Thursday, March 08, 2012

Jacob’s Prediction About Gad, Asher, and Naphtali - Genesis 49:19-21


“As for Gad, raiders shall raid him, But he shall raid at their heels.  As for Asher, his food shall be rich, And he shall yield royal dainties.  Naphtali is a doe let loose, He gives beautiful words.”

After Jacob makes his prophecy about Dan (the first of four sons that were born to him by the maidservants of his two wives Leah and Rachel) and for whom he had considerable to say, he then uttered his famous aside, “For your salvation I wait, O Lord.”  He catches his breath and then in just two short sentences addresses his three other sons by the maidservants – Gad, Asher, and Naphtali.  But he does not take them in order of age.

While their natural order is Naphtali (the second son after Dan via Rachel’s maid Bilbah), followed by Gad and Asher, the sons of Zilpah (Leah’s maid), Jacob addresses Gad first, then Asher, and then Naphtali.

Gad is Jacob’s seventh son.  His name means troop or invader, and also ‘good fortune’.  Jacob predicts that raiders will raid him, but in the end the tribe will turn around and overcome those that raid them “at their heels”.  Gad actually settled outside the boundaries of Israel at the time.  One sees this much later in Scripture (I Chronicles 12:14 and Jeremiah 49:1).

Asher is Jacob’s eighth son, the second by Zilpah, Leah’s handmaiden.  His name is interpreted to mean ‘happy’.  Perhaps based on this prediction we should refer to this tribe as the “Happy Bakers”.  Clearly they went on to become well known for their pastries and the baked delicacies they would provide for kings.  You can read more about Asher in Deuteronomy 33:24.  They were to be a rich tribe not only because of the food they baked, but also as a result of the revenues from exporting their goods.  All this came about because they were given the land between Tyre and Carmel, land which was known for its fertility, producing the best corn from which to make oil in all of Palestine.

Jacob now goes back to address Naphtali, his sixth son (the second son after Dan of Rachel’s maid Bilbah), who was born before Gad and Asher, the sons of Zilpah (Leah’s maid) that he already prophesized about.  And Jacob’s statement concerning Naphtali is rather peculiar.  He calls him “a doe let loose who gives beautiful words”.  The name itself means “my wrestling”.  Rachel gave him that name as she said, upon having him, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and indeed I have prevailed” (Genesis 30:8).  There is bound to be some struggling in one’s future with a name like that. 

But with the struggle, comes blessing from receiving freedom.  Robert Jamieson, using Taylor’s Scripture Illustrations in his commentary, suggests that “Naphtali is a deer roaming at liberty; he ‘shooteth’ forth goodly branches," or majestic antlers”.  He writes “the meaning of the prophecy seems to be that the tribe of Naphtali would be located in a territory so fertile and peaceable, that, feeding on the richest pasture, he would spread out, like a deer, branching antlers.”

Matthew Henry while indicating in his commentary on this verse that in his opinion, this is the one prophecy of Jacob’s that was least fulfilled, still has much to say about its accuracy.  Clearly there was an element of Israel that was to be generally loving, especially to other tribes, and Naphtali personified that best and thus Jacob describes it as a “doe giving beautiful words” of kindness and comfort to others.  The tribe was also situated near the Sea of Galiliee, according to David Guzik in his commentary.  And that is where Jesus did much of His teaching and ministry.  Thus, Jacob wisely predicts that Naphtali’s gift will be goodly or beautiful words.

And with that prophecy, Jacob is ready to turn to his two youngest and admittedly we would have to say, his favorite sons.  These were born to him directly by his beloved second wife, Rachel, who was now deceased.  But before we turn to what he had to say about them, it behooves us to stop and reflect on the fact that Jacob was indeed a realist.  He had twelve sons and he had a prophecy or blessing for all of them, not just his favorite ones.

I have only had one wife, so it is hard for me to fully understand Jacob’s different feelings for his twelve different sons.  I did not have to work fourteen years to get my wife.  I was not tricked into marrying her sister first.  My children have never disappointed me as blatantly as some of his did.  Therefore, I cannot judge the man in any way.

Secondly, perhaps since I have not walked in Jacob’s shoes, I do know that I would have great trouble picking any favorites among my children or my grandchildren if I was really forced to.  But the lesson is still there for all of us – we have a responsibility to think of all our charges and offspring and those that God has given to us as a result of marriage or remarriage.  We are to be fair and caring for each one and for each of their children.  May God help us to do that – both while we are alive, and afterwards, through what we leave behind for them.


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