The twelve tribes of Israel were formed from the 12 sons of Jacob. Jacob practiced polygamy and had two wives, Rachel and Leah. Despite Jacob's efforts Rachel was unable to continue Jacob's family line. Leah was not however, and she gave birth to Reuben. In quick succession Leah popped out Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Rachel became jealous, so she gave her slave girl Bilhah to Jacob to bear her children for her. Bilhah conceived Dan and Naphtali. Not to be outdone by Rachel, Leah also gave a slave girl named Zilpah to Jacob. The result of this union was Gad and Asher. Leah then gave birth to two more sons, Issachar and Zebulun, and also a daughter called Dinah. Now by this time God finally remembered Rachel, and to her he gave the last of Jacob's sons: Benjamin. This brings the total of his sons to 12.

God had promised Jacob, who is also called Israel, that his sons would become a great nation. The 12 sons each became their own tribe, whom the land was split among after Joshua cast lots at a meeting of the tribes in Shiloh. The twelve tribes of Israel are grouped by their position around the Tabernacle.

The Eastern Tribes The Southern Tribes The Western Tribes The Northern Tribes The story of the twelve tribes of Israel is found in Genesis chapters 37-50.