Ephraim My Dear Son, My Firstborn

Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the LORD.
~Jeremiah 31:20

There have been some interesting discoveries in archeology recently. The ossuary of James the Just is a curiosity; the so-called “tomb of Jesus” is a farce. Most recently though, has been a discovery that actually informs and helps to fill out the picture of what the first century Jewish context might have looked like. The Hazon Gabriel (Revelation of Gabriel) tablet isn’t garnering as much attention as the previous two discoveries mentioned, but in my view it’s a more important find.

Hazon Gabriel

First I want to take a brief look at prophetic language in the Bible itself, particularly references to Ephraim. A professor of mine once suggested that the apparent special affinity of Yahweh to Ephraim in the Old Testament is simply because the tribe of Ephraim lies at the heart of Israel geographically. So speaking of Ephraim is a sort of poetic short hand for referring to Israel as a whole. Sure. Sounded plausible at the time, and I didn’t have any better explanation, so I accepted that. It sort of makes sense of passages like Jeremiah 31:20, though it doesn’t necessarily make sense of the fact that Judah and Ephraim are often mentioned side by side. It also doesn’t explain why Ephraim would seem to be singled out as opposed to the rest of Israel in passages such as Jeremiah 31:9:

I will make them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble,
for I am a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.

Poetic language? Perhaps. But when we begin to look at the literature of the period, we find that those of Jesus’ time did not read references to Ephraim as simple prophetic short hand. As messianic expectations intensified under first Greek then Roman occupation, the name Ephraim came to be closely associated with Messiah.

In the Hazon Gabriel, Ephraim is even portrayed as ranking above David. We see phrases like “My servant David, ask of Ephraim [that he] place the sign; (this) I ask of you.” The current issue of Biblical Archeology Review does a good job of highlighting messianic references to Ephraim in the literature, and brings them to an interesting conclusion. The reference to Ephraim here in a messianic context ties in with post Second Temple Jewish sources that scholars had always attributed to Christian influence. For who is Ephraim of the Old Testament?

Genesis 46:20
In Egypt, Manasseh and Ephraim were born to Joseph . . .

That’s right. Ephraim is the son of Joseph and a type of Christ. He is Joseph’s younger son, specifically. However, Jacob blessed Ephraim before his older brother Manasseh (Genesis 48:14-20), echoing the blessing of Jacob before Esau.

Because of the messianic references to Ephraim throughout the Old Testament, many Jewish scholars began to look for and refer to the Messiah as the “Son of Joseph.” The BAR article theorizes that the Messiah the Son of Joseph historically becomes associated with a suffering servant Messiah, whereas the Son of David is the conquerer.

Until recently, many modern scholars had dismissed “son of Joseph” references as Christian corruptions of or influences on Jewish texts. But artifacts like the Hazon Gabriel are making them think again.

Another interesting feature of the Hazon Gabriel is the reference to “three days.”

77. Who am I? I am Gabriel …….. [ ]
78. You will rescue them………….. for two [ ] …[ ]
79. from before of you the three si[g]ns three .. [ ]
80. In three days, live, I Gabriel com[mand] yo[u]

It’s the first known pre-Christian and extra-biblical reference to a resurrection on the third day. Biblically, third day resurrection has its roots in Hosea 6:1-2.

Come, let us return to the LORD;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.

7 Responses to “Ephraim My Dear Son, My Firstborn”

  1. Chris, thanks for an interesting post. If Ephraim's special position were merely based on geography, one would think that Dan and Benjamin would be even more special or the tribe of Simeon, which apparently was absorbed by Judah. The reference in Hosea to the resurrection is quite interesting. The word Ephraim appears most often of any OT book in Hosea.Here is a quote from the Word Biblical Commentary concerning its first appearance in Hosea 4:17: "Ephraim constituted the bulk of the shrunken northern kingdom after the Assyrian campaign in 733 BC. Because this passage, among others mentioning Ephraim, is probably earlier in date than 733, the use of the term cannot result merely from historical circumstances. Amos does not use the term. Hosea may have been inspired to coin it because he preached almost exclusively in Ephraimite territory. It became particularly appropriate after 733, of course."

  2. Another good post, Chris! II'll help you market your first book when it's ready to sell. =)

  3. That's pretty cool. Do you know what the main point of the "Revelation of Gabriel" is? When it dates from? Who wrote it down? I hadn't heard of it before.

  4. Laura,The Hazon Gabriel is currently being dated to about the 1st century B.C. It's written in the style of an apocalyptic prophecy. Of course we wouldn't accept the text as a valid prophecy of God, nor would we accept the conclusions regarding the Gospel put forward by BAR. But it holds some interest simply as an indicator of what the messianic expectations were for the Jews of that time period.http://www.bib-arch.org/news/dss-in-stone-news.asp

  5. Calvin,Yeah, Hosea 6:1-2 has been a favorite of mine for some time. It is the single only and most explicit mention of a "rising on the third day" in the Old Testament. Since we're told in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus expounds on the road to Emmaus that the prophets made clear that it was necessary for him to rise "on the third day," it stands to reason that this may be the exact passage Jesus was referring to.Most interpreters regard the Hosea passage as 1) not referring to a literal three days, but rather idiomatic of "a short time," as the NLT translates it, and 2) referring to Israel as a nation, and therefore not as Messianic.However, the answer I would give is that literal language is important. If it says "after two days" and "on the third day," then that means something. Also, if this is so common an idiom in Hebrew, why don't we see it more often? Finally, idioms reflect worldview. Interpreters have never asked the reasons WHY "after two days" and "on the third day" would become idiomatic (if indeed it is) in a Jewish culture to which the prophets preached. Could it possibly be because there is, in fact, something special about the "third day"?As for the prophecy referring to Israel . . . well, of COURSE it's about Israel. So is Hosea 11:1: "Out of Egypt have I called my son." How could Matthew use that passage to refer to Christ when the context makes it clear that it is speaking of the Exodus, and Israel's subsequent failure to keep covenant?The answer is that these passages ARE about Israel, AND they are about Jesus. Because Jesus is the covenant representative of Israel. So in raising Jesus up, God raised up Israel (those He represents) as well.

  6. Rich Davis says:

    Hosea 11:1 is also more literal as we read in Matt. 2:19-23.As for Ephraim: in Gen. 48, Israel gives his sons blessings. Most only get one or two verses, but Judah (the Jews) gets 5 verses. Interestingly, Joseph (with Ephraim as the head of the tribe) gets 5 verses also. We know what happened to the tribe of Judah, and we know that the 10 tribes were led away, to return before the 2nd coming, but what happened to the tribe of Joseph? As you read Gen. 48, it's clear that the tribe of Joseph will be greatly blessed (see ver. 24-26), even more so then Judah. Yet mid-way through the old testament you never hear about them anymore. It's interesting to note verse 22, …a fruitful bough…whose branches run over the wall. It would seem to me that the general term of Ephraim or Ephraimites is talking about a people (the seed of Joseph) that are separated from the other tribes by a big wall or obstacle such as an ocean, much like Joseph was separated from his family. Any thoughts?

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