5 Lessons From The Life Of Naphtali

 Naphtali was one of six tribes chosen to stand on Mount Ebal and pronounce curses (Deuteronomy 27:13). By means of these curses, the people promised God they would refrain from certain behaviors. For example, one curse says, “Cursed is the man who moves his neighbor’s boundary stone” (Deuteronomy 27:17). Another states, “Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien or fatherless or the widow” (Deuteronomy 27:19). Still another: “Cursed is the man who kills his neighbor secretly” (Deuteronomy 27:24). In all, Naphtali helped deliver twelve such admonishments (Deuteronomy 27:15–26).

When Jacob blessed his twelve sons, he said, “Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns” (Genesis 49:21). The image presented is of one who springs forth with great speed and provides good news. Later, Moses blessed the tribe: “Naphtali is abounding with the favor of the Lord and is full of his blessing; he will inherit southward to the lake” (Deuteronomy 33:23). In Joshua 19:32–39, we learn that Napthali’s land was in northern Israel, bordering Asher’s territory, and the Sea of Kinnereth (or Galilee) touched the southern portion of its territory.

Despite all their blessings, the tribe of Naphtali failed to obey God’s command to drive out all the Canaanites living in their territory. Therefore, “the Naphtalites too lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, and those living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath became forced labor for them” (Judges 1:33).

The tribe of Naphtali had its ups and downs. Its history includes incomplete obedience and shades of cowardice, but it also includes bravery under Gideon and a godly support of King David. Probably the greatest lesson we can take from Naphtali is that God exalts the humble. Naphtali (as part of Galilee) was despised, and Nazareth was the lowest of the low. Yet Nazareth was Jesus’ hometown, and Galilee was exactly where Jesus chose to begin His ministry. For our sakes, He became “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3). The King of kings had the most unpretentious start. He is truly “humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29).

Let us explore 5 lessons from the life of Naphtali 

1. The Value of Freedom and Agility

 In the blessing given by Jacob before his death (Genesis 49:21), Naphtali is described as "a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words." This symbol of a free-running deer can teach the value of freedom and the ability to move swiftly and gracefully through life’s challenges. It also emphasizes the power of communication ("he giveth goodly words"), suggesting that freedom combined with effective communication can be very influential. The image of a “hind let loose” suggests an existence free from constraints and limitations. For Naphtali, this represents a lifestyle or a state where one is not hindered by external or internal barriers. In a broader sense, this freedom can be interpreted as the autonomy to make choices, pursue opportunities, and live in a way that is true to one’s nature and aspirations. It encourages individuals and groups to seek conditions that allow for personal growth and self-expression without unnecessary restrictions.

2. The Rewards of Faithfulness

In the division of the Promised Land, Naphtali received a portion rich in natural beauty and resources, bordered by the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee. This allocation can be seen as a reward for the faithfulness and dedication of the tribe, illustrating that steadfastness in one's duties and loyalties can lead to abundant rewards.

The faithfulness of Naphtali is also reflected in the role that his tribe played in Israel’s history. For instance, their active participation in key battles, such as those recounted in the Song of Deborah, demonstrates their commitment to the collective security and wellbeing of Israel. This active engagement and dedication contributed to their esteemed reputation and influential role, showcasing how faithfulness extends beyond immediate material rewards to include lasting legacy and honor.

The blessings and the territory passed on to the descendants of Naphtali demonstrate that faithfulness can have a lasting, multi-generational impact. The tribe’s inheritance of a prosperous land ensured that future generations would benefit from the faithfulness of their ancestors, underlining the principle that the rewards of such dedication are not always immediate but can pave the way for enduring prosperity and stability for descendants.

3. Contributions to Community Success

In the Song of Deborah (Judges 5), the Tribe of Naphtali is praised for its valiant efforts and commitment in battle alongside the tribes of Zebulun at Mount Tabor. This participation and bravery underscore the importance of contributing to community efforts and standing in solidarity during critical times. Naphtali’s commitment to the battle, despite the risks involved, explains the significance of solidarity and collective effort in achieving community success. Their actions exemplify how communities can overcome significant challenges when members unite for a common purpose. This is a powerful reminder of the impact of unity and teamwork, whether in social, professional, or civic contexts.

The Tribe of Naphtali’s contributions were recognized and celebrated in the Song of Deborah, which served as a form of communal memory that honored their valor and commitment.

4. Blessing and Identity 

Naphtali was one of the twelve sons of Jacob, and his name, given by Rachel, means "my wrestling." Rachel named him thus as she felt she had wrestled with her sister Leah and had won because of his birth. This reflects the idea that our struggles can lead to blessings and new identities, showing how perseverance in face of adversity can result in positive outcomes. 

The blessings from Jacob and Moses (who blessed the tribe with abundance and favor from the Lord, Deuteronomy 33:23) carry a prophetic weight that likely influenced how the tribe viewed themselves and their role among the other tribes of Israel. They might have seen themselves as destined for eloquence, agility, and favor, which could have motivated their actions and decisions, showing how profound and influential words can be in shaping personal and collective identity. The blessings and identity assigned to Naphtali echoed through generations, impacting how descendants viewed their potential and place within the larger context of Israel. This shows how blessings can have a long-term effect on the social and cultural fabric of a community, influencing not just one generation but many to come.

Over time, the characteristics and destinies foretold in these blessings likely became integrated into the cultural and social identity of the Naphtali tribe. They may have cultivated a reputation for being swift, eloquent, and blessed, which could have influenced their roles in diplomacy, leadership, and conflict within Israel.

5. Importance of Legacy and Tribe

Although individual mentions of Naphtali are sparse, his legacy is seen in the tribe that bears his name. The Tribe of Naphtali played significant roles at various points in Israel's history, highlighting how individual legacies can extend beyond personal lifetimes into communal and historical impacts.

The blessings given to Naphtali by Jacob and Moses were not just for him but were intended to define and benefit his descendants. This demonstrates how legacy is about transmitting values, promises, and destinies to future generations. The life and identity of Naphtali, shaped by these blessings, influenced how his tribe identified itself and acted within the larger community of Israel.

Understanding the legacy and the role of tribe in the life of Naphtali can inspire modern leadership and community building. It encourages leaders to think about the values they instill, the culture they foster, and how they can encourage collaboration and unity to achieve common goals. It also prompts individuals to consider their contributions to their communities and the legacies they wish to leave behind.

Naphtali's tribe, blessed with characteristics of freedom and eloquence, and endowed with a fertile inheritance, shows how divine blessings and individual traits can contribute to communal prosperity and success. The tribe's involvement in pivotal battles and their responsiveness to communal needs explains the importance of unity and cooperation in overcoming challenges and achieving shared goals.

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