The Tribe Of Naphtali

Joshua 20:7

7 And they appointed Kedesh in Galilee in mount Naphtali, and Shechem in mount Ephraim, and Kirjatharba, which is Hebron, in the mountain of Judah.

Kedesh means Sanctum, or Holy Place, and Galilee means circle. Isn’t it wonderful, that The God who sits upon the circle of the Earth according to Isaiah 40:22, grew up in Galilee, the circle referenced in Isaiah 9:1). In the allotment of Zebulun and Naphtali.

We talked about that aspect in the chapter on Tribe Of Zebulun. I bring it up here for a slightly different reason.  To talk about the circle that Naphtali, not Jesus, was birthed into.  About what looked, from the outside, as a dysfunctional family, filled with chaos, but was actually a Holy place, ordained by God for Naphtali.

Whether true or not, when I think of Naphtali, I think of a strong burly man. The type of man who would have been a brawler, or a wrestler. After all, it’s what his name means, it’s how he was introduced into the world. To view him, you have to begin with the women in his life.

I’ll confess, I’ve always preferred Leah to Rachel, but I doubt Naphtali felt the same way.  Bilhah was his Mom, but Rachel named him. Mind you, I don’t know how favorable he viewed her either. According to Genesis 37:2, it was Rachel’s son who reported on the bad report of the children of Bilhah and Zilpah.

Before we cast blame on anyone involved, look at the course of events that led to the birth of Naphtali. Laban promised Jacob Rachel, but gave him Leah. Then gave him Rachel, who was barren. Jacob loved her, but hated Leah.

When Rachel saw she couldn’t have children, she gave Bilhah her maid to Jacob to marry and have children with.  Dan was first, Naphtali was second.  Bilhah’s name means trouble, and the family dynamics certainly were that, troubling.

Let’s review Naphtali’s standing in the family at this point. He was the younger brother to Dan, and the sixth son of Jacob. He was the second born son of the third wife, not even the second favorite spouse, but a servant.  Bilhah didn’t ask for any of this, but it was her reality.

Naphtali didn’t ask to have to put up with the favorite child, his perfect stepbrother Joseph, but it was his life.  Rather than focus on Joseph and Naphtali’s relationship, I mentioned it to soften the view we’ve always had of Joseph’s brothers. They weren’t justified, but their life wasn’t easy either.  

Now that we’ve looked at the family, and baby Naphtali, let’s see what the wrestler named his children.  What would the son of a former slave call his sons? Would he be bitter, or better?

Genesis 46:24 (KJV)

24 And the sons of Naphtali; Jahzeel, and Guni, and Jezer, and Shillem.

I believe you can tell a lot about a man by what he names his children. Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, And Shillem. God will allot, protected, forming, and repaid, this was the meaning of their names.  

I wonder if one of Naphtali’s favorite stories, as a child, was to hear about the night his Dad wrestled with the Angel. Was it a story he retold his children? Most of all, did he understand that the limp was a victory, and not a defeat?  

Based on what he named the first child, I suspect he did. The man named wrestling, didn’t say I have carved out something, or wrestled it.  He said God will allot. It appears he knew, even though Naphtali probably wouldn’t have chosen this place in the family, that God had provided it. He still gave Naphtali a place, in the family of faith. 

For all of the problems he had seen, he recognized that God was working. He could have very easily been born the son of another, whose father was not Jacob, but God said, this child, at this time.

Remember, it wouldn’t matter what Rachel’s intentions were, if Bilhah couldn’t have children. Naphtali, based on the name of his firstborn, understood God’s Providence in all things. So much so, he named his second son protected.

It is the third and fourth children who intrigue me. One is named forming, and the other repaid.  What was going on at the time?  Was He talking about his family’s future, his son’s, or his own?  

Genesis 49:21 ESV

21 Naphtali is a doe let loose that bears beautiful fawns.

Genesis 49:21 KJV

21 Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words.

I suspect it was partially the family’s future, because the fourth son’s name meant repaid.  It leads me to ask if  something happened between the birth of these two boys? I don’t know what it was, but I do know one thing.  If Naphtali had questions about his family’s future, Jacob would shed some light on it.

God has a plan for all of us. He intends to form us, form a ministry through us, and to form an inheritance for us to pass on to the next generation. Some things He forms for public view, others He forms in the stillness. 

As humans, if we are not called to a particular event, we can have the tendency to view our lives as purposeless, this is a mistake. God was forming something, for example, in Job. We can be tempted to think the catalyst of Job was the enemy’s response to God’s question, but God asked the question, to fulfill God’s purpose. God wanted to form something in Job before the enemy ever opened his mouth.

We do not always see the purpose, before or after completion, and that’s okay. At times, knowing isn’t necessary. If we know The Who, the why is less important. It appeared Job had everything he needed, so he didn’t know the why. He couldn’t see, that Job dealt with fear, and relied on his righteousness as a comfort when his friends unrighteously judged him.

They were wrong, but that didn’t make Job’s righteousness his defense. Like us, Job basically said I’ve done what was right, and I’m still facing this mess.  What we all miss, is had God not opened our eyes to our need for redemption originally, we would not have attempted to do what was right. We attempt to live lives of faithfulness, not because we are spotless, but because He washed our spots away.

Before we leave Job, and how his situation speaks to Naphtali’s, let me mention one more item. God never told Job he wouldn’t face troubles. We have been tempted to view Job’s troubles as an unprecedented event, but while Job had a hedge, that was the rarity.  Jesus told us we’d face troubles in this world, and that’s always been true, since Adam.

The greatest thing about the book of Job wasn’t Job’s righteousness, knowledge, or sacrifice. The greatest lesson of Job was, that even at his lowest point, even hurting, confused, and angry, He held to God. He said “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

I love this verse, and Job meant it.  Yet, don’t admire it so that you miss the fact, God never intended to slay him. He intended to bless him, and refused to allow the enemy to destroy him. I believe, that God tricked the enemy into being a factor to remove Job’s fear, and reliance on his own righteousness, and to lean completely on God.

How does this apply to Naphtali? Can you imagine the guilt that gripped Naphtali and his brothers, as they watched their Father’s sorrow? I don’t know if Naphtali was a Father yet, either way, can you imagine the fear he felt when the thought hit him? 

What he must have felt when something whispered, what if it was Jahzeel, instead of Joseph?  Job relied on his righteousness, Naphtali didn’t even have that luxury. He knew he was guilty.

He may have been tempted to cling to his secrecy.  Or to obsess over his children’s safety like Job did.  I can understand that temptation. Could that be why Naphtali named his second son protected?  

Is it possible that, between the two births, God removed out of Naphtali his fear, and guilt? Just as God had used the enemy to work fear, and self righteousness out of Job?  I believe the name reflects, not only the future of the family, but the growth of the wrestler.

The ESV, and most translations, in Jacob’s prophecy, say that “he is a doe let loose, which bears beautiful fawns.” The KJV says the same about the first part of the verse, but in the second half says, “he gives goodly words.”  I believe they both speak to Naphtali’s situation.

Considering the servanthood of his Mother, her elevation, also her children, and finally the naming of his children, I feel that is important. He gave his children a good name, or good words, and birthed a beautiful future before them, as a goal to leap towards.

Whether Naphtali named his children, or his wife did, we show no record of anyone else naming them.  Bilhah had not been allowed to name her children, no one said this about Naphtali.  Also, his Mother gave birth to two sons, Naphtali had four sons.

Naphtali was among the sons of Jacob who received one verse’s words worth of reference.  Others like Judah and Joseph received more, but more isn’t always a blessing. Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, at the time, would probably have traded with Naphtali.

Naphtali didn’t receive a large prophecy, but he also received no rebuke either. He may have seen the parallel. Still, I do wonder, was he happy at his Dad’s promise, or did it leave him confused, wondering what it meant?

Have you ever received a promise from God, that you did not understand?  Many times He does not ask for understanding, only acceptance. Don’t always try to figure out what God gives as a mystery. Ask for understanding, but don’t allow the lack of it, to be an obstacle in pursuing God’s promise.

 Earth shattering things happen when we follow God, and not our vision, or the blessings. We understand that God’s motive is life and light for all who meet Him at the cross, and He will take care of the rest! This is the type of faith embraced by Abraham, birthed in Isaac, established in Jacob, and instilled in Naphtali.

The Hebrew language is fascinating, one word has multiple meanings, as evidenced by the KJV and the ESV.  I believe Jacob meant his blessing to Naphtali in both ways. I believe Naphtali, in addition to being a good Dad, must have had wisdom of his own, which is different than knowledge.

In a house of 13 children, twelve boys and one girl, Naphtali had said something that stood out to Jacob. Even when one son was Joseph, and one Judah, Naphtali’s voice stood out to his Father. It must have been more than just a single phrase, because he said words, plural.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Naphtali said a lot, but that when he spoke, he said something of importance.  A wiseman taught me, its not the quantity of words you speak which matter, but both the quality and the consistency of what you speak.  

Lives aren’t built on flashes of brilliance, but on a consistent, and faithful commitment to what is right. Knowledge can be learned, but the same wisdom which says seek knowledge, teaches us to be faithful, or consistent. 

We know it wasn’t always the case with Naphtali, because Joseph brought his Father the evil report of the sons of Bilhah in Genesis 37:2. However, by the time of Jacob’s death, there had been a consistent change.

Jacob did not mince words during this prophetic speech. If he had any criticism of Naphtali, he would have voiced it, he didn’t. Jacob had only praise for this, not forgotten son. 

There is the lesson. Jacob, the Earthly Father, reflecting the fact that no matter our situation, Our Heavenly Father isn’t ignoring our circumstances.  No matter what we face, no matter how difficult, or how stressful, He hears our cry.  He will bless us, speaking a future into our lives, empowering us to give birth to a blessing far greater than our troubles.

It’s not about where you’re born in this life, or even whether your circumstances are triumphant or tragic. He produces greatness, in both the prison and the palace. What matters is that you are part of God’s family, and how you respond. 

The situation, the foe, the circumstance all are irrelevant to God, when it comes to your destiny. What is relevant, is will you trust in Him, when you don’t understand? Will you say, this doesn’t make sense, or I don’t understand it, but He does?

Naphtali said, God will allot, protected, forming and repaid. Naphtali emerged the squared circle of his story, to rely on God’s Will. In other words, I’ll trust Him to set the course, to keep us protected in the process, to form what’s needed in us, and to repay us, not by our merit, but by His worth!

Leave a Reply