We’re Glad You Asked…
Question: Why is the name Ephraim” used in Jeremiah 31:9, 18, 20 for the entire northern kingdom of Israel? What about the other tribes? Also please explain “Jeshurun” in Deuteronomy 32:15; 33:5 and 26; and Isaiah 44:2.
Answer: Concerning “Ephraim,” one explanation is that the break-away king Jeroboam was from the tribe of Ephraim. Also, the two capitals of the northern kingdom, first Shechem and afterwards Samaria, were both located just north of Ephraim’s territory, while Bethel, one of the centers of worship set up by Jeroboam, was located just to the south of the territory. This would have made Ephraim the heartland of the northern kingdom, so it would have been natural to refer to it as Ephraim.
Some commentators say that Ephraim was a leading tribe of the northern kingdom. Joshua and Samuel came from Ephraim. Shiloh, one of the leading religious centers, was also in Ephraim. The first explanation, that Ephraim was the “heartland” of the north, is probably more natural.A modern comparison might help. “Dixie,” which came to mean all the southern states in the U.S, was a colloquialism for the $10 bill used by French speaking residents of New Orleans in the mid-1800s, the French word for “ten” being “dix.” Louisiana was called “Dixie-land,” but eventually the term was used for the entire South. Though Louisiana is not really the heartland of the South, there is some parallel to the “Ephraim” question.
As to the other name for Israel, Jeshurun means “the upright one” or “the righteous one.” It is a poetic term used only four times in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 33:5 and 26, and Isaiah 44:2, it is used in a positive context, and in Deuteronomy 32:15 it is used in the negative context of the nation’s rebellion. The New Bible Dictionary comments: “If understood as ‘righteous nation’ it [Jeshurun] may be both a reminder and a reproach to Israel.”