The following are a few of the most popular Bible names including the patriarchs of Israel’s 12 tribes. The descriptions are from the website www.behindthename.com and are used with the permission of the website’s creator, Mike Campbell. Thank you Mike!
From the Hebrew name מֹשֶׁה (Mosheh), which is most likely derived from Egyptian mes meaning “son”, but could also possibly mean “deliver” in Hebrew. The meaning suggested in the Old Testament of “drew out” from Hebrew משה (mashah) is probably an invented etymology (see Exodus 2:10).
The biblical Moses was drawn out of the Nile by the pharaoh’s daughter and adopted into the royal family, at a time when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. With his brother Aaron he demanded the pharaoh release the Israelites, which was only done after God sent ten plagues upon Egypt. Moses led the people across the Red Sea and to Mount Sinai, where he received the Ten Commandments from God. After 40 years of wandering in the desert the people reached Canaan, the Promised Land, but Moses died just before entering it.
This name may be viewed either as meaning “father of many” in Hebrew or else as a contraction of Abram 1 and הָמוֹן (hamon) meaning “many, multitude”. The biblical patriarch Abraham was originally named Abram but God changed his name (see Genesis 17:5). With his father Terah, he led his wife Sarah, his nephew Lot and their other followers from Ur into Canaan. He is regarded by Jews as being the founder of the Hebrews through his son Isaac and by Muslims as being the founder of the Arabs through his son Ishmael.
From the Hebrew name יִצְחָק (Yitzchaq) meaning “he will laugh, he will rejoice”, derived from צָחַק (tzachaq) meaning “to laugh”. The Old Testament explains this meaning, by recounting that Abraham laughed when God told him that his aged wife Sarah would become pregnant with Isaac (see Genesis 17:17), and later Sarah laughed when overhearing the same prophecy (see Genesis 18:12). When Isaac was a boy, God tested Abraham’s faith by ordering him to sacrifice his son, though an angel prevented the act at the last moment. Isaac went on to become the father of Esau and Jacob with his wife Rebecca. (Gen 17:17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” Gen 18:12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” )
From the Latin Iacob, which was from the Greek Ἰακώβ (Iakob), which was from the Hebrew name יַעֲקֹב (Ya’aqov). In the Old Testament Jacob (later called Israel) is the son of Isaac and Rebecca and the father of the twelve founders of the twelve tribes of Israel. He was born holding his twin brother Esau‘s heel, and his name is explained as meaning “holder of the heel” or “supplanter”, because he twice deprived his brother of his rights as the firstborn son (see Genesis 27:36 – Gen 27:36 Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?” ).
Other theories claim that it is in fact derived from a hypothetical name like יַעֲקֹבְאֵל (Ya’aqov’el) meaning “may God protect”.
Means “happy, blessed” in Hebrew. Asher in the Old Testament is a son of Jacob by Leah‘s handmaid Zilpah, and the ancestor of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The meaning of his name is explained in Genesis 30:13. (Gen 30:13 Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher. )
Means “he judged” in Hebrew. In the Old Testament Dan is one of the twelve sons of Jacob by Rachel‘s servant Bilhah, and the founder of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. His name is explained in Genesis 30:6. (Gen 30:6 Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.” Because of this she named him Dan.)
Means “fortune, luck” in Hebrew. In the Old Testament, Gad is the first son of Jacob by Leah‘s slave-girl Zilpah, and the ancestor of one of the twelve tribes of the Israelites. His name is explained in Genesis 30:11. (Gen 30:11 Then Leah said, “What good fortune!” So she named him Gad.) Another Gad in the Old Testament is a prophet of King David.
Possibly means “man of hire” or “there is reward”, from Hebrew שָׁכַר (shakhar) meaning “hire, wage, reward”. In the Old Testament this is the name of one of the twelve sons of Jacob (by Leah) and the founder of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. A justification for the name’s meaning is given in Genesis 30:18. (Gen 30:18 Then Leah said, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband.” So she named him Issachar.)
From Ioseph, the Latin form of Greek Ἰωσήφ (Ioseph), which was from the Hebrew name יוֹסֵף (Yosef) meaning “he will add”, from the root יָסַף (yasaf). In the Old Testament Joseph is the eleventh son of Jacob and the first with his wife Rachel. Because he was the favourite of his father, his older brothers sent him to Egypt and told their father that he had died. In Egypt, Joseph became an advisor to the pharaoh, and was eventually reconciled with his brothers when they came to Egypt during a famine. This name also occurs in the New Testament, belonging to Saint Joseph the husband of Mary, and to Joseph of Arimathea.
Possibly means “joined, attached” in Hebrew. As told in the Old Testament, Levi was the third son of Jacob and Leah, and the ancestor of one of the twelve tribes of the Israelites, known as the Levites. This was the tribe that formed the priestly class of the Israelites. The brothers Moses and Aaron were members. This name also occurs in the New Testament, where it is another name for the apostle Matthew.
Means “causing to forget” in Hebrew. In the Old Testament this is the name of the oldest son of Joseph and Asenath and the ancestor of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. It was also borne by a 7th-century BC king of Judah, condemned in the bible for allowing the worship of other gods.
Means “behold, a son” in Hebrew. In the Old Testament he is the eldest son of Jacob and Leah and the ancestor of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Reuben was cursed by his father because he slept with Jacob’s concubine Bilhah.
From Συμεών (Symeon), the Old Testament Greek form of the Hebrew name Shim’on (see Simon 1). In the Old Testament this is the name of the second son of Jacob and Leah and the founder of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. In the New Testament the Greek rendering Σίμων (Simon) is more common, though Συμεών occurs belonging to a man who blessed the newborn Jesus. He is recognized as a saint in most Christian traditions.
Possibly derived from Ugartic zbl meaning “prince”. In the Old Testament Zebulun is the tenth son of Jacob (his sixth son by Leah) and the ancestor of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Genesis 30:20 implies two different roots for the name: זָבַל (zaval) meaning “to dwell” and זֵבֵד (zeved) meaning “gift, dowry”. These are probably only folk etymologies.
From the Hebrew name יְהוּדָה (Yehudah), probably derived from יָדָה (yadah) meaning “praise”. In the Old Testament Judah is the fourth of the twelve sons of Jacob by Leah, and the ancestor of the tribe of Judah. An explanation for his name is given in Genesis 29:35 (Gen 29:35 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.)
His tribe eventually formed the Kingdom of Judah in the south of Israel. King David and Jesus were among the descendants of him and his wife Tamar. This name was also borne by Judah Maccabee, the Jewish priest who revolted against Seleucid rule in the 2nd century BC, as told in the Books of Maccabees.
From the Hebrew name בִּנְיָמִין (Binyamin) meaning “son of the south” or “son of the right hand”, from the roots בֵּן (ben) meaning “son” and יָמִין (yamin) meaning “right hand, south”. Benjamin in the Old Testament was the twelfth and youngest son of Jacob and the founder of one of the southern tribes of the Hebrews. He was originally named בֶּן־אוֹנִי (Ben-‘oni) meaning “son of my sorrow” by his mother Rachel, who died shortly after childbirth, but it was later changed by his father (see Genesis 35:18). (Gen 35:18 As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin.)
From the Hebrew name דָּוִד (Dawid), which was derived from Hebrew דּוֹד (dod) meaning “beloved” or “uncle”. David was the second and greatest of the kings of Israel, ruling in the 10th century BC. Several stories about him are told in the Old Testament, including his defeat of Goliath, a giant Philistine. According to the New Testament, Jesus was descended from him.
English form of Ἰησοῦς (Iesous), which was the Greek form of the Aramaic name יֵשׁוּעַ (Yeshu’a). Yeshu’a is itself a contracted form of Yehoshu’a (see Joshua). Yeshua ben Yoseph, better known as Jesus Christ, was the central figure of the New Testament and the source of the Christian religion. The four gospels state that he was the son of God and the Virgin Mary who fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah. He preached for three years before being crucified in Jerusalem.
If you would like to explore more name definitions, please visit; www.behindthename.com
Now that you’ve read the descriptions of Israel’s 12 patriarchs, here is a map of their initial land allotment.
Map created with Bible Mapper 5.1; www.biblemapper.com