Ephraim's Future Effrontery, Pt. 1: Israel's Wealth Problem and the Challenging of Gideon
Recall a previous blog post in which some analysis focused on Jacob's administering of Ephraim's patriarchal blessing revealing that at some point this individual's offspring would be dispersed among the Gentile nations. Obviously, his dispersal did not occur early in the history of Israel as a nation but at a distant time, and yet it cannot be supposed that Ephraim's exile came without provocation. He displayed the same odious trait Joseph did early in his youth, namely the sin of pride. And just as Joseph's juvenile arrogance brought about his expulsion from his family, so too did Ephraim's. Understanding Ephraim's action resulting from this hubris requires examining the historical data presented to the reader in the Old Testament, for therein lies not only particular causes as to why Ephraim was cast out but also a typological pattern potentially shedding light on present-day Ephraim and his doings.
The Weakening Influence of Wealth
Perhaps the most striking aspect connected with Israel's journey to the promise land surfaces when the reader considers the setbacks that occurred along this path. Foremost among the causes related to these seems to be the idolatrous influence wielded by foreign cultures Israel encountered, which led many among Israel to loosen their grip on religious observance. Though several instances of this could be noted, this post will only hone in on those that include the tribe of Ephraim in the recounting. The Book of Judges provides an entry point into the investigation and describes the emergent atmosphere luring the children of Israel away from God.
The book commences by depicting the conquest of the promise land in which the Israelites assaulted and subdued the Canaanite inhabitants throughout the land. Yet Israel's form of subjugation stood in complete defiance of what the Lord had commanded them to do once they had entered into the region. Their decreed task was to drive out the inhabitants of Canaan from before them so that their foreign influence would not caused the Israelites to stumble, something the prophet Joshua had mentioned before his death:
Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the LORD your God. Else if ye do in any wise go back, and cleave unto the remnant of these nations, even these that remain among you, and shall make marriages with them, and go in unto them, and they to you: Know for a certainty that the LORD your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you. 1
This warning went unheeded by Israel, for several of the tribes decided to rely on the "arm of the flesh" and brokered tributary treaties with the remnants of Canaanites residing in their inherited lands, respectively.2 This political tactic employed by the Israelites paved the way for ensuring leisure and ease defined the economic climate that would pervade their social state. In conjunction with the tribute received, Israel immediately began to focus on accumulating wealth through cultivating the land.
After this, the Israelites grew effiminate as to fighting any more against their enemies, but applied themselves to the cultivation of the land, which producing them great plenty and riches, they neglected the regular disposition of their settlement, and indulged themselves in luxury and pleasures; nor were they any longer careful to hear the law that belonged to their political government; whereupon God was provoked to anger, and put them in mind, first how, contrary to his directions, they had spared the Canaanites; and, after that, how those Canaanites, as opportunity served, used them very barbarously. 3
Notice here that Josephus informs his readers concerning the weakening effect the pursuit of riches had on the minds and actions of the Israelites. The Israelites’ initial incursion into the land of Canaan focused their minds on keeping the commandments of God, for they knew that through His power alone were they enabled to subdue those the Lord commanded them to overturn and drive out from the promised land. Thus, the fear of their enemies required them to rely solely on the Lord. But this outlook changed once they believed they had crushed their enemies to the degree that they could manage them as tributaries, a relegated political status through which Israel desired to accrue some wealth. Letting the Canaanites remain among them had consequences, though, and the “angel of Lord” came to tell them what their disobedience brought upon themselves and their posterity.
And an angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you. And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not obeyed my voice: why have ye done this? Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you. 4
Neglecting the commandments of the Lord led the angel to testify that the spirit of power the Israelites had experienced during their conquests would now be withheld from them. Their ability to subdue the Canaanites completely vanished, with the latter cultural group indulging perhaps in machinations to undermine their weakened masters. The Canaanites were not the only nation the Israelites had confronted and battled, for there were others who had felt what was, at the time, the latter's matchless power. This knowledge gave the internal enemies of Israel the requisite leverage to effectively conspire with and provide tactical information to the surrounding nations that would compromise Israel's national integrity. Thus, failing to uphold God's commandments left Israel open to reprisals.
The Rising Generation
The measures with which the Canaanites hindered Israel did not have immediate effects because many of the Israelites who had witnessed God's power in the Sinai wilderness and during their conquests still, for the most part, revered the Lord. To ensure their stranglehold over their masters required them to influence Israel's youth of the rising generation by gradually inducing them to forsake the God of their fathers and partake in Canaanite cultural practices. Since the rising generation "knew not the LORD, nor...his works," their demeanor evinced their disdain for "divine worship," leading to their wholesale adoption of "the evil doings" common to the Canaanites.5 Inarguably, this cultural group impressed upon the minds of the youth the religious tenets associated with Baal worship through which the latter caved to the pressure and began to resemble the culture of the surrounding nations and followed after other gods.6 Interesting questions arise from this knowledge, and one, in particular, is worthy of asking here. Given the Canaanite influence over the Israelites, could this impact result in the more wicked among the Israelites changing the scriptures and ceremonial practices inherent in worshiping the God of their fathers? Engaging in efforts to emend their religion would relax the burden of religious duty required of them and would allow them to indulge in their hedonistic tendencies. The possibility of such a scenario transpiring remained imminent given the proclivities of human nature, regardless of whether those making the doctrinal changes were mere scribes or coming from the highest echelons of leadership.
The laxity of the rising generation provided the perfect atmosphere for machinations to persist afoot within society. The people grew indolent in their newfound prosperity and, by extension, resulted in an overall decrease in vigilance for the laws of their political government. Their internal enemies used this political climate to their own advantage and maneuvered to enslave the children of Israel, informing outsiders with vital intelligence concerning key objectives for the Israelites’ take down. Because of their sheer folly, the Lord gave his people over into the hands of their enemies “and the hand of the Lord was against them.”7 And yet the Lord, despite his hot displeasure towards his people, heard their cries, after they had experienced years of abuse at the hands of their enemies, and therefore raised up judges, or messianic figures, to deliver them from their plight. What is so disconcerting about the narrative given in the Book of Judges apprises the reader of the lazy and hardhearted nature of the Israelites after each judge died, for the people quickly relapsed into their old ways and were again placed into bondage by their enemies.
Ephraim Challenges Gideon
The Book of Judges’ account offers several narratives about various judges whom the Lord raised up to save Israel, but the remainder of this post will focus only on those whom Ephraim challenged. Concentrating on Ephraim's effrontery reveals an established pattern detailing this tribe's reaction towards any whom they deem to have undermined their birthright status or gained some measure of glory that perhaps eclipsed theirs. The reason for giving an account of such here springs from certain clues throughout the scriptures suggesting Ephraim will again follow the course of their ancient fathers in confronting someone or others, outside their tribe, called of God.
The first clash occurred with the judge Gideon. This man received his call from God after Midianites vexed the lands of Israel for seven years, with these being as numerous as “grasshoppers” that plundered Israel of its vital resources.8 Delivering His people from such a plight required God to send "the angel of the Lord" to Gideon, a poor man who resided in a territory belonging to a portion of the tribe of Manasseh.9 The call of Gideon by "the angel" provides some interesting insights about this being in conversation with the mortal, for the latter refers to the former as "Lord." Yet there are two Lords mentioned in the scriptural account, which suggests that this angel figure held God status. Furthermore, when Gideon appears to doubt his own abilities in saving Israel from her enemies, "the angel" assured the man of Manasseh victory by asking the question "have not I sent you?"10 The calling of Gideon mimics that of Moses when he encounter "the angel of the Lord" in the burning bush, with Moses referring to "the angel" as "Lord" just as Gideon does in his encounter.11 It appears that this same being empowered Gideon to act as a messianic figure on behalf of the beleaguered Israelites.
Achieving Israel's salvation came only after the "Spirit of the Lord" rested upon Gideon, which quickened his mind so that he could discern the situation and know what needed to be done to deliver his people.12 He decided to send messengers only to the tribes of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. This measure limited the number of potential soldiers necessary for carrying out the assault against the Midianites, and yet even the amount mustered from these tribes proved too numerous for the Lord's plan of attack.
And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go. 13
After the Lord had sifted the soldiers, Gideon's army numbered only three hundred. To the rationalist, this would obviously seem too small a unit to take on the large forces employed by the Midianites and their confederates. But pure rationalism resulted in the predicament in which Israel found herself, for many within Israel rationalized away God’s command to drive out the Canaanites and decided to place their trust in formulating an economic system of leisure and ease. Thus, the Israelites had placed their trust in designs they had thought would save them and maintain order in the land. And it is for this reason the Lord required Gideon to whittle away at the size of his army so the rationalists could not suppose it was their economic might and power that delivered them. He wanted to impress upon their minds the sheer folly of trusting in the arm of the flesh.
Gideon commenced his attack against the Midianites and subsequently routed them, and yet he ensured the leadership of their enemies fell into the hands of the birthright tribe, Ephraim. As Gideon and his men scattered and pursued their prey, the former instructed men to apprise the Ephraimites of the Midianite leadership’s whereabouts so that this tribe could participate in the action, though in an abbreviated degree.14 Why would Gideon opt to include Ephraim at the last minute into the fray of battle? The scriptures provide the astute reader with particular clues suggesting Gideon was wise to do so. Though Gideon provided the Ephraimites with the intel and whereabouts of the Midianite chieftains, an objective meant to aggrandize the birthright tribe, these still harbored resentment against the man of Manasseh for not allowing them to join the assault from the outset, even after they had slaughter Midianite leaders and their men.
Ephraim proceeded to "chide" Gideon for the supposed dishonor he had done them by taking all the glory in battle. Answering their allegations required Gideon to heap flattery and praise on the offended tribe by comparing the lush lands of Ephraim with the scarcity-stricken earth on which Manasseh resided in hope of appeasing hurt feelings.15 Josephus indicates that Gideon's placation did more to serve societal tranquility than had his defeat of the Midianites because the tribe of Ephraim had fomented seditious sentiments among the Israelites against Gideon and his small forces all for the sake of their wounded pride.16 Nevermind that Gideon had obeyed the commandments of the Lord and delivered all of the Israelites from bondage. The only thing that appeared to concern Ephraim was reinforcing their birthright status by whipping up anger against those they thought had wrong them, regardless of whether God had called Gideon and his men to achieve the liberty of all.
Joshua 23:11-13 (JST)
Judges 1:27-36 (JST)
Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews 5.2.7
Judges 2:1-3 (JST)
Judges 2:10 (JST) cf. Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews 5.3.2
Judges 2:12-13 (JST)
Judges 2:14-15 (JST)
Judges 6:1-5 (JST)
Judges 6:13, 15 (JST)
Judges 6:14 (JST)
Exodus 3:2 (KJV) cf. Exodus 3:2 (JST)
Judges 6:34 (JST)
Judges 7:4 (JST)
Judges 8:24-25 (JST)
Judges 9:1-2 (JST)
Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews 5.6.6