Some time ago, whilst I was reading the Old Testament, I came upon this text…
Numbers 2:1-2 (ANIV)
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “The Israelites are to camp round the Tent of Meeting [also called the Lord’s Tabernacle] some distance from it, each man under his standard with the banners of his family.“
Previously I had drawn the Hebrew nation as a mass of people, all walking along in a largely disorganised column. But if you read the whole of Numbers chapter 2 (& other passages) it is clear that The Lord organised the nation into tribal groupings. He had them camp in a particular order, & He had them set off from the camp in a particular order as well. Far from being a mass of disorganised people, wandering around the desert, the Hebrew people were highly organised.
At this point I decided that it would be a good idea to design a tribal or family banner, one for each of the 12 tribes of the Hebrew people. The 12 tribes are named after the 12 sons of Jacob: Reuben’s, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph & Benjamin. The only slight complication to this arrangement is that Joseph is represented by his 2 sons: Ephraim & Manasseh.
I thought it would be easier to identify each tribe in my drawings, if they had some sort of easily recognised banner or heraldry.
I created each sons costume & therefore each tribal banner, by referring to Jacob’s prophetic words, which are recorded in Genesis chapter 49. In that text, Jacob blesses his sons, & the text describes each son. From this text I have designed each son’s clothing, & also the tribal banner that bears that son’s name. If you scroll down below the picture you will find a description of each son’s clothing colours & the tribal banner design & colours.
Reuben (Jacob’s oldest son) is described by Jacob as being ‘as unruly as the waves of the sea’ & so I thought I would create a double sea wave pattern with a blue & green colour scheme on Reuben’s robe, which reflects this prophecy.
Similarly, the tribal banner of Reuben has a double wave pattern as its motif, coloured in shades of blue & green.
Simeon & Levi were described together by Jacob thus: “Simeon and Levi are brothers— their swords are weapons of violence. Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased. Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel.”
I have shown Simeon in the above cartoon illustration with is back to the viewer, on the left. He is dressed in blood red colours, & has a sling & stone behind his back… truly a man of violence!
I decided to depict the banner of the tribe of Simeon using an Ox with a crippled, bent leg, coloured in brown on red to depict this man’s violent temperament.
Along with his brother Simeon, Levi is described by his father Jacob as a man of violence. I decided to use 2 crossed swords to represent that violent nature.
Whilst Moses was receiving the 10 Commandments (see Exodus chapters 21 & 32), the Hebrew people were committing idolatry in their camp, worshipping a golden calf that Aaron had made. In Exodus 32:28 it was the Levites who responded to Moses call when he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbour.’ “ With this connection in mind, I chose the crossed swords for the Levi banner.
The colour scheme I chose for Levi & the Levite banner was silver & brown on white.
In the cartoon above, you can see Levi on the right of the scene, with a dagger clasped behind his back.
Described by his father Jacob in Genesis 49:9 as, ‘a lion’s cub… you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?’
I have shown Judah himself as having a great shaggy mane, quite like a lion himself. He is also dressed in a lion coloured robe, complete with fur trimmings!
Naturally, I decided a roaring lion’s head should depict the tribe of Judah, in orange & brown on a yellow background.
I also wanted to make the graphical connection between Jesus Christ, King David & Judah. There is a reference to the Lion of Judah, which we read in Revelation 5:5 (ANIV), ‘Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.“’ This refers to Jesus Christ, who was descended from the line of King David, & called the Lion of Judah.
Described by his father Jacob as follows,’ “Dan will provide justice for his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan will be a serpent by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider tumbles backwards. I look for your deliverance, O Lord.” ’
I decided to use a coiled viper (snake) motif on the tribal banner on a dark green background, a simple, but effective design.
In the cartoon illustration above, Dan can be seen behind the multicoloured coat, in green. I decoded to take the connection between the snake & Dan more literally, & showed him in a green scaled, snake skin robe!
“Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns.” This is how Jacob describes his next son.
The Naphtali tribal banner has a yellow deer’s head, set on a light green background, whilst I depict Naphtali himself in the right of the illustration above, complete with deer’s head robe!
Described by his father Jacob thus: “Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels.” To depict this prophesy of a fighting man on the tribal banner, I used 2 crossed scimitar (swords) in red & silver above a pile of gold coins, on a yellow background.
You can’t see much of Gad, the man, in the above illustration, but he carries a big scimitar sword & is dressed in a pale yellow robe.
Jacob prophesied about Asher thus, “Asher’s food will be rich; he will provide delicacies fit for a king.”
For this reason I have depicted the tribal banner as a a group of bread, grapes & a golden cup, in purple, green, brown & gold on lilac.
The Asher character in the above cartoon illustration is dressed in grape-purple robes, holding a plate of food in his right hand!
Jacob’s prophesy for his son Issachar doesn’t sound altogether encouraging: “Issachar is a scrawny donkey lying down between two saddlebags. When he sees how good is his resting place and how pleasant is his land, he will bend his shoulder to the burden and submit to forced labour.”
The tribal banner shows a grey donkey (the beast of burden often used in the Middle East) on a red brown background.
The man Issachar can be seen standing on the right of the carton illustration above, with grey robes on.
Described by his father Jacob as, “Zebulun will live by the seashore and become a haven for ships; his border will extend towards Sidon.” These were Jacob’s prophetic words over his next son, Zebulun.
The tribal banner I designed to represent Zebulun has a ship of greens & browns, in a harbour, with sea waves of blue as the background colour.
The man Zebulun can be seen to the left of Jacob in the above cartoon, with a brown starfish pin holding his turban together – which is my reference to the sea for him!
Jacob prophesy over Joseph is 5 verses long, again showing this to be the favoured son! I decided to depict the tribal banner design based o some of the descriptive words found in this prophesy: a fruitful date palm tree, besides a fountain. The tree is green & brown, the waters blues, all on a dark blue background.
In the illustration above, Joseph has taken his old outer robe off & is receiving the new multicoloured robe from Jacob, his father.
Finally we have Jacob’s youngest son, Benjamin. Jacob prophesied over Benjamin thus: “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder.”
The tribal banner has a snarling wolf’s head design, in grey, on a red background.
This youngest son of Jacob is shown to the right of the cartoon above, in red & grey robes. He has a wolf’s head pendent, & even his turban appears to have wolf-like “ears” in it!
Links to other articles:
Follow this link to read the BC Encyclopaedia article which describes how I designed the clothing of the 12 sons of Jacob:
Jacob’s sons – Who’s who?! – Clothing notes
Follow this link to read the BC Encyclopaedia article which describes how the 12 tribes were arranged around the camp & in what order they set off from the camp:
Hebrew camp & marching order
Follow this link to see how I draw Jacob & his 12 sons on the BC gallery page, with download and purchase options:
Bible Cartoon: Genesis 37 – Joseph’s Dreams – Scene 02 – The coat of many colours
Follow this link to read the BC Blog article describing the 12 sons of Jacob:
Jacob’s sons – who’s who?