Naphal: To Fall. Verb. (Strong’s 5307).
Sounds like: nah’fahl
The wonderful thing about studying a text in its original language is that you get to see some things that others miss in translation. For example, the story of Rebekah riding on a camel, on her way to meet her betrothed whom she has never met, is actually hilarious. I think it’s one of the funniest moments in the Bible, but most common translations miss the joke altogether.
Rebekah and the camel
Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.” Thus they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse with Abraham’s servant and his men. They blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, become thousands of ten thousands, and may your descendants possess the gate of those who hate them.”
Then Rebekah arose with her maids, and they mounted the camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and departed.
Now Isaac had come from going to Beer-lahai-roi; for he was living in the Negev. Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, camels were coming. Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from [wa-tipol] the camel.
The NASB and almost all other translations say that Rebekah dismounted, or got off, her camel, but there is a different Hebrew word for dismount, get down, descend (3381). In 1 Samuel 25:23 Abigail got down [wa-tered] off her donkey and then fell at David’s feet. But Rebekah didn’t calmly dismount her camel, she actually fell off! She got a glimpse of her husband to be and in her distraction she fell off the camel!
If you keep in mind that her husband-to-be was literally named “he will laugh”, I suspect Isaac would have lived up to his name that day… (but after the giggle, I hope he showed some concern and made sure she was okay).
The verb to fall, as one might guess, was a very common word in the Bible.
People would fall asleep, often under YHWH’s direction (Genesis 2:21-23, Genesis 15:12, 1 Samuel 26:12); armies would fall on the battlefield (Leviticus 26:6-9, Joshua 8:24-25); in distress people’s faces/countenance would fall (Genesis 4:3-8); and from the same root we get the word miscarriage… the falling of a life within the womb (5309).
Falling & Weeping
Falling usually has an emotional counterpart, not often with laughing, as we saw with Rebekah, but more commonly with weeping. I recall tripping and falling in a paved driveway when I was a little girl… there were tears, and a residual scar! For most, falling is not a good thing… the fallen face of despair, the fallen life on a battlefield, a fallen birth (miscarriage)… it should not be surprising that falling & weeping were often connected in Scripture.
When Joseph reconnected with his family after many years, he “fell [wa-yipol] on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck” (Genesis 45:14). When he reunited with his father Jacob, Joseph “fell [wa-yipol] on his neck and wept on his neck a long time” (Genesis 46:29).
These were happy cries, but shortly after their reconnection Jacob died and Joseph’s tears fell as tears of mourning:
Genesis 49:33, 50:1-2
When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people. Then Joseph fell [wa-yipol] on his father’s face, and wept over him and kissed him. Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel.
The Walls Will Fall
At their most vulnerable, humans fall and weep. When walls are at their most vulnerable, they fall to the ground. The famous story of the Israelites marching around the walls of Jericho until they fell down comes to mind, but the walls of Jericho were not compromised. They were solid walls. They were only vulnerable because they were at the mercy of YHWH and His plan was to have them fall flat (Joshua 6:20). God made other walls fall down too:
Jeremiah 51:44, 47-49 (wall of Babylon has fallen down)
YHWH: “I will punish Bel in Babylon, and I will make what he has swallowed come out of his mouth; and the nations will no longer stream to him. Even the wall of Babylon has fallen down [naphalah]!
…Therefore behold, days are coming when I will punish the idols of Babylon; and her whole land will be put to shame and all her slain will fall [yip’lu] in her midst. Then heaven and earth and all that is in them will shout for joy over Babylon, for the destroyers will come to her from the north,” declares YHWH. “Indeed Babylon is to fall [lin’pol] for the slain of Israel, as also for Babylon the slain of all the earth have fallen [naph’lu].”
God promised to let Israel’s enemies fall (see also Ezekiel 38:19-23), but great kingdoms and military powers weren’t the only enemies of Israel. Sometimes the enemies came from within:
YHWH: “So My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will have no place in the council of My people, nor will they be written down in the register of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel, that you may know that I am the Lord YHWH. It is definitely because they have misled My people by saying, ‘Peace!’ when there is no peace. And when anyone builds a wall, behold, they plaster it over with whitewash; so tell those who plaster it over with whitewash, that it will fall [w-yipol]. A flooding rain will come, and you, O hailstones, will fall; and a violent wind will break out. Behold, when the wall has fallen [naphal], will you not be asked, ‘Where is the plaster with which you plastered it?’” Therefore, thus says the Lord YHWH, “I will make a violent wind break out in My wrath. There will also be in My anger a flooding rain and hailstones to consume it in wrath. So I will tear down the wall which you plastered over with whitewash and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation is laid bare; and when it falls [w-naph’lah], you will be consumed in its midst. And you will know that I am YHWH. Thus I will spend My wrath on the wall and on those who have plastered it over with whitewash; and I will say to you, ‘The wall is gone and its plasterers are gone, along with the prophets of Israel who prophesy to Jerusalem, and who see visions of peace for her when there is no peace,’ declares the Lord YHWH.
YHWH spoke vehemently against these false prophets who metaphorically built up walls and whitewashed them with lies. YHWH would tear them down and let them fall. Jeremiah added polluted priests to the line-up of false prophets:
“For both prophet and priest are polluted; even in My house I have found their wickedness,” declares YHWH. “Therefore their way will be like slippery paths to them, they will be driven away into the gloom and fall [w-naph’lu] down in it; for I will bring calamity upon them, the year of their punishment,” declares YHWH.
Israel was surrounded by enemies from the outside, and enemies from within, and they all took their cue from the Adversary… the one who opposed God in all things. But he couldn’t hold a candle to God. It brings to mind one of David’s laments, “How have the mighty fallen [naph’lu]!” (2 Samuel 1:19).
The Adversary Falls
The most famous passage about the fall of the Satan comes from Isaiah:
“How you have fallen [naphal’ta] from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations!
But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit.”
The Adversary (ha-Satan) aimed to be lifted up high, and wanted to ascend to the heights, but he ended up falling way down low, thrust into the deep recesses of Sheol. This passage may have been in the mind of Yeshua (Jesus) when he spoke to His seventy disciples who had been sharing the good news:
The seventy returned with joy, saying [to Jesus], “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”
Every action we take in sharing the Good News of Yeshua, is an action that makes the Adversary fall down like lightning. That’s something to think about.
Falling before God
But far and above, the most popular sentiment attached to the word, to fall, is the concept of falling in awe before YHWH. In most instances this meant falling on your face:
Genesis 17:1-5, 15-19
Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, YHWH appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.”
Abram fell [w-yipol] on his face, and God talked with him, saying, “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.
…Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Then Abraham fell [w-yipol] on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac [he laughs]; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.
Abram fell on his face in awe when YHWH appeared to him, but after some conversation Abram, renamed Abraham, fell on his face a second time, but this time he laughed in disbelief. The first fall was connected to fearing God, the second fall could be seen as a fall in faith. He went from awe and respect to disbelief, rather quickly.
Sometimes it wasn’t just an individual who fell on his face before God, but an entire community:
Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of YHWH appeared to all the people. Then fire came out from before YHWH and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell [wa-yip’lu] on their faces.
Moses fell on his face, as a way of asking forgiveness for his people. After he had received the tablets from God, he came down the mountain only to discover that his people had done a terrible thing. They had created and begun to worship a molten calf. Moses was shocked, threw down the tablets (which shattered) and he took immediate action:
Deuteronomy 9:18-21, 25-27,29
“I fell down [wa-et-napal] before YHWH, as at the first, forty days and nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you had committed in doing what was evil in the sight of YHWH to provoke Him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure with which YHWH was wrathful against you in order to destroy you, but YHWH listened to me that time also. YHWH was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him; so I also prayed for Aaron at the same time. I took your sinful thing, the calf which you had made, and burned it with fire and crushed it, grinding it very small until it was as fine as dust; and I threw its dust into the brook that came down from the mountain…
…“So I fell down before [wa-et-napal] YHWH the forty days and nights, which I did [kept falling: hit’napal’ti] because the YHWH had said He would destroy you. I prayed to YHWH and said, ‘O Lord YHWH, do not destroy Your people, even Your inheritance, whom You have redeemed through Your greatness, whom You have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; do not look at the stubbornness of this people or at their wickedness or their sin… Yet they are Your people, even Your inheritance, whom You have brought out by Your great power and Your outstretched arm.’”
People fell in front of God in awe, but also in great supplication and prayer. This theme of falling in front of YHWH is carried through into the New Testament to highlight Yeshua’s divinity:
Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.
Near the beginning of Yeshua’s adult ministry He faced off with the Adversary (in Hebrew, “the Satan”) and the concept of falling down and worshipping entered the conversation:
Again, the devil took Him [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, You shall worship YHWH your God, and serve Him only.’” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.
Falling at the feet of the Messiah
Throughout His ministry Yeshua was known as a healer and people from all across Israel sought him out. Many of them are recorded as falling down in front of Yeshua, and they came from all walks of Israeli life.
Jairus, Jewish synagogue official, fell at Yeshua’s feet and begged him to heal his daughter (Mark 5:22-23); a woman, who had been deemed unclean for twelve years fell down before Yeshua when He called out “who touched me?” (Mark 5:25-34); a leprous man fell on his face before Yeshua and implored Him to heal him, if he was “willing” (Luke 5:12); Mary, one of Yeshua’s best friends, fell at His feet and said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died,” leading Yeshua to tears (John 11:32-35); and then there was this story of a Samaritan man:
While He [Jesus] was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”
A few years later in His ministry Peter, James and John found themselves falling down on their faces in awe of the Messiah:
Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.
The Samaritan, Peter, James and John all fell on their faces in front of Yeshua, but afterwards Yeshua told them to stand up/get up. They fell down in awe, now they could stand strong in their faith.
Yeshua had no reason to be in awe of Himself, but there was an instance where He fell on His face in supplication, much like Moses did. Moses had feared YHWH’s retribution for the great sinfulness of the Hebrew people, but what Yeshua feared was the mission He had to face and fulfill:
And He [Jesus] went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”
We All Fall Down
Not long after this prayer, Yeshua was arrested and God’s plan was put in motion:
…He [Jesus] went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which He entered with His disciples. Now Judas also, who was betraying Him, knew the place, for Jesus had often met there with His disciples. Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am He.” And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. So when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Therefore He again asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am He; so if you seek Me, let these go their way…”
This is really fascinating. Yeshua asked the Romans who they were seeking. They said, “Yeshua the Nazarene”. The moment He said “I am He”, they “drew back and fell to the ground”.
I think this passage often gets glossed over. Those who came to arrest Him literally all fell down the moment “I Am” came out of Yeshua’s mouth. The Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey (YHWH, meaning He is), also known as the tetragrammaton, came from ehyeh (Aleph-Hey-Yud-Hey) meaning “I Am”. Yeshua was making a bold claim, He was and is God, and in response the Romans, Temple priests and Pharisees fell down. Did they fall in worship? Did they fall in fear? Or did they just lose control of themselves and drop to the ground? In the end the reason doesn’t really matter… they all fell down because YHWH was in control!
Yeshua’s arrest was a powerful moment… some would have said that he had fallen from grace and that his shining moment as miracle-man had come to an end. But they didn’t get it. His arrest didn’t point out what he would no longer be, rather it was the beginning of what He would become. He was about to become the Saviour of humanity.
In the the story of John’s Revelation, John fell at a Yeshua’s feet:
Then I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.
Later in the Revelation, not only does John fall at Yeshua’s feet, but every nation fell on their faces and worshiped the Lamb of God:
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
Not only did every nation fall down in front of YHWH in worship, but also all the heavenly creatures fell on their faces; all creatures in heaven and earth fell in respect and honour, thanksgiving and worship, of the Creator.
Tempting as it might have been to accept, Peter had to put a stop to people worshiping him:
On the following day he [Peter] entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.”
We should not be falling or bowing or worshiping anyone or anything, besides YHWH. He is the Creator, the Life-Giver, the Parent, the Monarch, the Covenant Partner, the Perfect One… and we owe everything to Him. At the same time we should not be praised or honoured for living in the way we were called to live. Our good deeds should put a spotlight on YHWH, not on ourselves.
Not one Word has Fallen (Failed)
YHWH’s promises never fell and they never failed. This point shows up quite a few times in Scripture. Usually the word is translated as failed, but the Hebrew word is naphal and more literally it means fallen, which is essentially the same thing.
Not one of the good promises which YHWH had made to the house of Israel failed [fallen: naphal]; all came to pass.
Later, the Book of Joshua reiterated:
“Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which YHWH your God spoke concerning you has failed [fallen: naphal]; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed [naphal].
Solomon’s blessing, found in 1 Kings 8, also highlighted that not one word of God had ever fallen/failed:
1 Kings 8:56-58
“Blessed be YHWH, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised; not one word has failed [naphal] of all His good promise, which He promised through Moses His servant. May YHWH our God be with us, as He was with our fathers; may He not leave us or forsake us, that He may incline our hearts to Himself, to walk in all His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances, which He commanded our fathers.”
Thou I Fall, I will Rise!
YHWH promised Salvation, and He would not fail in His delivery. Even when His beloved Son asked if there could be any other way, He still clung to His plan and the promise of Salvation. Being saved means when we fall, we won’t stay down for long.
Joshua 7:6-7a, 10-13
Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell [wa-yipol] to the earth on his face before the ark of YHWH until the evening, both he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads. Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord YHWH, why did You ever bring this people over the Jordan, only to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us?”…
So YHWH said to Joshua, “Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen [nophel] on your face? Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. And they have even taken some of the things under the ban and have both stolen and deceived. Moreover, they have also put them among their own things. Therefore the sons of Israel cannot stand before their enemies; they turn their backs before their enemies, for they have become accursed. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy the things under the ban from your midst. Rise up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, for thus YHWH, the God of Israel, has said, “There are things under the ban in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you have removed the things under the ban from your midst.”
Those things that make us fall, harm us so that we cannot stand. We have to get rid of those things so that we can rise up, stand strong in our faith, and prepare to meet YHWH face to face.
But as for me, I will watch expectantly for YHWH; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.
Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall [naphal’ti] I will rise; though I dwell in darkness, YHWH is a light for me.
Yeshua fell to the lowest depths, as a human. He was mocked, beaten, and then lifted up onto the cross, before dying an agonizing death. But He rose. He did not let death hold him down. He fell, but He got right back up. Do you recall Isaiah 14 when the Adversary said that he would ascend to heaven, raise his throne above the stars, sit on the Mount of Assembly, and ascend above the clouds, making himself “like the Most High”? Well, he couldn’t do it, but Yeshua could… and Yeshua did!
If you follow Yeshua, no matter how low you’ve fallen, you will rise! Leave the past behind, stand up, and follow the Light!
Next week: Trumpet