Summary: Our present passage provides insight as to why the Israelites stumbled in fulfilling their obligations, and consequently should give us some insight into our own stumbling.
Psalm 78:9-11 I Forgot
12/30/08 D. Marion Clark
This psalm is excellent for studying at the end of the year – for it is a psalm of looking back so as to look forward. The first eight verses focus on the obligation God’s people have to pass on to the next generation what God has done. Our present passage provides insight as to why the Israelites stumbled in fulfilling their obligations, and consequently should give us some insight into our own stumbling.
Verse 9 tells us: The Ephraimites, armed with the bow, turned back on the day of battle.
Who were the Ephraimites and what is this turning back they were guilty of? One of the twelve tribes of Israel, they had a promising beginning which led to prosperity and honor. Ephraim was one of the two sons of Joseph (Manasseh being the other), whom Joseph’s father Jacob adopted as his own, thus making them heads of half-tribes in place of Joseph.
Let’s go back to that promising beginning for Ephraim. When Joseph brought his two sons to Jacob to be blessed by him, Jacob switched the blessings by placing his right hand on the younger son Ephraim. When Joseph protested, Jacob responded that Ephraim shall be greater than Manasseh, and indeed become a “multitude of nations.” Ephraim’s tribe did rise to prominence. Joshua, who led the Israelites into the Promised Land, was an Ephraimite. When they entered into the land, it was in the territory allotted to Ephraim that the tabernacle of God was located at Shiloh. It was in Ephraim’s territory at Shechem where the first national assemblies were held. Thus, Ephraim became both the religious and political center for the nation. In practical terms, Ephraim became the first among equals among the tribes.
But the tribe eventually fell out of its position, which Psalm 78 presents. Verse 60 notes that God “forsook his dwelling at Shiloh.” Though the tabernacle containing the ark of the covenant dwelt in Shiloh, the ark ended up in Judah, eventually settling in Jerusalem where the temple was built. God removed his favor upon Ephraim and shifted it to Judah. Where did Ephraim go wrong?
If you page back through your Bible, you will not find an episode of Ephraim warriors backing off from a battle. Actually, they were a bit quick about wanting to fight, even fighting against other tribes for not letting them join in their battles. But if you were to read in Judges, chapter 1, you would find Ephraim listed as one of the six tribes who failed to drive out the Canaanites from its territory. Ephraim failed to finish the battle. Its warriors did enough to take ground in the Promised Land; the tribe did well enough to be prominent. But it did not complete the race. Why?
To answer that question, let me take you back to another scene of blessing. This was the day when Jacob gathered his sons about him and gave each a blessing. Here is an excerpt of what he said of Joseph, which would also be the blessing for Ephraim: