Naphtali was the second of two sons to Jacob by Rachel’s maidservant. He was Jacob’s sixth-child. His older brother was Dan. At the birth of Bilhah’s second son, whom Rachel considered hers by proxy, she said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.’ So she named him Naphtali” (Genesis 30:8).
The Bible tells us that “the sons of Naphtali were Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem” (Genesis 46:24). Jahzeel means “allotted by God,” but Guni is of uncertain meaning. Jezer means “image” or “frame,” and Shillem, “recompense.”
Before he dies, Jacob prophesied on his son saying, “Naphtali is a deer let loose; he uses beautiful words” (Genesis 49:21). This may be an allusion to a gift in eloquence and song manifested in that northern tribe.
The Era of the Wilderness
The book of numbers gives us the number of the men of this tribe during their early wilderness experience, “from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war: those who were numbered …were fifty-three thousand four hundred” (Numbers 1:42–43). At the end of wilderness sojourning, their number was 45,400 men (Numbers 26:48).
Moses prophesied over this tribe saying “O Naphtali, satisfied with favor, and full of the blessing of the Lord, possess the west and the south” (Deuteronomy 33:23). In association with Zebulun, under Barak the tribe had a great victory over the Canaanite King Jabin, which the Prophetess Deborah celebrated in her renowned song (Judges 4, 5).
The Era of the Judges
After reaching the promised land, the Bible tells us “Nor did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh or the inhabitants of Beth Anath; but they dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. Nevertheless the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath were put under tribute to them” (Judges 1:33). The places that Naphtali failed to conquer were ancient cities that took their name from the famous temples to the goddess Anath and the sun-god Shamash located there.
However, the Hebrews were powerful enough to make these cities pay tribute. The region of Naphtali later became known as Galilee, where the heathen influence was so great that the territory was called “Galilee of the nations” (Isaiah 9:1), or, “the foreign district.” The tribe of Naphtali joined Gideon to fight against the Midianites and Amalekites (Judges 6:33–35).
The Era of the Kings
Later in David’s time, the tribe of Naphtali sent armed forces to him to show their allegiance (1 Chronicles 12:34). And one of King Solomon’s officers was Ahimaaz, who came from the tribe of Naphtali (1 Kings 4:7–15). And in the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel Beth Maachah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried them captive to Assyria (2 Kings 15:29)
In the time of Isaiah the prophet, the armies of Assyria brought misery and “darkness” (ch. 9:2) to Zebulun and Naphtali, two of the northernmost tribes of Israel. In the realization that this experience came as the result of spiritual darkness, Isaiah, looked forward to the “great light” (vs. 2, 6, 7), which will dismiss the darkness in men’s hearts (John 1:4–9; 8:12; 9:5).
The same lands that once saw so much pain will receive a revelation of God’s glory and truth through the World’s Savior. For He will shine as the as the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2). Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah who brought the gospel to the inhabitants of Naphtali (Matthew 4:13–15).
The Era of the New Testament
The last book of the Bible mentions that there will be symbolic twelve thousand individuals sealed from the tribe of Naphtali (Revelation 7:6). But these Israelites are understood to be part of spiritual Israel, or the Christian church (Romans 2:28, 29; 9:6, 7; Galatians 3:28, 29). Also, spiritual Israel is represented as being divided into 12 tribes, for the 12 gates of the New Jerusalem have engraved upon them the names of the 12 tribes of Israel (Revelation 21:12).
In His service,
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