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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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NAPHTALI. The second son of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid, and the sixth son of Jacob ( Genesis 30:7 f. [J [Note: Jahwist.] ]). The tradition connects the story in a vague way with the word ‘twist, wrestle’: Naphtûtç ’elôhîm niphtalti Wrestlings of God (or mighty wrestlings) ‘I have wrestled with my sister and I have prevailed,’ Rachel exclaimed when Naphtali was born, ‘and she called his name Naphtali.’

The information which we have of Naphtali is very meagre. P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ascribes to him four sons when Jacob and his family entered Egypt (Genesis 46:24 ). These four have developed into ‘families’ at the time of the Exodus, and their numher is given as 53,400 in the Sinai census ( Numbers 1:42 ). At Moab, however, they had decreased to 45,000 (26:48). None of these clan-names given here, except Guni, appears again outside of the genealogy repeated in 1 Chronicles 7:13 . In the march through the desert Naphtali formed with Dan and Asher the ‘Camp of Dan,’ which constituted a total of 157,000 men of war.

While the genealogical lists cannot he relied on, there is no apparent reason for linking together Dan and Naphtali. But that they are both traced to Bilhah indicates that they were tribes of minor importance, inferior in strength, and of less consequence in the national development at the time when these relationships were created, than the tribes which sprang from Rachel.

Naphtali was the sixth in order to receive its lot (Joshua 19:32-39 ). It is somewhat more definitely defined than the others, though few of the places mentioned can be identified. No fewer than nineteen cities are said to lie within its territory, the most of which are not found again in the OT, doubtless because the history of Israel was wrought out mainly in the regions to the south. The territory reached on the north almost to the Lebanon. Southward it extended along the Jordan until it reached the point below the Sea of Galilee where the Wady el-Bireh joins the Jordan. The greater part lay to the north-west of the Sea, and in this direction (N. and W.) its boundaries appear to have been shifting. ‘Ancient and modern writers’ (writes Driver, Deut . 413) ‘vie with one another in praising the soil and climate of the territory owned by Naphtali: it was abundantly irrigated; and its productions rich and varied. Lower Galilee was, however, yet more fertile and beautiful than Upper Galilee. The vegetation in the neighbourhood of the lake is semi-tropical.’ Modern writers join with Josephus in praising it, and Neubauer ( Géog. du Talm . p. 180) quotes a saying from the Talmud: ‘It is easier to raise a legion of olives in Galilee than to bring up a child in Palestine.’ No wonder that Naphtali was ‘like a hind let loose’ ( Genesis 49:21 , if this be the correct translation; see the Comm.). Besides these advantages, it was fortunate in location in times of peace. Roads ran in every direction, connecting it with the outer world.

The heroism and warlike daring of the tribe is sung in Judges 5:1-31 . In that decisive struggle with the Canaanitcs the tribe wrote its name high on the roll of Israelitish fame. But this was in the days of its pristine vigour. At a later period it performed nothing worthy of record. The Blessings of Jacob ( Genesis 49:21 ) and of Moses ( Deuteronomy 33:23 , ‘Satisfied with favour, and full with the blessing of Jahweh’) dwell only upon its productivity. The captain to whom the honour of leading the Israelites to victory over the hosts of Sisera is ascribed in the prose narrative, Judges 4:1-24 , was Barak of Kedesn-naphtali. This is probable in view of the readiness with which Naphtali and Zehulun its neighbour responded to his call, though Judges 5:15 points rather to a connexion with Issachar. According to 1 Kings 7:14 , Hiram, the worker in metals, etc., whom Solomon brought from Tyre to work on the house of Jahweh, was the son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali [ 2 Chronicles 2:14 , it is true, says she was of Dan. The shifting of boundaries may be the cause of the divergence]. Few names of prominence, however, from members of this tribe appear in connexion with the national life.

According to the Chronicler (1 Chronicles 12:34 ) 37,000 warriors with 1000 captains went to the support of David at Hebron. Under the Syrian king Bir-idri (Benhadad), ‘all the land of Naphtali,’ together with certain cities of Israel, were smitten with the sword ( 1 Kings 15:20 ). When the Syrian kingdom fell before the Assyrian armies, northern Israel was exposed, as never before, to the relentless legions of the East; and ‘in the days of Pekah, king of Israel, came Tiglath-pileser [iii. b.c. 734], king of Assyria, and took l jon, and Abel-beth-maacah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, and all the land of Naphtali, and he carried them captive to Assyria’ ( 2 Kings 15:29 ). See also Tribes.

James A. Craig.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Naphtali'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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