Who, What, and Where is Ephraim?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, May 15, 2017 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

This week is the third installment in writing about items that will come up in Judges 17, which you’ll see at the beginning of June, so stay tuned! Today I’m writing on Ephraim, but there are multiple things named “Ephraim” in the Bible, so here’s a brief summary of them.

The name Ephraim itself means “I will be doubly fruitful.” Its root word is “peri,” which means fruit in Hebrew. Add to that a modified form of the “-ayim” dual/double ending and a prefix similar to a very form indicating “I will be,” and you end up with the word Ephraim.

The first Ephraim we read about in the Bible is the second son of Joseph, the guy with the coat of many colors. We see Ephraim in Genesis 41:52 and 46:20. Ephraim is significant because, like his grandfather Jacob, he received the familial blessing when he should not have. Ephraim’s brother Manasseh was older so he should have received the blessing, simply because of birth order. But in Genesis 48:10-14, Joseph’s father Israel (aka Jacob) blesses Ephraim first.

The next Ephraim is the tribe of Israel, which was made up of the descendants of Joseph’s son Ephraim. The tribes of Israel were mostly formed from Jacob’s sons, except for the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. These two were from the sons of Joseph, so rather than having one tribe of Joseph (who was Jacob’s son), there were two - Ephraim and Manasseh. You might be thinking that there should be 13 tribes then rather than 12, right? Jacob had 12 sons, and if each son became a tribe except Joseph became 2, then that’s 13, right? Not quite. Jacob’s son Levi became the tribe of the Levites, but since they were priests and served in God’s temple, they did not have land so they were not considered an “official” tribe. The tribe of Ephraim numbered 40,500 people according to the first census in the wilderness after leaving Egypt (Numbers 1:32-33), but only 32,500 when they took the promised land 40 years later, likely due to loss of life during battles.

The tribe of Ephraim’s territory in the promised land would later become Samaria in Jesus’ day. It was the center of much north-south traffic and was located between the Jordan River and the sea. Ephraim’s land was approximately 55 miles by 30 miles, so approximately 1,650 square miles, which is a little larger than the U.S. state of Rhode Island. You can go here for a map of the layout of the tribes to see their relative sizes. During the time of the judges however, Ephraim was haughty, proud, and generally discontent with the other tribes. They felt they had a right to be proud, since the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant (where God’s presence dwelled) was in Shiloh in Ephraim for a number of years. Ephraim was knocked off its high horse a bit when they were removed later on. Ephraim became jealous of the tribe of Judah once Jerusalem (which was in Judah) became the capital of Israel.

The term Ephraim also refers to a mountainous area of Israel, Mount Ephraim, and a forest east of the Jordan River. The central district of Palestine was mountainous and occupied by the tribe of Ephraim. This part of the country is referred to in Joshua 17:15 and 19:50. It was densely wooded in Joshua’s time, but it also had fertile valleys. Joshua himself was buried there (Judges 2:9). Another significant event in this area of Ephraim was the battle between David and Absalom that was fought there, where Absalom died (2 Samuel 18:6-15).

But wait - there’s more! Ephraim was also the name of a gate in the city of Jerusalem. It was on the north side of the city, looking toward the land of the tribe of Ephraim. This gate is referred to in 2 Kings 14:13 and its parallel passage of 2 Chronicles 25:23.

There was also a city called Ephraim in the territory of Ephraim. Jesus went there with his disciples after raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:54). The town of Ephraim was in the wild hill country north of Jerusalem.

The territory of Ephraim will be the setting for when we pick up Judges 17 in a few weeks, so now you have some background as to who, what, and where that is.

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