48:1–29 In Ezekiel’s vision the allotment of the land among the tribes is different from what it was historically. Each tribe is allotted a horizontal strip of land connecting with the eastern and western borders. The status of Jacob’s wives and of the individual tribes seem to be the determining factors in the arrangement of the tribes; cf. Num. 2; 3. The northernmost tribes (Dan, Asher, and Naphtali) were traditionally located in the north; the southernmost tribe (Gad, v. 27) was historically a northern tribe. These four tribes are the sons of Leah’s servant Zilpah and Rachel’s servant Bilhah (Gen. 30:3–8, 10–13); as such they are located at the outer extremities of the tribal allotments in Ezekiel’s vision.
Judah is the closest tribe north of the sacred area in the center of the land (vv. 8–22; 45:1–8). Judah was historically a southern tribe; by presenting the tribe of David as part of the northern tribes, Ezekiel may be saying in effect that the North will have a portion in David (cf. 2 Sam. 20:1; 1 Kin. 12:16; 2 Chr. 10:16). Judah is in the place of honor that would have belonged to the firstborn Reuben; Reuben is immediately north of Judah. Next are the two tribes of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, descendants of Jacob through the favored wife Rachel.
The nearest tribe south of the sacred area is Benjamin. Its favored place reflects the favored status of Rachel and balances the favored position of the Joseph tribes in the north. The remaining three southern tribes (Simeon, Issachar, and Zebulun) are the descendants of Leah; Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin historically held allotments in the north.