The meaning of Asher (1) in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
ash'-er ('asher; Aser).
1. Biblical Account:
According to the Biblical account Asher was the eighth of Jacob's sons, the second borne to him by Zilpah the handmaid of Leah. His uterine brother was Gad (Genesis 35:26). With four sons and one daughter he went down into Egypt (Genesis 46:17). At his birth Leah exclaimed, "Happy am I! for the daughters will call me happy: and she called his name Asher," i.e. Happy (Genesis 30:13). This foreshadowing of good fortune for him is repeated in the blessing of Jacob: "His bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties" (Genesis 49:20); and again in that of Moses: "Blessed be Asher with children; let him be acceptable unto his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil" (Deuteronomy 33:24). His family prospered in Egypt, and at the Exodus the tribe of Asher is numbered at 41,500 adult males (Numbers 1:41). At the second census the number is given 53,400 (Numbers 26:47). The place of Asher in the desert march was with the standard of the camp of Dan, on the north of the tabernacle, along with Dan. and Naphtali; the prince of the tribe being Pagiel the son of Ochran (Numbers 2:27 ff.). Among the spies Asher was represented by Sethur (Numbers 13:13). The tribe seems to have taken no important part in the subsequent history. It raised no hero, and gave no deliverer to the nation. In the time of David it was of so little consequence that the name is not found in the list of chief rulers (I Chronicles 27:16 ff.). The rich land assigned to Asher sloped to the Phoenician seaboard, and brought him into touch with the Phoenicians who were already world-famous in trade and commerce. He probably soon became a partner in their profitable enterprises, and lost any desire he may ever have had to eject them from their cities (Judges 1:31). He cared not who ruled over him if he were free to pursue the ends of commerce. Zebulun might jeopard their lives unto the death, and Naphtali upon the high places of the field, to break the power of the foreign oppressor, but Asher "sat still at the haven of the sea, and abode by his creeks" (Judges 5:17 ff.). He was probably soon largely absorbed by the people with whose interests his were so closely identified: nevertheless "divers of Asher," moved by the appeal of Hezekiah, "humbled themselves, and came to Jerus" (II Chronicles 30:11 the King James Version). To this tribe belonged the prophetess Anna (Luke 2:36 ff.).
2. Modern Theory:
According to a modern theory, the mention of the slave girl Zilpah as the mother of Asher is meant to indicate that the tribe was of mixed blood, and arose through the mingling of Israelites with the Canaanites. It is suggested that the name may have been taken from that of the Canaanite clan found in the Tell el-Amarna Letters, Mari abd-Ashirti, "sons of the servant of Asherah." A similar name occurs in the inscriptions of the Egyptian Seti I (14th century BC), 'Aseru, a state in western Galilee (W. Max Muller, As. und Eur., 236-39). This people it is thought may have associated themselves with the invaders from the wilderness. But while the speculations are interesting, it is impossible to establish any relationship between these ancient tribes and Asher.
3. Territory of Asher:
The boundaries of the territory are given in considerable detail in Joshua 19:25 ff. (compare Judges 1:31 f.; Joshua 17:10 f.). Only a few of the places named can be identified with certainty. Dor, the modern Tan-Turah, although occupied by Manasseh belonged to Asher. Wady ez-Zerqa, possibly identical with Shihor-libnath, which enters the sea to the South of Dor, would form the southern boundary. The lot of Asher formed a strip of land from 8 to 10 miles wide running northward along the shore to the neighborhood of Sidon, touching Issachar, Zebulun and Naphtali on the East Asher seems to have taken possession of the territory by a process of peaceful penetration, not by conquest, and as we have seen, he never drove out the Phoenicians from their cities. The rich plain of Acre, and the fertile fiats between the mountain and the sea near Tyre and Sidon therefore remained in Phoenician hands. But the valleys breaking down westward and opening on the plains have always yielded fine crops of grain. Remains of an ancient oak forest still stand to the North of Carmel. The vine, the fig, the lemon and the orange flourish. Olive trees abound, and the supplies of olive oil which to this day are exported from the district recall the word of the old-time blessing, "Let him dip his foot in oil."
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