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Jacob raised all his sons in the fear of God, and taught them the ways of a pious life, using severity when there was need to make his lessons impressive. He reaped the fruits of his labor, for all his sons were godly men of stainless character.[1] The ancestors of the twelve tribes resembled their fathers in piety, and their acts were no less significant than those of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Like these three, they deserve to be called the Fathers of Israel.[2] God made a covenant with them as He had made with the three Patriarchs, and to this covenant their descendants owe their preservation.[3]

The very names of the tribes point to the redemption of Israel. Reuben is so called, because God "sees" the affliction of His people; Simon, because He "hears" its groaning; Levi, He "joins" Himself unto His people when Israel suffers; Judah, Israel will "thank" God for its deliverance; Issachar, it will be "rewarded" for its suffering with a recompense; Zebulon, God will have a "dwelling-place" in Israel; Benjamin, He swore by His "right hand" to succor His people; Dan, He will "judge" the nation that subjugates Israel; Naphtali, He bestowed the Torah upon Israel, and she drops sweetness like the "honeycomb"; Gad, the Lord gave manna unto Israel, and it was like "coriander" seed; Asher, all nations will call Israel "happy"; and Joseph, because God will "add" a second redemption of Israel to the first--redemption from the wicked kingdom at the end as from Egypt in former times.[4]

Not only the names of Jacob's sons are significant, but the names of their sons as well. Thus the names of the sons of Issachar express the activities of the tribe known for its learning above all the others. The oldest was called Tola, "worm"; as the silk worm is distinguished for its mouth, with which it spins, so also the men of the tribe of Issachar for the wise words of their mouth. The second is Puah, "madder plant"; as this plant colors all things, so the tribe of Issachar colors the whole world with its teachings. The third is Jashub, "the returning one," for through the teachings of Issachar Israel will be turned back to its Heavenly Father; and Shimron, the fourth, is "the observing one," to indicate that the tribe of Issachar observes the Torah.[5]

The names of the sons of Gad likewise interpret the history of the tribe. During Israel's sojourn in Egypt, it had strayed from the right path, but when Aaron appeared as prophet and monitor, and called unto the Israelites to cast away the abominations of their eyes and forsake the idols of Egypt, they hearkened unto his words. Hence the double name Ozni and Ezbon borne by one of the sons of Gad, for this tribe "hearkened" to the word of God, and fulfilled His "will."

The grandsons of Asher bear the names Heber and Malchiel, because they were the "associates" of kings, and their inheritance yielded "royal dainties."

Partly the history of the tribe of Benjamin can be read in the names of its chiefs. It consisted originally of ten divisions,
descended from Benjamin's ten sons, but five of them perished in Egypt on account of their ungodly ways, from which no admonition availed to turn them aside. Of the five families remaining, two, the descendants of Bela and those of Ashbel, had always been God-fearing; the others, the Ahiramites, the Shephuphamites, and the Huphamites, repented of their sins, and in accordance with the change in their conduct had been the change in their names. Ehi had become Ahiram, because the breach with the "Exalted" One was healed; Muppira was called Shephupham, because they "afflicted" themselves in their penance; and Huppim was turned into Hupham, to indicate that they had "cleansed" themselves from sin. As a reward for their piety, the family springing from Bela was permitted to have two subdivisions, the Ardites and the Naamites. Their names point them out as men that know well how the fear of God is to be manifested, whose deeds are exceedingly lovely.

Naphtali was another tribe of steadfast piety, and the names of his sons testify thereto: Jahzeel, because the tribesmen raised a "partition wall" between God and the idols, inasmuch as they trusted in God and contemned the idols; Guni, because God was their "protection"; and Jezer and Shillem designate the Naphtalites as men devoted to God with all their hearts.[6]

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