Bible History Online
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
naf'-ta-li (naphtali; Nephthaleim):
I. THE PATRIARCH
2. Circumstances of His Birth
3. Historical and Traditional Details
II. TRIBE OF NAPHTALI
1. Its Relative Position
2. Its Location in Israel
3. Physical Features
4. Distinction of the Tribe
5. Sites and Inhabitants
6. Labors of Jesus in This District
I. The Patriarch.
The 5th son of Jacob, and the 2nd born to him by Rachel's handmaid, Bilhah. He was full brother of Dan (Gen 30:7 ff).
At his birth Rachel is said to have exclaimed, naphtule 'Elohim niphtalti, "wrestlings of God"--i.e. "mighty wrestlings"--"have I wrestled."
2. Circumstances of His Birth:
Her sister's fruitfulness was a sore trial to the barren Rachel. By her artifice she had obtained children, the offspring of her maid ranking as her own; and thus her reproach of childlessness was removed. The name Naphtali given to this son was a monument of her victory. She had won the favor and blessing of God as made manifest in the way yearned for by the oriental heart, the birth of sons.
3. Historical and Traditional Details:
Personal details regarding the patriarch North are entirely wanting in Scripture; and the traditions have not much to say about him. According to Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, he was a swift runner. It also tells us that he was one of the 5 brethren whom Joseph chose to represent the family of Jacob in the presence of Pharaoh. He is said to have been 132 years old at his death (Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, viii, 1, 1). When Jacob and his family moved to Egypt, Naphtali had 4 sons (Gen 46:24). In Egypt, he died and was buried.
II. Tribe of Naphtali.
1. Its Relative Position:
When the first census was taken in the wilderness, the tribe numbered 53,400 fighting men (Nu 1:43; 2:30). At the second census, the numbers had shrunk to 45,400 (Nu 26:48 ff); but see NUMBERS. The position of Naphtali in the desert was on the North of the tabernacle with the standard of the camp of Dan, along with the tribe of Asher (Nu 2:25 ff). The standard, according to Jewish tradition, was a serpent, or basilisk, with the legend, "Return of Yahweh to the many thousands of Israel" (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Nu 2:25). When the host was on the march, this camp came in the rear (Nu 2:31). The prince of the tribe at Sinai was Ahira ben Enan (Nu 2:29). Among the spies the tribe was represented by Nahbi ben Vophsi (Nu 13:14). Prince Pedahel ben Ammihud was chosen from Naphtali to assist in the division of the land (Nu 34:28). Toward the end of David's reign the ruler of the tribe was Jeremoth ben Azriel (1 Ch 27:19). Hiram the Tyrian artificer is described as "the son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali" (1 Ki 7:14). But in 2 Ch 2:14 he is called "the son of a woman of the daughters of Dan." Jdg 5:15 does not definitely associate Barak with the tribe of Issachar; his residence was at Kedesh (Jdg 4:6); it is therefore possible that he belonged to the tribe of Naphtali.
2. Its Location in Israel:
In the allocation of the land, the lot of Naphtali was the last but one to be drawn (Josh 19:32-39). The boundaries are stated with great fullness. While it is yet impossible to trace them with certainty, the identification of sites in recent years, for which we are mainly indebted to the late Col. Conder, makes possible an approximation. The territory was bounded on the East by the Sea of Galilee and the upper reaches of the Jordan. Josephus makes it extend to Damascus (Ant., V, i, 22); but there is nothing to support this. The southern boundary probably ran from the point where Wady el-Bireh enters the Jordan, westward along the northern side of the valley to Mt. Tabor. The western border may have gone up by way of Chattin (Ziddim) and Yaquq (Hukkok) to Kerr `Anan (Hannathon), bending there to the West, including the land of er-Rameh (Ramah) until it reached the territory of Asher. Running northward again until nearly opposite Tyre, it bent eastward, and once more northward to the LiTany (Leontes), taking in the larger part of what is called by the Arabs Belad Beshdrah and Belad es-Shukif. Nineteen cities in Naphtali are named in Josh 19:32 ff. Among them was the famous city of refuge, KEDESH-NAPHTALI (which see), on the heights to the West of the Waters of Merom, where extensive ruins are still to be seen (20:7). It, along with Hammoth-dor and Kartan, was assigned to the Gershonite Levites (21:23; 1 Ch 6:76).
The land lying around the springs of the Jordan was included in the lot of Naphtali. It is clear that from this part, as well as from the cities named in Jdg 1:33, Naphtali did not drive out the Canaanites. These the Danites found in possession at the time of their raid. There is no indication that Naphtali resented in any way this incursion of their kindred tribe into their territory (Jdg 18).
3. Physical Features:
The district thus indicated includes much excellent land, both pastoral and arable. There are the broad, rich terraces that rise away to the North and Northwest of the Sea of Galilee, with the fertile plain of Gennesaret on the seashore. The mountains immediately North of the sea are rocky and barren; but when this tract is passed, we enter the lofty and spacious lands of upper Galilee, which from time immemorial have been the joy of the peasant farmer. Great breadths there are which in season yield golden harvests. The richly diversified scenery, mountain, hill and valley, is marked by a finer growth of trees than is common in Israel. The terebinth and pine, the olive, mulberry, apricot, fig, pomegranate, orange, lemon and vine are cultivated to good purpose. Water is comparatively plentiful, supplied by many copious springs. It was one of the districts from which Solomon drew provisions, the officer in charge being the king's son-in-law, Ahimaaz (1 Ki 4:15).
4. Distinction of the Tribe:
The free life of these spacious uplands, which yielded so liberally to the touch of the hand of industry, developed a robust manhood and a wholesome spirit of independence among its inhabitants. According to Josephus, who knew them well (BJ, III, iii, 2), the country never lacked multitudes of men of courage ready to give a good account of themselves on all occasions of war. Its history, as far as we know it, afforded ample opportunity for the development of warlike qualities. In the struggle with Sisera, Naphtali was found on the high places of the field (Jdg 5:18). To David's forces at Hebron, Naphtali contributed a thousand captains "and with them with shield and spear thirty and seven thousand" (1 Ch 12:34). Their position exposed them to the first brunt of attack by enemies from the North; and in the wars of the kings they bore an important part (1 Ki 15:20; 2 Ki 12:18; 13:22); and they were the first on the West of the Jordan to be carried away captive (2 Ki 15:29).
5. Sites and Inhabitants:
The largest town in Mt. Naphtali today (in 1915) is Safed, on the heights due North of the Sea of Galilee, often spoken of as the "city set on a hill." It is built in the form of a horseshoe, open to the North, round the Castle Hill, on which are the ruins of the old fortress of the Templars. This is a position of great strength, which could hardly fail to be occupied in ancient times, although, so far, it cannot be identified with any ancient city. It contains between 20,000 and 30,000 inhabitants. Over against it to the Northwest, beyond the deep gorge of Wady Leimun, rises Jebel Jermuk, the highest mountain in Israel proper (circa 4,000 feet) which may be the scene of the TRANSFIGURATION (which see). The inhabitants of Safed were massacred by Sultan Bibars in 1266. The city suffered severely from earthquake in 1759; and it shared with Tibefias, also a city of Naphtali., the disaster wrought by the earthquake of 1837. It is one of the holy cities of the Jews.
6. Labors of Jesus in This District:
In the land of Naphtali Jesus spent a great part of his public life, the land of Gennesaret, Bethsaida, Capernaum and Chorazin all lying within its boundaries (compare Mt 4:15).
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'NAPHTALI'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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