The Lord gave the name Israel to Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham in the Old Testament (Gen. 32:28; 35:10). The name Israel can refer to Jacob himself, his descendants, or to the kingdom those descendants once possessed in Old Testament times (2 Sam. 1:24; 23:3). After Moses led the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage (Ex. 3–14), they were ruled over by judges for over three hundred years. Beginning with King Saul, kings ruled over united Israel until the death of Solomon, when ten tribes revolted from Rehoboam to form a separate nation. After the kingdom of Israel was divided, the northern tribes, as the larger part, kept the name Israel, while the southern kingdom was called Judah. The land of Canaan is also called Israel today. In another sense, Israel means a true believer in Christ (Rom. 10:1; 11:7; Gal. 6:16; Eph. 2:12).
Abraham’s grandson Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, had twelve sons. Their descendants have become known as the twelve tribes of Israel or the children of Israel. These are the twelve tribes: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun (the sons of Jacob and Leah); Dan and Naphtali (the sons of Jacob and Bilhah); Gad and Asher (the sons of Jacob and Zilpah); Joseph and Benjamin (the sons of Jacob and Rachel) (Gen. 29:32–30:24; 35:16–18).
Jacob gave each tribal leader a blessing before his death (Gen. 49:1–28). For further information, see the name of each son of Jacob.
Reuben, the firstborn son of Jacob’s first wife, Leah, lost his birthright blessing and double portion of inheritance because of immorality (Gen. 49:3–4). The birthright then went to Joseph, who was the firstborn son of Jacob’s second wife, Rachel (1 Chr. 5:1–2). Levi, whose tribe the Lord had chosen to serve as His priesthood ministers, did not receive an inheritance because of their special calling to minister among all the tribes. This allowed Joseph’s double portion to be shared by Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (1 Chr. 5:1; Jer. 31:9), who were counted as separate tribes of Israel (JST, Gen. 48:5–6 [Appendix]).
Members of the tribe of Judah were to be the rulers until the Messiah came (Gen. 49:10; JST, Gen. 50:24 [Appendix]). In the last days the tribe of Ephraim has the privilege of carrying the message of the Restoration of the gospel to the world and gathering scattered Israel (Deut. 33:13–17). The time will come when through the gospel of Jesus Christ, Ephraim will have a leadership role in uniting all the tribes of Israel (Isa. 11:12–13; D&C 133:26–34).
The Lord scattered and afflicted the twelve tribes of Israel because of their unrighteousness and rebellion. However, the Lord also used this scattering of His chosen people among the nations of the world to bless those nations.
The house of Israel shall be gathered together in the last days before the coming of Christ (A of F 1:10). The Lord gathers His people Israel when they accept Him and keep His commandments.
The ten tribes of Israel made up the northern kingdom of Israel and were carried away captive into Assyria in 721 B.C. At that time they went to the “north countries” and became lost to the knowledge of others. In the last days they will return.