Ephraim and Manasseh Revisited

In the November 1996 Servantsí News, we printed several articles about the current identity of the tribes of ancient Israel. The traditional view is that the British Empire is Ephraim and the United States of America is Manasseh. Our articles in that issue suggested the opposite might be true.

We received a lot of comments on these articles, and a lot more information supporting the "traditional view." Some articles attempt to prove which country is which by tracing names of ancestors through various tribes—they do not rely on the "nation and company of nations" concept.

After reading much of this information, and realizing that there was much more available, this writer had to change his opinion and realize that he needs more study before reaching a conclusion. However, we must disagree with a letter that essentially said: "We cannot preach to the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel if we donít even know exactly who they are!"

Why? Exactly what prophecies are there that would cause us to preach a slightly different message to Ephraim than we would preach to Manasseh? Does one have sins that the other does not? Does the Bible predict a different blessing or punishment for each? From an evangelistic basis, does it matter who is Ephraim and who is Manasseh?

This is a fairly straightforward subject to study in the Scriptures, because an exhaustive concordance will show every occurance of Ephraim and Manasseh. We had to weed out a number of references to the king named Manasseh, and we even looked up the names of their children. What did we find? There were very, very few prophecied differences between Ephraim and Manasseh!

As a matter of fact, there are no references at all to the nation of Manasseh in the latter prophets! Ezekiel 48:4-5 contains a brief reference to the territory of Manasseh in the Millennium, but there is nothing to preach about there. Ephraim is mentioned numerous times in the latter prophets, but in most cases he obviously represents all 12 tribes. Seeing the lack of the mention of Manasseh, it is hard to be sure that any of the Ephraim prophecies apply to that tribe only.

We do find specific references to the tribe of Manasseh regarding its genealogy (1Chr 7:14-19), its inheritance (Josh 13:29-32; Josh 16&17), and a variety of stories about Manassehites (Num 27:1-11; 32:39-42; 36:1-12; Deut 3:13-15; Jud 1:27-28; Jud 6&7; Jud 18:30; 1Chr 12:19-23; 2Chr 30:10-11). Also, there were numerous verses referring to the half tribes of Manasseh living on either side of the Jordan, but none of them say anything specific about Manasseh. Yes, it is very difficult to write down many "Manasseh" characteristics from the Bible. The vast majority of prophecy about Joseph is about both Ephraim and Manasseh together (Gen 48; 49:22-26; Deu 33:13-17). There were only two verses where we found an obvious difference stated between the two tribes:

His glory is like a firstborn bull, and his horns like the horns of the wild ox; Together with them He shall push the peoples to the ends of the earth; They are the ten thousands of Ephraim, And they are the thousands of Manasseh (Deut 33:17).

The nation of Ephraim will be more populous than Manasseh. But what do we count? Just people that are genetically descended from Ephraim and Manasseh? All citizens of the nation? Or, do we count all the citizens and everyone else that the nation rules over? If we compare the British Commonwealth and the United States of America, we will get a greatly different answer depending on which method we use. However, it is unlikely that one group will have ten times as many people as the other, no matter what counting method is used. (But to be technical, 20,000 Ephraimites and 9,999 Manassehites would fulfill the above prophecy—by some measurement methods, one country could easily be twice the size of the other.)

The other significant verse is:

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 [melo] of nations [gowy]" (Gen 4:19).

This verse also shows that Ephraim is greater than Manasseh in some way. It is interesting to note the last Hebrew words: melo means "a fullness" or "a filling" or "a bounty". It is used 37 times in the Old Testament and usually in connection with the "fullness of the earth" or a container full of food or water. The Hebrew gowy (goí-ee) is often translated "heathen" or "Gentiles"—it usually refers to non-Israelite nations. Could this verse mean that Ephriam will "fill or feed the Gentiles"? If so, this prophecy would certainly be accurate: the British Common-wealth and the United States of America have done more to feed the rest of the world than any other nations. both phsically, and spiritually—by printing and giving away Bibles. Which of the two nation has done the most? That depends upon how you want to measure it—we will not try to answer that in this article.

Another Ephraim/Manasseh issue that we have not seen addressed is the question of when the prophecies of Genesis 48 and 49 are to be fulfilled. The only time element we found is here:

And Jacob called his sons and said, "Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days" (Gen 49:1).

When are the last days? The Apostles seemed to believe that the last days began in their time (Acts 2:17; Heb 1:2). If we believe that the Eternal has a one-week plan for mankind with each day representing a thousand years (2Pet 3:8), then that last three days of the week began in the first century AD. Were the prophecies for these nations to be fulfilled beginning in the first century, or do they apply to only the time immediately before "Jacobís trouble" and our Saviorís return? If they apply to the last 200 years before our Saviorís return, how do we prove that from the Bible?

We still believe that there is very good biblical, historical, linguistic and other evidence that the ten northern tribes of Israel are now the USA and northwestern European nations. However, the exact identity of Ephraim and Manasseh are not quite as clear to us as we once thought. We have included several other short articles with other opinions, and a list of books for further reading. We do not believe this issue is necessary for anyoneís salvation, but it can provide strong encouragement to repent of our personal and national sins, and to be more dilligent about teaching others the way of the Eternal.

—Norman S. Edwards