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I understand that Ephraim and Manasseh are the two sons of Joseph and that Jacob took them as his own soon before his death.

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5 Answers 5

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This chapter in Revelation states in verse 3 that 144,000 people were sealed with God's seal, in their foreheads, and that they were "of all the tribes of the children of Israel". The reason why Manasseh is listed as one of those tribes is connected to two tribes being missed out. The tribes missed out were Ephraim and Dan. But, keeping the number 12 intact, the tribe of Joseph was also included.

This is strange, because Joseph was the father of both Ephraim and Manasseh, each of whom received equally of their father's portion. As Manasseh is, of necessity, included under Joseph, he is counted twice in the Revelation list as having 12,000 belonging to him, making 24,000 in total. That works equally with the tribe of Joseph - also having 24,000 attributed, as Manasseh is included in Joseph. Let me now quote from one in-depth study of the matter, in the book below:

"Yes, but all this is nothing when it is considered that this number is out of all the generations of Israel that ever existed, not just one generation once. The tribes of Israel had been in existence and had multiplied for thousands and thousands of years: out of that many generations, so many as the sand upon the sea shore for multitude, hardly one family per tribe per generation would have been sealed to make up the paltry figure of twelve thousand out of 'all Israel'.

What is the answer? The answer is that this passage simply cannot be interpreted literally. It must be interpreted spiritually... Without this, nothing but a nonsense is made of the Book of the Revelation..." (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, pp205, John Metcalfe)

Because the numbers and the names are symbolic - representing something spiritual - the supposed dilemma disappears once we stop thinking about the literal, earthly 12 tribes of the nation of Israel.

Nor can we think of this tiny number of 144,000 as separate and distinct from the great multitude, out of all nations, from verse 9 onward. This is because the innumerable great crowd of people are also in heaven, before the throne of God (as is the 144,000, see chapter 14:1-5). If the 144,000 are different from these innumerable saved ones, then, since only the 144,000 are said to have the mark of God's seal on their foreheads, clearly the second group did not. Well, how can the saved not be sealed unto salvation? Likewise, if only the great crowd was saved, then the 144,000 were not. Yet how could the sealed not be saved?

If both groups represent (symbolically) the same party, then both groups are equally sealed and saved. This also means that the sealing in the forehead is symbolic, and not literal. This fits in with the New Testament saying that not all physically born into the nation of Israel are spiritual Israelites (Romans 9:6). Indeed, it shows that vast numbers of Gentiles are part of spiritual Israel. Thus the apostle Paul wrote to Gentile Christians in Corinth that God had sealed both him (a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin) and them (not part of any Israelite tribe), equally (2 Corinthians 1:1 & 19-22). Likewise, Ephesians 1:13 tells us that the uncircumcised Gentile saints at Ephesus were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise. See also Romans 4:9-11. This shows that 'sealed' Gentiles must be just as much spiritual Israelites as are sealed Jews.

This is directly connected to answering your question because it is only when the number 144,000 is taken literally, and the 12 tribes of Israel are taken literally in Revelation 7:4-8, that questions such as yours arise. But when we see that the numbers, and the two groups, and the 12 tribes are representing spiritual things, different questions have to be asked.

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One of the customary twelve tribes is notably absent from this list: the tribe of Dan. Manasseh appears to be a replacement.

As to why the tribe of Dan is not mentioned, all I could find is this mysterious passage from Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses chapter 30, where the Antichrist is said to come from Dan:

This, too, the apostle affirms: "When they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction shall come upon them." And Jeremiah does not merely point out his sudden coming, but he even indicates the tribe from which he shall come, where he says, "We shall hear the voice of his swift horses from Dan; the whole earth shall be moved by the voice of the neighing of his galloping horses: he shall also come and devour the earth, and the fulness thereof, the city also, and they that dwell therein." This, too, is the reason that this tribe is not reckoned in the Apocalypse along with those which are saved.

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  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange, thanks for contributing! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites.
    – Steve can help
    May 30, 2016 at 10:18
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    I must admit, I have never heard the claim that Adversus Haereses was considered specious or falsely attributed to Ireneaus: forgive me, early Christian apologetics is not my specialty. Would you please provide me with some literature I could consult for this issue? May 30, 2016 at 17:45
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    @WoundedEgo I would also have a very hard time accepting your statement about Adversus Haereses unless you would offer some conclusive proof. Adversus Haeresus was preserved in it's entirety and became a seminal work that latter Patristics referred to. Unless you're mistaking it for Tertullian's "Adversus Omnes Haereses", I would suggest some careful follow-up.
    – Tau
    Jun 7, 2016 at 23:59
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    @Tau Right you are, I did have it confused: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adversus_Haereses
    – user10231
    Jun 8, 2016 at 0:02
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    @ScripturePage I deeply regard the work of Irenaeus of Lyons; without him the Book of Revelations may never have been included in the Canon of Scripture. However, I believe he erred on this point, and we have his own words to verify it:"It is therefore more certain, and less hazardous, to await the fulfilment of the prophecy, than to be making surmises." Irenaeus had his 'surmises'; since the "10 Horn/King" federation had not appeared yet, his remarks can only be termed as 'speculative', although much can be gleaned about the passages written just prior to his lifetime.
    – Tau
    Jun 8, 2016 at 0:14
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According to the biblical accounts, Manasseh was one of the leading tribes that composed the nation of Israel, so Manasseh’s inclusion in Rev.7:4-8 is completely expected. The ‘tribe of Manasseh’ is named 39 times in the Hebrew Bible, usually as a ‘half-tribe’, together with the half-tribe of Ephraim representing the house of Joseph, their father in the biblical story.

The truly puzzling aspect of this list of “all the tribes of Israel” (v.4) isn’t Manasseh but the inclusion of the “tribe of Joseph” – a phrase found only here and Nu.13:11 in the whole Bible – and the exclusion of Dan and Ephraim. It’s also unusual to have Levi named among the ‘12 tribes’ which typically referred to territories. Importantly, the biblical author himself gave no explanation for his wholly unique list, his focus being instead on their numbers: 12,000 from each of 12 tribes for total of 144,000 of those who were ‘sealed’.

In the absence of evidence, many commentators offer various theological speculations about these substitutions and omissions (e.g. Ellicott, Benson Poole), supposing, for example, that the omitted tribes were more idolatrous than the others. Heinrich Meyer understood the phrase “Out of every tribe” [his emphasis] to suggest that none of the extant tribes, then listed, were excluded from John's vision of salvation. But of the author's particular intent in their itemization, Meyer concluded,

“In the succession it is only by an artificial subtilty which often passes over into pure trifling, that a consequent intention and a mystical meaning can be found.”

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Summary
John's list is based primarily upon order of birth which includes Manasseh and Ephraim:

And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. (Genesis 48:5 ESV)

But John modifies the list as needed to bring it into conformance with Jacob's vision:

Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come. (Genesis 49:1)

This vision requires Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah to be moved from their position by birth order. After a change is made, birth order is taken into consideration. The vision also offers John a reason to exclude the entire tribe of Dan from those sealed (see below). When Dan is dropped the next in line in order of birth is Manasseh, who John uses to replace Dan.

Judah's Preeminence
As a result of sleeping with Bilhah (Genesis 35:22), Rueben is to lose his preeminence:

3 “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the firstfruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. 4 Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father's bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch! (Genesis 49)

As a result of killing the men of Shechem (Genesis 34:25-31), Simeon and Levi are to divide Jacob:

5 “Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. 6 Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be not joined to their company. For in their anger they killed men, and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen. 7 Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel. (Genesis 49)

As a result of the changes to Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, Judah will be the preeminent tribe:

8 “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons shall bow down before you. 9 Judah is a lion's cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? 10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. (Genesis 49)

Most of John's changes can be traced from the sons listed in order of birth then interpreting and applying Jacob's prophecies to rearrange the list for Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah:

enter image description here

John placed Simeon and Levi in the center of the list by exchanging them with Gad and Asher. In doing so there are six before and six after and they now "divide" Jacob. Judah is older then Gad and Asher and Reuben loses preeminence to Judah.

Who is Included in Sealing?
Jacob's vision calls for Dan to judge his people:

“Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse's heels so that his rider falls backward. I wait for your salvation, O LORD. (Genesis 49:16-18)

Just as some OT lists omit Levi because of their inheritance of service in offerings, John omits Dan because of their service in judging. That is, no one from the tribe of Dan was sealed because the entire tribe has the work of judging. Only a portion (12,000) of each tribe are chosen, so most in a tribe is not sealed. In the case of Dan (and Ephraim) 100% of these tribes are not sealed.1

To attain the number sealed of 144,000, either Manasseh or Ephraim must be added. Manasseh, the oldest, is taken. However, John did not drop Dan and add Manasseh in birth order (to the end of the list), he placed Manasseh directly into Dan's position and then adjusted for the older Naphtali:

enter image description here

There are some arguments which could account for John's direct exchange with Dan:

  • It keeps 6 tribes before and after Simeon and Levi (counting the 2 not mentioned)
  • It preserves the couplet structure within the list

There is also reason in Jacob's vision which John could use to justify pairing Manasseh and Naphtali:

18 I wait for your salvation, O LORD. 19 “Raiders shall raid Gad, but he shall raid at their heels. 20 “Asher's food shall be rich, and he shall yield royal delicacies. 21 “Naphtali is a doe let loose that bears beautiful fawns. 22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall. (Genesis 49)

The sons immediately following "I wait for your salvation O LORD" are Gad, Asher, Naphtali, and Joseph. So when John replaces Dan with Manasseh and uses birth order to re-sequence them with Naphtali, John's list for these four tribes follows their order in Jacob's vision:

Order in Jacob's Vision: Gad - Asher - Naphtali - Joseph
Order in Revelation:     Gad - Asher - Naphtali - Manasseh

Conclusion
John replaced Dan with Manasseh, not Ephraim, because Manasseh was born before Ephraim.


1. The failure to be sealed is silent about the outcome of a final judgement. That the entire tribes of Dan and Ephraim went unsealed simply means they are in the same condition as everyone who was not sealed (including those of the other 12 tribes).

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  • Yes, I know we are to avoid our comments being 'thank you' but I truly do. You have obviously put a lot of time and effort into this and I do thank you!!
    – Grace
    Jun 5, 2016 at 15:51
  • I am leading a study on this book in a women's prison. There are so many questions and I like to have all bases covered before I go. That's impossible in this book!
    – Grace
    Jun 5, 2016 at 21:36
  • Apocalyptic literature is prone to over-interpretation and apophenia, seeing meaning and patterns where they weren't intended. You offer a creative scheme for interpreting the order of the tribes in this list, and you found a biblical verse giving each move and 'principle' theological justification, but the text itself gives no hint this is meaningful, and the verses amount to proof-texting. Your conclusion even contradicts the primary point of the passage: every tribe is included (v.4). This is not exegesis, in my opinion.
    – Schuh
    Jun 8, 2016 at 16:00
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Thank you for your expository facts. However, if we look at Genesis 48:10-20 and Hosea 14:17 one can see reason why Ephraim name was replaced with Manasseh in Revelation 7:6 because he offended God by his leaning on idols when we was trusted with leadership but Manasseh maintained his integrity. By the prayers of Jacob for Ephraim his name was supposed to be substituted for his senior brother as we saw in Judah for Reuben but he lost it.

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