For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

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.”

The fact that each tribe received its portion by lot reminds us that it is God Who apportions each of us his lot.  The realization that that apportionment is according to perfect love and perfect wisdom should make us content with God’s ordering of our lives

Joseph’s sons were Ephraim and Manasseh, Ephraim meaning double ash-heap: I shall be doubly fruitful, and Manasseh meaning causing to forget. It is to be remembered that each tribe of Israel represents a special characteristic of the believer.  As Judah praise represents the truth that we ought to be a thankful,  praising people, so do these two sons of Joseph declare in the meanings of their names that we should also be a fruitful people, and that we should be marked by the same spirit as motivated Paul as recorded in Php 3:13 “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

The two meanings of Ephraim at first seem to be contradictory, but there is no contradiction, for we will be fruitful spiritually only as we are willing to cast on the “ash-heap” everything that would hinder us in the heavenly race, Paul again being our example, as recorded in Php 3:7-8 “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.  Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ.”  Nor should we fail to note the correlation between the size of the ash-heap and the degree of fruitfulness: both were double.  The more of the worthless things we throw on the ash-heap the more fruitful will we be spiritually.

Incidentally, as we noted in our study of 15:63 the dwelling together of Judah and the Jebusites portrays the truth that the flesh will be with us as long as we live, and the same truth is indicated in connection with Joseph’s twin sons, for while Manasseh, just as much as Ephraim, speaks of what ought to mark us as spiritual men and women, the fact is equally true that Manasseh, the first born, also represents the flesh, see Ge 48:13-19.

Their being described as “the children of Joseph” has two lessons to teach.  First, since Joseph let him add is a type of Christ, Ephraim and Manasseh’s having sprung from Joseph, serves to remind us that our spiritual origin goes back to Christ.  And inasmuch as Joseph speaks of increase, the second lesson is that we are to be similarly fruitful, not only in producing the fruits of the spirit in our lives, but also in begetting spiritual children through the Gospel.

Since Jordan is the Biblical symbol of death, its being designated as the beginning of their inheritance is the symbolic declaration of the truth that the believer’s spiritual inheritance begins with his conversion, i.e., when he sees himself as described in Ga 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me,” and again, “But God forbid that I should glory, sage in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”

“... by Jericho.”  Jericho, meaning place of fragrance, represents the world as seen by the unconverted.  God, however, sees it very differently, for to Him it is associated with the stench of sin and death.  Its being located on the plain of Jordan in close proximity to that river, reminds us that this world is also situated spiritually on “the plain of death,” the great river of death flowing through it, and carrying multitudes down into that dread realm every hour.

“... unto the water of Jericho on the east....”  The water of Jericho appears to be the springs in the immediate vicinity, while the mention of the east adds the further spiritual truth that the world and the men of it are spiritually far away from God, for in Scripture the east is invariably associated with sin and departure from God.  As the written Word is likened to springs of pure water, the mention of these springs of Jericho reminds us that the world has its equivalent of the pure water of the Word - its religion and its vain philosophy.

“... to the wilderness that goeth up from Jericho throughout mount Bethel.”   It is instructive to note that this wilderness was west of Jordan and Jericho, for in Scripture, the west always speaks of approach to God.  The lesson is crystal clear.  The redeemed are going spiritually westward, i.e., toward God; and the world through which they journey as pilgrims and strangers is to them a spiritual wilderness.  Confirmation of the type is found in that following their deliverance from Egypt, Israel was also brought into the wilderness.

Bethel means house of God, and as the name of the wilderness area given Ephraim and Manasseh, it reminds us that only those who comprise God’s house here on earth see this world as a spiritual wilderness.  Like the literal wilderness through which Israel journeyed from Egypt to Canaan, and in which God miraculously provided food and water, and guided them by the pillars of cloud and fire, so in this spiritual wilderness does He also supply His own with spiritual food and water - the written Word - and guide them by the equivalent of the two pillars: the Holy Spirit using the written Word.

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

Luz, meaning perverse, was the Canaanite name of the city of Bethel, and it is meant to remind us that those who aren’t of God’s house, that is those who are unbelievers, are perverse in His sight, being characterized by stubborn rebellion against Him.  

Archi, meaning lengthy, was the name, not of a place, but of a people who were originally connected with Erech meaning long, a city of Babylon founded by Nimrod, see Ge 10:10.  All of this has a bad connotation, for Nimrod was the great rebel against God, his city Babylon being the source of every false religion on the earth.  The lesson God would have us learn therefore in His mention here of the Archi as being in the portion of Joseph’s two sons, is that our lot is cast in a world marked by rebellion against Him, and dominated by the great apostate system which originated in Babylon, but which for the past two thousand years has been centered in Rome.  It is in that same world that we are to live for His glory as His witnesses.

Ataroth means crowns, and surely ought to remind us that all we may endure here for Christ’s sake will be rewarded with an eternal recompense on that soon coming day when we shall all stand at His judgment seat, as it is written, “... they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize.  So run, that ye may obtain.... Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” 1 Co 9:25.

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

As with Archi, Japhleti is the name, not of a place, but of a people about whom nothing is known.  Two things indicate that it is to be viewed in a good light: its location and its name. It was westward, the direction which speaks of approach to God; and its name means let him escape: God will deliver.  The lesson embodied in this place is that we dwell in the midst of a people, who though sinners, are still the obejects of God’s love.  He desires to see them escape from their bondage to sin and Satan; and to make their deliverance possible He has given His Son to die for the remission of their sins.  As His witnesses in the midst of those people we are responsible to warn them of their danger, and to seek to lead them to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Beth-horon consumer’s house: cavernous house, on the other hand, has a very different connotation.  It points to the truth that every unrepentant rebel will ultimately enter that cavernous house of the unbelieving dead to be eternally consumed by God’s wrath, but without the relief that would come by being annihilated.  Their torment will be eternal.  This Beth-horon, incidentally is described as “the nether” to distinguish it from another place of the same name located about two miles further east, and on a higher elevation.

Gezer, meaning a piece: a portion (as cut off), has been discussed in our study of 10:33 and 12:12, and it is suggested that the reader consult those notes, since the spiritual application is the same here.

“... and the goings out thereof are at the sea.”  As noted already, the sea represents the masses of unconverted humanity in their ceaseless rebellion against God, see Isa 57:20.  The lesson therefore of the sea’s being the western border of Ephraim and Manasseh is the same as in the case of Judah.  It is our responsibility to be God’s “fishermen” on that great sea, seeking by every means in our power to catch some of those “fish” in the net of the Gospel, and bring them to the Savior, as it is written, “And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.  And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” Mt 4:18-19.

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

The placing of Manasseh here before Ephraim may be the symbolic declaration of the truth declared explicitly in 1 Co 15:46, “That was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.”  We were natural men before we became spiritual, but even as spiritual men we have the flesh, the old nature, still with us, and will have until we are home in heaven.

Its being said that they “took” their inheritance, reminds us that we too are responsible to make our own all the spiritual riches God has spread before us.

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 Ataroth-addar, unto Beth-horon the upper:”

Having described briefly and in a general way the inheritance of these two sons of Joseph, God now in slightly more detail outlines the borders of the portion allotted to Ephraim.  We should note incidentally that the borders are somewhat vaguely

defined, a fact which assures us that the literal border points are of relatively little consequence: the spiritual lessons lie in the meanings of their names rather than in their geographical location, with the obvious exception of those instances where specific compass points are mentioned, as for example the east, which speaks of sin and departure from God; and the west, of approach to God.

See verse 3 for comments on Beth-horon

As noted already the Jordan was the general eastern boundary, but now Ataroth-addar is designated as a specific border point.  It means crowns of glory, and is the symbolic assurance that since we have been crucified with Christ, and have thereby become dead to the world, we have also with Christ been raised up as new creatures to walk no longer after the flesh, but after the Spirit, the end of that walk being that we shall receive crowns of glory which will be the eternal testimony to God’s approval of our obedience, as it is written, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” Ga 2:20.  Read also Romans chapter 6; and 2 Tim 4:8 which speaks of a crown of righteousness; Jas 1:12 the crown of life; and 1 Pe 5:4 a crown of glory.

16:6.  “And the border went out toward the sea to Michmethah on the north side; and the border went about eastward unto Taanath-shiloh, and passed by it on the east to Janohah;”

Michmethah means the poverty of the dead: the poverty of the reward, and as noted already, the north speaks of human intelligence, and almost invariably of that intelligence working in opposition to faith, and therefore to God.  This place therefore appears to warn against the danger of listening to the voice of reason instead of to God, that same warning being given explicitly in Pr 14:12 “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”  That same way is the way of spiritual poverty for it brings the man into the place of eternal torment where there isn’t even a drop of water to alleviate his anguish.  Luke 16 records the life and end of such a man, verse 24 of that chapter recording his futile plea, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”

Taanath-shiloh means Shiloh’s opportunity: Shiloh’s fig tree; and Shiloh itself means peace bringer: bringer of prosperity.  In Scripture the fig tree is connected with profession, e.g., when Adam and Eve clothed themselves with fig leaves it was the symbolic profession that they hadn’t lost their righteousness when in fact they had.  In Mt 21:19-20 the leafy fig tree without fruit is a symbolic figure of the Israel of Christ’s day.  There was much outward profession, but no spiritual fruit.  Taanath-shiloh therefore portrays the truth that it is possible for us to be leafy but fruitless fig trees, i.e., we may have a profession of faith, but as James warns, “... faith without works is dead” Jas 2:20,26.  Genuine faith will produce spiritual fruit, as it is also written, “Ye shall know them by their fruits ... every good tree bringeth forth good fruit.... Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.  Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” Mt 7:16-20.  Shiloh, however, is one of the biblical names of Christ, e.g., Ge 49:10.  The combined name Taanath-shiloh therefore is both a warning and an encouragement.  Even as believers we may go “eastward,” i.e., get away from God, but genuine repentance provides the opportunity for the Lord Jesus Christ (Shiloh to restore and bless, bringing us peace and spiritual prosperity, so that there will be spiritual fruit to confirm the profession of our lips.

Janohah, meaning he will lead to rest, was also toward the east, which continues to speak of departure from God, but unlike Taanath-shiloh, there is no warning attached to the meaning, but the simple assurance “he will lead to rest,” the One referred to as He obviously being God.  The lesson is that God will never leave His own to continue going spiritually eastward.  By chastisement He will bring them back to Himself, and failing that, He will simply take them home to heaven as in 1 Co 11:30 “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep (die.” 

Relative to chastisement it is instructive to consider what is written, “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.  If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?  But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.... Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” Heb 12:5-11.

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

Janohah, Ataroth, Jericho, and Jordan have already been discussed, leaving for consideration Naarath, meaning  maidenhood: maiden place.  In scripture a maiden speaks of obedience and purity, so that the lesson of Naarath is that those same characteristics are to mark those who belong to Christ.

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.”

Tappuah means thou wilt cause to breathe, and in Scripture breathing is always associated with life, as for example in Ge 2:7 where God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life, causing him to become a living soul.  The fact that Tappuah was westward has also a good connotation, since, as already discussed, the west is always scripturally associated with approach to God.  The lesson of this border point therefore is that the closer we keep to God the more abundant will be our spiritual lives.

Kanah, meaning he was purchased, is the reminder that we have been purchased with Christ’s precious blood, which indicates the value God sets upon us, and teaches the value we ought to set upon that same blood, our estimate of its worth being measured by our obedience.  The fact that Kanah was a river has a further truth to teach, for it speaks of the written Word as ministered by the Holy Spirit, that Word being but the revelation of Him Who is the living Word.  Ephraim, as already noted, speaks of fruitfulness, and his having this river as his last mentioned boundary point declares the truth that our apprehension of Christ is directly related to the measure of our spiritual fruitfulness.  Sadly, our enjoyment of Christ is all too often the equivalent of a mere trickle.  God’s ideal is that it should be the equivalent of a river.

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.”

This simply means that some of the cities assigned to Ephraim were located in the territory of Manasseh, and the spiritual lesson is easily read.  As already discussed, Manasseh represents not only the spirit of forgetfulness which ought to characterize us relative to past failure, but he portrays also the flesh (the old nature which is still very much a part of us, and which frequently works through our bodily members, including our minds).  Ephraim’s cities located in Manasseh’s lot are designed to teach us that our bodies, including our minds, are to be used for God’s glory, and our own eternal profit, as it is written, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (spiritual worship.  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” Ro 12:1-2.

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 Canaanite, meaning trafficker, represents one all too common in Christendom today: the unconverted man “trafficking” in spiritual things.  It is painfully apparent that there are many willing to masquerade as Christians in order to enrich themselves, some pretending to be the Lord’s servants; others affiliating themselves with companies of believers only for what temporal benefit may be available through such an association.

And while it is said that “Judah could not drive them (the Canaanites out,” 15:63, the indictment of Ephraim is that he simply did not.  Nor does the failure appear to have been the result of mere apathy on the part of Ephraim, for it is recorded that the Canaanites were made to “serve under tribute.”  Ephraim, it is clear, choose to disobey the Lord’s command to exterminate the enemy, and instead to use the Canaanites within their territory to acquire easy wealth from the tribute of money or labor, of those who should have had no place within the borders of Israel.

And as it was with literal Ephraim, so is it with his spiritual counterpart today.  Countless Christians, commanded by God to expel the enemy, have instead given the “Canaanite” a place within a sphere that is exclusively the domain of “Israel.”  In many a congregation of God’s people the “Canaanite” is welcomed because of the financial contribution he can make; and in many another he is put to work, so that believers who should be devoting time and talent to the development of spiritual gift, who should be building God’s house, may be free to build their own houses, see Hag 1:3,9.  The “Canaanite” in this case is the unconverted cleric found in the pulpit of many a church.

The “Canaanite” is also spared in many an assembly playing the numbers game.  With no questions as to their spiritual condition, men and women are welcomed into a fellowship which God has said is for believers only; and to make sure they stay, they are immediately given something to do so that they will feel “involved.”  And as a further assurance of their being made “comfortable,” Scriptural order is not only not insisted on, but any mention of it is avoided like the plague.

Ephraim’s failure to drive out the Canaanite is the more deplorable in view of the potential for good implied in the meaning of his name.  Similar delinquency on our part is equally lamentable.

We may learn something too from the fact that the place of their disobedience was Gezer (see comments on verse 3.   Wherever there is disobedience, wherever the “Canaanite” isn’t driven out, there is the cutting off or loss of a portion of blessing.

[Joshua 17]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough