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Tribe of Naphtali: Symbol, History & Facts

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

There were twelve tribes of Israel, and each one had its own unique characteristics. In this lesson, we're going to check out the Tribe of Naphtali and see how their founder defined their destiny.

The Tribe of Naphtali

In Judeo-Christian history, the Twelve Tribes of Israel were important. It was this confederation of tribes that established a permanent Israelite presence in Palestine and who eventually founded the Kingdom of Israel. Each of the twelve tribes was defined by its leader, one of the twelve sons of Jacob.

Of course, in a family that big there's always going to be one son who's a little more neglected than the others (not that he'd complain about it). In this case, that son seems to have been Naphtali. But, neglected or not, Naphtali went on with the rest of his brothers to found one of the great tribes of Israel.

Naphtali was one of the northernmost tribes of Israel
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The Blessing of Jacob

In the Bible, the twelve sons of Jacob are mainly involved in two stories: the selling of Joseph to Pharaoh and Jacob's blessing. At the end of his life, Jacob described each of his sons, thus creating a prophetic blessing that would define their tribes for generations. To Naphtali, Jacob said:

''Naphtali is a hind let loose, he gives beautiful words.''

What did this mean? To understand Jacob's blessing we need to know a bit more about Naphtali and his tribe.

The Life of Naphtali

The Bible states that Naphtali was the second son of Bilhah, a handmaiden of Jacob's wife Rachel. He was Jacob's sixth son. Any child born to Rachel's handmaiden was considered a child of Rachel herself, and she raised Naphtali as her own. When Naphtali was born, Rachel said that she had ''wrestled with my sister, and I have indeed prevailed.'' Naphtali's name actually means to win through wrestling.

So, what was Rachel talking about? It's a little unclear, but we have to remember that Jacob was once tricked into marrying Rachel's sister, Leah, instead of Rachel. The Bible does not explicitly state what this did to Rachel and Leah's relationship, but it seems like it caused a lot of family tension. That's likely what Rachel is referring to. She wrestled with her sister over this issue, and now she is raising six children with Jacob, so she's won.

Beyond that, we actually don't know much about Naphtali. He's referred to by name only a few times in the scriptures. Other than that, he's only implicitly present as ''one of the brothers.'' This may indicate that he held slightly inferior status as the son of a handmaiden, and it's worth noting that his tribe is nearly always listed last despite the fact that he was the sixth son.

However, from what we do know, Naphtali proved to be happy and a very eloquent speaker (taken as a sign of great intelligence in that culture). He became respected as a man of intelligence and sage wisdom, which was believed to reflect his godliness and spiritual strength. This is also why Jacob described Naphtali as having ''beautiful words.'' His words were eloquent, wise, and holy.

Naphtali's Tribe

Naphtali's godliness was reflected in the happiness of his character and eloquence of his speech. That same blessing would carry the legacy of his tribe. When the Israelites conquered Canaan, Joshua divided up the land between the tribes. The tribe of Naphtali got the land bordering the Jordan River, just west of the Sea of Galilee. The region of Naphtali was amongst the most fertile in all of Israel, known as an earthly paradise to the Israelites. To the people of Naphtali, their founder's goodness and godliness was reflected in their receiving this paradise. They were blessed through his beautiful words.

The symbol of Naphtali was a deer
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