The Tribe of Naphtali was founded by Naphtali, son of Jacob. On this tribe Jacob pronounced the patriarchal blessing, "Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words" (Gen. 49:21). It was intended thus to set forth under poetic imagery the future character and history of the tribe.
At the time of the Exodus this tribe numbered 53,400 adult males (Num. 1:43), but at the close of the wanderings they numbered only 45,400 (26:48-50). Along with Dan and Asher they formed "the camp of Dan," under a common standard (2:25-31), occupying a place during the march on the north side of the tabernacle.
The possession assigned to this tribe is set forth in Josh. 19:32-39. It lay in the north-eastern corner of the land, bounded on the east by the Jordan River and the lakes of Merom and Galilee, and on the north it extended far into Coele-Syria, the valley between the two Lebanon ranges. It comprehended a greater variety of rich and beautiful scenery and of soil and climate than fell to the lot of any other tribe. The territory of Naphtali extended to about 800 square miles, being the double of that of Issachar. The region around Kadesh, its most prominent town, was originally called Galil, a name afterwards given to the whole northern division of Canaan. A large number of foreigners settled here among the mountains, and hence it was called "Galilee of the Gentiles" (q.v.), Matt. 4:15, 16. The southern portion of Naphtali has been called the "Garden of Palestine." It was of unrivalled fertility. It was the principal scene of our Lord's public ministry. Here most of his parables were spoken and his miracles wrought.
Naphtali was the most powerful of the northern tribes: Deborah's general Barak, who defeated Sisera, was a member of this tribe. Nevertheless, its remoteness made it subject to many other invasions throughout its history. Naphtali was also the first to suffer from the invasion of Benhadad, king of Syria, in the reigns of Baasha, king of Israel, and Asa, king of Judah (1 Kings 15:20; 2 Chr. 16:4). In the reign of Pekah, king of Israel, the Assyrians under Tiglath-pileser swept over the whole north of Israel, and carried the people into captivity (2 Kings 15:29). Thus the kingdom of Israel came to an end (B.C. 722).