Ephrath

Our greatest sorrows can give birth to our greatest joys.

After God renewed his covenants with Jacob at Beth-el, Jacob traveled with his family toward a place called Ephrath or Ephrathah (אֶפְרָת), which means “fruitful.” When they were almost to their destination, Jacob’s wife Rachel went into labor and died in childbirth. Jacob named the baby Benjamin, which means “son of the right hand” (Genesis 35:16-20).

Many years later, when Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, he recalled that experience:

Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to come unto Ephrath: and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath.

Genesis 48:7

The author of Genesis tells us twice that Ephrath later became known as Bethlehem (בֵּית לֶחֶם), “the house of bread.” It may have been a place of sorrow for Jacob, but it was a fruitful place, serving as the birthplace of not only Benjamin but also King David (1 Samuel 17:12) and Jesus (Matthew 2:1, Luke 2:4).

The prophet Micah prophesied of the Savior’s birth in that place:

Thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

Micah 5:2

After relating the experiences of the sons of Mosiah teaching the Lamanites, Mormon summarizes their fourteen-year mission in this way:

And this is the account of Ammon and his brethren, their journeyings in the land of Nephi, their sufferings in the land, their sorrows, and their afflictions, and their incomprehensible joy, and the reception and safety of the brethren in the land of Jershon. And now may the Lord, the Redeemer of all men, bless their souls forever.

Alma 28:8

I love that sequence in the middle: “their sorrows, and their afflictions, and their incomprehensible joy.” They found incomprehensible joy, but only after experiencing sorrow and afflictions.

Today, I will think of Ephrath, the place where Jacob lost his beloved wife and gained a beloved son. I will remember that the dark experiences of my life can lead me to the light, and that the adversity I experience can be fruitful, preparing my heart to experience incomprehensible joy.

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