Abram was the first in scripture to be called 'Hebrew'. Why? What does it mean? Is it only referring to the lineage that Abram descended from? Or, is there an understanding of this discriptive term that also applies to us, as Believers In Christ? This writing explores this concept.
The Sons of Jacob / Israel
Naphtali; My Wrestle with Truth
KJV Genesis 30:7 And Bilhah, Rachel's maid conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son.
As I, too, have ‘wrestled’ with trying to continue the progression of this writing series on the twelve sons of Jacob/ Israel, several ‘new’ thought processes have been haunting me, and won’t stop harassing me. Over the decades I have come to recognize this ‘haunting’ as the prodding of Our Father’s Holy Spirit, but that doesn’t make finding a viable way through the maze of obstacles any easier. As a friend was fond of saying, “Sometimes you just have to jump, and build your wings on the way down”. I’ve never been one to be a ‘daredevil’, but occasionally you just have to follow your gut instinct. As an apology for a personal narrative, I hope that makes sense.
I am 68 years of age, and have never yet met the woman that was comfortable with ‘her man’ having sexual relations with another woman. Sharing ‘your man’ with another woman is not a very sensible path to take when your life is already in ‘security failure’, as was the case of Rachel. And yet, we seem to find this casual attitude throughout much of the Old Testament narrative; men having sexual intercourse with women other than their spouse, but always for an honorable cause, ‘don’t ya know’. We wouldn’t do it for any other reason than an honorable cause.
I see several implications in these scenarios of ‘sex swapping’, most of which seem to be justifiable on the surface of the narrative, but none of these explain away, or supersede, the basic human instinct of ‘marital fidelity’ and personal loyalty. Devotion to a mate is a primordial requisite, and any violation of that fidelity is cause for brewing trouble in the relationship. I know how naïve that sounds, but attractive distractions to an intimate personal relationship with a mate/spouse are disastrous to a stable relationship, and history has proven that to be true, multiple millions of times. This ‘truth’ seems to also be relevant in our own personal relationships in God. Spiritual ‘distractions’ (spiritual adulteries?) have a detrimental effect on our relationship with God, and consequently on our Godly relationship with others. I believe Rachel understood the implications of this spiritual compromise, and was in torment to find a solution to what she saw as a lethal threat to her life as the wife of Jacob; the curse of failing to produce a son. Can we not all also identify with the nagging curse that tells us that we have failed to produce the Son? The life of Jacob is a visible example of the chaos created when ‘man thinking’ directs the course of our Spiritual journey. This is God’s Pageant, and not man’s.
KJV Genesis 30:8 And Rachel said, “With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed (overcome; accomplished; gained the victory)”: and she called his name Naphtali.
The Hebrew language of this verse gives a veritable discourse on the complexity and competition of the relationship between Rachel and her older sister Leah. Leah, as the elder sister, resented having to share her husband, Jacob, with a younger sister. Leah was fully aware that her husband loved Rachel, and initially wanted her as his wife. Leah was fully aware that she was forced into marriage with Jacob by her father, Laban. Nowhere peviously in scripture is there any discourse where Laban had any sons, so we assume that Leah was the firstborn of Laban. Laban had much political and financial interest at stake when he forged the marriage of his two daughters to the son of his sister, Rebecca. The incestuous inter-marriage among families still prevails today among many, particularly those that believe themselves to be ‘royals’, and want to keep the ‘royalty’ in the family. Few motives are as destructive as the greedy lust for power and wealth.
The Hebrew root verb that gives this name and this scenario such illumination is ‘pah-thal’, which is listed in Strong’s Concordance as # H6617. Strong’s describes this word as “…to twine; to struggle; to be morally torturous; etc.” Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon adds a little more clarity to this verb by sharing this: “…to act perversely, or deceitfully.” When this verb is recognized as a noun, Strong’s # H6616, Strong’s describes this word as “…twine; bound, bracelet, lace, ribband, line, thread, wire.” Strong’s description of the noun form of this verb tends to recognize the word as having a ‘connective effect’, or as being used to ‘tie’ or ‘bind’ one thing to another. Strong’s description of the noun form of this verb, pronounced as ‘pah-theel’, conceals the underlying emotional struggle that is going on in the lives of Rachel and Leah. Most would grasp the understanding that twine, or thread, is made from ‘twisting together’ individual fibers of animal hair, or cotton, etc. However, not once in scripture is this word ‘pah-theel’ translated as ‘twine’ or ‘thread’. And we understand that ‘twisting’ together these individual fibers gives thread and twine their customary strength characteristic. We are familiar with Ecclesiastes 4:12 that tells us “…a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” And yet the word ‘cord’ is not once in scripture translated from this word ‘pah-thal’, or its noun form of ‘pah-theel’. This word ‘pah-theel’ is, however, used to describe the ‘bracelets’ worn by Judah which he used to pay his daughter-in-law Tamar for sex. [Gen. 38: 13-26] So, what is going on in this story of the struggle between Rachel, and her older sister Leah? And, what was so special about the ‘bracelets’ worn by Judah, except they ‘tied’ Judah to the pregnancy of his daughter-in-law Tamar?
The first use of this word ‘pah-thal’, which is an action verb, is in Gen. 30:8 where Rachel describes the naming of ‘Naphtali’, the second born son of Bilhah to Jacob, and she describes her experience as ‘wrestling’ with her sister. But a more descriptive understanding of this verb can be had in Psalm 18:26 and Proverbs 8:8, where in both verses this verb ‘pah-thal’ is translated as ‘froward’. In Psalm 18:26 the English word ‘froward’ appears twice, but only in the last use of this word ‘froward’ do we find the Psalmist using the Hebrew ‘pah-thal’. The first Hebrew word translated ‘froward’ in this verse is ‘iq-qesh’, Strong’s # H6141, which also means to be twisted, distorted and of a perverse and crooked nature. The use of the two words, ‘pah-thal’ and ‘iq-qesh’, seems to indicate a ‘cause and effect’ scenario. Both verses, as well as others that confirm this, are showing that when anyone manifests a crooked and perverted nature, an ‘adversarial wrestling’ (pah-thal), or struggle goes on within them, and/or in their relationships with others. Psalm 18:26 is a classic example of this idea. A perverted or crooked nature (iq-qesh) produces ‘adversarial wrestling or struggle’ in relationship to others. KJV Psalm 18:26 With the pure (bah-rahr Strong’s H1805) thou (God) wilt shew thyself pure (bah-rahr); and with the froward (iq-qesh) thou wilt shew thyself froward (pah-thal). A more literal English translation of this Hebrew verse is this: “In manifesting purity, you will produce purity; and in manifesting perverted actions (iq-qesh), you will produce struggles (pah-thal)”. This seems to be saying that when we behave ourselves in a pure and benevolent manner, we have a pure and benevolent relationship in and with God, and consequently with others. And when we manifest ourselves as perverse or crooked, we have an adversarial and struggling relationship with God, and thus with others. It seems, at least to me, we are being shown that we reap according to how we sow.
What, now, does all of this have to do with Rachel? In Gen. 30:6 we hear Rachel naming the first son of Bilhah by Jacob as Dan. Rachel seems to be declaring that God has ‘judged’ (dan) her, and found her guiltless. Now, in Gen. 30:8 we hear Rachel proclaiming that she has had to ‘wrestle’ with her sister, and she has prevailed in the ‘wrestling’. And yet throughout all of this judging and wrestling, Rachel’s experience and demeanor does not reflect the victorious boasting of her rhetoric. Rachel, as well as her sister Leah, is going through trials and testings of their character. Throughout this pageant, we are hearing the evidence of these trials and testings, of both Rachel and her sister Leah, brought forth in the naming of these ‘sons’ of Jacob. Are we also seeing a pattern of trials and testings in our own journey to God, a journey that is determined to bring us to our Christ identity? As the progression of these ‘sons’ comes forth, we detect a pattern of identity and response revealed in the names of these ‘sons’. Reuben; to see a son. Simeon; to hear, or be heard. Levi; to be joined to by loaning, or borrowing, indicating a non-permanent relationship. Judah; to become a praise to others, and consequently a praise to God. Dan; to be judged and discerned of God. Naphtali; to wrestle with contradictions. Does any of this sound familiar in your own journey into Christ?
If this pattern of progression of the names of the sons of Jacob has any validity or merit, it must be one in which we can personally identify. Otherwise, this is only a Bible story about ancient characters from an ancient time and an ancient place. I contend that this pattern of progression of names is ultimately the blueprint of our own individual progression from ‘adam’ to Christ. And Christ is the intended destination of us all. We all have ‘wrestlings’ that challenge our journey, but the victory is had in Christ. Christ is the fulfillment of all.
To be continued?