Judah and Tamar & The Tribal Allotments of Israel

Hands OutSince you have a covenant with Jacob I don’t understand why you let Joseph’s brothers sell him?  Yet, I have heard that you will make all bad to good.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).

“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen 50:20). 

Is this true?  Are You going to fix this somehow?  Are You going to do something to his brothers?

 Judah, who came up with the idea to sell Joseph went to his friend Hirah’s house in Adullam, southwest of Jerusalem.  He met a Canaanite woman, Shuah, and had three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah.

1. Adullam

When Er and Onan  grew up 1 Judah chose that Er marry Tamar, but Er was wicked in the eyes of God so He killed him.  Judah then told Onan to marry Tamar and raise a family. 

Onan slept with her, but since Tamar was first Er’s wife he felt that if he got her pregnant then he’d be giving life to his dead brother and instead of impregnating her he spilled his seed on the ground.  This angered God and He killed him too.

Judah then told Tamar to stay a widow and wait until his youngest son, Shelah to grow up, and she did.  Then Judah and Hirah went to Timnath to shear his sheep and someone told Tamar. 

She was angry because Shelah was not given to her to marry as Judah had promised, so she chose to make him pay for it (Gen 38:1-13).

“And she put her widow’s garments off from her, and covered her with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife. 

When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot; because she had covered her face. 

And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.)  And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me? 

And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock.  And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it? 

And he said, What pledge shall I give thee?  And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand.  And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him” (Gen 38: 14-18).

2. Judah and Tamar
Judah and Tamar – 1644
Ferdinand Bol (Dutch, 1616–1680)
Like his teacher Rembrandt, Bol often painted Biblical subjects with strong human drama. In this Old Testament scene, Bol relates the moment of amorous deception when Judah gives the pledge of a ring, staff, and bracelets to a veiled harlot, who is actually his daughter-in-law, Tamar.

Tamar, the widow of Judah’s first two sons, disguised herself as a prostitute to deceive Judah because he had not redeemed his promise to marry her to his third son. The heightened psychological state of the figures is conveyed by contrasting the anxious lust of Judah with the cool determination of Tamar.

“And Judah sent the kid by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman’s hand: but he found her not. 

Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot, that was openly by the way side?  And they said, There was no harlot in this place. 

And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her; and also the men of the place said, that there was no harlot in this place. 

And Judah said, Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her. 

And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom.  And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt.

When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff. 

And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son.  And he knew her again no more.

And it came to pass in the time of her travail, t”e scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah” (Gen 38:20-30).

1 Jesus’ bloodline begins with Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Judas then to Phares and Zara, whose parents were Judas and Tamar.

2 A signet was a seal, it was like a signature that guaranteed that whatever was sealed by it pertained to that person.


The Tribal Allotments of Israel
The Tribes of Galilee:
Asher, Issachar, Naphtali, and Zebulun

Asher (Josh 19:24-31)

3. Mount Carmel
Mount Carmel (the Plain of Acco)

Asher received the coastal plain north of Mount Carmel (the Plain of Acco) and the western hills of Galilee.  The  land was fertile, suitable olive  orchards and other agricultural products (Gen 49:20).

A brief reference in Judges 5:17 associates Asher with seafaring, but the Asherites had difficulty controlling the Acco Plain.  Judges 1:31 indicates that at least seven cities remained in the Canaanites’ hands and the Asherites “dwelt among the Canaanites.” 

During David’s reign, Israel controlled the plain briefly, but Solomon ceded 20 cities of the plain to Hiram, king of Tyre, as payment for Tyrian craftsmen and materials used to build the temple (1 Kg 9:10-14).

Issachar (Josh 19:17-23)

4. Jezreel Valley
Jezreel Valley

Issachar received as an allotment the rugged basaltic slopes of eastern Lower Galilee and a segment of the eastern Jezreel  Valley.  The southern   border likely touched  the Gilboan mountains, while the western border extended to the Kishon River.  

Canaanite enclaves like Beth-shan undoubtedly were barriers to Issachar’s control of the valley.  The difficult terrain and lack of water sources characteristic of the high hills descending plateaus of eastern Lower Galilee stymied settlement.  This is revealed in the lack of archaeological remains in this area dating from the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages.

Issachar did contribute to Israel one judge, Tola, and two kings, Baasha and Elah (1 Kg 15:27; 16:8).

Naphtali (Josh 19:32-39)

5. Sea of Chinnereth Galilee
Sea of Chinnereth/Galilee

Naphtali settled most of the mountainous, forested terrain of Galilee adjourning Asher on the west with Zebulun and Issachar to the south.  Naphtali reached Mount Tabor on the edge of the Jezreel Valley.  The Sea of Chinnereth and the Jordan River marked Naphtali’s eastern border, but the northern boundary is not given.  Perhaps the Litani River marked Naphtali’s settlement northward.

The relatively unsettled uplands of Galilee and the rugged area of the Meron Mountains must have invited early Israelite settlement, although a few Canaanite cities (Beth-shemesh and Beth-anath) successfully resisted Israel’s incursions in the region (Jud 1:31).

Zebulun (Josh 19:10-16; Jud 1:30; Deut 33:18-19)

6. Mount Tabor
Mount Tabor

Zebulun received a small allotment located in the southwest hills of Lower Galilee that extended into the western Jezreel Valley.  This land was diverse, ranging from the poorer      southern flanks of the Galilean hills to the fertile expanses of the Jezreel.  Most of the cities of Zebulun were located in the hills rather than the valley.  

Zebulun was unable to drive out the Canaanites, especially in the valley, choosing to dwell among the indigenous population and serve them (Jud 1:30).  The men of Zebulun fought valiantly alongside Issachar and Naphtali the day Deborah and Barak won a great victory at the Kishon River against the Canaanites (Jud 4:6, 10; 5:15-18).

Mount Tabor stood at the juncture of Zebulun, Issachar, and Naphtali; the three tribes probably shared a common worship place on the mountain (Deut 33:18-19).  Zebulun may have been involved in intermittent maritime trade based on the close proximity of the Plain of Acco (Gen 49:13).

The Transjordan Tribes:

Israel won victories in the Transjordan over Sihon of Heshbon and Og of Bashan before crossing the Jordan River.  Observing that these lands were well suited for grazing, representatives from the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and a part of Manasseh asked Moses to apportion among them the newly conquered land.

Moses complied with their request, but only after receiving a promise that men from the three tribes would assist in the conquest of the lands west of the Jordan (Num 32).  Joshua 13:8-13 and Numbers 32:33-42 give brief descriptions of allotments to the Transjordan tribes.  The Geshurites and Maacathites, two Aramean groups living east-northeast of the Sea of Chinnereth, were not dislodged by the tribes.

Reuben (Num 32:27-38; Josh 13:24-28)

7. Arnon Valley
Arnon Valley

Reuben took the “tableland” (Heb. mishor) that stretched northward from the Arnon Gorge to the vicinity of Heshbon.  The land was more fertile and less rugged than the territory south of the Arnon. The Moabites, who lived south of the Arnon, coveted the mishor and often clashed with Israel over territorial rights in the region.

The fertile tableland was suitable to sheep grazing and wheat and barley crops. Heshbon, Dibon, and Medeba were the chief cities of this region.  According to lists in Numbers and Joshua, the Gadites built (and presumably lived in) several cities in the allotment of Reuben (Num 32:34-35).


Gad (Num 32:34-36; Josh 13:24-28)

8. Transjordan
The Arnon. The water from the Transjordan tableland flows east from an elevation of more than 5000 feet to the Dead Sea (nearly 1300 feet below sea level). This picture shows the Arnon a few yards before it reaches the Dead Sea. During the rainy season there is much more water.

The tribe of Gad occupied choice pastoral lands in Gilead east of the Jordan (cf. Deut. 33:20-21). Gad’s borders are difficult to define precisely; the majority of her territory extended from near Heshbon northward to the Jabbok River.  

The Ammonite kingdom adjoined Gad on the east.  The boundary descriptions indicate Gad controlled a narrow corridor of land extending northward from the Jabbok to the Sea of Chinnereth.  The rugged western slopes of the Transjordan Plateau were densely forested, especially north of the Jabbok.

Gad was subject to frequent raids from the Ammorites, Moabites, and several desert tribes, a fact echoed in “The Blessing of Jacob” (Gen 49:19).

Mahanaim, located on the northern bank of the Jabbok, was a key Gadite city on the border with East Manasseh (Josh 13:26; 21:38).  Along with the other Transjordan tribes, the Gadites were not warriors (Deut 33:20; 1 Chr 5:18; 12:8).







East Manasseh (Num 32:27-38; Josh 13:15-23)

15. Gilead Mountains
Gilead Mountains

The half-tribe of Manasseh settled the Gilead mountains north of the Jabbok River.  Machir, eldest son of Manasseh, described as the “father Of Gilead” (Num 26:29), dispersed the Amorites living in the region (Num 32:39).  

East Manasseh included parts of the Bashan north of the Yarmuk and east of the he Sea of Chinnereth, but the precise limits of the northern and eastern boundaries of the tribe’s holdings are not known.  East Manasseh was exposed to intense Aramean pressure, especially from Damascus.




The Joseph Tribes:

Ephraim and West Manasseh

9. Four Sacred Mountains
Four Sacred Mountains

The blessings of Jacob and Moses indicate the privileged positions and strength of the two most important northern tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen 49::22-26; Deut 33:13-17).  Descended from the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh settled the central mountains south of the Jezreel Valley to the “Saddle of Benjamin,” a region sparsely populated in the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 B.C.).

This territory was heavily forested when the tribes entered the land (Josh 17:14-18).  The allotments included sections of the coastal plain south of Mount Carmel, but neither Ephraim nor Manasseh successfully controlled the coastal regions for lengthy periods.


Ephraim (Josh 16:5-10)

10. Shiloh

Jacob favored the younger Ephraim over the elder Manasseh, foreshadowing the eventual prominence of the tribe of Ephraim (Gen 48:8-20).  Joshua allotted Ephraim the isolated, higher mountain plateau south of Shechem reaching to Bethel.  Unlike Judah, Ephraim has no clear watershed; the land broadens in a rugged mountainous plateau not easily accessible from either east or west.

However, Ephraim was an agriculturally fertile region known for its vineyards and orchards (Deut 33:13-17; Gen 49:22-26).  Bethel and Shiloh were two of the significant towns of Ephraim.





West Manasseh (Josh 17:1-13)

11. Kingdom of Israel
Kingdom of Israel

The half-tribe of Manasseh settled the densely forested land north of Ephraim up to the Jezreel Valley.  Initially, Manasseh could not dislodge the Canaanites from the valley and the coasts, leaving such key cities as Beth-shan, Taanach, Dor, and Megiddo in Canaanite hands until the time of David (Jud 1:27-28).

The core of Manasseh was in the hills of the highlands south of the Jezreel Valley.  Important wadis (e.g., Wadi Farah) from the west to east made access easy into Manasseh’s heartland, which included such cities as Shechem, Dothan, and Bezek. 

The capital cities of the Northern Kingdom Israel (Shechem, Tirzah, and Samaria) all were located in Manasseh.  The International Coastal Highway passed along Manasseh’s  western edge.  Like Ephraim, this region was fertile, blessed with agricultural abundance.



The Southern Tribes: Benjamin, Judah, and Simeon Benjamin

Benjamin (Josh 18:11-28 [Cf Josh 15:5-11; 16:1-3, 5])

12. The Tribe of Manasseh
The Tribe of Manasseh

Benjamin received a small, but strategic, allotment located between two powerful neighboring tribes, Ephraim and Judah. Benjamin’s territory centered on a depression or “saddle” that begins south of Bethel and continues to Jerusalem.  The land is fertile and reasonably well watered except along the eastern edge.

Benjamin controlled important routes.  The main north-south route of the Western Highlands – the “Ridge Road” that ran along the crest of the mountains – ran through Benjamin.  A major east-west route connecting the coastal plain with the Transjordan crossed Benjamite territory. Gibeon, Bethel, Mizpah, and Jericho were Benjamite towns.  Jerusalem is included in the city list of Benjamin, although later the city became the capital of Judah.  

The Benjamites were renown warriors, noted for their abilities with a sling (Jud 20:15-17; Gen 49:27).  Benjamin’s tribal sympathies lay with her northern neighbors, Ephraim and Manasseh.  

Saul, the first king, came from Benjamin, and Benjamin followed the leadership of Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth (Esh-Baal rather than David, the southerner from Judah (2 Sam 2:8-10).


Judah (Josh 15:1-63: Jud 1:8-18)

Joshua 15 gives an extensive list of Judah’s allotment, perhaps hinting at the author’s interest in this important tribe that formed the nucleus of the southern kingdom and produced the Davidic dynasty.  

Judah occupied the southern part of the western highlands.  Protected on all sides except the north by major geographical obstacles, Judah was isolated from international connections.  To the west, the Shephelah guarded the main approaches to Judah’s key cities.  Judah at times controlled the Shephelah, but seldom held sway over the coastal plains.  Wilderness regions gave Judah protection from the east and south.

The numerous cities listed for Judah are divided into four groups: the Negeb, the Shephelah, the central ridge, and the eastern desert.  These divisions and other subdivisions in the list may reflect administrative alignments from later periods.  Lachish, Hebron, Bethlehem, and En-gedi are among the towns and villages of Judah that play key historical roles.

“The Blessing of Jacob” foreshadows the Davidic kings that would come from Judah.  The blessing also emphasizes the importance of herds and vineyards in this rugged region (Gen 49:10-12).

Judges 1:3-18 narrates the struggles of Judah and Simeon to take this territory, including an abortive attempt to gain control of Jerusalem. Several portions of southern Judah were assigned to various clans including the Kenites (the area around Arad), Calebites (the region of Hebron), and Kenazzites (the area around Debir).

Simeon (Josh 19:1-9)

13. Negev

Simeon and Levi are paired in “The Blessings of Jacob” where they are condemned for their violent ways (Gen 49:5-7), including a probable allusion to an attack on Shechem avenging the rape of Dinah (Gen 34).

A list of seventeen cities, mostly clustering in the western Negeb, defines Simeon’s allotment within the territory of Judah

Many scholars suggest that the tribe of Simeon lost its identity, perhaps because of violent tendencies, and was absorbed by Judah. Simeon is not mentioned in other important blessings or lists, including “The Blessings of Moses” in Deuteronomy 33.

The Migrant Tribe

Dan (Josh 19:40-48; Jud 17-18)

14. Kanah River
Kanah River (Yarkon River)

Dan’s original allotment touched the western slopes of the central mountains down through the Shephelah along the Sorek Valley and turned northward to the Kanah River (Yarkon River) alongthe coast.  An enigmatic reference to Dan in the Song of Deborah may recall an earlier period when the tribe of Dan occupied at least some of their allotted territory along the coast (Jud 5:17).

Other villages and towns of this original allotment include Zorah, Timnah, and Ekron – all towns mentioned in the Samson stories.

However, Amorite and Philistine pressure eventually forced the Danites to seek new territory.  Judges 17-18 narrates the migration of Dan northward where a small contingent of men captured Laish (Leshem), an ancient Canaanite city on the northern edge of the Huleh Basin.

Renaming the city in honor of their eponymous ancestor, the Danites established a place of worship supervised by a Levitical priesthood at Dan.

“The Blessings of Moses” recognized the military abilities of Dan (Deut 33:22), a characteristic perhaps reflected in “The Blessings of Jacob,” as well as (Gen 49:16-17).  But the latter text hints at treachery on the part of Dan:

Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that his rider falls backward (Gen. 49:17).

Later, Dan became the center of pagan worship when Jeroboam II erected a golden bull in his new national shrine.

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