Verses 20–40

We have here an account,

I. Of the tribe of Ephraim. Great things we read of that tribe when it came to maturity. Here we have an account of the disasters of its infancy, while it was in Egypt as it should seem; for Ephraim himself was alive when those things were done, which yet is hard to imagine if it were, as is here computed, seven generations off. Therefore I am apt to think that either it was another Ephraim or that those who were slain were the immediate sons of that Ephraim that was the son of Joseph. In this passage, which is related here only, we have, 1. The great breach that was made upon the family of Ephraim. The men of Gath, Philistines, giants, slew many of the sons of that family, because they came down to take away their cattle, 1 Chron. 7:21. It is uncertain who were the aggressors here. Some make the men of Gath the aggressors, men born in the land of Egypt, but now resident in Gath, supposing that they came down into the land of Goshen, to drive away the Ephraimites’ cattle, and slew the owners, because they stood up in the defence of them. Many a man’s life has been exposed and betrayed by his wealth; so far is it from being a strong city. Others think that the Ephraimites made a descent upon the men of Gath to plunder them, presuming that the time had come when they should be put in possession of Canaan; but they paid dearly for their rashness and precipitation. Those that will not wait God’s time cannot expect God’s blessing. I rather think that the men of Gath came down upon the Ephraimites, because the Israelites in Egypt were shepherds, not soldiers, abounded in cattle of their own, and therefore were not likely to venture their lives for their neighbours’ cattle: and the words may be read, The men of Gath slew them, for they came down to take away their cattle. Zabad the son of Ephraim, and Shuthelah, and Ezer, and Elead (his grandchildren), were, as Dr. Lightfoot thinks, the men that were slain. Jacob had foretold that the seed of Ephraim should become a multitude of nations (Gen. 48:19), and yet that plant is thus nipped in the bud. God’s providences often seem to contradict his promises; but, when they do so, they really magnify the promise, and make the performance of it, notwithstanding, so much more illustrious. The Ephraimites were the posterity of Joseph, and yet his power could not protect them, though some think he was yet living. The sword devours one as well as another. 2. The great grief which oppressed the father of the family hereupon: Ephraim mourned many days. Nothing brings the aged to the grave with more sorrow than their following the young that descend from them to the grave first, especially if in blood. It is often the burden of those that live to be old that they see those go before them of whom they said, These same shall comfort us. It was a brotherly friendly office which his brethren did, when they came to comfort him under this great affliction, to express their sympathy with him and concern for him, and to suggest that to him which would support and quiet him under this sad providence. Probably they reminded him of the promise of increase which Jacob had blessed him when he laid his right hand upon his head. Although his house was not so with God as he hoped, but a house of mourning, a shattered family, yet that promise was sure, 2 Sam. 23:5. 3. The repair of this breach, in some measure, by addition of another son to his family in his old age (1 Chron. 7:23), like Seth, another seed instead of that of Abel whom Cain slew, Gen. 4:25. When God thus restores comfort to his mourners, makes glad according to the days wherein he afflicted, setting the mercies over against the crosses, we ought therein to take notice of the kindness and tenderness of divine Providence; it is as if it repented God concerning his servants, Ps. 90:13, 15. Yet joy that a man was born into his family could not make him forget his grief; for he gives a melancholy name to his son, Beriah—in trouble, for he was born when the family was in mourning, when it went evil with his house. It is good to have in remembrance the affliction and the misery, the wormwood and the gall, that our souls may be humbled within us, Lam. 3:19, 20. What name more proper for man that is born of a woman than Beriah, because born into a troublesome world? It is added, as a further honour to the house of Ephraim, (1.) That a daughter of that tribe, Sherah by name, at the time of Israel’s setting in Canaan, built some cities, either at her own charge or by her own care; one of them bore her name, Uzzen-sherah, 1 Chron. 7:24. A virtuous woman may be as great an honour and blessing to a family as a mighty man. (2.) That a son of that tribe was employed in the conquest of Canaan, Joshua the son of Nun, 1 Chron. 7:27. In this also the breach made on Ephraim’s family was further repaired; and perhaps the resentment of this injury formerly done by the Canaanites to the Ephraimites might make him more vigorous in the war.

II. Of the tribe of Asher. Some men of note of that tribe are here named. Their militia was not numerous in comparison with some other tribes, only 26,000 men in all; but their princes were choice and mighty men of valour, chief of the princes (1 Chron. 7:40), and perhaps it was their wisdom that they coveted not to make their trained bands numerous, but rather to have a few, and those apt to the war and serviceable men.