove to be very practically minded. While his brother was focused on the spiritual, Zebulun put his efforts into business, particularly (it seems) as a sailor. This does not mean; however, that Zebulun wasn't pious. He was, and that's where the benefit of his relationship with Issachar came into play. The spiritual blessings of Issachar, as well as the wisdom he attained, were all free to Zebulun as Issachar's financial backer.

Jacob's Blessing

Before his death, Jacob proscribed a blessing upon each of his sons. This blessing not only described the son but established a prophetic vision for the tribe that each son would father. Here's what Jacob said about his tenth son:

''Zebulun shall dwell toward the seashore; and he shall be a haven for ships, And his flank shall be toward Sidon.''

The symbol of Zebulun was a boat, reflecting the blessing of Jacob
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The Tribe of Zebulun

So, what did Jacob's blessing mean? The tribe of Zebulun, composed of his descendants, would find out after the Israelite conquest of Canaan. The land was divided into twelve lots for the twelve tribes. Guess where the tribe of Zebulun ended up? Their territory bordered both the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee. Thus, Jacob's prophecy was fulfilled. They were by the seashore(s) and did in fact become a haven for ships. In fact, it's how they made their money. The import/export business was good, and the tribe of Zebulun prospered from it. That's why the symbol of the tribe was a boat.

The territory of Zebulun was said to touch both the Mediterranean and the Sea of Galilee
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