The Official Journal of the Ensign Trust, London

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THE ENSIGN MESSAGE

THE REMAINING TRIBES – (1)

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There are four more sons of Jacob who are not so well known and  we do not have a great  deal  of information about them, so we  will consider them together in this article.  They are Naphtali, Gad, Asher and Issachar.

Naphtali

Naphtali was the sixth son of Jacob and the second of Bilhah, who was  Rachel’s maid.  His name  means “wrestling”, and Rachel gave it to him because she had wrestled in prayer for God to give her a child. The tribal emblem  was a hind or gazelle, because Jacob likened him to one in his short blessing in Genesis 49:21. Jacob also said “He giveth  goodly  words”. Was he soft­ spoken, or a fluent orator?  Perhaps he had the “gift of the gab”, which the Irish are renowned for. Maybe his emblem was a gazelle because he was  highly strung and rather erratic like the animal.

Naphtali’s territory was  in northern Palestine, bounded  on the east by the upper Jordan and the Sea of Galilee.   It  bordered Issachar on  the  south  and Zebulun on the west, and was a long, narrow strip about 50 miles long by 15 miles broad. It was hilly but fertile and contained  Kadesh, the city of refuge. The old tribal territory became Galilee, the homeland of Jesus.

The tribe played a heroic part in the fighting under Barak, as told in Judges 4:6 and  10 and  5:18.  They rallied  to David in the fight against lshbosheth (I Chronicles 12:34).   They disappeared with  their brethren into captivity and were absorbed among the other tribes in their escape from Assyria and their long trek across Europe. Stags and hinds are depicted in European heraldry and in Scottish clan coats of arms; for instance, Campbell of Cawdor, Douglas,  Fraser, MacGregor, Maclachlan, and many others.

Gad

Gad  was  Jacob’s seventh son,  and  Zilpah,  his mother ‘s, first born.  His name means “a troop”, so it seems that Zilpah was thinking that she would  have many more sons beside Gad! Jacob’s blessing in verse19 is very short,  but plays upon  his name: Gad, a troop shall overcome him, but he shall overcome at the last. Moses, in his blessing in Deuteronomy 35:20, likened Gad to a lion. Since this emblem was already Judah’s, a troop had to become Gad’s. This is not an easy emblem to portray on a banner, but in ancient times it was shown as a horseman holding a pennant. Sometimes it became a group of tents, as in an army camp.

The tribesmen of Gad befriended King David when he was  a fugitive.   Consequently, they were  given larger territory, having complained that their dwelling place was too cramped. Obviously they were  a go­ ahead and ambitious tribe,   and  eventually their territory covered the whole of Gilead.

The  migrations of the  so-called “Phoenicians” along the coasts of the Mediterranean were extensive, and contained an admixture of Israelitish tribes.  The name  Phoenicia meant “the  land  of purple”,  for it was in this area  that  the expensive dye which  was used only for royal garments was produced from the murex  snail.   The lands  were bordered by several lsraelitish tribes and there was trade and intercommunication.

Hebrews  had established themselves in that area before the Israelites entered the Promised  Land, and this is borne out by the evidence of the Ras Shamra and Tel-ei-Amarna tablets.  Professor Rawlinson calls the races which settled here Semitic, but Ripley and Waddell claim that they were  of the Nordic racial  type, quite different from modern Jews.  This is not such a puzzle as it would appear at first, for there are many authoritites who confirm that the Semitic races were of the Nordic type and that what has now become known as “Semitic” is due to intermarriage with other races.

There  were  extensive settlements in Spain  and Portugal very early in the history of the area, and Cadiz, a very ancient  trading port was formerly called Gadira. It was  reputedly founded in 1100 BC as a half-way house in the trading route which went through  the “Pillars of Hercules” (now  the Straits of Gibraltar)  to the British Isles and beyond.   Note the  tribal  name “Gad” at the  beginning of Gadira.   This could  have been a colony of the tribe of Gad.

This driving force  of expansion probably was  a spur  to the  tribe’s escape from  captivity  and  their spread  across Europe,  mingling with their brother tribes.   Historians  find it difficult to account for the tri bes and races  which spread across Europe,  in the last  few  centuries  before Christ and   the  early centuries  after Christ, and have suggested population pressures.  If  they  knew  the  truth  of the  origins  of these races in the dispersed tribes of Israel they would realise that the impetus came from God.

I have not been  able to trace the horseman with a banner in national  heraldry, but perhaps the emblem was  merged with  Dan’s  horse,  and  came into  the British Isles as the White Horse of the Angles.

Asher

Asher was Jacob’s  eighth son, and his mother was Leah’s maid, Zilpah. His name means “happy”, and in his father’s  blessing he was promised  “..and his bread shall be fat (abundant)” and his tribe would be blessed with “royal dainties”. Asher’s tribal territory  was bordering  the coast on the west,  and  Naphtali on the east, and was rich in pasture. The yield was obviously plentiful, so that the harvests could be shared with the other  tribes.  It was also a thickly wooded area,  and possibly abundant in olive trees, for he is mentioned as “dipping his foot in oil”. However, mineral oil has also been  discovered in the region.  The tribal name  was given to the town of Shechem.

The tribe did not produce a great warrior,  judge, king or counsellor, and  no great battles  were fought there in  Israel’s time .   The  tribe preferred  to concentrate on agriculture, and we can imagine the land  being  “the  garden of Israel”,  as Kent is called “the garden of England”.

The emblem became a cup or goblet, pointing  to vineyards in the territory as well.   This emblem does not appear often  in Celto-Saxon heraldry,  but does appear in several  family arms in the British Isles and in the arms  of Barnsley and Warrington,  while in Scotland it is in the arms of Paisley and Greenock and of the  Carnegie  and  Shaw of Sauchie families.   As these  arms  occur  in the  north  of the British Isles,  it may be that Asher was one of the tribes which  later became the Vikings, who settled largely in these areas.

Issachar

In verse  14 of Genesis 49 we  read  of lssachar’s blessing,  which  is:

lssachar is a strong ass couching down between two  burdens.

His emblem therefore became a laden ass.  He was  the ninth son  of Jacob, by Leah, and  his name means “reward”. He was Leah’s fifth son.  lssachar fought valiantly in the time of the Judges (Judges 5:18) in the wars against  Jabin, King of Canaan. The tribe must have had many strong men, as their symbol of a strong  ass  implies, but  it appears that  they  were somewhat reluctant to go to war, and preferred a rural life.  The prophet Amos may have  been referring  to lssachar in Amos 6:1,  when he said “Woe  to them that  are at ease in Zion”.

An alternative reading of the blessing  is “between the sheepfolds”, so it would  appear that the tribe of Issachar were  shepherds.  Their land  was  below Zebulon’s, again bordering the Mediterranean on the west,  the eastern tip just touching the Sea of Galilee and  bounded by the  River Jordan.  In the  reign  of King David the population numbered 87,000, and Moses’ blessing  promised them  a peaceful future (Deuteronomy 33:18).

The tribe must have lost its identity after the captivities because there do not appear to be instances of an ass as an emblem in European  heraldry.                      End

 

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