Gad, Asher, and Naphtali
“I wait for your salvation, O Lord. Raiders shall raid Gad, but he shall raid at their heels. Asher’s food shall be rich, and he shall yield royal delicacies. Naphtali is a doe let loose that bears beautiful fawns” (Gen. 49:18-21).- Genesis 49:18-21
Following his blessing of Dan, Jacob exclaims that he is waiting for the salvation of the Lord (Gen. 49:18). Though it may not seem to fit the context at first, there is good reason for him to pause and plead for his family’s redemption. His words regarding Dan and Gad indicate that his offspring (including the other tribes) will be troubled by enemies and need divine help in order to survive.
Gad, the first tribe addressed in today’s passage, will live the warrior’s life. He will have to deal continually with raiding armies (v. 19), because the tribe later settles east of the Jordan river, on the border with other nations (Josh. 13:24–28). However, Gad’s sons will raid at the heels of their enemies (Gen. 49:19). Jacob is predicting that the tribe will overcome their foes, and the Gadites actually do come to be known for their military skill (1 Chron. 5:18–22). Such victory, John Calvin comments, is a foretaste of the victory our Father will give to His people: “This prophecy may be applied to the whole church, which is assailed not for one day only, but is perpetually crushed by fresh attacks, until at length God shall exalt it to honor.”
Jacob speaks of great wealth for the tribe of Asher (Gen. 49:20). He will settle along the shore of the Mediterranean in a fertile area north of the Carmel mountain range (Josh. 19:24–31), where nearby trading routes enable Asher’s offspring to provide “royal delicacies” (Gen. 49:20), food for palaces near and far. The prophetess Anna, who faithfully worshiped and proclaimed God’s redemption, came from the tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36–38).
Genesis 49:21 is difficult to translate. The animal imagery in the immediate context (vv. 9, 14, 17, 27) makes it likely that Jacob is likening Naphtali to a doe, as reflected in our translation. The idea here may also be that he will speak beautiful words, or good news, to his kinsmen. Jacob is possibly predicting that Naphtali will start off as a free spirit and then settle down with his family and the nation. Even the footloose Naphtali will one day have a permanent home in Canaan, near the sea of Galilee (Josh. 19:32–39). Barak, whose army saved Israel from king Jabin of Hazor (Judg. 4), is one famous Naphtalite.
Matthew Henry reflects on the different skills and personalities of Jacob’s sons in Genesis 49. “Among God’s Israel then,” he writes, “is to be found a great variety of dispositions, contrary to each other, yet all contributing to the beauty and strength of the body.” Indeed, we know that the Lord will use our differences to build up the body of Christ today. How is God using your unique gifts and personality for the benefit of other believers?
Passages for Further Study
Deuteronomy 33:20-21, 23-25
1 Chronicles 12:8-15
1 Corinthians 12:12-31