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Reflecting Upon the History of Israel: Where We May Find Ourselves Part I


Black news - learning about self through historyReflecting upon the history that informs the Judeo-Christian heritage reminds one of the twelve sons of Jacob. Jacob, his named changed to Israel by God in Genesis 32:28 (after having wrestled all night with an Angel of the Lord), reminds us of ourselves in that he is very much a product of his historical context. Jacob (Israel) bore twelve sons from his two wives and their handmaidens. Of these women were his first wife, Leah, (and her handmaiden Zilpha) and his second wife, Rachel, (and her handmaiden Bilhah). The twelve offer a reflection of those chosen to reflect and represent the people and continued patriarchs of God. Moreover, the twelve are an archetypal representation of larger humanity whereby God's divine interaction with humanity and his purpose is acted out.

Of the twelve sons, six were born to Jacob and Leah (which means 'weary'). The first born was Reuben. His name means 'behold a son' and is based on Gen 29:32. Here Leah said "the Lord has looked upon me . . . now my husband will love me." Reuben was the first born and the first born to Jacob and Leah. Reuben later laid with Rachel's handmaiden, the handmaiden of his father's wife and mother of his younger brothers, and was thus cursed.


The next son was Simeon. His name means 'heard' and is based on Gen 29:33 – where after he was born Leah said, "the Lord has heard that I was hated." Both Simeon and his little brother, Levi, later killed the man (as well as his father and all the males in the city) who raped their sister Dinah.

The third son was Levi. His name means 'joined to' and is based on Gen 29:34 where Leah said "now this time my husband will be joined to me because I have born him three sons."

The fourth son was Judah. His name means 'praised' based on Gen 29:35. Judah received the blessing that passed from the oldest three sons.

The next two sons of Jacob and Leah are Issachhar, who was the 9th son of Jacob and Zebulun, who was the 10th son. Issachar means 'there is recompense' and is based on Gen 30:18. Here Leah said that God has rewarded/or given her her wages based on her giving her handmaiden. Zebulun which means 'exalted' is based on Gen 30:20.

Another child born to Jacob and Leah was Dinah. Dinah, the 10th child, and the one who was raped by a man from Shechem and avenged by her brother Simeon and Levi.

Throughout the drama of the birth and life of the twelve we learn much not only of them but of ourselves, our thoughts, our actions. It is in the light of their stories that we may find our stories.

[Dr. Jamal-Dominique Hopkins is Scholar-in-Residence at St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Atlanta, GA and is a Professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center also in Atlanta. He is the author of "Ecclesiastes" in the African Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures through Africa and the African Diaspora (Fortress Press), 2009, and "Duty or Responsibility? The African American Evangelical's Identity" in the Journal of African American Christian Thought 1 (2009). Hopkins is available for preaching, lecturing, speaking or conducting workshops or seminars. You may contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .]


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