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ZEBULUN (zĕb'ū-lŭn, Heb. zevûlûn, habitation)

ZEBULUN, ZEBULUNITES zĕb’ yə lən, īts זְבֻלֽוּן, זְבוּלֻ֗ן. The first form of the Heb. word is found only in Judg 1:30, the latter form is frequent and interchangeable.


tenth son of Jacob and sixth of Leah, was conceived in the rivalry of Leah and Rachel and so named because Leah felt reassured that God had bestowed a good dowry and her husband would henceforth dwell with or honor her (Gen 30:19, 20): since zābhadh meant “bestow” and zabalu (apparently Akkad.) meant either “dwell with” or more likely “honor,” a dual significance seems implied. Little else is recorded of Zebulun, though his three sons were born before he left Canaan for Egypt (Gen 46:14) where Joseph presented him to Pharaoh (47:2).

The tribe of Zebulun,

subdivided into clans named after his sons Sered, Elon and Jahleel, encamped with Judah’s standard to the E of the Tabernacle (Num 2:7). Gaddiel the son of Sodi was named to help spy out Canaan (Num 13:10) and Eliab the son of Helon selected to assist Moses in census-taking (Num 1:9). The two counts, showing that there were 57,400 and 60,500 warriors at the beginning and end of the Exodus (Num 1:31; 26:27) indicate that Zebulun was numerically fourth among the tribes but a lowlier place is intimated in the selection of Zebulun—descended from Leah’s last son—to share the lot of shamed Reuben and the handmaid’s sons in pronouncing the cursings from Mt. Ebal (Deut 27:13).

Tribal heritage.

Such hypotheses apart, the boundaries of Joshua 19, though undeciphered in detail, are clear in general. Zebulun’s southern limit extended from an undetermined stream E of Jokneam across the northern fringe of Esdraelon and along the limestone scarp of Nazareth to the slopes of Tabor. From there it turned irregularly northward, approximately following the Galilean-Mediterranean watershed before bending westward to the Iphtahel—either the broad Sahl el-Battōf or the narrow zigzag of the Wadi Malik. At least major portions of the basins of Tur’an and Battōf (or Asochis) were encompassed before the boundary headed southward across the natural “marchland” of infertile and forested Cenomanian limestone and the margins of the Acre (or Zebulun) and Esdraelon plains.

Economic and historical role.


G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land (1931); J. Garstang, Joshua-Judges (1931); H. H. Rowley, From Joseph to Joshua (1948); D. Baly, Geography of the Bible (1957); D. Baly, Geographical Companion to the Bible (1963).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

In Ge 30:20 Leah exclaims, "God hath endowed me with a good dowry," which suggests a derivation of Zebulun from zabhadh, "to bestow," the (d) being replaced by (l). Again she says, "Now will my husband dwell with me (or "honor me"): and she called his name Zebulun"; the derivation being from zabhal, "to exalt" or "honor" (OHL, under the word).

Zebulun was the 10th son of Jacob, the 6th borne to him by Leah in Paddan-aram. Nothing is known of this patriarch’s life, save in so far as it coincides with that of his brethren. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan says that he first of the five brethren was presented to Pharaoh by Joseph, when Israel and his house arrived in Egypt (Ge 47:2). Three sons, Sered, Elon and Jahleel, were born to him in Canaan, and these became the ancestors of the three main divisions of the tribe (Ge 46:14).

The details given are confusing. It is to be observed that this does not bring Zebulun into touch with the sea, and so is in apparent contradiction with Ge 49:13, and also with Josephus (Ant., V, i, 22; BJ, III, iii, 1), who says the lot of Zebulun included the land which "lay as far as the Lake of Gennesareth, and that which belonged to Carmel and the sea." Perhaps, however, the limits changed from time to time. So far as the words in Ge 49:13 are concerned, Delitzsch thinks they do not necessarily imply actual contact with the sea; but only that his position should enable him to profit by maritime trade. This it certainly did; the great caravan route, via maris, passing through his territory. Thus he could "suck the treasures of the sea." See also TABOR, MOUNT. Within the boundaries thus roughly indicated were all varieties of mountain and plain, rough upland country. shady wood and fruitful valley. What is said of the territory of Naphtali applies generally to this. Olive groves and vineyards are plentiful. Good harvests are gathered on the sunny slopes, and on the rich levels of the Plain of Asochis (el-BaTTauf).

Elon the Zebulunite was the only leader given by the tribe to Israel of whom we have any record (Jud 12:11 f); but the people were brave and skillful in war, furnishing, according to the So of Deborah, "(them) that handle the marshal’s staff" (Jud 5:14). The tribe sent 50,000 single-hearted warriors, capable and well equipped, to David at Hebron (1Ch 12:33). From their rich land they brought stores of provisions (1Ch 12:40). Over Zebulun in David’s time was Ishmaiah, son of Obadiah (1Ch 27:19). Although they had fallen away, Hezekiah proved that many of them were capable of warm response to the appeal of religious duty and privilege (2Ch 30:10 f,18 ). They are not named, but it is probable that Zebulun suffered along with Naphtali in the invasion of Tiglath-pileser (2Ki 15:29). In later days the men from these breezy uplands lent strength and enterprise to the Jewish armies. Jotapata (Tell Jifat), the scene of Josephus’ heroic defense, was in Zebulun. So was Sepphoris (Seffuriyeh), which was for a time the capital of Galilee (Ant., XVIII, ii, 1; BJ, VII; III, ii, 4). Nazareth, the home of our Saviour’s boyhood, is sheltered among its lower hills.