Reformacja w Polsce, Reformation in Poland

Biblical Horizons Blog

James Jordan at

Biblical Horizons Feed

No. 14: Ephraim in Redemptive History

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 14
June, 1990
Copyright 1990, Biblical Horizons

One of the important themes of the synoptic gospels is Jesus’ rejection of Israel and the transfer of God’s favor to the New Israel, the Church. A clear statement of this theme is found in the parable of the vineyard owner in Matthew 21:33-46. Jesus explained the meaning of the parable: "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it" (v. 43). Because she rejected the Word of God brought by the prophets and by Christ Himself, Israel was deprived of the kingdom.

The transfer of the kingdom from Israel to the Church was a central issue in the New Testament Church (cf. Rom. 2-3, 9-11; Galatians; Hebrews), and indeed remains a subject of considerable debate even in our day. An important question that arises in connection with this theme is the meaning of the kingdom: What is this "kingdom" that can be taken from one people and given to another? What does it mean for the Church to be "granted" the kingdom of God (cf. Lk. 22:28-30)?

Some light may be shed on these questions when we recognize that a transfer of privilege from one people to another occurred within the nation of Israel itself under the Old Covenant. In Psalm 78:67-68, we are told that "[God] also rejected the tent of Joseph, and did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, but chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which He loved." The verb "reject" (Heb., ma`as) is also used in 2 Kings 17:20 to refer to God’s judgment of the Northern Kingdom. Thus, the word can refer to the rejection of a previously chosen people.

But when was the tent of Joseph, the tribe of Ephraim, chosen? In Genesis 48:8-22, Joseph brought his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, to his father for blessing. Ephraim, the younger, was on Israel’s left, but Israel crossed his hands, and blessed Ephraim with his right hand upon his head, giving him the blessing of the firstborn (vv. 18-19). Then, in chapter 49, Joseph was singled out as preeminent among his brothers (v. 26). Ephraim and Manasseh, as the sons of Joseph, were together treated as the firstborn of Israel, and Ephraim in particular is singled out as preeminent (cf. Jer. 31:9).

What privileges did the tribe of Ephraim enjoy as the firstborn? One privilege was authority over his brethren. After the Exodus and wilderness wanderings, Joshua, who was from the tribe of Ephraim (Nu. 13:8), became Israel’s leader. Thus, it was under the leadership of an Ephraimite, whose name was "savior," that the people of Israel conquered the land of Canaan. When the land was divided, Ephraim, along with Manasseh, received the firstborn’s share — a double portion (Josh. 17:17-18). These verses also indicate that the Abrahamic promise of a numerous seed was particularly fulfilled in these two tribes. The tribes of Joseph were already, however, showing signs of unfaithfulness; unlike Joshua, who trusted fully in the Lord, the "sons of Joseph" were fearful of the Canaanites’ iron chariots.

Parenthetically, it is interesting that when the 12 spies reported back from their investigation of the land, only the representatives of Judah (Caleb) and of Ephraim (Joshua) gave a good report, and urged the people to trust the Lord for victory. This event anticipated the later division of the nation into Northern (Ephraimite) and Southern (Judahite) kingdoms.

Several of the judges were also sons of Joseph. Deborah set up her court in the hill country of Ephraim (Jud. 4:5). Gideon was the son of Joash the Abiezrite (Jud. 6:11); the Abiezrites were from the tribe of Manasseh (Josh. 17:2). Samuel, a transitional figure between the period of the judges and the kings, was born to an Ephraimite, or perhaps to a Levite living in the hill country of Ephraim (1 Sam. 1:1; but cf. 1 Chron. 6:22-28).

It was during the early period of the divided monarchy, however, that the tribe of Ephraim reached the height of its power. When the kingdom was divided, the tribe of Judah ruled in the South, and initially Jeroboam, an Ephraimite, ruled in the Northern Kingdom (1 Ki. 11:26). God selected Jeroboam to wrest ten tribes from Solomon, and promised him an enduring house if he was faithful (1 Ki. 11:26-40). Once he had secured control of the North, however, Jeroboam quickly established idolatrous Egyptian worship (1 Ki. 12:25-33), and his idolatry became the standard of evil by which all the subsequent kings of Israel were judged (1 Ki. 15:34; 16:31; 2 Ki. 3:3; 10:29; 13:2; 14:24). "Following the sins of Jeroboam, son of Nebat" was a code-phrase for idolatry. Jeroboam, like Adam, was promised the kingdom, but rebelled.

Jeroboam was succeeded by his son, Nadab (1 Ki. 14:20). But Baasha, of the tribe of Issachar, killed Nadab after only two years (1 Ki. 15:25-27), thus ending the Ephraimite hegemony in the North. God "cut off" every member of Jeroboam’s household (1 Ki. 14:6-16; 15:23-30). Just as the sin of Jeroboam became a by-word in Israel, so also God’s judgment against Jeroboam, and His subsequent judgment against Baasha, were repeated against other rebellious Northern kings (1 Ki. 16:3; 21:22; 2 Ki. 9:9).

Yet, throughout the prophets, the Northern kingdom is referred to as "Ephraim." Even into Isaiah’s day, the tribe of Ephraim apparently remained the dominant tribe in the North, though it had lost the kingdom (Is. 7:1-9, esp. v. 9). Hosea especially uses "Ephraim" in reference to the Northern Kingdom. The sins of Ephraim are well-known (Hos. 7:1). Ephraim has intermarried with the nations (7:8), hired lovers (8:9; cf. Ezk. 16, 23), and multiplied altars (8:11). Therefore, the Lord threatens to come like a moth and a lion against Ephraim, and against Judah as well (5:12, 14).

What does this tell us about the New Testament theme of the transfer of the kingdom? First, it indicates that God transfers kingdom privilege from one people to another as a judgment for idolatry. When Jesus appeared, Israel as a whole had become like Ephraim, and she refused to listen to the words of Jesus, from the tribe of Judah.

Second, a study of Ephraim’s role in redemptive history suggests that the grant of the kingdom includes a grant of the right to rule. For a time, Ephraim was given the kingdom, but proved unfaithful. Likewise, Israel was throughout the Old Covenant pre-eminent among the nations. When Israel rejected her King, God transferred the right to rule to another people. Jesus brought this out clearly in Luke 22: the grant of the kingdom includes the right to eat and drink at His table (a place reserved for the King’s advisors), and to sit on thrones of judgment. To receive the kingdom means, among other things, that we are seated with Christ on thrones in heavenly places.

Finally, we should take to heart Paul’s warnings in Romans 11. God broke off the branches of Israel for their unbelief (v. 20). Gentile Christians, however, should "not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you" (v. 21).