Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 8th, 2023
the First Week of Advent
We are taking food to Ukrainians still living near the front lines. You can help by getting your church involved.
Click to donate today!

Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Search for…
Prev Entry
Next Entry
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

(Hee. Zebulun', once [Judges 1:30] fully זְבוּלוּן, usually זְבוּלן or [Genesis 30:20; Genesis 35:23; Genesis 46:14; Judges 4:6; Judges 5:18; Judges 6:35; 1 Chronicles 2:1; 1 Chronicles 6:63; 1 Chronicles 6:77; 1 Chronicles 12:33; 1 Chronicles 12:40; 2 Chronicles 30:10-11; 2 Chronicles 30:18; Psalms 68:27; Isaiah 9:1] זְבלוּן, habitation; Sept., New Test., and Josephus, Ζαβουλών; Vulg. Zabulon; A.V. "Zabulon," Matthew 4:13; Matthew 4:15; Revelation 7:8), the name of a man and of the tribe descended from him, and also of a city in Palestine.

1. The sixth and last son of Leah, and the tenth born to Jacob (Genesis 35:23; Genesis 46:14; 1 Chronicles 2:1). His birth is recorded in Genesis 30:19-20, where the origin of the name is, as usual, ascribed to an exclamation of his mother "Now will my husband dwell with me (yizbeleni), for I have borne him six sons!" and she called his name Zebulun." B.C. 1914. This paronomasia is not preserved in the original of the "Blessing of Jacob," though the language of the A.V. implies it. The word rendered "dwell" in Genesis 49:13 is יַשְׁכֹּן, with no relation to the name Zebulun. The Sept. puts a different point on the exclamation of Leah: "My husband will choose me" (αἱρετιεῖ με ). This, however, hardly implies any difference in the original text. Josephus (Ant. 1, 19, 8) gives only a general explanation: "a pledge of goodwill towards her." In the order of birth, Zebulun followed his brother Issachar, with whom, in the history of the tribes and in their allotted territories in Canaan, he was closely connected (Deuteronomy 33:18). His personal history does not appear to have contained a single incident worthy of record; and his name is not once mentioned except in the genealogical lists. In the Jewish traditions he is named as the first of the five who were presented by Joseph to Pharaoh- Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher being the others (Targ. Pseudo-Jon. On Genesis 47, 2).

At the time of the descent of Jacob into Egypt, Zebulun had three sons Sered, Elon, and Jahleel (Genesis 46:14) who became the founders of the three great families into which the tribe was divided (Numbers 26:26). Though the first generation was so small, this tribe ranked fourth in numbers among the twelve, when the census was taken at Mount Sinai, in the year of the Exode; Judah, Dan, and Simeon being more numerous. During the wilderness journey it increased from 57,400 males to 60,500; but it held just the same relative place among the twelve Judah, Dan, and Issachar being before it when the census was made on the plains of Moab (Numbers 26:27).

History is almost as silent regarding the acts of the tribe during the long period of Egyptian bondage and the desert march as it is regarding the patriarch Zebulun himself. During the journey from Egypt to Palestine, the tribe of Zebulun formed one of the first camp, with Judah and Issachar (also sons of Leah), marching under the standard of Judah. The head of the tribe at Sinai was Eliab son of Helon (Numbers 7:24); at Shiloh, Elizaphan son of Parnach (Numbers 34:25). Its representative among the spies was Gaddiel son of Sodi (Numbers 13:10). The only point worthy of note previous to its settlement in Palestine is the fact that, on the solemn proclamation of the law, Zebulun was among the six tribes stationed on Mount Ebal to pronounce the curses (Deuteronomy 27:13).

The position and physical character of Zebulun's destined territory in the Land of Promise had been sketched in' the prophetic blessings of Jacob and Moses. Looking down into a far-distant age, Jacob exclaimed, as his son stood by his bedside, "Zebulun shall dwell on the shore (חוֹ, choph, a cove, the modern Haifa) of seas; and he shall be for a shore of ships; and his side will be to Zidon" (Genesis 49:13). Though Issachar was an elder brother, Jacob seems to have already noticed and acknowledged the political superiority of Zebulun by placing him first in order. This superiority was afterwards more fully displayed in the blessing of Moses, which, though embracing both tribes, appears as if addressed to Zebulun alone "And of Zebulun he said, Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out; and, Issachar, in thy tents. They shall call the people unto the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness; for they shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand" (Deuteronomy 33:18-19).

Zebulun's territory was one of the richest and most beautiful sections of Western Palestine. Its allotment was the third of the second distribution (Joshua 19:10). Joshua defines its borders with his usual minuteness, though, in consequence of the disappearance of many old cities, it cannot now be entirely identified. Its position, however, and general extent, are clear enough. Asher and Naphtali bounded it on the north, and Issachar on the south. It stretched nearly across the country from the Sea of Galilee on the east, to the maritime plain of Phoenicia on the west; embracing a strip of Esdraelon, a little of the plain of Akka, the whole of the rich upland plain of Battauf (equal in fertility, and almost equal in extent, to that of Jezreel, and with the immense advantage of not being, as that was, the highroad of the Bedawin); with a part of the fertile tableland between it and the great basin of the Sea of Galilee; and, last, not least, it included sites so strongly fortified by nature that in the later struggles of the nation they proved more impregnable than any in the whole country. The sacred vicinity of Tabor, Zebulun appears to have shared with Issachar (Deuteronomy 33:19), and it and Rimmon were allotted to the Merarite Levites (1 Chronicles 6:77). The beautiful wooded hills and ridges extending from Tabor, by Nazareth and Sefuriyeh, to the plain of Akka, were also in Zebulun.

It touched Carmel on the south-west; and though it did not actually reach to the shore of the Mediterranean, its sides joined the narrow maritime territory of Phoenicia, to which Jacob, according to common Eastern custom, gives the name of its chief city, Zidon "And his side (יָרֵךְ, thigh, i.e. flank) will be to Zidon." Its opposite extremity resting on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the words of Jacob were fulfilled: "Zebulun shall dwell on the coast of seas." His fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, and his merchants navigating the Mediterranean, in company with their Phoenician neighbors, illustrate remarkably the other blessings: "He shall be for a shore of ships;" "he shall rejoice in his goings out." Possessing thus a rich agricultural country, abundance of wood, and an outlet for commercial enterprise, both in the Mediterranean and in the Sea of Galilee, the future state and history of Zebulun were influenced and molded by external circumstances. The four Northern tribes Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, and Naphtali were in a great measure isolated from their brethren. The plain of Esdraelon, almost unceasingly swept by the incursions of hostile nations, separated them from Ephraim and Judah; while the deep Jordan valley formed a barrier on the east. Isolation from their brethren, and their peculiar position, threw them into' closer intercourse with their Gentile neighbors the old mountaineers whom they were never able entirely to expel (Judges 1:30), and especially the commercial Phoenicians. Their national exclusiveness was thus considerably modified; their manners and customs were changed; their language gradually assumed a foreign tone and accent (Matthew 26:73); and even their religion lost much of its original purity (2 Chronicles 30:10; 2 Chronicles 30:18). "Galilee of the Gentiles" and its degenerate inhabitants came at length to be regarded with distrust and scorn by the haughty people of Judah (Isaiah 9:1; Matthew 4:15; Matthew 26:73).

The four Northern tribes formed, as it were, a state by themselves (Stanley, Jewish Church, 1, 266); and among them Zebulun became distinguished for warlike spirit and devotion. In the great campaign and victory of Barak it bore a prominent part (Judges 4:6; Judges 4:10). Deborah, in her triumphal ode, says, "Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field" (Judges 5:18). It would appear, besides, that their commercial enterprise led them to a closer and fuller study of the arts and sciences than their brethren. "They thus at an early period acquired the reputation of literary accomplishment; and the poet sang of them." From Zebulun are the men who handle the pen of the scribe " (Judges 5:14; Kalisch, On Genesis, p. 753). One of these scribes may have been Elon, the single judge produced by the tribe, who is recorded as having held office for ten years (Judges 12:11-12). This combination of warlike spirit with scientific skill seems to be referred to once again in a more extended field of action. The sacred historian mentions that in David's army there were, "Of Zebulun, such as went forth to battle, expert in war, with all instruments of war, fifty thousand, which could keep rank; not of double heart" (1 Chronicles 12:33). They were generous, also, and liberal, as well as brave and loyal; for they contributed abundantly of the rich products of their country-meal, figs, raisins, wine, oil, oxen, and sheep to the wants of the army (1 Chronicles 12:40). The head of the tribe at this time was Ishmaiah ben-Obadiah (1 Chronicles 27:19). The "way of the sea" (Isaiah 9:1), the great road from Damascus to the Mediterranean, traversed a good portion of the territory of Zebulun, and must have brought its people into contact with the merchants and the commodities of Syria, Phoenicia, and Egypt. Its inhabitants, in consequence took part in seafaring concerns (Josephus, Ant. 5, 1, 22). In the Testament of Zabulon (Fabricius, Pseudepir, V.T. 1, 630-645) great stress is laid on his skill in fishing, and he is commemorated as the first to navigate a skiff on the sea. It is satisfactory to reflect that the very latest mention of the Zebulunites is the account of the visit of a large number of them to Jerusalem to the Passover of Hezekiah, when, by the enlightened liberality of the king; they were enabled to eat the feast, even though, through long neglect of the provisions of the law, they were not cleansed in the manner prescribed by the ceremonial law (2 Chronicles 30:10-11; 2 Chronicles 30:18).

The tribe of Zebulun, though not mentioned, appears to have shared the fate of the other Northern tribes at the invasion of the country by Tiglath- pileser (2 Kings 17:18; 2 Kings 17:24 sq.). From this time the history of distinct tribes ceases. With the exception of the Levites, the whole were amalgamated into one nation; and, on the return from exile, were called Jews. The land of Zebulun, however, occupied a distinguished place in New Test. times. It formed the chief scene of our Lord's life and labors. Nazareth and Cana were in it; and it embraced a section of the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where so many of the miracles of Christ were performed, and so many of his discourses and parables spoken. Then was fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: "The land Zabulon, and the land Nephthalim, the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: the people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death, light is sprung up" (9, 1, 2; Matthew 4:15-16). In the visions of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 48:26-33) and of John (Revelation 7:8) this tribe finds its due mention. See ISRAEL, KINGDOM OF. The following is a list of all the Biblical local cities in this tribe, with their probable identifications:






Kanah el-Jelil?







Gath-hepher, or Gittah- hepher












Kartah, or Kattah











Kefr Menda?

Nahalal, Nahallal, or Nahalol






Rimmon (Remmon- methoar)





Tell Rumah?



[Ruins. N.W. of el- Mezraah]?





Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Zebulun'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​z/zebulun.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile