Much has been said and written about the lost tribes of Israel, and many fanciful theories have been invented in regard to them. We will not attempt to follow any of these lines of argument, but will speak of those tribes which are truly lost.
In the previous chapters we have seen that Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin, and Manasseh, not only had a part in the land of Palestine, but that their names are immortalised, and will be represented in the kingdom of God throughout eternity, while the names of Ephraim and Dan sink into oblivion. They are the lost tribes of Israel. Why was proud Ephraim, who was the strength of the kingdom of Israel, and Dan, who was surpassed only by Judah in the number of its warriors when they entered the promised land, left out of the final great gathering of Israel as tribes?
Ephraim was the son of an Egyptian princess who was an idolater, as far as we have any record. It is very probable that most of Ephraim's life was spent among the Egyptians, for we can hardly suppose that with his proud connections he associated much with the Israelites in Goshen, until a king arose that knew not Joseph. Exodus 1:8. Manasseh lived in the same surroundings; but the fact that Ephraim had received first place in the blessing of the patriarch, may have filled his heart with pride and given a different mould to his life. Ephraim was about twenty-one years of age when he received Jacob's blessing. He had the godly example of his father before him for many years; for Joseph lived to see Ephraim's children of the third generation. Genesis 50:23
Only one glimpse of the individual life of Ephraim is given. The record states that his sons, in a marauding expedition, stole the cattle belonging to the men of Gath, and the men of Gath slew them.
Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brethren came to comfort him. 1 Chronicles 7:21,22. While Ephraim was still mourning the loss of his children, another son was born to him, and he named him Beriah, or
because it went evil with his house. 1 Chronicles 7:23. Strange as it may seem, from Beriah came the most illustrious of all his descendants, - Joshua, the great leader of Israel. 1 Chronicles 7:27.
Oshea, the son of Nun, Numbers 13:8,16. was chosen as one of the ten spies, and after his faithfulness had been tested on that occasion, his name was changed from Oshea,
help, to Joshua,
the help of Jehovah. This change of names was common in ancient times, for names then indicated the character of the bearer. Abram became Abraham when he received the promise; and after the night of wrestling, Jacob, the supplanter, became Israel, the prince of God. Genesis 17:5; 32:28, margin
Another illustrious descendant of Beriah was his daughter, Sherah, who built two cities. 1 Chronicles 7:24. Samuel, the last judge of Israel, was of the tribe of Ephraim. It was in Shiloh that Hannah gave Samuel to Eli, the priest. 1 Samuel 2:24-28. Samuel is one of the strong characters of the Bible. Few men have filled so many offices during a long and useful life as did Samuel. He officiated as priest, but he was not a priest. 1 Samuel 7:9. He judged Israel all the days of his life. 1 Samuel 7:15. He was also a great educator, and established the schools of the prophets. When but a child Samuel was entrusted with the Spirit of prophecy, (1 Samuel 3:1-21) and it is usually supposed that a portion of the Bible was written by him.
Ephraim as a tribe had many advantages; but they failed to profit by them. They were envious and jealous, always sensitive over supposed slights. Judges 8:1; 2 Samuel 19:41-43
After the death of Solomon, the kingdom was divided, and from that time the history of Ephraim is the history of the kingdom of Israel.
Jeroboam, their first king, was an Ephrathite. It was God that rent the kingdom out of the hands of Rehoboam, and gave ten tribes to Jeroboam; 1 Kings 11:29-31 and if he had walked humbly with God, an entirely different history would have been written of Ephraim. It was the same spirit of jealousy and suspicion that had marred the history of his tribe, that influenced Jeroboam to make the golden calves, and set them up in Bethel and Dan, thus establishing a system of idolatrous worship. 1 Kings 12:26-33 The Lord sent a message of warning, and even performed a miracle upon the person of the king; 1 Kings 13:1-6 but
Jeroboam returned not from his evil way. 1 Kings 13:33
There are few things more mournful than the steady descent of the haughty, jealous tribe of Ephraim from the pinnacle of success, - their leader the leader of the entire nation, and the centre of the worship at Shiloh within their borders, - to the sudden captivity and total oblivion which closed its career.
Some most pathetic messages were sent by the Lord to the tribe of Ephraim. Almost the whole of Hosea's testimonies were entreaties for Ephraim to repent.
I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them. I drew them with the cords of a man, with bands of love; . . . but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to return. Hosea 11:3-5 Hosea gives the reason for the downfall of Ephraim:
Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned. Hosea 7:8 God's kingdom and the kingdoms of the world are entirely distinct. No one can serve God and mammon. Ephraim was
a cake not turned; he did not have a thorough experience in the things of God. One cannot mix himself among the people of the world, spending his strength in the pursuit of wealth and fame, and at the same time be a member of the true Israel of God.
The Lord pleaded with Ephraim, saying,
How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? Hosea 11:8 Again, He said,
I have written to him the great things of My law, but they were counted as a strange thing. Hosea 8:12
Idolatry was the great sin of Ephraim; he failed to appreciate the sacred things of God. After the pleadings of the Lord were rejected, then the word went forth,
Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone. Hosea 4:17
My God will cast them away, because they did not hearken unto Him, Hosea 9:17 nor accept His love.
There are many idolaters in the world today, travelling the same road over which Ephraim passed. They are not worshipping idols made of metal, wood, or stone, for the popular gods of the present day are not of that form; they are money, wealth, pleasure, and high position. God is calling after them, but they, like Ephraim, are joined to their idols. Like Ephraim of old, they are reckoned as a part of the church of God, but the theatre and pleasure resorts have more attraction for them than the house of prayer, and worldly society is more enjoyable than the companionship of saints. They will one day be taken captive by a King greater than the kings of Assyria and Babylon. The great King of all kings will arise and shake terribly the earth.
In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they have made each one for himself to worship, to the moles, and to the bats, . . . for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of His majesty, when He ariseth to shake terribly, the earth. Isaiah 2:20,21
Dan was the fifth son of Jacob, and his descendants composed one of the strong tribes of Israel. Sixty-four thousand four hundred warriors were marshaled under the standard of Dan as they entered the promised land. Numbers 26:42,43 For some reason the large tribe of Dan was given one of the smallest portions of the inheritance, and in time they pushed northward and fought against
Leshem, and took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and possessed it, and dwelt therein, and called Leshem, Dan, after the name of Dan their father. Joshua 19:40-48 Jeroboam set up his golden calves, one in Bethel in the territory of Ephraim, the other in the city of Dan; and the Danites were given over to idolatry. Even before the days of Jeroboam, we find the Danites worshipping graven images. Judges 18:30
When the tabernacle was built in the wilderness, God especially endowed Aholiab, of the tribe of Dan, with wisdom to
devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, Exodus 31:3-6 and also gave him ability to teach others the same art. Exodus 35:34. These gifts remained with the tribe of Dan, and were doubtless the reason why they were attracted toward the wealthy city of Tyre, and intermarried with its inhabitants. 1 Kings 7:13,14
Years afterward, when Solomon built the temple, Hiram, king of Tyre, sent a descendant of Dan, one still possessing the gifts given his forefathers by the Lord, to make the cunning work in gold, silver, and brass, for the temple, 2 Chronicles 2:13,14 in Jerusalem.
The tribe of Dan still kept its place among the Israelites in the time of David; 1 Chronicles 27:22 but after that the name as applied to the tribe vanishes, and it is seldom mentioned, except when referring to the northern city by that name.
Samson is the only ruler furnished Israel by the tribe of Dan. He judged Israel for twenty years. Judges 13:2; 15:20 The blessing pronounced upon Dan by Jacob, portrays his character:
Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward. Genesis 49:16,17 Like the blessing pronounced upon Reuben, the first part portrays the character he might have possessed, if he had embraced the opportunities God placed in his pathway. What a contrast between a judge, respected and honoured by all, and a serpent by the roadside, ready to fasten its deadly fangs into the flesh of every passer-by!
Dan was the first son born of the concubines, but the old patriarch gave him an honoured place among the tribes of Israel. Naturally he was endowed with the quick, keen discernment that makes a good judge; but he did not exercise the gift as God designed; he used it in detecting the evil in others, instead of the good.
An adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward! What words could better describe the evil tongue that
is set on fire of hell and is
full of deadly poison? James 3:6-8 Dan represents the backbiter, for the adder strikes the heels of the horse. Such characters are hated by both God and man. The word of the Lord says,
Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off. Psalm 101:5 The prophetic words of Jacob reveal why the tribe of Dan has no part in the eternal inheritance; God had decreed, long before they sealed their destiny by their wicked course, that no backbiter should ever stand on Mount Zion.
The psalmist asks the question,
Lord, who shall abide in Thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in Thy holy hill? In other words, Who will serve Thee day and night in Thy temple, and stand with Thee upon Mount Zion?
He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up reproach against his neighbour, is the answer of Jehovah. Psalm 15:1,3
great searching of heart, overcame his natural character, which was
unstable as water, until it could be said of him,
Let Reuben live, and not die; and Levi, by the grace of God, changed his father's dying curse into a blessing. Judah, by the help of the Lord in his daily life,
prevailed above his brethren to such an extent that the dying father could say,
The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come, and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Gad, although overcome by a troop of temptations, gained the victory, and
overcame at last. Benjamin, from ravening
as a wolf, learned to trust in God so fully that of him it could be said,
The Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between His shoulders. Asher learned to
dip his foot in oil, and pass smoothly over the trials that, without the spirit of God, could never have been mastered.
Ephraim and Dan, with the same opportunities that their brethren had of overcoming evil traits in their characters, failed to gain the victory, and are not reckoned with the one hundred and forty-four thousand who will stand on God's holy hill and abide in His tabernacle.
In families all over the land today the same story is being repeated. Brothers, reared by the same parents, surrounded by the same environments, are passing over the same experiences as are recorded of the sons of Jacob. Of them, like the wheat and the tares, the commandment is given,
Let both grow together until the harvest. The same sunshine and storm that ripen the golden heads of wheat for the garner, ripen the tares for the final destruction; so the same daily blessings from the Father of lights ripen one individual for the kingdom of God, and the other for final destruction. Each one is the architect of his own character. To all the call is given,
Look unto Me, and be ye saved. The one who will keep his mind stayed on God, by beholding will be changed. Day by day a transformation will take place in the soul, which will cause angels to marvel at the work wrought in humanity.
The same Christ who once walked the earth, clothed in human form, will by His divine Spirit, dwell in every human being who will open wide the door of his heart and bid Him enter. He who will meditate upon Christ, and study His sinless life, by beholding the glory of the Lord will be
changed into the same image from glory to glory.
Christ is sitting for His portrait in every disciple. It is possible for poor fallen humanity through the power of God to reflect the divine character. Christ covers the marred life with the spotless robe of His own righteousness. God and angels beholding the individual thus clothed, see only the perfect character of the divine Son of God; and throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity, the redeemed will witness to the transforming power of the blood of Christ.