November 9, 2010

Napthali: Giver of Beautiful Words

Having now come to the sixth son of Jacob, we are forced to say what we have said twice before already (and will probably say again a few times over the next six weeks): ‘Boy we sure don’t know a lot about the life of ___________’. This time the blank is filled in with the name “Naphtali” – born to Jacob’s handmaid, sixth of his twelve sons, a patriarch in Israel … and that’s about all we can say. Not much beyond his genealogical record is told us about the life and times of Jacob’s sixth son.

So how am I going to get an entire article out of him? Well, there is one other tidbit about Napthali. It comes in Genesis 49, as he stands beside his father’s deathbed. In that scene, as we have noted in previous articles, Jacob is pronouncing blessing (and sometimes woe) upon his sons as he prepares to leave this world. And what he says to Napthali is interesting … and not a little opaque. We’re not sure if Jacob’s words, in Genesis 49.21, are a description of Napthali’s character up until that point, or a promised blessing concerning his (and his family’s) future. Here is what Jacob says: “Naphtali is a doe let loose, he gives beautiful words.”

What does that mean? It sounds like an assessment of who Naphtali already is, since it’s spoken in the present tense: “Napthali is a doe let loose, he gives beautiful words.” So maybe Jacob’s sixth son was the poet of the family. Maybe he wrote the songs they sang around the campfire. Maybe he was like King David, the psalmist, before there was a book of psalms. But, then again, we have to notice that what Jacob is really doing in Genesis 49 is pronouncing blessings upon his sons’ futures. That’s mainly what the chapter is about. And, given that information, even though his words for Napthali are spoken in the present tense, it is quite possible that they were still intended as a future prophecy of what Naphtali and his family would become. In other words, perhaps Jacob was prophesying that Napthali and his family would, in the future, be a source of “beautiful words” … not necessarily that his son was already a bard. We can’t be sure, but I suspect this latter interpretation. I suspect Genesis 49.21 is a prophecy about the future of the tribe of Naphtali.

I don’t know for sure how this prediction may have been fulfilled. But I have one good guess. And it comes from remembering that the land allotted to Naphtali and his descendants is in the area that most of us know better as Galilee (see Isaiah 9.1 and Matthew 4.15). And we all know what happened in Galilee don’t we? Weren’t its hillsides and villages and famous lake the scene in which some of the world’s most famous, most “beautiful words” were spoken? Wasn’t it on the Sea of Galilee that Jesus spoke the “beautiful words” that calmed the waves and the wind? Wasn’t this where He spoke the “beautiful words” that sent seven demons out of Mary Magdalene? And wasn’t it in the ancient homeland of Naphtali that those “beautiful words” that we call The Sermon on the Mount were spoken? So yes, ringing forth out of Galilee – out of the tribal allotment of Naphtali – came the most “beautiful words” mankind has ever heard, from the most lovely of voices!

So thank God for Napthali! Uneventful as his life may seem, as it unfolds (or doesn’t unfold) in the pages of Genesis … thank God that this man lived, and had children, who had more children, who settled in the Promised Land and cultivated the land and the villages whose names are so familiar to readers of the New Testament! Thank God for how they prepared the way for Jesus! And may God grant – whether we live to see it or not – that Jesus’ “beautiful words” would echo forth with saving power in all the streets and neighborhoods that we ourselves call home. May we prepare the way. And may our land, like Naphtali’s, once again ring out with “beautiful words”!


GP said...

Another reminder of how God uses someone seemingly insignificant for something that honors Him.

Kurt Strassner said...

Amen. Thanks for checking in, GP. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!