Psalm 78:9
We do not know what battle this was. Some point to 1 Chronicles 7:21; others to Joshua 13:1, 13 and Joshua 18:3; others to 1 Samuel 4. But we do not certainly know. Ephraim's character was such as is here described (see ver. 57). Also Hosea, passim; he terms them "a cake not turned;" "a silly dove." He says, they "compass me about with lies." As to their armour, see 2 Chronicles 17:17. Also see David's teaching "the children of Judah the use of the bow." Their opportunities for service were very great. As a tribe they were rich; the sanctuary of Israel was at Shiloh, in their midst; the metropolis of the land also; theirs, too, the largest population, the most famous names - Joseph, Joshua, Gideon. They were an especially military tribe. As to their fate, they utterly perished (see Romans 11:1-8). Their history is very instructive; for there is a battle to be waged today. As we watch we see many come to it "armed," and capable of rendering the good service we look for from them. But lo! many of them turn back, and render no help at all, to their own shame and to the hurt of many more. Note -

I. THE BATTLE. "All the world's a stage," said our great poet. Had he said, "All the world's a battlefield," he would have been yet more true to fact. The battle is between God and Satan, as to who shall reign over us - God or his adversary. And God has equipped many soldiers for the fight. See -

II. THE ARMOUR he has given them - given to many of us. Christian education; holy example; means of grace; power and capacity for service, imparted by the teaching of his Word; the sanctions and urgings of conscience, the drawings of his Spirit, and much more. Such things constitute the armour which would make us good soldiers if we would avail ourselves of them. But there is -

III. THE TURNING BACK on the part of many, even as Ephraim turned back. Ridicule has, perhaps, to be met; or loss to be borne; or self to be denied; or ease to be foregone; the cross in one or other of its forms has to be taken up; and many go away - go back, sorrowful, perhaps, but, nevertheless, they turn back. Oh, what shame to them! a people nobly born, well armed, and pledged to the service, and yet, etc.! What dishonour to Christ! what discouragement to the faithful Church! what loss to God's kingdom! what triumph for the foe! what ruin for themselves! - S.C.

The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.
I. A PEOPLE IS A COMMUNITY THAT ARE MOST FAVOURED WITH PRIVILEGES ARE OFTENTIMES THE MOST SINFUL. Ephraim was not only one of the largest, but one of the most favoured of the Jewish tribes. He descended from Joseph, the highly favoured of God. He received the benediction from the lips of Jacob; and yet this tribe was so prominent in the rebellion that it stands as the representative of the ten rebellious tribes. Two of its sins are referred to here.

1. Cowardice in battle (ver. 9). They had weapons for battle, but they had not the patriotic bravery to use them.

2. Disobedience to God (ver. 10).


III. HIS SPECIAL WORKINGS ON BEHALF OF MAN, WHILST THEY SHOULD DETER FROM SIN, FREQUENTLY FAIL OF THIS PURPOSE (ver. 17). "When God," says an old author on this verse, "began thus to bless them, they began to affront Him." As sin sometimes takes occasion by the commandment, so at other times it takes occasion by the deliverance, to become more exceedingly sinful.



1. This gave them the advantage of having had brave ancestors. Joshua and Samuel were Ephraimites — noble sires; this a great honour; a correspondingly great responsibility. Blood is much; grace is more.

2. This gave them the advantages of a central location. After settlement in Canaan, Ephraim, numerous and powerful, occupied the central portion of the land. In its territory were Shiloh, with the tabernacle and ark; Shechem, with its holy and tender associations.

3. This gave them prominence and power. But they were false to their great mission. They were leaders, and leaders in evil. "Being armed and carrying bows."


1. They were defensively armed. So is the Christian.

2. They were offensively equipped.

3. They were skilful in the use of their weapons. We must know how to use this one offensive weapon.

III. THE COWARDLY CONDUCT OF THESE MEN. They "turned back in the day of battle."

1. They turned back. Weapons worthless if courage be wanting; courage is wanting if God be absent.

2. They did this in the day of battle. They betrayed their trust.

3. They brought disastrous consequences upon themselves. Merited doom. Sanctuary transferred. God's rejection secured. We need bravery. Dare to be like Joseph, Moses, Daniel, Paul, Luther, Bunyan. Alas I that in these evil days — days of spiritual declension — there is so little genuine heroism in the Church.

(R. S. McArthur, D. D.)

I. WHAT THESE MEN DID. They turned their backs when the time for fighting came, and fled. This, I am sorry to say, is not an unusual thing among professing Christians. Some do this at the first appearance of difficulty. Timorous and Mistrust come running down tim hill crying, "The lions! the lions!" and thus may a pilgrim turn back towards the City of Destruction. Others are somewhat braver. During the first thrust they stand like martyrs and behave like heroes, but very soon, when the armour gets a little battered, and the fine plume on their helmet a little stained, they turn back in the day of battle. Some professors bear the fight a little longer. They are not to be laughed out Of their religion; they can stand the jeers of their old companions. "Cowards," say they, "are those who flee; but we shall never do this." But by and by the skirmishers have done their work, and it comes to a hand-to-hand fight; the struggle begins to be somewhat more arduous, and now shall we see what metal they are made of. We have seen grey-headed apostates as well as juvenile ones.

II. WHEN THEY DID IT. "In the day of battle."

1. At the only time when they were of any sort of use. If the Christian soldier never fights, of what good is he at all? Take off his colours, play "The Rogues' March," and turn him out of the barracks! And this is what will come to some professors who turn back in the day of battle! Their regimentals will be torn off, and they will be excluded from the Church of God because they turned back in the day of trial and at the time when they were needed.

2. They turned their backs, too, like fools, in the day when victory was to be won. The soldier wants to distinguish himself; he wants to rise out of the ranks; he wants to be promoted. He hardly expects an opportunity of doing this in time of peace; but the officer rises when in time of war he leads a successful charge. And so it is with the Christian soldier. I make no advance while I am not fighting. I cannot win if I am not warring.

3. They turned back, when turning back involved the most disastrous defeat. The ark of God was taken. "Ichabod," the enemy cried, for the glory was departed from Israel, because the children of Ephraim turned back in the day of battle. And so, dear friends, unless God gives you preserving grace to stand fast to the end, do you not see that you are turning back to — what? To perdition.


1. Men of a noble parentage. "Children of Ephraim."

2. They were armed, and had proper weapons, weapons which they knew how to use, and good weapons for that period of warfare. And as Christians, what weapons have we? Here is this "Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." Here is a quiver, filled with innumerable arrows, and God has put into our hands the bow of prayer, by which we may shoot them, drawing that bow by the arm of faith.

3. Another translation seems to show that these Ephraimites were very skilful in the use of the bow, and yet they turned back. Oh! may God grant that none of us who have preached to others, and preached to others with fluency and zeal, may ever have our own weapons turned against US.


1. "They kept not the covenant." Oh! that great covenant, "ordered in all things and sure," when you can fall back upon that, how it strengthens you!

2. "They refused to walk in His law." When we get a proud heart we very soon get beaten, for with the face of a lion, but the heart of a deer, such an one is afraid of the world. If I am willing to do what God tells me, as He tells me, when He tells me, and because He tells me, I shall not turn back in the day of battle.

3. They also seemed to have turned back because they had bad memories. "They forgot His works, and the wonders that He had showed them." Some of you have had very wonderful manifestations of the Lord's kindness, and if you forget all these I should not wonder if you should prove to be a mere professor and turn back.


1. Their father mourned over them (1 Chronicles 7:22). What a lamentation it brings into the Christian Church when a professor falls!

2. Owing to their turning back, the enemy remained. It is our turning back in the day of battle that leaves Canaan unconquered for our Lord.

3. But, worse than this, the ark itself was actually taken. Those of you who are armed and carry bows, men of learning, men who understand the Scriptures, I do pray you, do not turn back just now, for just now seems to be a time when the ark of God will be taken. It can never really be so, but still we must mind that it be not the tendency of our actions. We must all of us hold fast the truth now. If there is a man who has got a truth, let him draw his bow and shoot his arrows now, and not turn back in the day of battle. Now for your arrows! Now for your arrows! The more our foes shall conspire against Christ, the more do you make war against them. Give them double for their double; reward them as they reward you. Spare no arrows against Babylon.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

True religion brings with it a courageous heart, and Dr. South has well and quaintly said, that "since Christ has made a Christian course a warfare, of all men living a coward is the most unfit to make a Christian." And yet it is mournful to think that, of the great army of Christians who enrol themselves under the banner of the Cross, in Baptism and Confirmation, and who wear the uniform and carry the sword of Christian soldiers, so many resemble the ill-starred men of Ephraim, who, "being armed, and carrying bows, turned themselves back in the day of battle!" Courage can only be kept alive by zealous action. We can readily imagine a gallant regiment riding into the very valley of death at a dashing gallop, but it would be simply absurd to picture them crawling at a snail's pace towards the expectant foe, coolly calculating the chances of disastrous defeat. As Christians, we profess to be engaged in a warfare against something, even the enemies of our salvation, the world, the flesh, and the devil — three most formidable and deadly foes. The office for the Lord's Supper opens also with a prayer "for the whole state of Christ's Church militant" — the Church which is engaged in open and determined war. We can all well afford to do good service for Christ and His kingdom, since the end draweth near. Here is the battlefield, and the land of the sword and the spear. There, already is sight to the eye of faith, in the triumphal procession of the conquerors, and the land of the wreath and the crown.

(J. N. Norton.)

We can see His presence more clearly when we look back over a long connected stretch of days, and when the excitement of feeling the agony or rapture have passed, than we could whilst they were hot, and life was all hurry and bustle. The men on the deck of a ship see the beauty of the city that they have left behind better than when they were stumbling through its narrow streets. And though the view from the far-off waters of the receding houses may be an illusion, our view of the past, if we see God brooding over it all and working in it all, is no illusion. The meannesses are hidden, the narrow places are invisible, all the pain and suffering is quieted, and we are able to behold more truly than when we were in the midst of it the bearing, the purpose, and the blessedness alike of our sorrows and of our joys. Some of us are like people who, when they get better of their sicknesses, grudge the doctor's bill. We forget the mercies as soon as they are past, because we only enjoyed the sensuous sweetness of them while it tickled our palate; and forgot, in the enjoyment of them, of whose love it was that they spoke to us. Sorrows and joys, bring them all in your thanksgivings, and "forget not the works of God."

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

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