We explained yesterday how God began to be a Father to Israel when he restored him from exile. Adoption, with regard to God, remained indeed the same, as it has been stated; but as to the judgment of men, it was abolished. He then began anew so to collect his people, that they might really know him as their Father.
He afterwards adds, that Ephraim would be his first-born Ephraim is no doubt taken here for the whole people; nor does the Prophet here make any distinction between the two kingdoms, but includes even the tribe of Judah in the name Ephraim, as it is done in many other places. But yet it is proper to observe, that Ephraim is sometimes taken for all the posterity of Abraham, sometimes for the kingdom of Israel, and sometimes for that tribe itself. When the kingdom of Judah is distinguished from the kingdom of Israel, then Ephraim includes only the ten tribes; but in this place the Prophet did not intend to mark the difference between the tribe of Judah and the ten tribes, because it would have in this case been very strange to call Ephraim the first-born; for we know that Ephraim had been rejected from a regard to David, as it is said in the Psalms,
|And God refused the tribe of Joseph, and rejected the tabernacles of Ephraim; he chose the tribe of Judah whom he loved.| (Psalm 78:67, 68)
There a comparison is made between the kingdom of Judah which God had erected, having added a promise, and the kingdom of Jeroboam, which was, as it were, spurious; for the revolt from the family of David had torn the body of the Church, so that it became as it were mutilated. For this reason it is said that Ephraim was rejected, that is, because God regarded David alone and his posterity with paternal favor; and of his whole family it was said,
|He shall call me, My Father;' and I will say to him Thou art my Son.'| (Psalm 89:26)
In this place then, the Prophet speaks generally of the people, as though he had said that it was only a temporary division when the ten tribes had formed for themselves a kingdom of their own, but that they would become one people, so that Ephraim would differ in nothing any more from Judah. To the same purpose is what is said by Hosea,
|When Israel was a child I loved him,
and from Egypt have I called my Son.| (Hosea 11:1)
There the Prophet calls the people Israel; he does not, however, denote the ten tribes only, but he placed in the first rank David and his posterity. Indeed, the Prophets, when prophesying of the restoration of the Church, direct their eyes to the first unity which God had fixed among the people, for it was then only the true state of things, when the twelve tribes preserved a fraternal union. We now then perceive why the Prophet says that Ephraim was God's first-born.
But it may be asked here, |With respect to whom is he thus called? for it follows that there were other sons of God, if Ephraim was the first-born among them.| But this conclusion is not well-founded; for Mary is said to have brought forth her first-born son, who was yet her only son, (Matthew 1:25) and Christ is called elsewhere the first-begotten with: reference to all the faithful,
|that he might be the first-born among many brethren.| (Romans 8:29)
But Mary had brought forth her only son. Hence the word, |first-born,| does not prove that others follow, the second and the third in their order; but we may say that Ephraim was called the first-born of God with reference to the Gentiles, who at length became partakers of free adoption: for we also are the children of Abraham, because we have been planted by faith among the elect people; yet this solution seems to me more refined than solid. I then give this simple interpretation, that Ephraim was called the first-born because he was preferred to all the Gentiles; God was pleased to choose them as his people. This then was the peculiar privilege of the seed of Abraham; for though the human race was one and the same, yet it pleased God to choose and adopt Abraham and his posterity. It now follows, --