Home > Jeremiah Was a Dragon-Man > Jeremiah 31: What’s In A Name?

Jeremiah 31: What’s In A Name?

Reading chapter 31, a message from God to his conquered people who have been exiled to a foreign land, I noticed something new . The author repeatedly uses a unique name which I didn’t recall seeing so often during read throughs of previous chapters. “Ephraim,” the name for one of the tribes of Israel, is scattered throughout this passage. Here are its uses.

31.6
“For there will be a day when watchmen

On the hills of Ephraim call out,

‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion,

To the Lord our God.’”

31.9
“With weeping they will come,

And by supplication I will lead them;

I will make them walk by streams of waters,

On a straight path in which they will not stumble;

For I am a father to Israel,

And Ephraim is My firstborn.”

31.17-20
“There is hope for your future,” declares the Lord,
“And your children will return to their own territory.
18 “I have surely heard Ephraim grieving,
‘You have chastised me, and I was chastised,
Like an untrained calf;
Bring me back that I may be restored,
For You are the Lord my God.
19 ‘For after I turned back, I repented;
And after I was instructed, I smote on my thigh;
I was ashamed and also humiliated
Because I bore the reproach of my youth.’
20 “Is Ephraim My dear son?
Is he a delightful child?
Indeed, as often as I have spoken against him,
I certainly still remember him;
Therefore My heart yearns for him;
I will surely have mercy on him,” declares the Lord.

In the book of Jeremiah, the largest book in the Bible, there are seven uses of the word, “Ephraim.” Four of them are found in this one chapter. Only in this chapter is Ephraim referred to directly as an individual. All other uses are descriptive (hills of Ephraim, offspring of Ephraim). The frequency and uniqueness of the use of “Ephraim” here is a good indicator of a deliberate literary move.

After noticing this, I did some “research” (that’s a generous term for my brief internet search), on why. The first reason which came up explains the use of the term Ephraim at the outer layer of meaning. Ephraim was the strongest tribe of those which formed the northern kingdom of Israel, and thus using the name was shorthand for referring to all these tribes. I believe it safe to say the author intended to include all these tribes  when referring to Ephraim. However, it should be pointed out, there are already well established terms for distinguishing the northern from the southern kingdoms, Israel and Judah, respectively. This explanation doesn’t quite explain the why.

A few other people pointed out Ephraim is the second son of Joseph who was the second to last son of Israel (who also, as long as we’re going through this list, was the last born of Isaac who was the second born son of Abraham). These are those who were the chosen sons through whom God’s people would descend. In the ancient near east, the standard was for the firstborn son to receive the inheritance. God’s manner of choosing who would inherit his kingdom was different, unexpected, and often included those who were overlooked by others, the weak, the humble.

The implications of this are at least twofold. By focusing on Ephraim, the last born of all the patriarchs of the Israelite tribes, God is pointing out his love for the lowliest in society and his intention to elevate their status and do great things to them and through them. Certainly exiled Israel can identify with those in the lowest position at this time. This also hints at the gentiles, the latter born group of people, entrances into the kingdom of God with as much status as God’s firstborn, through the new covenant referred to in this chapter.

I will suggest it serves another purpose in the text. Full disclosure, I have a four month old son named Ephraim. So, I’m definitely inclined to pay more attention to his name than most. Conveniently, I also know what the Hebrew word Ephraim means in English. It means “fruitful.” Before we get into the implications of this, here’s why Joseph chose this name for his son.

Joseph entered Egypt as a slave, become a prisoner, and then the second most powerful man in the entire nation. He was forcibly extracted from his life and family and brought to Egypt against his will, and yet God still used him and gave him good things. In this context, when Joseph has his second son, he says they will name him ‘Ephraim, “For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”’

Egypt was not a place where God blessed Joseph only, but where he blessed all of the people of Israel for centuries. This foreign nation was where a small immediate family grew into a nation of people. And eventually, when this nation within Egypt were made into slaves, YHWH brought them out and blessed them elsewhere.

Jeremiah’s use of “Ephraim” should not only cause the reader to think “fruitful,” but also to think of the story of Ephraim’s naming. God has a history of making his people fruitful. He even does so when they are in a foreign land. He even does so when they were forced to come to the foreign land against their will. “Ephraim,” in a word, tells a story of hope, of God’s faithfulness to his people even when they are brought by their oppressors into a land of affliction. He has provided fruitfulness before in a similar context, he will do so again. YHWH is assuring Israel that despite their circumstances they are still his fruitful firstborn.

The hope God communicates, hope for freedom, hope for a renewed relationship, hope for future safety, brought about by a moment of complete forgiveness, is best summed up in 31.31-34.

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Advertisements
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: