Journey Through The Scriptures

The Twelve Tribes of Israel, Part I

Lesson 4: Two Middle Brothers

(Scripture to Read: Genesis 30:1–8; 49:16–17, 21)

Some birth order experts say middle children in a family are often the most well adjusted. You can decide that for yourself concerning Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher – the middle four sons of Jacob. Dan and Naphtali were the fifth and sixth sons, born to Bilhah the maidservant of Rachel. When Rachel saw how God had blessed Leah, Rachel became jealous and insisted that Jacob marry Bilhah. The sons born to this union would thus be “credited” to Rachel in this battle between Leah and Rachel to see who could give Jacob more children.

The tribes of Dan and Naphtali became well known for their tenacity in battle. Naphtali was granted a key position of defense among the tribes, but failed to drive out the Canaanites. Dan was known as a tribe that preserved the old, traditional Israeli customs. Perhaps the most famous member of the tribe of Dan was Sampson (Judges 13:2, 24), who seemed to embody the characteristics of the Danites as they struggled against the Philistines. Neither of these tribes had an important place in the subsequent history of Israel. It has been suggested that perhaps they intermarried with foreign people.

Study Questions

  1. Why would the strength of Dan and Naphtali in battle be important?
  2. Why was it crucial that the Canaanites be driven out of the Promised Land?
  3. Though Jacob prophesied that Dan was to "provide justice," Jacob also said this tribe would become treacherous. What event in Judges 18:30 reveals the way in which Jacob’s prophecy of treachery came to pass?
  4. How do the meanings of Dan's name, "justice," and Naphtali's name, "wrestling," further tell the story of Jacob's family?

Something to Think About

It’s interesting to see once again the interplay between God’s activity and human emotions and scheming in the births of Dan and Naphtali. Their story is both an encouraging reminder to us that God is at work even in very human situations, and a sobering reminder to check our motives for the actions we take!

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