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″They are the sons God has given me here,” Joseph said to his father. Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.”10Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them.11Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”
12Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground. 13And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them close to him. 14But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn.
… 17When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”19But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants 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, much less a multitude, or even “group” (NIV) of nations. Later I can share how the NIV and a couple others had the audacity to go to another Hebrew word altogether here. The Hebrew word that is translated “multitude” can be “assembly” and such like, but nothing so small as a “group”, for which the Hebrew uses a different word altogether.
Tracing the idea of “assembly” in Genesis and elsewhere, it most often refers to the multitudes of people within the nation Israel, so we have gained little by using that word. Every major and most minor translations use “multitude” as their word of choice.
So we are in a bind. Ephraim’s descendants were not nation-makers. 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 tribe exiled; the manner of their exile led to their further history being lost. [Hence the “10 lost tribes” that everyone wants to claim as their own].
“However, several modern day groups claim descent [only several, not a multitude], with varying levels of academic and rabbinical support. The Samaritans claim that some of their adherents are descended from this tribe, and many Persian Jews claim to be descendants of Ephraim. Further afield, in India the Telugu Jews claim descent from Ephraim, and call themselves Bene Ephraim, relating similar traditions to those of the Mizo Jews, whom the modern state of Israel regards as descendants of Manasseh.
Several western Christian groups, in particular those of the Church of God in Christ, claim that the whole UK is the direct descendant of Ephraim, and that the whole USA is the direct descendant of Manasseh, based on the interpretation that Jacob had said these two tribes would become the most supreme nations in the world… “
So, when Ephraim, with all Israel, was overrun by Assyria, did the resultant intermarriage with the nations produce Jewish-blooded peoples all over the known world?
No help there. Let’s go back to Scripture. Maybe Joshua? When he conquered Canaan, he and his people became lord over, but mostly extinguisher of, many nations. Joshua was from Ephraim! But could the Canaanite nations be considered his and Ephraim’s “descendants”? Were the Canaanites now Israelites, Ephraimites? And was Joshua not co-heir of Canaan with all the people of Israel?
Jeroboam the soon to be evil Ephraimite likewise 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 now the prophecy is fulfilled?
Some have messed with the text a little more by changing the word “multitude” to “fullness” and making nations singular. Ephraim is to be the “fullness of the nation” whatever that means.
Ephraim was always a significant part of Israel, even if significant in a negative way most of the time. They were larger, (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’re running out of options. I don’t think we should accept a bad option if there seem to be no good ones. We can relegate this whole thing to the future, and talk of a time when the lost tribes will be found, and populate nations and fulfill this prophecy directly…
… or there is one last avenue if that isn’t the way. Rather than focusing on “multitude,” we can take a harder look at the Hebrew for “nations.” It’s a familiar one to us, I think. It is the popular “Goy” (s) or “Goyim” in the plural. We translate it often, Gentiles. For, any nation that is not Israel is simply a nation. The word is also translated “people” when the text demands it. And therein is a shaft of light for us. Is Genesis 48:19 one of those times when “Goyim” must be translated “people” and not “nations”?
“People” is used in translating “goy” (the singular, not the plural) in isolated passages in a few of the prophets. Once in Kings. In Joshua, 3 times the majority of the translators went 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, till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the LORD:”
Joshua is obviously not talking about a nation. It was a subset of the nation Israel, the men of war who came out of Egypt and disobeyed and died. Nation will not fit here, but “people” will, and that’s where the translators went.
So although “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 beautifully.
Ephraim will be great. Greater than Manasseh, at least initially. Tons of tribes and clans and families will spring forth from Ephraim, and his people will dominate Israel, for better or worse.
It is perhaps important to note here the way some prophecies are temporary, and based on the circumstances of the people. Ephraim, as Abel, Isaac, Jacob, David… were not firstborn children, but were chosen of God to be His blessed anyway. Ephraim did indeed gain the ascendancy, as Jacob saw ahead of time. Per the first census of Israel, where Ephraim numbered 8,000 more than his brother Manasseh. And Ephraim did become the father of many clans in Israel.
But Ephraim fell from that grace. Not sure why. But by the end of the book of Numbers, at the second census, Ephraim had lost 8,000 souls while Manasseh gained 20,000. A greater fall was accomplished when leading Israel, via Jeroboam’s idolatry, into the pit of rejection by God altogether. To this day, no one even knows what happened to Ephraim. Let this fall teach us.
We are a chosen generation, to be sure, but pride can still mark us. Damage us. Destroy us.