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Ephraim, A "Multitude of Nations?"
How did Ephraim become a “multitude of nations”?
From Genesis 48.
8. When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, “Who are these?”
9 “These are the children that God has given me here,” said Joseph to his father. Then Israel said to me, “Bring me that I may bless them.” 10 Now, Israel’s eyes decayed with old age and he could hardly see. Then José approached his children, and their father kissed them and hugged them. 11 Israel said to Joseph, “I did not expect to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children as well.”
12 Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed with his face to the ground. 13 Joseph took them both, Ephraim on his right, on Israel’s left, and Manasseh on his left, on Israel’s right, and brought them close to him. 14 But Israel stretched out his right hand and put it on the head of Ephraim, even though he was the youngest, and, crossing his arms, he put his left hand on the head of Manasseh, even though Manasseh was the firstborn.
… 17 When Joseph saw that his father put his right hand on Ephraim’s head, he was displeased; so he took his father’s hand to transfer it from the head of Ephraim to the head of Manasseh. 18 Joseph said to him: “No, my father, this is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.” 19 But his father refused and said: “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people. and he too will become great. However, his younger brother will be greater than him, and his offspring will become a group of nations “.
Here we have a problem. As far as we can tell, through verifiable and respected sources, the descendants of the Jews of Ephraim never gave birth to another nation as we know it, let alone a multitude, or even “group” (NIV) of nations. Later I can share here how the NIV and a couple others had the audacity to go to another Hebrew word. The Hebrew word translated “multitude” may be “assembly” and the like, but nothing so small as “group,” for which the Hebrew uses an entirely different word.
Tracing the idea of ”assembly” in Genesis and elsewhere, it most often refers to the multitude of people within the nation of Israel, so we gain little by using that word. All major and minor translations use “multitude” as their preferred word.
So we are in a bind. The descendants of Ephraim were not nation builders. I quote from Wikipedia here:
“As part of the Kingdom of Israel, the territory of Ephraim was conquered by the Assyrians,
[that’s in the Bible, several times] and the exiled tribe; the manner of his exile led to his subsequent history being lost. [Hence the “10 lost tribes” that everyone wants to claim as their own].
“However, several modern groups claim descent [only several, not a multitude], with varying levels of academic and rabbinic support. The Samaritans claim some of their followers to be descended from this tribe, and many Persian Jews claim descent from Ephraim. Further afield, in India the Telugu Jews claim to be descendants of Ephraim, and call themselves Bene Ephraim, relating traditions similar to those of the Mizo Jews, whom the modern state of Israel considers descendants of Manasseh.
Several Western Christian groups, particularly those of the Church of God in Christ, claim that the whole of the UK is the direct descendant of Ephraim, and that the whole of the USA is the direct descendant of Manasseh, based on the interpretation that Jacob had said these two. the tribes would become the most supreme nations in the world…”
So when Ephraim, with all Israel, was invaded by Assyria, did the resulting intermarriage produce peoples of Jewish blood throughout the known world?
There is no help there. Let’s go back to Scripture. Maybe Joshua? When he conquered Canaan, he and his people became lords of many nations, but above all extinguishers. Joshua was from Ephraim! But could the Canaanite nations be considered his and Ephraim’s “descendants”? Were the Canaanites now Israelites, Ephraimites? And wasn’t Joshua co-heir of Canaan with all the people of Israel?
Jeroboam, the soon to be evil Ephraimite, also ruled over the ten “tribes” of Israel. Are the ten tribes really ten nations? But does Jeroboam force them all to be Ephraimites so that the prophecy will now be fulfilled?
Some have messed with the text a bit more by changing the word “multitude” to “fullness” and making the nations singular. Ephraim must be the “fullness of the nation” whatever that means.
Ephraim has always been an important part of Israel, even if it is significant in a negative way most of the time. They were bigger (then smaller) than Manasseh, which would fulfill the first part of the prophecy. But “fullness” does not seem to be quantifiable and therefore not easy to see when it is fulfilled.
We are running out of options. I don’t think we should accept a bad option if there doesn’t seem to be any good ones. We can relegate all this to the future and speak of a time when the lost tribes will be found, the nations will be peopled, and this prophecy will be fulfilled directly….
… or there is a last resort if that is not the way. Instead of focusing on “multitude,” we can take a harder look at the Hebrew for “nations.” He’s familiar to us, I think. It is the popular “Goy”(s) or “Goyim” in the plural. We translate it often, Gentiles. Well, any nation other than Israel is simply a nation. The word is also translated as “people” when the text demands it. And there is a shaft of light for us. Is Genesis 48:19 one of those times where “Goyim” should be translated “people” and not “nations”?
“People” is used to translate “goy” (the singular, not the plural) in isolated passages in some of the prophets. Once in Reis. In Joshua, 3 times most translators have gone this way, once in particular that is of interest to this discussion, in Joshua 5:6:
“For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the warrior people who came out of Egypt were consumed, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord.”
Joshua is obviously not talking about a nation. It was a subset of the nation of Israel, the men of war who came out of Egypt and disobeyed and died. The nation will not fit here, but the “people”, and that’s where the translators went.
So while “goy” or “goyim” usually means a foreign nation, its basic idea is a group of people (hence the NIV understanding). With that understanding of the Hebrew word, the text lines up nicely.
Ephraim will be great. Greater than Manasseh, at least initially. Tons of tribes, clans and families will emerge from Ephraim, and their people will dominate Israel, for better or for worse.
Perhaps it is important to note here the way in which some prophecies are temporary, and based on people’s circumstances. Ephraim, like Abel, Isaac, Jacob, David…were not firstborn sons, but were chosen by God to be his blessed ones. Ephraim has indeed won the promotion, as he has seen before time. According to the first census of Israel, where Ephraim was 8,000 more than his brother Manasseh. And Ephraim was the father of many clans in Israel.
But Ephraim fell from that grace. I don’t know why. But at the end of the book of Numbers, in the second census, Ephraim had lost 8,000 souls while Manasseh gained 20,000. A greater fall was achieved when he led Israel, through the idolatry of Jeroboam, into the pit of total rejection by God. To this day, no one knows what happened to Ephraim. May this fall teach us.
We are a chosen generation, to be sure, but pride can still mark us. damage destroy them
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