Joshua: Chapter 16
Ephraim Makes Four and a Half

Bible Study @ Hurst Gospel Hall

Author: John Whitmarsh
Added: 2010-01-16

We learnt in chapter fifteen that the major emphasis of these chapters is to give the boundaries of each tribe's territory received in their inheritance. They do not give the names of every town within the territory though the previous chapter has listed many towns throughout the territory belonging to Judah. A good Biblical map would show the boundaries of each tribe's territory. This chapter and the following one deal with the borders of the territory belonging to the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, on the western side of the river Jordan. It was felt that this chapter was short and could be considered as a whole. It is for this reason that all the verses are grouped together and then the notes follow on.

The first set of notes was written by Roland Ramsdale who had led the reading. He gave an introduction to the history of Ephraim and Manasseh.

16:1 And the lot of the children of Joseph fell from Jordan by Jericho, unto the water of Jericho on the east, to the wilderness that goeth up from Jericho throughout mount Bethel,

16:2 And goeth out from Bethel to Luz, and passeth along unto the borders of Archi to Ataroth,

16:3 And goeth down westward to the coast of Japhleti, unto the coast of Bethhoron the nether, and to Gezer: and the goings out thereof are at the sea.

16:4 So the children of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, took their inheritance.

16:5 And the border of the children of Ephraim according to their families was thus: even the border of their inheritance on the east side was Atarothaddar, unto Bethhoron the upper;

16:6 And the border went out toward the sea to Michmethah on the north side; and the border went about eastward unto Taanathshiloh, and passed by it on the east to Janohah;

16:7 And it went down from Janohah to Ataroth, and to Naarath, and came to Jericho, and went out at Jordan.

16:8 The border went out from Tappuah westward unto the river Kanah; and the goings out thereof were at the sea. This is the inheritance of the tribe of the children of Ephraim by their families.

16:9 And the separate cities for the children of Ephraim were among the inheritance of the children of Manasseh, all the cities with their villages.

16:10 And they drave not out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer: but the Canaanites dwell among the Ephraimites unto this day, and serve under tribute.

The Heritage of the Sons of Joseph

The land given to Israel forever

Jacob reminds Joseph that God Almighty had appeared to him in the land of Canaan and promised 'Behold, I will make you fruitful and numerous, and I will make you a company of peoples, and will give this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting possession.' (Gen 48.3-4) This promise, and many similar ones to each of the patriarchs, serve as a backdrop to each of the tribes being given an inheritance in the land.

Joseph's sons

Joseph had two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, during his stay in Egypt prior to the arrival of his father and brothers.

Manasseh = cause to forget

Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, 'For,' he said, 'God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father's household.' (Genesis 41.51). However later events show that he had not forgotten his father's household.

Ephraim = fruitful or double fruit

He named the second Ephraim, 'For,' he said, 'God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.' (Genesis 41.52)

The birthright was given to Joseph

Reuben as Israel's firstborn son would normally be entitled to receive the birthright, but his heinous sin (Gen 35.22) resulted in the birthright being given to Joseph instead (1 Chronicles 5.1-2). The birthright included receiving a double portion of the inheritance (Deut 21.17), hence the way is open for Ephraim and Manasseh to each receive a portion.

Jacob adopts Ephraim and Manasseh

'Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are' (Gen 48.5). Hence Ephraim and Manasseh can each be tribes as they are now sons of Israel. However further sons of Joseph 'shall be called by the names of their brothers in their inheritance' (Gen 48.6). This is a further source of potential confusion.

Israel deliberately favours Ephraim over Manasseh

Jacob had deceived his father in order to get the blessing that goes with the birthright although God had promised it to him. To make God's will clear Israel places his right hand on Ephraim thus giving him precedence over Manasseh. The right hand is the place of honour and authority. Joseph protests, but although his father's sight is dim his mind is sharp and clear and his spiritual insight undimmed. Manasseh will be great but Ephraim greater. Manasseh became a people, but Ephraim a multitude of nations. Is this referring to the Jews being spread among many nations and flourishing? (Genesis 48.8-22)

Israel's name did indeed live on in them (Gen 48.16) after the kingdom was divided the northern kingdom was called Israel, and Ephraim became so dominant among the tribes that Ephraim and Israel became (almost?) synonymous. And his name still lives on in the State of Israel today.

What about the names of Abraham and Isaac? (Gen 48.16) We still remember them as the patriarchs or founding fathers of the Jewish nation. God is still known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The blessing 'May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!' (Gen 48.20) is still used in Israel as a blessing over male children.

Joseph is given an extra portion (Gen 48.22).

A little geography

A little geography will help us to understand prophecies concerning Joseph's sons. The hill country of Ephraim (i.e. Ephraim and Manasseh) stretches from the Jordan at Jericho (Josh 16.1) in the SE to the Mediterranean Sea (Josh 16.3) in the west and as far north as Mount Carmel and the rest of the mountains which border the Jezreel Valley. It is an area of rolling limestone hills containing fertile valleys and small plains such as those of Lebonah, Shechem, and Dothan, but east of the watershed the land is largely wilderness.

It contained the successive capitals of the northern Kingdom of Israel (Shechem, Tirzah, and Samaria). Shechem, between mounts Ebal and Gerizim, lies at the intersection of the route from the coastal plain and the main north-south ridge route.

Good rainfall and fairly high levels of dew combined with fertile limestone soils make this one of the most productive regions of the land. On the hill slopes are olive, fig and other fruit trees, while wheat and vines are cultivated in the valleys.

Absalom met his demise in the forests of Ephraim so Ephraim and Manasseh had to work hard to clear the forest to take advantage of the agricultural benefits.

Jacob's prophecy concerning Joseph

Jacob prophesies about each of his sons in turn, covering Joseph in Gen 49.22-26.

The fruitful bough (v22) probably refers to Ephraim ( = fruitful or double fruit), running over a wall i.e. transcending boundaries even when first allotted land there are cities which were set apart for the sons of Ephraim in the midst of the inheritance of the sons of Manasseh (Josh 16.9).

Blessings of heaven above (v25) good amounts of rain and dew, essential for growing crops in a hot country.

Blessings of the deep that lies beneath (v25) the deep refers to deep water, usually ocean depths, so we must think about resources in the Mediterranean Sea. Recently a large natural gas field has been found offshore from Haifa. This is thought to be sufficient to supply Israel's energy needs for 1020 years.

Blessings of the breasts and of the womb (v25) good reproductive and nurturing capability will later result in Ephraim's numerical dominance.

The one distinguished among his brothers (v26) some distinguished Ephraimites:

Joshua is a distinguished national leader. Compare our Saviour (Joshua = Saviour) about whom it is said Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your companions (Heb 1.9).

Samuel the judge

Jeroboam and his dynasty of kings of the northern kingdom reign from this area.

Moses' blessing of the sons of Joseph

Towards the end of his life Moses blessed the sons of Israel (Deut 33.1ff). The blessing of Joseph is in Deut 33.13-17. This picks up several of the themes of Jacob's prophecy from Genesis 49. It is reasonable to assume that Moses in preparing to bless the tribes contemplated what Jacob had prophesied about their future.

Common themes of the blessings:

heaven (Gen 49.25; Deut 33.13)

the deep (Gen 49.25; Deut 33.13)

the everlasting hills (Gen 49.26; Deut 33.15)

the one distinguished among his brothers (Gen 49.26; Deut 33.16)

The word precious things (AV) or choice things (NASB) is the Hebrew word dg

The choice yield of the sun (Deut. 33.14) sufficient to ripen grapes and crops but not too much which would result in desert

The choice produce of the months (v14 NASB) a wide range of crops including olives, figs, fruit, grapes, and wheat are grown. Hence every month has work to be done. Is it just chance that the Gezer agricultural calendar is from a town in Ephraim? See end for photo of this

Gezer Calendar

His two months are (olive) harvest,

His two months are planting (grain),

His two months are late planting;

His month is hoeing up flax,

His month is harvest of barley,

His month is harvest and feasting;

His two months are wine - tending,

His month is summer fruit.

Note that some versions have 'moon' rather than 'month' in v 14. The Hebrew month is a lunar month and the same root can be translated either way. In this context month makes more sense than moon, although the new moon is used to indicate the beginning of the month.

the best things of the ancient mountains (v15)

the choice things of the everlasting hills (v 15)

the choice things of the earth and its fullness (v16) red fertile soils result from weathering of the limestone hills

The favour of Him who dwelt in the bush (v16) i.e. the burning bush. The thorny type of bush indicated by this word Seneh, probably a bramble, is also the name of one of the crags that Jonathan and his armour bearer had to climb to reach the Philistine encampment. This was in Benjamin, but not very far from Ephraim's territory. Perhaps they would be encouraged during a hard day clearing thorn scrub to think of God revealing Himself to Moses from the bush. Manasseh can only muster thousands but Ephraim musters ten thousands (v17).

Joshua 16 notes

The southern boundary of Ephraim ran from the Jordan at Jericho (v1) to the Mediterranean (v3).

The Bethel mentioned in chapter 16 is an ancient place and seat of worship in Ephraim on border of Benjamin, identified with Luz (former name see Genesis 28.19). There is another Bethel in the southern part of Judah close to both Beersheba and Ziklag. It is interesting to note that, although Genesis 28 refers to the name of the place before it was called Bethel, 'house of God', Genesis 12.8 has already referred to the same place as Bethel. Bethel was close to Ai (see Joshua 8.9).

Verse 2 suggests that Bethel and Luz are separate places but 18.13 makes everything clear, 'And the border went over from thence toward Luz, to the side of Luz, which is Bethel, southward; and the border descended to Atarothadar, near the hill that lieth on the south side of the border of Bethhoron.' Verses 2 and 3 suggest that the same border that is mentioned in 18.13 is also mentioned here but from Ephraimites point of view. Archi was the home town of Hushai the Archite (see II Samuel 15-17). The border of the Archites (v2) Hushai the Archite, David's friend and counsellor is the only Archite mentioned in the Bible (2 Sam 15:32 etc). Ataroth was on the boundary between Ephraim and Manasseh.

We have discovered upper and nether Bethhoron in Joshua 10.10 and 11 for which see. Gezer is a Levitical city on the border of Ephraim. The sea refers to the Mediterranean Sea.

Verse 4 states that the children of Joseph took their inheritance and the order is firstborn first and then Ephraim. However, when we come to the actual division of the land on the western side of Jordan it is Ephraim (chapter 16) who is first and then Manasseh (chapter 17).

The Bible reading was used to establish the reasons for Joseph being represented by two 'tribes' in the land. We read in I Chronicles 5.12, 'Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but, forasmuch as he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright. For Judah prevailed, and of him came the chief ruler; but the birthright was Joseph's)' It was stated that the firstborn was to receive the double portion from the inheritance. This truth is to be found in Deuteronomy 21.15-17, 'If a man have two wives, one beloved and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated; then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn; but he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath; for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.'

We also read part of Genesis 48 together and showed that when it came to Jacob being very sick and near the end of his days that Manasseh and Ephraim were taken to the old man by Joseph himself. When it came to the blessing Jacob, though blind, wittingly took his right hand and laid it on Ephraim's head and his left was placed upon Manasseh's head. Thus the younger was blessed as the firstborn. Joseph protested but to no avail. It was stated that Ephraim means 'doubly fruitful' (see Genesis 41.52) and that Manasseh means 'to cause to forget' (see Genesis 41 51). There is a certain element of hand crossing going in Joshua 16 as Ephraim's portion is mentioned before that of Manasseh. The blessing to Joseph of Genesis 49 was also mentioned and especially the link between the fruitful bough and the meaning of Ephraim's name. The blessing of Deuteronomy 33 was also read.

God's principle of taking away the first that He might establish the second was mentioned at this point. This was true of Jacob and Esau and even with Abraham himself for he was not the first to be born to Terah despite the order of Genesis 11.27.

The wadi Kanah formed part of the boundary (v8) AV calls it a river, NASB brook is an equally misleading translation. The boundaries usually follow natural features, but most Bible maps are not detailed enough to see these clearly.

Some cities were set apart for the sons of Ephraim in the midst of the inheritance of the sons of Manasseh (v9). Another trap for the careless expositor! Whereas Judah could not drive out the Jebusites (Josh 15:63) the Ephraimites do not seem to have bothered driving out the Canaanites from Gezer (v10).

One other thing was noted in the last verse. The children of Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer. In chapter 15 (the last verse again) we read that the children of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites from Jerusalem. There is a wealth of difference between could not and did not drive out. A lack of willingness is altogether different from a lack of ability. The Canaanites stayed in the land and served under tribute. The Ephraimites may have considered that they were honouring God but God said that they were to drive them out and claim the inheritance. When the twelve tribes acted as a whole there was huge success but after the division of the land individual tribes were reluctant to remove the remaining inhabitants out of the land.


We have often seen that there are lessons to be had from Joshua about our enjoyment of the inheritance that God has provided for us. There will be no enemies in the glory but what God wants us to enjoy down here is what we will enjoy up yonder. 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered in to the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared (in store) for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit' I Corinthians 2.8-9. God wants us to live in the good of all that awaits us in the glory in the here and now. If we allow things to remain in our lives that are not helpful to an appreciation of eternal and spiritual things they will become barriers to full enjoyment. These Canaanites were present in the land. Some would say that they were paying tribute. This was not what God wanted. He wanted triumph and not tribute, obedience and not sacrifice. He wanted their hearts and not money. How many a believer has got so caught up in the world of work that the spiritual side of the Lord's work suffers? Such may well be able to help practically but the work is essentially a spiritual one. We do not want to be those Christians who ease their conscience by giving of that which they have acquired. God wants spiritual exercise.

The Gezer Calendar

His two months are (olive) harvest,

His two months are planting (grain),

His two months are late planting;

His month is hoeing up flax,

His month is harvest of barley,

His month is harvest and feasting;

His two months are wine - tending,

His month is summer fruit.

The Gezer Calendar is probably a

student's memory exercise written

in verse on a piece of limestone

around 925BC, about the time of

Solomon. It is a text in Paleo-Hebrew

about the agricultural seasons and

related tasks.

It was found at Gezer in 1908.

The text in the bottom left corner is the

Student's signature; his name is Abijah.

This tablet/inscription is one of the earliest known examples of

Paleo-Hebrew text ever found, indicative of the use of the

Hebrew text as early as the 10th century BC