Ephraim and the Lion’s Roar

Rembrandt, “Jacob Blessing Ephraim and Manasseh”

Proper 13 (Aug 5, 2007)
Hosea 11:1-11

Why are there so many different names for the nation of Israel in the Bible? Why can’t the Holy Spirit just pick one name and stick with it to make things clearer. The answer may be that in the various names there often resides poignant meaning. In this passage, the prophet Hosea starts out with a very straightforward reference to ‘Israel’. Of course, this name itself is freighted with implications (as Howard Hendrix might put it). Yet then in verse 3 Hosea switches to Ephraim. Why?

It may be that Hosea knew that using the name ‘Ephraim’ would bring to mind details of the journey of the Jewish people from Egypt which he had already alluded to in verse 1. Ephraim and Manasseh were both born to Joseph in Egypt. One knowing the family history would recall the moment when Joseph brought his sons to their grandfather Jacob, also known as ‘Israel’, or “deceiver”. Joseph wanted his sons to receive Jacob’s blessing as family patriarch. Joseph directed Jacob’s right hand toward the head of his older son, Manasseh, but then Jacob intentionally crossed his hands to bless Ephraim the younger. What Jacob stole from his older brother Esau through deceit Manesseh would now receive legitimately by grace. So powerful yet tender is the love of God that even our deceit can be transformed into blessing.

Another reason Hosea may have employed ‘Ephraim’ here is to highlight the the tribe of Ephraim’s pre-eminence in Samaria, or what was now the northern kingdom of Israel. Ephraim ruled this area for more than 500 years during the time of the judges and the first kings of Israel, before the kingdom split in half. Ephraim was known for a domineering, discontented, and haughty spirit (Easton’s Bible Dictionary). So corrosive is the pull of sin that even a blessing such as Ephraim received can eventually fall apart.

Yet, says Hosea, despite the grandness of Ephraim’s blessing, and even despite the brazenness of its subsequent rebellion, God couldn’t bring himself to destroy it utterly (vv. 8 – 9). Instead, he would roar like a lion, and his children would come trembling from the west (v 10). Could this very passage be the source of C.S. Lewis’s depiction of God as the lion Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia?

Amidst all your activity this day, do you hear the lion’s roar? Then come trembling to him. “I will settle them in their homes,” declares the Lord (v. 11). This means that he will bring to your life the peace and joy of a blessing beyond which you could ask or imagine.


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