Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Front cover for 'The Hind in the Wood' by Marie Catherine Baroness D'aulnoy, illustration by Walter Crane, 1875
Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words.
— Genesis 49:21
It is generally agreed among scholars that that the Hebrew Bible was assembled during the exilic period (~600 BCE) from existing written and oral traditions spanning previous centuries. Thus what may read like predictions in the early historical accounts were actually written after the fact. With Israel long-divided, and many subjects taken in slavery to Babylon the priests and scribes were able to look back and describe the series of events that led this people to their current plight. I summarise crudely.
Jacob's blessing of his sons in Genesis 49 is one example of an after-the-fact prediction. It's known as the blessing, but in fact Jacob begins by judging Reuben, Simeon and Levi, and condemning their tribes to smaller portions of the inheritance. The other sons are then blessed with predictions of what they are to become. The blessing is expressed in poetic language, beautifully rendered in the King James version in its Shakespeare-like style.
The verse that stands out for me is the blessing of Naphtali. The rich, poetic language of the original is illustrated by the variety of translations of these few words. 'Hind' is variously translated as hart, doe, deer, female deer and spreading stem, and 'goodly words' as lovely fawn, beautiful fruit, beautiful words and speeches of fairness.1
There is little information to be found on the Naphtali tribe. Tradition indicates that in his later years Naphtali became known as a man of intelligence and wisdom, reflecting great spiritual strength and a sense of fairness. The symbol of the Naphtali tribe was the fleet-footed gazelle. These sparse facts combine to make up the short verse in the blessing.
The whole of Jacob's blessing is a beautiful passage to read aloud2, and offers insight into the future events we come across in later books. It marks the beginning of the end of the book of Genesis, and the end of Jacob's life, the final chapter being committed to his funeral, and a reiteration of God's promise to provide His people with their own lands.
1 You can read many of the different translations of this verse at Bible Study Tools.
2 This is especially true for the carefully crafted translation in The Five Books of Moses by Robert Alter.