(Eʹphra·im) [doubly fruitful, or, fruitland].
1. Son of Joseph by his wife Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera the priest of On. Ephraim, the younger brother of Manasseh, was born in Egypt before the seven-year famine began. The name Ephraim was given to him by his father “because, to quote [Joseph], ‘God has made me fruitful in the land of my wretchedness.’”—Gen. 41:50-52.
On his deathbed, Jacob, in effect, adopted his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh and appointed them to be the equals of his direct sons. (Gen. 48:5) Their father Joseph, who received the right as firstborn among Jacob’s sons, received two parts of his father’s inheritance by means of the tribal inheritance of Ephraim and Manasseh. (1 Chron. 5:1; compare Genesis 48:21, 22; Deuteronomy 21:17; Joshua 14:4.) In blessing Ephraim and Manasseh, the patriarch Jacob gave the preference to Ephraim and prophetically indicated that he would become the greater.—Gen. 48:13-20.
First Chronicles 7:20-27 provides a genealogical listing of Ephraim’s sons and later descendants, concluding with Joshua, who led the Israelites into the Promised Land. The historical information found in this passage has been variously interpreted. Many commentators consider Ezer and Elead to be the sons of Ephraim that were slain by the men of Gath, thus placing the event probably sometime between the death of Joseph and the beginning of the Egyptian oppression. This would mean either that Ezer and Elead went into Canaan to take the livestock of the men of Gath or that the latter were the aggressors. It may be that Ezer and Elead were slain in an attempt to prevent the theft of their livestock. Not long after the death of his sons, Ephraim fathered Beriah.
2. The name Ephraim is also applied to the tribe that descended from him. About a year after the exodus from Egypt, Ephraim’s 40,500 fighting men from twenty years old upward outnumbered Manasseh’s able-bodied men by 8,300. (Num. 1:1-3, 32-35) However, at the end of the forty years’ wandering in the wilderness, the registered males of Ephraim numbered only 32,500, or 20,200 less than those of Manasseh. (Num. 26:34, 37) Nevertheless, Ephraim was destined to become the greater. Moses, when blessing the Israelites, prophetically spoke of the “tens of thousands of Ephraim,” but of the “thousands of Manasseh.”—Deut. 33:17.
In the wilderness, the Ephraimites, with Elishama serving as chieftain, were assigned to camp on the W side of the tabernacle, along with the tribes of Manasseh and Benjamin. This three-tribe division was third in the order of march.—Num. 2:18-24.
The territory assigned to the tribe of Ephraim occupied a central portion of Palestine, W of the Jordan. The tribe also had enclave cities in Manasseh’s territory. On the N, Ephraim was bounded by Manasseh, and on the S, by Benjamin and Dan. (Josh. 16:1-9) This region, although mountainous and hilly, is blessed with rich and fertile soil and, in ancient times, was heavily wooded. (Josh. 17:15, 17, 18) The chieftain Kemuel served as the divinely appointed representative of Ephraim in dividing the Promised Land into inheritance portions.—Num. 34:18, 24.
Besides Shechem, a city of refuge, a number of other Levite cities were located in the territory of Ephraim. (Josh. 21:20-22; 1 Chron. 6:66-69) From one of these Levite cities, Gezer, the Ephraimites did not drive out the Canaanites, but subjected them to slavish forced labor. (Josh. 16:10; Judg. 1:29) At Shiloh, likewise in Ephraim, the tabernacle was set up.—Josh. 18:1.
EPHRAIM FROM JOSHUA TO DAVID
The territory of Ephraim was the scene for numerous notable events. At Shechem, Moses’ successor, the Ephraimite Joshua, congregated the tribes of Israel and appealed to them to serve Jehovah faithfully. (Josh. 24:1, 14, 15) Also, here at Shechem, Joseph’s bones were finally buried, and both Joshua and Aaron’s son Eleazar were buried in the mountainous region of Ephraim. (Josh. 24:29-33) Later, Benjamite Judge Ehud assembled the Israelites in the mountainous region of Ephraim to fight against the Moabites. (Judg. 3:26-30) After Ehud’s death the prophetess Deborah, from her residence in the mountainous region of Ephraim, sent for Barak as the one designated by Jehovah to deliver Israel from the oppression of King Jabin. In the victory song of Barak and Deborah, Ephraim is the first tribe to be mentioned. (Judg. 4:1-7; 5:14) At a later time, Tola of the tribe of Issachar judged Israel for twenty-three years while dwelling at Shamir in the mountainous region of Ephraim. (Judg. 10:1, 2) The last of the judges, the prophet Samuel of the tribe of Levi, was born at Ramah in the mountainous region of Ephraim, and it was there that he, as an adult, established his home.—1 Sam. 1:1, 2, 19, 20; 7:15-17.
Pride and an extreme desire for prominence caused severe difficulty to the Ephraimites in their relationship to the other tribes. As early as the time of the judges this trait manifested itself. For example, the Ephraimites tried to pick a quarrel with Gideon for not having called them earlier in the fight against Midian. However, Gideon’s tactfulness on that occasion averted a clash. (Judg. 8:1-3) Later, although having previously turned down an opportunity to assist Jephthah, the Ephraimites felt slighted when he did not call them to fight against the Ammonites. They warred with Jephthah and experienced a humiliating defeat; thousands were killed at the fords of the Jordan, where they were identified as Ephraimites due to their mispronouncing the password “Shibboleth” as “Sibboleth.”—Judg. 12:1-6; see also 2 Chronicles 25:10.
DOMINANT TRIBE OF NORTHERN KINGDOM
From the time the kingdom was divided during the reign of Rehoboam, Ephraim, as the most prominent and influential tribe of the northern kingdom, made a bad name for itself. (Hos. 13:1) The first king, the Ephraimite Jeroboam, established calf worship at Dan and Bethel. (1 Ki. 11:26; 12:25-30) This plunge into idolatry was never reversed.
As the dominant tribe of the northern kingdom, Ephraim came to stand for the entire ten-tribe kingdom. (2 Chron. 25:7; Jer. 7:15) Therefore the prophets Hosea and Isaiah directed their strong denunciations against Ephraim. Hosea condemned Ephraim for mingling with the nations, learning their works and serving their idols. He compared Ephraim to a round cake not turned over, baked or even burned on the bottom but not done on the top. (Hos. 7:8; compare Psalm 106:35, 36; Hosea 4:17; 12:14.) Although having been sapped of strength by strangers, Ephraim, rather than returning to Jehovah, appealed to Egypt for help and made a covenant with Assyria. Thus Ephraim was like a simple-minded dove that would not escape being trapped in a net.—Hos. 7:9-12; 8:9; compare 2 Kings 17:4; Hosea 12:1.
The prophet Isaiah addressed himself to the ‘proud drunkards of Ephraim.’ Their independence from the kingdom of Judah and their alliances with Syria and other nations had affected them like intoxicating liquor. However, disaster would befall them.—Isa. 7:1, 2, 5-9, 17; 9:9-12; 17:3; 28:1-3.
Jehovah’s prophets also foretold, however, that the spirit of jealousy and hostility existing between Ephraim (the ten-tribe kingdom) and Judah (the two-tribe kingdom) would cease. (Isa. 11:13; Jer. 31:6) Judah and Ephraim would become united, and Ephraim would be restored to divine favor.—Jer. 31:18-20; 50:19; Ezek. 37:16-19; Zech. 10:7.
Whereas the tribe of Ephraim built up a bad record, individuals within that tribe followed the right course. During the reign of Judah’s King Asa, for example, many Ephraimites deserted to him when they saw that Jehovah was with him. (2 Chron. 15:9) Later, Ephraimites were also present in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration in the first year of Hezekiah’s reign and afterward shared in destroying appendages of idolatry. (2 Chron. 30:18; 31:1) However, when Hezekiah sent out the invitation for the Israelites from the N to come to the Passover, his runners were mocked and derided by many in Ephraim, Manasseh and Zebulun. Pride kept these from humbling themselves and coming down to Jerusalem for the Passover.—2 Chron. 30:10, 11.
3. A city generally considered to be the same as the Ephrain captured by Abijah the king of Judah from Jeroboam the king of Israel. (2 Chron. 13:19) In the first century C.E., when the religious leaders took counsel to kill him, Jesus Christ, with his disciples, went to Ephraim in the country near the wilderness. (John 11:53, 54) The site commonly suggested for this city is the village of Et-Taiyibeh situated about four miles (6.4 kilometers) E-NE of Bethel and to the SE of the suggested location of Baal-hazor. (2 Sam. 13:23) According to the Jewish historian Josephus, the Roman general Vespasian conquered Ephraim during his march against Jerusalem.—Wars of the Jews, Book IV, chap. IX, par. 9.
4. The “forest of Ephraim” was an area on the E side of the Jordan where King David’s army fought with that of his rebellious son Absalom. (2 Sam. 18:6-8) The actual site of the forest of Ephraim in the land of Gilead is unknown, but it was probably in the vicinity of Mahanaim.—2 Sam. 17:22, 24, 26.