This and the following chapter describe the allotments of land that were given to the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph. Verses 5-10 of this chapter particularly detail the portion of inheritance that was given to the Ephraimites. Their land extended from the Jordan River in the east, to the Mediterranean Sea in the west – thus extending across the whole width of Canaan from side to side. And without question, the fruitfulness of the soil fulfilled the prophetic blessings of both Jacob and Moses (Gen. 49:25-26 and Deut. 33:13).
Joseph – who stands forth in the Scriptures as an eminent picture of our Lord Jesus – had been Jacob’s best-beloved son. He had been the greatest ornament and support of his family, for he kept them from perishing in a time of famine. He had been the shepherd and stone of Israel; and therefore, his posterity was very much favored by the Lord’s direction of the lot that was cast for their inheritance. Their portion lay in the very heart of the land of Canaan. And is not Jesus (whom Joseph foreshadowed) the sum and substance and center of heaven? Does he not reign in the very hearts of His people?
The portions allotted to Ephraim and Manasseh are not as particularly described as those of the other tribes; for we only have a description of the limits and boundaries of their lands, and not the particular cities within them. For this, no reason can be assigned – unless we may suppose that since Joshua himself was a member of the descendants of Joseph, they referred it to him alone to distribute the cities that lay within their lot.
We are here told that the Ephraimites did not drive out the Canaanites from Gezer. This was because of either their carelessness or their cowardice. It was either for a lack of faith in the promises of God, that He would give them success if they would make a vigorous effort; or else it was for a lack of zeal for the command of God, which obliged them to utterly drive out the Canaanites without making peace with them. And although the Ephraimites hoped to satisfy the law by putting the Canaanites under tribute, yet this made the matter worse; for it showed that they spared them out of covetousness, so that they might make a profit from their labors. And by dealing with them for the sake of their tribute, they were in danger of being infected with their idolatry. In later narratives, we find that the Israelites soon fell into their idolatry themselves. From the example of the Ephraimites, let us learn that we must not parley with the sins and temptations that strive to rule our hearts. Through the Lord’s grace, we must root them out and mortify and destroy them; and we must never allow them to remain within our hearts – not even if they appear to be under “strict control.”
Many famous places were located within the lot of the tribe of Ephraim, although they were not mentioned here. Ephraim was the location of the city of Ramah, Samuel’s birthplace and residence; this place was called Arimathea in New Testament times, and it was the hometown of Joseph, who ensured that Jesus received an honorable burial. The city of Shiloh was also in Ephraim, and this was the place where the Tabernacle was brought to a permanent resting-place in the land of Canaan. Deborah’s palm-tree, from which she judged Israel, was also in this tribe – as well as Tirzah, the royal city of King Jeroboam and his successors. Samaria was built by King Omri after the burning of the royal palace of Tirzah, and it was the royal city of the Northern Kingdom for a long time. Not far from Samaria lay the city of Shechem, the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim, and the village of Sychar – which was near Jacob’s well, where Christ talked with the woman of Samaria. We will read much about Mount Ephraim when we study the Book of Judges.
Lord, we recall how it was the language of the dying Patriarch Jacob, concerning his son Joseph, that he was and would be a fruitful bough by a well, whose branches ran over a wall (Gen. 49:22-26); and here we see how his children truly did break out in fruitfulness. But oh! In reference to Him of Whom the children of Jacob were only a picture or foreshadow – how fruitful are Your boughs, O Jesus; and how You run over the wall of Your enemies! In You, we see the blessings of heaven from above, blessings upon the earth below, and blessings of the fruit of the womb. All nations shall call You blessed, Lord Jesus! Be our portion; and drive out all enemies from before Your face, for You alone can accomplish it! Amen.
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