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When King Herod Antipas arrested John the Baptist, Jesus withdrew to the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali. This move was both significant and deliberate, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah as recorded by Matthew. Writing for a Jewish audience, Matthew quoted Isaiah to demonstrate that Jesus’ actions were a continuation of God’s plan. The passage reads: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen” (Mt 4:15-16).

From that time, Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17). The regions of Zebulun and Naphtali were seen as places of spiritual darkness due to their significant pagan influence and history of intermingling with Gentiles.

Tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali

The tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were originally assigned the region of Galilee by Joshua during the division of the Promised Land among the tribes of Israel. Zebulun was the tenth son of Jacob and his sixth son with Leah. Naphtali was the son of Jacob by Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant. These tribes had a distinct heritage but struggled to fully expel the native Canaanites from their allotted territories. As a result, they were continually influenced by the surrounding pagan cultures and suffered attacks from neighboring Gentiles.

Conquest and Exile

The Assyrians eventually conquered this region, leading to the exile of many Israelites. The strategy of the Assyrians was to scatter the Israelites to prevent any possibility of rebellion. Consequently, foreigners were settled in the land, leading to a mingling of populations and further dilution of Israelite culture and religious practices.

In 104 BC, Aristobulus, a Jewish leader, reconquered Galilee and forcibly converted its inhabitants to Judaism through circumcision. Despite these efforts, the area remained a mix of Jewish and Gentile influences.

Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee

The mixed heritage and spiritual darkness of Zebulun and Naphtali provided a poignant backdrop for the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ presence in these regions symbolized hope and renewal. By quoting Isaiah, Matthew highlighted that Jesus was the “great light” shining in the darkness, offering redemption and calling for repentance.

Jesus’ message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” was a direct call to these spiritually darkened lands to turn away from sin and embrace the light of God’s kingdom. His ministry in these regions underscored the inclusive nature of His mission, reaching out to those marginalized and influenced by Gentile culture.


The story of Zebulun and Naphtali is a powerful reminder of God’s enduring grace and the transformative power of Jesus’ message. The tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, though engulfed in spiritual darkness, were not abandoned by God. Jesus’ decision to begin His public ministry in these regions underscores the profound message of hope and redemption.

In our own lives, we may find ourselves in situations of spiritual darkness, overshadowed by sin and distant from God. Yet, just as Jesus brought light to Zebulun and Naphtali, He offers the same light to us. His call to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” is as relevant today as it was then.

As Christians, we are called to reflect the light of Jesus in our lives. This means turning away from sin, embracing repentance, and allowing the light of Christ to shine through us. We must remember that no matter how deep the spiritual darkness, the light of Christ is powerful enough to dispel it. Let us live in this light, continually seeking spiritual renewal and sharing the hope of the Gospel with those around us.

In doing so, we fulfill our role as ambassadors of Christ, bringing His message of repentance and the promise of God’s kingdom to a world in need of His light. May we always be reminded of Jesus’ mission in Zebulun and Naphtali and strive to be bearers of His light in our own communities.

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