Genesis 48


‘Some time later Joseph was told, ‘Your father is ill.’ So, he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him. When Jacob was told, ‘Your son Joseph has come to you,’ Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed.’ Genesis 48:1-2

We don’t know the time span when Joseph is told his father isn’t well, but when he is told he immediately goes to him with his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Jacob is obviously coming to the end of his life and is very weak, but he manages to get enough strength to sit on his bed.

Notice again how Jacob’s name is used, when speaking of his illness he’s called Jacob but when speaking of his role as the head of the family, he’s called Israel.

‘Jacob said to Joseph, ‘God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’ Genesis 48:3-4

We don’t know exactly where Jacob is referring to here, in terms of God appearing to him, some suggest it could be Genesis 28:19, others suggest it could be Genesis 36:9-13, and others still suggest it could be both. Luz was the place where God appeared to Jacob, but later he changed its name to Bethel, Genesis 28:10-22.

Jacob relates to Joseph the promises of God which include the promise of land, Canaan.

‘Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine. Any children born to you after them will be yours; in the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers. As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So, I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath’ (that is, Bethlehem).’ Genesis 48:5-7

The promises of the covenant were to be continued throughout Jacob’s future generations, but to do this he had to claim the two sons of Joseph as part of his future generations. Reuben and Simeon were the two firstborn sons of Jacob and so, what he does here is elevate Ephraim and Manasseh to the same level as his eleven other sons.

Why did Jacob give Joseph a double portion?

To answer this question, maybe it’s easier to ask why Reuben and Simeon didn’t receive a double portion of the birthright. Reuben was guilty of incest, Genesis 35:21-29, and Simeon was involved in murder, Genesis 34:25-31. It was because of these reasons that neither of them received a double portion of the birthright.

Jacob gives Joseph a double portion of the birthright because Joseph was ultimately the one whom God used to save his family throughout the famine and also because Joseph was the firstborn of Rachel, Jacob’s real love, Genesis 29:18, and wife, Genesis 29:28.

I’m sure Jacob prayed that he would have more sons through Rachel, but she died when she gave birth to Benjamin, Genesis 35:16-18. Jacob is clearly demonstrating his love for Rachel, even though she died, he raises her status as the grandmother of Ephraim and Manasseh.

‘When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, ‘Who are these?’ ‘They are the sons God has given me here,’ Joseph said to his father. Then Israel said, ‘Bring them to me so I may bless them.’ Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So, Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them. Israel said to Joseph, ‘I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.’ Genesis 48:8-11

Jacob blesses Ephraim and Manasseh, Josephs’s two sons, Hebrews 11:21. Notice that Jacob wasn’t blind, but his eyes were ‘failing’ due to old age, just like his father Isaac was suffering from the same eyesight problem, Genesis 27:1 / Ecclesiastes 12:3. Getting old is a real blessing but sometimes it comes at a cost, in Jacob’s case it was his eyes which were failing.

It’s clear that Jacob loved Ephraim and Manasseh because he kissed them and embraced them, just like any grandfather would do with his grandchildren, Proverbs 17:6. Jacob feels very blessed by God, not only for being able to see Joseph but his grandchildren.

‘Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground. And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel’s right hand and brought them close to him. But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn.’ Genesis 48:12-14

What we read happening here is an adoption ceremony, where Ephraim and Manasseh would probably be kneeling between the knees of Jacob, notice also that Joseph knelt down too.

We are told that Joseph held Manasseh in one hand and Ephraim in his other hand. Manasseh was held near Israel’s right hand and Ephraim was held near Israel’s left hand. In ancient times, it was the practice that the grandfather would bless the first grandson with his right hand. The highest blessing was granted with the right hand.

But notice that Jacob switched his hands and gave the highest blessing to the second born grandson, Ephraim. Later in Genesis 48:17-22, we read that Jacob wasn’t just old and forgetful, he did this on purpose. God must have revealed to Jacob that Ephraim would have the more significant descendants.

Interestingly, this is the first example of laying on of hands in the Scriptures, in order to pass on a blessing or to pass on a gift, Deuteronomy 29:9 / Acts 6:6 / Matthew 19:13 / Acts 19:6.

The Blessing

Willis gives the following characteristics of the type of blessing Jacob was here bestowing upon the sons of Joseph.

1. It was a very formal, solemn, and serious affair.

2. If the one conveying it was empowered by God to do so, it carried with it the power to achieve what was promised.

3. When the blessing was uttered, it was irrevocable.

4. The patriarch always asked the identity of the one who would receive the blessing.

5. Those to be blessed were invited to come forward.

6. The recipient(s) was(were) embraced and kissed.

7. The right hand of the patriarch rested on the head of the one to receive the greater blessing.

This sheds further light on the reason for Jacob’s asking for the identity of Joseph’s sons; it was a part of the formal procedure and did not mean that Jacob had never seen them before.

‘Then he blessed Joseph and said, ‘May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm—may he bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly on the earth.’ Genesis 48:14-16

Jacob now blesses Joseph, but indirectly blessing Joseph’s sons. Coffman suggests the following concerning these verses.

‘One of the great things of significance in these verses is the triple designation of God, who is extolled as, ‘Deum Patrem, Deum Pastorem, and Angelum.’ This means God of My Fathers, Shepherd God, and Angel of Jehovah. There are many names of God in the Bible; and, as always, the name chosen signified not some special ‘source’ but some special significance. Habakkuk 1:12 also uses three names for God in a single verse! The Angel mentioned here is the Angel of Jehovah, identified with God Himself in the prophecies.’

The word ‘delivered’ is actually the word, ‘redeemed’ and this is the first time this word is used in the Scriptures. The word means to ‘buy back’ and is used when a close relative was under obligation to ‘buy back’ a mortgaged priority of a close relative who lost their property due to unforeseen circumstances. It also carries with it the idea of a close relative ‘buying back’ another relative who had given themselves over into slavery, Leviticus 25:25-55.

As most old people do, they reminisce and think about their lives, Here Jacob reminds himself of the time when God redeemed him when he deceived Esau and Isaac, in order to steal Esau’s birthright, Genesis 27:1-45. Thanks to Joseph and God working through him, Jacob had witnessed first-hand, the respective work of God.

‘When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so, he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. Joseph said to him, ‘No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.’ But his father refused and said, ‘I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.’ Genesis 48:17-19

Joseph was obviously watching very carefully and wasn’t very happy with what happened. He tried to change the blessing because he thought his father made a mistake in his old age, but he failed because Jacob who was fully aware of what he was doing, continued with the blessing. Make no mistake about it, this was God’s will, being carried out here.

We’ve seen this happen a few times in Genesis where the younger brother was chosen over the older brother, Isaac and Ishmael, Genesis 17:21 / Romans 9:6-9, Jacob and Esau, Genesis 25:32-33 / Romans 9:11-13, Joseph and Rueben, Genesis 35:22, and now Ephraim is chosen instead of Manasseh. Jacob knew exactly what he was doing here, he knew that Manasseh was the firstborn, but it would be the descendants of Ephraim who would be greater.

The words spoken here by Jacob were indeed from God as everything he said concerning Ephraim came true later in the years to follow, Genesis 50:23 / 1 Kings 12. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was to be identified with Ephraim, and the whole nation was then called Ephraim, we this clearly in the book of Hosea.

‘He blessed them that day and said, ‘In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’ So, he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh. Then Israel said to Joseph, ‘I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers. And to you I give one more ridge of land than to your brothers, the ridge I took from the Amorites with my sword and my bow.’ Genesis 48:20-22

After the blessing, it appears that Joseph has accepted that this was God’s will. Jacob asks for a request to die in his own country, Joshua 24:32 / John 4:5-6, he obviously trusts in the promises of God, Genesis 15:18-21 / Genesis 26:3 / Genesis 28:13.

Jacob now gives Joseph ‘one ridge’ or ‘one portion’ of the Promised Land more than his brothers, this would be near Shechem where Jacob had fought the Amorites, although there is no Scripture reference to this event.

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