Ten Tribe "Ephraim" Was Under Divine Punishment For 390 Years!
Ezekiel's Forgotten Prophecy Of The House Of Israel
By Pastor Jory Steven Brooks, CBIA
There is an important prophecy that even Christians who seldom read their Bibles may have some knowledge of: the joining of the “two sticks” of Judah and Ephraim in Ezekiel 37:15-28. Mainstream churches downplay its significance, saying that it was fulfilled long ago. It is claimed that this rejoining took place immediately after the Babylonian captivity and that the modern Jews therefore constitute both branches of God’s people. However, the Prophet Ezekiel himself refutes that interpretation in a little-discussed, almost forgotten prophecy found in chapter four, verses 4 and 5.
This prophecy states, “Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the House of Israel upon it: according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shalt bear their iniquity. For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days: so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the House of Israel.”
This prophecy states that the ten tribe House of Israel, also called “Ephraim” by the prophets, would undergo a distinct and separate 390-year period of “bearing their iniquity” during which time they would therefore remain separate from Judah, who suffered only a 40-year period of punishment for their own iniquity (Ezk. 4:6-8). It is therefore not possible that the two houses of Israel, Judah and Ephraim, reunited immediately after the much shorter Babylonian captivity of only 70 years.
This 390-year period indeed represented a time of punishment for the ten tribe House of Israel. Prof. B.E. Thiering in the American Journal of Biblical Archaeology refers to the prophetic 390 years as a "period of wrath." (Qumran Interpretation of Ezk. 4:5-6, AJBA-1, 1969, p.30-34) There is a parallel with other Old Testament passages. The Prophet Hosea reveals that exiled Israel was cast off into the wilderness (Hos. 2:14). What then is the purpose of this 390-year punishment in the wilderness? It would cause a forgetfulness of prior homeland, history, pagan rites and rituals; a veritable loss of identity in order to set the stage for a new beginning for the House of Israel. It was a period of cleansing to be purified of their pagan rites and false religion.
Dr. Daniel I. Block confirms this: "But the persistent and pervasive nature of Israel's apostasy required that before Yahweh could effect the new community of faith, the evils of the past must be purged." (“Ezekiel,” p.470) This purging involved memory of land and heritage! They became lost tribes.
Some commentators believe the 390 years do not represent an exact period of Ephraim's punishment. Professor Walter Eichrodt writes, "The number of years this punishment is said to have lasted need not, of course, be taken as chronologically exact." ("Ezekiel: A Commentary", p.84) If this is so, then why give a number? Why does Scripture use numbers at all if they do not fit the facts? Ezekiel could have simply stated that the period of wrath and punishment would be a very long time. In Scripture, God gives numbers for a reason!
Some combine the 40 years of the House of Judah's punishment and 390 years of the House of Israel’s punishment, as if their history and prophecies were inseparable. The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary disagrees. "We must therefore, as the literal meaning of the words primarily indicates, regard the specified periods of time as periods of punishment for Israel and Judah. Since Ezekiel ... after the completion of the 390 days for Israel must lie a second time (Ezek.4:6) 40 days for Judah, he had to recline in all 430 (390 + 40) days. To include the forty days in the three hundred and ninety is contrary to the statements in the text."
The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary opines, "All these hypotheses, however, are shattered by the impossibility of pointing out the specified periods of time, so as to harmonize with the chronology... Still less can the 40 years of Judah be calculated, as all the determinations of the beginning and the end are mere phantoms of the air." To the contrary, it is not the fault of the prophet if a commentator has trouble understanding the prophecy!
Finally, the most significant, and perhaps widespread, view says that the Persians were friends and benevolent rescuers of the Jewish people, who sent them all home to Canaan immediately after the fall of Babylon. Historians record instead that the Persians were not liberators and that the Jews remained in bondage during the Persian era. Professor Lester Grabbe states, "...there is no reason to believe that their [Persian] rule was significantly more benign than that of their Semitic predecessors. The allusion to military conscription, forced labor, and the requisitioning of livestock, recalls...the heavy burden of taxation during the early Persian period." ("Leading Captivity Captive," p.44)
Judeans were subject to a high and burdensome taxation system under Persia with a series of many high tributes to pay. "Be it known now to the king that, if this city be built and the walls set up again, then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom, and so you shall endamage the revenue of the kings." (Ezra 4:13) The Persian burden was so high that Judeans mortgaged their lands and homes, and were forced to sell their children into slavery. "Some also there were who said, ‘We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards and houses, that we might buy corn because of the dearth.’ There were also who said, ‘We have borrowed money for the king's tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards. Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children: and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants. Some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already. Neither is it in our power to redeem them for other men have our lands and vineyards.’" (Nehemiah 5:3-5) An alternate translation for “bondage” is "slavery."
This is repeated in Nehemiah 9:36-37, "So here we are today, slaves. Yes, in the land you gave our ancestors, so that they could eat what it produces and enjoy its good — here we are in it, slaves! Its rich yield now goes to the kings you have set over us because of our sins. They have power over our bodies. They can do what they please to our livestock. We are in great distress!" The Hebrew exiles were not free citizens under Persian rule, and only a small representative number returned to Canaan (Ezra 2:64), who were limited to the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (Ezra 1:5; 4:1; 10:9; Neh. 4:16; 11:4, 36; 12:34).
The Prophetic Answer
The Answer to Ezekiel's puzzle? God’s oath as given through Ezekiel was fulfilled exactly to the year specified in prophecy! The fall of the House of Israel and its capital, Samaria, was in 721 BC, a well-attested date. Adding 390 years brings us to 331 BC. What happened in that very year? Actually, something very significant! One of the most important events in the history of the ancient world occurred on October 1, 331 B.C., with the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great at the battle of Arbela, also known as Gaugamela.
King Darius III of Persia offered Alexander half the Persian kingdom if he would sign a peace agreement, but the offer was refused. Alexander's general, Parmenion, told him, "If I were you, I would accept Darius' very generous offer." Alexander replied, "I would too if I were Parmenion!" Nothing would stand in the way of the complete and total conquest of Persia. Alexander overslept on the morning of battle, and was awakened by his concerned generals. He told them not to worry because the battle was already won. Alexander was inspired with the belief that he had a divinely ordained mission to overthrow Persia. He was correct! This conquest was indeed the event behind the divine prophecy in Ezekiel Chapter 4 long before.
Heaven’s favor was clearly with Alexander, giving him a complete victory over a large Persian army of over 250,000 soldiers. This large Persian force was defeated by only 47,000 Greeks, who were outnumbered over 5 to 1.
With the end of the Persian Empire in 331 B.C., the ten tribe House of Israel's Divine time of punishment was completed exactly 390 years after their exile from Canaan. This time-period marks the entry into the era of recorded history. Although the tribes formerly under Persian domination were now free to migrate elsewhere, there is no record of any significant migration of Israel tribes into Palestine.
So what happened to these exiled tribes? The Abrahamic covenant answers this. "Your seed shall be as the dust of the earth. You shall spread abroad to the west, to the east, to the north and to the south. In you and in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." (Genesis 28:14) Israel in exile was dispersed to all points of the compass, following which, in their new homelands they would become a blessing to all the earth. However, this dispersion would be somewhat haphazard and unplanned, for the exile of Israel is compared by the prophets to a “wandering.” Webster’s Dictionary appropriately describes this as "to move about without a definite destination or purpose; roam, rove, or stray; wander over the earth." Another definition is "to ramble without a definite purpose or objective." They were indeed lost!
"Israel wandered like a flock," says the Prophet Zechariah (10:2). The English word, "wandered" is translated from the Hebrew word, "Haggolah,” which literally means, "the wandering into exile." A related Hebrew word, "Golah" means "exiles." The theme of "wandering" indicates that these exiled tribes did not retrace their path to Canaan, as Scripture foretold: "Therefore, behold, I will hedge up your way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths." (Hosea 2:6) True to prophecy, a majority of the Israel exiles did not find their pathway back to Palestine. Where then did they go?
"Thus shall the Israelites eat their bread unclean among the nations whither I will drive them." (Ezekiel 4:13) The Israelites deported from their homeland in Canaan were to spread throughout the nations, fulfilling the Abrahamic covenant promise that they would be a blessing to all families of the earth. That they would "eat their bread unclean" indicates that over time most would lose their Israelite religious distinctiveness and become gentilized in the lands wherever they dwelled. Our book, “The Story Of Celto-Saxon Israel” documents their major lands of settlement.
The Apostle Paul ratified this theme under the New (Renewed) Covenant, "Know you therefore that they who are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham...And if you be Christ's, then are you Abraham's seed and heirs according to the [Abrahamic] promise." (Galatians 3:7, 29) In what nations do we primarily find Christendom?
Finally, what is our obligation as heirs of the covenant promises? "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if you do these things, you shall never fall." (2 Peter 1:10) Let us all be diligent in spreading knowledge of our divine calling, and may we all be blessed in so doing! Amen.