by Kristen C. Strocchia
“Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, from the tribe of Zebulon 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.” Revelation 7:4-8
I’m going to be honest, I’m not exactly sure the significance of the numbers in this passage. But when I come across a piece of scripture that perplexes me, it is exciting to start hunting through God’s Word for understanding. The best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself. It makes the simple wise and enlightens the eyes [Psalm 19:7-8].
Obviously, 144,000 is the product of 12,000 sealed from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. But my question is why 12,000 from each tribe? I’ve searched through the commentaries to see what others have said and the agreement is inconclusive. This is a point of Scripture on which we can pray for God’s understanding and that, if it still pricks our hearts to know, we can ask Him about in heaven .
A few thoughts to consider when delving into the Word to understand this matter:
1) The tribes are given out of order and two are omitted, but there are still twelve total–so in all things we can know that God’s purposes prevail [Proverbs 19:21];
2) These same 144,000 are mentioned again in Revelation 14 with the Lamb–so we can read within the larger context of Revelation to see if anything else can be disclosed about who and why;
3) There are many Old Testament passages that refer to the twelve tribes in list fashion, often with social/spiritual commentary about the state of each [i.e. Genesis 49, Numbers 26 and Deuteronomy 33 to name a few]. I’m particularly interested to study through these scriptures to see what light they can shed on the puzzling Revelation 7 passage, because they may give insight into the order rearrangement and omissions mentioned above. But also because they give snapshots of the tribes over distant points of time and place.
In Genesis 49, the patriarch Jacob is blessing his sons, the tribal heads, on his death bed. Blessing in this instance meaning that he speaks to the character and lets them know what it will produce in their life, so not always a positive. While the Deuteronomy 33 passage is Moses blessing the twelve tribes before they part ways–him to his death and them to possess the Promised Land. This blessing is as it sounds, good things spoken on behalf of each tribe, good things spoken with future blessing in mind.
4) One other factor not to be overlooked in interpretation of difficult Scripture passages–the Holy Spirit. As I puzzled over this the last few days and looked for other passages that might give insight, the Holy Spirit spoke to me about the equality of the number 12,000.
No matter what each tribe’s patriarch behaved like or the decisions he made, no matter what the particular history of each Israelite tribe throughout scripture and beyond, God does not show favoritism [Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25]. He forgives each of us equally. He loved each tribe equally. No matter their position or their history, when they devoted themselves to God they inherited the same measure of blessing.
What’s your Bible study routine? Do you dig deep into passages that perplex you or skip over them? Do you have sound Bible study tools and practices?