Having a basic knowledge of “The 12 Tribes of Israel” will help readers to understand the Bible more proficiently. These dozen families represent the numerous descendants of Jacob, and many of the characters named in Scripture are identified by the tribe to which they belong. As we have already discovered in this series, each tribe has a unique story that can be beneficial to our Christian lives.
Moses instructed the children of Israel to conduct a special ceremony consisting of blessings and curses after they entered into the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 11:29). Following their victory at Ai, Joshua and the people paused to hold this solemn observance (Joshua 8:30-35) before continuing their military campaign throughout Canaan. On that holy day, 6 tribes gathered on Mt. Gerizim to pronounce blessings and the other 6 gathered on Mt. Ebal to pronounce curses. All of tribes participated in this event, including the sons of Levi (Deuteronomy 27:11-13). Only a few leaders and priests stood in the valley between them, near the ancient city of Shechem. The purpose of this ceremony was to remind Israel that the consequences of their choices would lead to either God’s blessing or His curse.
In today’s sermon we will discuss 2 tribes - Gad and Asher. Though neither tribe is very well known, there are still important lessons we can learn from them. So, let’s pick up where we left off last week as we continue with our study of the 12 tribes...
I. GAD & ASHER - THE SONS OF JACOB
Gad and Asher were the seventh and eighth sons of Jacob respectively. There was an ongoing feud between Leah and her sister Rachel. Each longed for Jacob’s love and wanted desperately to give him children. Leah had already personally given birth to 4 sons, but had since become unfruitful. She saw how Rachel was using her maid Bilhah as a surrogate, and decided to follow suit. Leah sent her handmaiden Zilpah in to Jacob in order to conceive on her behalf. Zilpah had 2 sons for Leah. She named them Gad which means “good fortune” and Asher which means “happy” (Genesis 30:9-11).
The Bible doesn’t say much about either Gad or Asher. As young men, they plotted with their brothers against Joseph. As older men, they journeyed back and forth to Egypt with them to buy food. Eventually both Gad and Asher resettled in Goshen along with the rest of Jacob’s large family. By that time, Gad had 7 sons while Asher had 4 sons, a daughter, and 2 grandchildren (Genesis 46:16-18). Presumably, Gad and Asher later died and were buried - along with their brothers - somewhere in Egypt.
II. GAD & ASHER - THE TRIBES OF ISRAEL
When the first census was taken, the tribe of Gad was numbered at 45,650 and the tribe of Asher was numbered at 41,500 (Numbers 1:24-25,40-41). When the second census was taken, the tribe of Gad had shrunk to 40,500 but the tribe of Asher had grown to 53,400. During the years of the wilderness wanderings, the population of the Asherites actually increased substantially (Numbers 26:18,47).
Gad camped on the southern side of the tabernacle (Numbers 2:14-15). They were in the same camp as Reuben and Simeon. The Gadites marched sixth in the procession of Israel. Asher camped on the northern side of the tabernacle. They were in the same camp as Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Asher were eleventh in the marching order (Numbers 2:27-28).
Some suggest that the diamond symbolizes the tribe of Gad on the breastplate of the high priest (Exodus 28:15-21). If so, the color for Gad is clear or transparent, sometimes represented as white. These same individuals believe that Asher’s descendants are depicted on the plate by the onyx. According to this premise, the color for the Asherites is black.
Prior to invading the Promised Land, Moses granted the tribe of Gad an inheritance on the eastern side of the Jordan River (Numbers 32). It bordered the river between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. This fertile land was known as Gilead. Later, Joshua gave an area in the far northwestern region of Canaan to the tribe of Asher (Joshua 19:24-31). Their inheritance was also lush and fruitful. It ran along the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea.
Though they were valiant warriors, the tribes of Gad and Asher both had difficulty displacing the hostile inhabitants of their respective lands (Judges 1:31). Perhaps their ongoing struggles to keep peace at home prevented them at times from coming to the aid of their brothers. Both tribes are chastised for not assisting Deborah in her battle against the Canaanites (Judges 5:17). Sometime later however, Asher responded to a call and came to assist Gideon in his fight with the Midianites (Judges 6:35).
During the era of the united nation of Israel, both Gad and Asher sent men to join King David’s army (1 Chronicles 12). During these years, princes were named as leaders over each of the tribal divisions of Israel. For some unknown reason, Gad and Asher were not included in the list of tribal chiefs (1 Chronicles 27). Some historians believe that both families had lost their distinctive significance by this point. When the nation split, Gad and Asher joined the northern kingdom of Israel which remained independent for over 200 years until it was defeated by the Assyrians.
Immediately after the conquest, in the days of Joshua, the trans-Jordan tribes (including Gad) built an altar near the Jordan River. The tribes who had settled in Israel were greatly disturbed by this offensive altar and feared that the trans-Jordan tribes intended to offer sacrifices there rather than at the tabernacle in Shiloh. This misunderstanding almost led to civil war, but when a delegation of both sides met they were able to work out the confusion (Joshua 22:10-34).
Centuries later, King Hezekiah of Judah reinstituted the Passover in the southern kingdom. He graciously invited all of the Israelites - including those in the northern kingdom - to meet in Jerusalem for this long-overdue celebration. Hezekiah’s couriers were laughed at by many in the north, but to their credit some men from Asher humbled themselves and came down to the Passover ceremony (2 Chronicles 30:11). In the New Testament, when Joseph and Mary brought the baby Jesus to the temple to be dedicated, a prophetess named Anna from the tribe of Asher worshiped Him (Luke 2:36-38).
III. THE LESSONS FROM GAD & ASHER
The symbol for the tribe of Gad is a battlefield tent or encampment. Before the conquest of Canaan even began, the Gadites had already requested, received, and settled in a region east of the Jordan River. Still, Moses made them promise to fight alongside their brothers during the invasion of the Promised Land (Numbers 32). When the time came, the men of Gad kept their word and enlisted in Joshua’s army. They earned a reputation for their bravery and ability as skilled warriors.
The symbol for the tribe of Asher is food, as would be served in a lavish banquet. Both Jacob (Genesis 49:20) and Moses (Deuteronomy 33:24-25) spoke of Asher as rich, royal, and abundantly blessed. The inheritance allotted to the tribe of Asher was extremely fertile and productive. Interestingly, there is no apparent reason given in Scripture for why the tribe of Asher was so highly favored. The Asherites do not stand out as more noble or worthy than any of the other tribes. Still, God sovereignly chose to bless them.
There are 2 major lessons that can be gleaned from the legacies of Gad and Asher. The first is that believers should always keep their promises and honor their commitments. It would be better not to make a promise at all rather than to make one and not keep it (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5). The second lesson is that God’s children are not worthy of the abundant blessings that He bestows upon them. Rebellious sinners do not deserve salvation, yet if they turn to the LORD in repentance He showers them with compassion and forgiveness through Christ Jesus.
Gad and Asher are the seventh and eighth sons of Jacob, and the sixth and seventh tribes of Israel. Though they are not as well known as many of the other tribes, still both have a long and notable history. Together they teach us that God’s blessings come to those who are obedient. That said, may we always strive to obey the LORD in everything that we do.
Next week we will discuss the tribes of Issachar and Zebulun. Like Gad and Asher, these 2 tribes are also relatively obscure. We will discover, yet again, that even the lesser known tribes have an important story to tell. Until then, may God bless us beyond what we deserve!