Gad Warrior Asher Provider Naphtali Communicator

The aged Jacob followed the prophecy on his son Dan (Gen. 49:16-18) with three brief but significant words about the other three sons of Bilhah and Zilpah -Gad (49:19), Asher (49:20) and Naphtali (49:21).

GAD

‘Gad, a troop shall overcome him; but he shall overcome at the last.” Our English versions cannot adequately catch the word play in this statement. Four of the six Hebrew words in this verse are some form of the word “Gad.” The following rendering most closely catches the sense: “Gad, a troop shall troop upon him, but he shall troop on their heels” {New King James Version).

This prophecy succinctly portrays that the tribe of Gad will be harassed by bands of hostile enemies but will eventually repel their advances. A map of Israel in biblical times vividly portrays the precarious position of Gad in relation to some ancient enemies of Israel. Gad, along with Reuben and half of Manasseh, was allotted a portion of the land on the east side of the Jordan River (Josh. 13:24-28). Hostile bands of Ammonites and Moabites bordered his territory. The geographical name for this area was Gilead -a name that often stood in the Old Testament for the tribe of Gad. The Book of Judges portrays their precarious existence: “And that year they [the Philistines] vexed and oppressed the children of Israel -eighteen years, all the children of Israel who were on the other side of the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead” (i.e., Gad) [Jud. 10:8; see also Jer. 49:1].

This constant exposure to hostile enemies resulted in Gad’s developing a reputation of being fierce warriors, constantly ready to defend their land. In David’s days as a fugitive from Saul, the Gadite warriors who joined him at Ziklag were described in the following way: “And of the Gadites there separated themselves unto David into the stronghold in the wilderness, men of might, and men of war fit for the battle, that could handle shield and buckler, whose faces were like the faces of lions, and who were as swift as the roes upon the mountains” (1 Chr. 12:8; see also 1 Chr. 5:18-20). Moses’ blessing on Gad also portrays his ferocity: “And of Gad he said, Blessed be he who enlargeth Gad; he dwelleth like a lion, and teareth the arm with the crown of the head” (Dt. 33:20).

Scripture mentions nothing about any prominent individuals in this small but strategically located tribe. The most famous Gadite mentioned in the Old Testament was Jair who “judged Israel twenty and two years” (Jud.10:3-5). Some have considered Jephthah, the “mighty man of valor,” to be of this tribe since he is called a “Gileadite” in Judges 11:1. Certainly his military ability was characteristic of the tribe of Gad. In Jewish tradition, Elijah the prophet also was from this tribe.

Though little is mentioned of this tribe in the Bible, the lessons that can be learned from them are many. Gad graduated from the proverbial “school of hard knocks.” His hard experiences produced a toughness that only hard times can bring. The spiritual lesson from Gad is that it is in the furnace of affliction that we are prepared to come forth as gold. Some of the most precious lessons about suffering and adversity are not learned in the classroom but by undergoing the experience of suffering itself. The Psalmist testi­fies, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes” (Ps. 119:71).

Furthermore, Gad’s constant readiness is a lesson to us about the spiritual preparedness we all need to face the spiritual foe.  Gad, much like his modern Israeli descendants, had to be constantly ready to face hostile neighbors. Peter reminds us of a similar danger that constantly lurks around us: “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, like a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: (1 Pet. 5:8). Believers can never afford to be without the armor God has provided lest we be caught unawares by one of Satan’s fiery darts (cf. Eph. 6:10-17).

Finally, the promise to Gad is that “he shall overcome at the last” (Gen. 49:19b). The seven churches of The Revelation each received a promise to the “overcomer” (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). The “overcomer” is defined by John in this way: “For whatever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn. 5:4-5). Whatever be the trial faced by a believer, we can rest assured that, “in all these things we are more than  conquerors  through  him  that  loved  us” (Rom. 8:37).

ASHER

Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties” (Gen. 49:20). Asher was the eighth of Jacob’s sons, the second born to Zilpah, and the full brother of Gad (Gen, 35:26). At his birth Leah exclaimed, “Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher” (i.e. “happy”) [Gen. 30:13]. This foreshadowing of good fortune for him is repeated in Jacob’s blessing quoted above. Asher will enjoy the rich products of a fertile land, teeming with what contributes to the sustenance of life, and also will, from his ample produce, supply those tasty morsels which grace the tables of kings. During Solomon’s time, each of the twelve tribes provided in turn the royal provisions for one month each year (1 Ki. 4:7). The kings must have looked forward with great anticipation to Asher’s month, since he was known for his excellent “gourmet delights.”

Evidently Asher must have sacrificed any military capability for his agricultural fame. According to Judges 1:31-32, the tribe never dislodged the Canaanite/Phoenician inhabitants of the northwestern coast of Israel. No judge, leader, or military hero sprang from Asher. The most famous Asherite in the Bible was Anna, the prophetess who greeted the infant Jesus in the Temple (Lk. 2:36-38). This brief reference is evidence, however, that Jews of our Lord’s time still maintained their tribal identity. Anna is also one of the evidences that representatives of the ten northern tribes still existed over 700  years after the Assyrian captivity. In other words, the ten tribes were not really “lost” as they are often described.

The word that is translated “fat” in Genesis 49:20 is the feminine form of the word for “oil” (shemen). This promise regarding “oil” was elaborated on by Moses in his later remark about Asher: “. . . and let him dip his foot in oil” (i.e. shemen) [Dt. 33:24c]. It should be noted at this point that some recent publications have sought to “prove” from these statements that what Jacob and Moses were referring to was petroleum oil. On the basis of these texts, an American Christian has actually been sinking a well on Mount Carmel for a few years but as of this writing has come up dry.

While discovery of oil in Israel would greatly help the financial situation of that country, certain factors should cause us to be hesitant about making such claims on the basis of these texts. The oil mentioned in Genesis 49:20 and Deuteronomy 33:24 is not petroleum oil but olive oil. The word shemen appears 190 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. All authoritative Hebrew lexicons define it as “olive oil.” The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament states that “shemen is the general word for olive oil in its various uses.” This olive oil had an abundance of uses in biblical times. It was used for cooking (1 Ki. 17:16), lighting (Ex. 25:6), medicine (Ezek. 16:9), and religious anointing {Ex. 25:6). That Genesis 49:20 and Deuteronomy 33:24 refer to olive oil is confirmed by their fulfillment in history. The territory of Asher has always been known for its vast olive groves. Even today most of the olive oil produced in Israel comes from Asher’s territory. One of the fertile valleys in Asher’s territory today is actually called “The Valley of the Olive.”

The lesson of Asher’s prophecy is not that God will take care of Israel by the discovery of petroleum on Mount Carmel. God will take care of Israel in His own way. Investments of our money to drill wells based  on questionable biblical interpretations are not wise ways to support Israel.

The lesson of this prophecy is that Asher will be blessed with an abundance that he will share with others. To New Testament believers, the Apostle Paul expressed it this way: “Let him that stole steal no more but, rather, let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph. 4:28). We are to share with others what God has blessed us with, not hoard it for ourselves {Lk. 16:9-12; 1 Tim. 6:16-18). Furthermore, the fruitfulness of Asher is associated with oil, which is so often a symbol in Scripture of the Holy Spirit In a similar way, believers today are to bear fruit – the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

NAPHTALI

“Naphtali is a hind let loose; he giveth beautiful words” (Gen. 49:21).  Another animal is thus mentioned in Jacob’s blessings. A lion was associated with Judah (v. 9); a donkey with lssachar (v. 14); a serpent with Dan (v. 17), and a wolf with Benjamin (v. 27). Hind is the word used in the King James Version for a female deer, or doe, just as hart is used for the male deer, or buck (see Ps. 42:1; [sa. 35:6).

The fleetness and surety of foot seen in the hind is mentioned often in Scripture. Consider, for example, David’s acknowledgment of God’s help during his fleeing from Saul: “He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places” (Ps. 18:33). No doubt David had observed the hind in her fleeing from hunters in the desolate and wild wilderness where David also was fleeing from his hunter, Saul.

Jacob’s prophecy is that Naphtali will be characterized by such speed and agility. In Jewish tradition, the son Naphtali was a very swift runner. He ran all the way from Egypt to Israel with the news to old Jacob that Joseph was still alive. The prophecy, however, refers primarily to the swiftness characteristic of the tribe of Naphtali. Since the latter part of the verse speaks of the “beautiful words” to be spoken by Naphtali, many interpreters see its fulfillment in the beautiful “Song of Deborah and Barak” recorded in Judges 5:1-31. There the heroic deeds of some tribes during the battle with Jabin’s Canaanite forces are celebrated. It is interesting to note that Barak was from the tribe of Naphtali (Jud. 4:6), and the tribe is singled out in the song because of its special bravery. “Zebulun and Naphtali were a people who jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field” (Jud. 5:18). The great battle between the Israelite and Canaanite forces described in Judges 4 prompted the tribes to send volunteers. While such tribes as Reuben, Dan and Asher refused to send their contingents, tribes such as Naphtali were swift to rush their troops to battle. Where are we in the great spiritual battle being waged for the souls of men? Are we sitting in the grandstand or on the field laying down our lives, if need be, as the swift warriors of Naphtali were willing to do?

Another application of this interesting prophecy  may also be possible. When Jesus began His ministry in Galilee, Matthew 4:13-15 states that He called His disciples in the region of the tribe of Naphtali. Most of His disciples were from the same area that was allotted to Naphtali. Is it possible that these early disciples carried the “beautiful words” of the gospel swiftly as a hind that was “let loose”?

The feet of the hind are swift The Book of Romans speaks about two different types of feet Romans 3:15 condemns the feet that “are swift to shed blood.” On the other hand, Romans 10:15 commends those who preach the gospel in these words: “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” What a contrast, and what a lesson to us who are followers of Jesus. Are our feet as swift to tell someone about the gospel as they are swift to share some damaging gossip?

These three short prophecies tell us much about Gad, Asher and Naphtali and say much to us today. The lesson from Gad: “be ready.” The lesson from Asher: “be fruitful.” The lesson from Naphtali: “be swift.”

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