"A Nation and a Company of Nations"

by Norman Arthur

Many of us have heard this phrase and we have applied this to some version of explaining the whereabouts of Ephraim and Manasseh. We have seen many try to fit the "nation and a company of nations" to the United States and Britain in some way or another. But, where does this phrase come from and is it proper to link this phrase to Joseph's two sons?


After God changed Jacob's name to Israel, he promised something to him in addition to reconfirming an Abrahamic promise. "Also God said to him: ‘I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body'" (Gen 35:11). While this is really the only instance of the phrase "a nation and a company of nations", are there other similar ones connected with Jacob and Joseph’s sons?

When Jacob was about to die, Joseph brought his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, to his father for a blessing. Jacob then retold part of the story quoted in Genesis 35 above, "[God Almighty] said to me, 'Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a multitude of people, and give this land to your descendants after you as an everlasting possession'" (Gen 48:4). Here one notices that Jacob did not repeat the singular nation part of what he was told earlier.

Later on while blessing Ephraim he said, "But his father refused and said, ‘I know, my son, I know. He [Manasseh] also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother [Ephraim] shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations" (Gen 48:19). Here we have the three places wherein it appears that this concept is referenced. Let's take a closer look at these three.


In observing the Hebrew, the reference in Genesis 35:11 and in Jacob's retelling in 48:4 are very similar. The word for "company" in 35:11 and "multitude" in 48:11 are both the same—Strong's #6951: "qahal" which primarily means an assembly or congregation and, in fact, is almost invariably translated "assembly" or "congregation" (except in Ezekiel where it is "company" in an army or military sense).

However, the "multitude" in Genesis 48:19, when specifically speaking of Ephraim, uses a different Hebrew word—Strong's #4393: "melo" which means "fullness, what fills" (Brown-Driver-Briggs).

In looking closely at the context of the first reference we find Jacob on his way to Luz (Bethel). This was well after Jacob left Laban with his wives and eleven sons (Gen 31). They had already met Esau (Gen 32-33) and settled in the Shechem area (Gen 34). After the incident of the sons killing all the Shechemites, Jacob is told by God to go to Bethel (Luz) (Gen 35:1). It is on this trip where he is told that "a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you." A little while after this, Benjamin was born and Rachel died (Gen 35:17-19).

Now, at the end of Jacob's life (Gen 48), why did he tell Joseph an abbreviated version, only telling him that a "multitude of people" ("company of nations") was said?

Jacob's Understanding

Did Jacob think that the plural "company of nations" was the only part that applied to Joseph and his sons? If so, who would the singular "nation" apply to? Looking at the context of Genesis 35, it would seem that the singular "nation" would be better applied to Benjamin— after all, he was born shortly thereafter. In fact, most Jewish commentators have, for thousands of years, understood this concept in this manner. It is only in the last couple hundred years where British/Israel proponents have adopted the application of "a nation and a company of nations" to Ephraim and Manasseh.

What about the specific prophecy about Ephraim being "a multitude of nations"? Remember, "multitude" here is better understood as "fullness". One translation even translates Genesis 48:19 as follows: "...his younger brother shall become greater than he, and his offspring will fill the nations" (Stone's edition of the Chumash [see also The Darby Bible and Young's Literal Translation]).

So, to sum this up, it seems that it would be less of a stretching of the scriptures to assign the singular "nation" to Benjamin and "the company of nations" to Joseph's two sons. However, it does seem to be further of a stretch to assign them to Manasseh and Ephraim as there really is no direct connection for this. It may also be worthwhile to note that Jacob gives prophecies regarding all of his sons in Genesis 49—prophecies for "the last days." He does not, in this section, give prophecies for Ephraim and Manasseh nor speak of anything related to "a nation and a company of nations". This in no way suggests that the general concept of the whereabouts of theLost Ten Tribes is wrong—only that we may be misapplying one of our "proofs". &