Ephrayim is a Plurality of Peoples by John Thornton ( "Globetrotter" ) (21 November, 2013, 18 Kislev, 5774)
Ephraim is a Plurality of Peoples by John Thornton ( "Globetrotter" ) (21 November, 2013, 18 Kislev, 5774)
What’s in a name? More than meets the eye it would seem when we take a closer look at Ephraim (Ephrayim).
Jacob (renamed Israel) had twelve sons who became twelve tribes. One of his sons, and his favourite was Joseph, of which the Book of Genesis (בְּרֵאשִׁית) devotes around twelve chapters, or nearly a quarter of the entire book.
Ephraim and Manasseh were the sons of Joseph, and therefore grandsons of Jacob, who later adopted them as ‘full sons', ultimately to become full tribes in their own right, as we read:
3 And Jacob said to Joseph, God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and he blessed me,
4 and said to me, I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers; I will make of you a company of peoples, and will give this land to your offspring after you for a perpetual holding.
5 Therefore your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are now mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are. ...
However, Ephraim (Heb. אֶכְרַיִם) is the only ‘son’ or tribe bearing a 'plural' name, that is, his name ends in יִם )'-im’ or '-iym'(. Those more familiar with Hebrew suffixes will recognise the similarity in form to 'el' and 'elohi(y)m', which are the singular and plural nouns in the Hebrew Tanakh (Old Testament) translated as god, gods, God, judges etc. according to context.
The Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon explains that the word ‘Ephraim’ is the plural of 'Ephrath' or 'Ephratah', which mean “ash-heap”. From the beneficial carbon, phosphoric and other chemical additives in ash-rich soil it is then derived to mean “place of fruitfulness”. Thus ‘Ephraim’ means "double ash-heap” or “doubly fruitful". The singular form is a feminine noun in Hebrew, but the plural, being irregular, is masculine, perhaps suggesting further subtleties.
Of course the ‘purely double' aspect is assumed, but since the word is plural, the suffix '-im' could just as easily imply two or more - in other words “multiple” or “many”. This is interesting when we examine the promise to Jacob (Gen 35:11) that he would sire “a nation and a company of nations”, and the later specific promise to Joseph that his son Ephraim, probably then only a child, would be a “multitude of nations” (Gen 48:19), viz.:
11 God said to him, I am God Almighty:* be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you.
19 But his father refused, and said, I know, my son, I know; he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.
Joseph had an inspired prophetic insight, as we read in Genesis 37, 40 and 41. His sons were born in Egypt (another interesting fact and inference which can be left for another day), and were named before Jacob arrived in Egypt (see again Gen 48:5 above). Thus, given what we know about Joseph, and his relationship with God, he must have intended ‘plurality’ in the name Ephraim.
Joseph had been sold into slavery at the age of 17, due to the jealousy of his brothers, and because they knew he was his father’s favourite. He was also the eldest son of Rachel, Jacob’s favourite wife. Thus Joseph may well have heard, many times as boy, the account of God promising Jacob (Israel) that his descendants would become the “a nation and a company of nations”.
The 'company of nations' within the promise to Jacob, can also be understood at two levels: 1) within his twelve sons (lineage tribes) and 2) through his younger grandson, Ephraim (an adopted son or tribe).
So let’s take a closer look at the term “nations”. The word is generally translated from the Heb. ‘goyim’ (גּוֹיִם). It is specifically used in Gen 35:11 and 48:19, cited above.
Bible students have long recognised a phenomenon known as “The Law of First Mention”. This ‘simply means that the very first time any important word is mentioned in the Bible [usually, of course, is in Genesis, the first book of the Bible] Scripture gives that word its most complete, and accurate, meaning to not only serve as a ‘key’ in understanding the word's Biblical concept, but to also provide a foundation for its fuller development in later parts of the Bible.’ (http://www.netbiblestudy.com/00_cartimages/thelawoffirstmention.pdf)
The word ‘goyim’ first appears in the famous ‘table of nations’, viz:
Gen 10 (KJV):
1 Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and unto them were sons born after the flood.
2 The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras.
3 And the sons of Gomer; Ashkenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah.
4 And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim.
5 By these were the isles of the Gentiles (Heb. goyim) divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations (Heb. goyim).
Seventy nations (goyim) are listed in this chapter. In some of the more accurate translations (like the KJV) verse 5 interchanges ‘Gentiles’ and ‘nations’. Israel is contrasted with the Gentiles (nations, goyim), and is not one of them. After her departure from God we read:
8 Israel is swallowed up; now they are among the nations (KJV: Gentiles, ‘goyim’)as a useless vessel.)
Amos 9 (KJV)
9 For lo, I will command, and shake the house of Israel among all the nations as one shakes with a sieve, but no pebble shall fall to the ground.
In context here, for Israel to be scattered ‘among the nations’ (goyim) she has to be distinct from them – not one of them.
Deu 32 (KJV):
8 When the most High divided to the nations (‘goyim’) their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.
So do the ‘company' and ‘multitude’ of nations (‘goyim’) mentioned to and by Jacob in the passages above, imply something more subtle in the text? Well, apparently yes.
The descendants of Ephraim settled primarily in Britain, and from there grew into a worldwide empire, spreading around the globe. The British Empire was an admixture of (ruling) Ephraimite and (subject) Gentiles (goyim), many of whom, like India, remain in the Commonwealth long after independence. The British Empire first established self-governing dominions in former colonies like Canada and Australia. At the beginning they all contained indigenous peoples (goyim). The Commonwealth later developed into a 'company of (national) equals’ (goyim), some of which retain the Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, while others are republics. Today these are all full ‘nations’ within the United Nations Organisation. Indeed a few are primarily ‘goyim’ in population but freely swear allegiance to the British Crown. A recent example is Papua New Guinea which celebrated their Queen’s (sovereign’s) diamond jubilee.
By contrast other empires in history (such in Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome and even Nazi Germany) tended to operate as the central or 'imperial' power with the subject or subsidiary peoples operating and/or fighting (willingly or otherwise) under the same standard.
The Tanakh also uses another term in Genesis for the first time:
1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.
2 And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.
3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.
4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”
5 The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built.
6 And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.
The word used for people is ‘am (עַם) – plural ‘amim (עַמיִם). Consider the context. The earth is one people with one language and one common purpose – to establish the Tower of Babel. Without further examining the implications behind the tower, there are no ‘goyim’ – yet.
But God had other plans, viz:
7 Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”
8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.
9 Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
Only after this event did the ‘people’ (‘am) become the ‘goyim’ (nations, Gentiles) referred to in Gen 10:6. This occurred in the days of Peleg (Gen 10:25), seven generations before the birth of Israel (Jacob). So even by that fact alone, Israel could not be one of the ‘goyim’.
There is no Biblical reference to ‘goyim’ or confusion of speech before the Flood. In fact the inference on Gen 6 is the opposite – a situation not dissimilar to that described in Gen 11. During that period, and for a time after the Flood, humans are referred to as ‘man’ or ‘men’ (אָדָם, ‘adam’). We can therefore reasonably deduce that, in Biblical terms, the ‘goyim’ only came into existence with the confusion of languages and the ‘scattering abroad’ (cf. Gen 10:32).
While through later usage both ‘goyim’ and ‘amim’ in Hebrew have come to mean ‘peoples’, they did not originally mean or refer to the same term in the Tanakh.
Israel was ordained under the Covenant to be ‘a special people’ and a ‘holy nation’ (Ex 19:5-6). It was later to split into ‘two nations’ symbolised by the two sticks, which will ultimately become “one nation in the land” again (Ezek 37:22). However this did not make her one of ‘the goyim’ in the sense of Gen 10:5. Holy means ‘sanctified’, ‘set apart’. None of ‘the goyim’ were ever set apart in a national sense.
The prophecies of the ‘company’ or ‘multitude’ of nations was never fulfilled in ancient Israel, nor have they been fulfilled by the State of Israel today.
In that regard, another interesting example of “The Law of First Mention” occurs toward the end of the Book of Genesis, viz:
Gen 49 (KJV):
1 And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.
2 Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father.
This is first occurrence in the Bible of the term ‘the last days’ – variously referred to elsewhere as the ‘latter days’, the ‘time of the end’ etc. Most of the remainder of the chapter (vv. 3-28) is a prophecy by Jacob of what would befall all the tribes at the ‘end-time’, or possibly near the ‘end-time’. The context and detail is that of individual tribes having specific blessings – not bestowed on the other tribes.
Despite the many writings by rabbis, theologians and evangelists in relation to the State of Israel and end-time events, I have yet to come across one that has seriously addresses this prophecy in proper context.
The modern State of Israel is not divided into ancient tribal regions as in the days of Joshua or the Kingdom periods. Indeed some of the territory of ancient Israel is either not under the control of the modern Israeli state, or is disputed.
We know that the population of the modern state is primarily Jewish (or Arab), but if this prophecy is being, or has been fulfilled, in terms of the other tribes where is the evidence? Moreover, that evidence should not merely be anecdotal. This prophecy must be fulfilled in its entirety.
There is of course the argument that these are prophecies to be fulfilled in the reign of the Messiah. If that is the case, and the entire world has by this point ‘beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’ (Isa 2:4), why do we have references to Gad, a troop; Joseph being fired at with arrows; and Benjamin devouring his prey (see also Isa 11:6)?
No, this is a prophecy that means what it says, and is for the period of history known generally as the end-time (although we don’t know when that began). It includes a prediction that the descendants of Joseph would be ‘a fruitful bow whose branches run over the wall' (v.22). In other words, they are an expansive tribe, pushing outside their boundaries. That too was particularly fulfilled in Ephraim (alongside his brother Manasseh), the only ‘plural’ tribe in Israel, in the company of the multitude of the goyim.