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Article Info:
published: 3/31/13
updated: 2/27/14


Who was Naphtali?

In the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament, Naphtali was Jacob's fifth son, second by Bilhah, Rachel's maid. Gen. 30:8, Rachel said, "with wrestlings of God (i.e. earnest prayer, as her husband does in Gen. 32:24-28; he had reproved her impatience, telling her God, not he, is the giver of children: Gen. 30:1,2; so she wrestled with God) have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed," i.e. succeeded in getting from God a child as my sister.

Thus allied to Dan (Gen. 35:25). He had four sons at the descent to Egypt (Gen. 46:24). At the census of Sinai Naphtali's tribe numbered 53,400 able for war (Num. 1:43).

At the borders of Canaan the tribe of Naphtali had fallen to 45,400 (Num. 26:48-50). On march Naphtali was north of the tabernacle, next Dan his kinsman, and Asher (Num. 2:25-31), together forming "the camp of Dan," hindmost or rearward of all the camps (Num. 10:25).

Naphtali had its portion between the coastland strip of Asher and the upper Jordan. Dan shortly after sent a number from his less desirable position next the Philistines to seek a settlement near his kinsman Napthtali in the far north. Zebulun was on S. of Naphtali; trans-jordanic Manasseh on the E. The ravine of the Leontes (Litany) and the valley between Lebanon and Antilebanon was on the N. Thus, Naphtali had the well watered district about Banias and the springs of the Jordan.

Jacob in his dying prophecy says, "Naphtali is a hind let loose, he giveth goodly words." The targums of Pseudo-Jonathan and Jerusalem say Naphtali first told Jacob Joseph was alive. "Naphtali (say the targums) is a swift messenger, like a hind that runneth on the mountains, bringing good tidings." Joshua (Josh. 20:7) calls it "Mount Naphtali" from the mountainous parts of its possessions.

Shelucha, "let loose," is cognate to sheluchim, "the apostles," who on Galilee mountains "brought good tidings" of Jesus (Isa. 52:7). Hab. 3:19, "the Lord will make my feet like hinds' feet," has in view Jacob's prophecy as to Naphtali. Temporally Naphtali disports gracefully and joyously in its fertile allotment, as a hind at large exulting amidst grass; it shall be famous too for eloquence.

The "bind" symbolizes a swift warrior (2 Sam. 2:18; 1 Chr. 12:8). Barak with 10,000 men of Naphtali, at Deborah's call, fought and delivered Israel from Jabin of Canaan. His war-like energy and his and Deborah's joint song are specimens of the prowess and the eloquence of Naphtali (Judg. 4--5); Naphtali and Zebulun "jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field" (verse 18). So they helped Gideon against Midian (Judg. 6:35; 7:23).

Moses' blessing on Naphtali is (Deut. 33:23), "Naphtali, satisfied with favor, and full with the blessing of Jehovah, possess thou the sea (yam) and the sunny district" (not as KJV "the W. and the S.," for its lot was N. but its climate in parts was like that of the S.), namely, the whole W. coast of the sea of Galilee, "an earthly paradise" (Josephus, B.J. 3:3, section 2), and lake Merom (Huleh).

The district is still called Belad Besharah, "land of good tidings." The climate of the lower levels is hot and suited for tropical plants, so that fruits ripen earlier than elsewhere (Josh. 19:32, etc.). "The soil is rich, full of trees of all sorts, so fertile as to invite the most slothful to cultivate it" (Josephus); but now the population of this once thickly peopled, flourishing region, is as scanty as its natural vegetation is luxuriant. Its forests and ever varying scenery are among the finest in Palestine (Van de Velde, 1:170,293; 2:407).

Naphtali failed to drive out the Canaanites (Judg. 1:33). Pagan neighbours soon made it and northern Israel "Galilee of the Gentiles." Tiglath Pileser swept away its people to Assyria; Benhadad of Syria had previously smitten all Naphtali (1 Kings 15:20; 2 Kings 15:29). But where the darkness was greatest and the captivity first came, there gospel light first shone, as foretold of Zebulun and Naphtali (Isa. 9:1,2; Mt. 4:16). Naphtali shall have its 12,000 elect ones sealed (Rev. 7:6), and its allotment in restored Israel (Ezek. 48:3,4,34).

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IBSE, (in the public domain) with minor edits.

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