Well, thank you once again for joining me in this study through the book of Genesis, I’m Randy Duncan, and we are now only three chapters away from completing our study. In the last episode we saw Joseph inform Pharaoh that his family had arrived in Egypt and requested permission for them to settle in the land of Goshen.
Pharaoh grants their request and even appoints some of Joseph’s brothers as officers of his livestock. Jacob and his family prosper despite the severe famine. Jacob, nearing the end of his life, requests to be buried alongside his fathers in the land of Canaan, and Joseph promises to fulfill his request.
Which brings us now to chapter 48, which has two main themes; the adoption of Joseph’s two sons by Jacob, and then the elevation in status of the younger Ephraim over the older Manasseh
And so, with those quick words of introduction, we begin with the first seven verses….48…. After this, Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is ill.” So, he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 And it was told to Jacob, “Your son Joseph has come to you.” Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. 3 And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 4 and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ 5 And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. 6 And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance. 7 As for me, when I came from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).”
Now, that was a little longer section than we normally read at once, but there is really no other breaking point that makes sense. But what we see is that Jacob is near death. His impending death requires him to settle his affairs.
But Joseph is alerted that his father Jacob is ill, which by the way, is the first reference to illness in the Bible. But Joseph takes his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to see Jacob. Manasseh is the older, Ephraim is the younger. And Joseph is looking for Jacob to bless them. And to just give you a mental picture here, the boys are around 20 years old at this time.
But it tells us that Jacob, Israel, summoned his strength and sat up in bed. Again, he is very weak and frail, on his deathbed at this time. Jacob, whose spirit had died when he heard of Joseph’s death, revived it once again upon hearing that he was still alive, now he rallies his strength here one more time. He renews his strength in order to impart the blessing on Joseph’s sons. And so, he manages to set up in his bed.
And Jacob says to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me”. Now Luz is the original name for Bethel, which, if you remember, is where Jacob had a divine revelation from God when he returned from Paddan-Aram. His name was changed to Israel, and the promises made to Abraham and Isaac were reiterated.
And Jacob now paraphrases those divine promises in order to establish the legal basis for what he is about to do. Since he is the heir to those blessings, he has the right to decide who will be a part of the people who will be included in the community of people who will be known as Israel. Because only the one who received a divine blessing can impart it to others. And since Joseph never received this particular blessing, even he cannot bless his sons with tribal territory in the promised land
But Jacob continues by reminding Joseph that God blessed him, and told him “I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession”. Now, this everlasting possession is the promised land, the land of Israel. And only God can give an everlasting possession. Even Pharoah’s gift of allowing the family to settle in Goshen was transitory, it was only temporary.
And so, after this quick summary by Jacob, he then says to Joseph, “And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are.” In other words, Jacob is telling Joseph that he is officially adopting his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh. In doing so, he is elevating them to full membership in the tribal league. Out of his 52 grandchildren, he is choosing Joseph’s two sons.
And through this adoption, Ephraim and Manasseh will be as Jacob’s sons, rather than his grandsons. They will share in the inheritance along with Jacob’s other sons. And through his two sons, Joseph in a way ends up receiving a double portion of the inheritance.
Remember, Jacob had twelve sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel. However, neither Joseph nor Levi were given their own lands. Joseph’s two sons here, Ephraim and Manasseh, are adopted by Jacob and given their own lands. And Levi, who would become the tribe of priests, needed no land.
I also want to point out something that is very subtle here. At the beginning of the chapter, it says Joseph brought his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim to see Jacob. It lists them in the order of their birth, with Manasseh being the older. However, when Jacob tells Joseph that he will adopt the two boys, he says “Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine”, he reverses their order, naming Ephriam first. Now you might think this is no big deal, and for a brief moment you may be correct. But this is no accident by Jacob, and is a hint of what’s about to happen
Jacob also tells Joseph that although Ephraim and Manasseh will be reckoned as his, any future children of Joseph’s will be counted as Joseph’s.
Jacob then recounts the death of his beloved wife, Rachel, who is Joseph’s mother. Now there are a couple of differing interpretations as to why Jacob mentions this. First, some feel it is a justification by Jacob for troubling Joseph to have him buried in the Cave of Machpelah, when he hadn’t even done the same for Rachel. And so, they view this as Jacob explaining his reasons to Joseph, explaining to him that while he was traveling, Rachel suddenly died while giving birth to his brother Benjamin. And because he was still a long way off, he was unable to take her body to the family tomb
But others feel as though it is only natural for Jacob, while on his deathbed, to recall his beloved wife who had died so young, and for whom he had endured so much. Also, it may be because she had died so young, and she was deprived of the opportunity to have more children, that her two grandchildren are adopted by Jacob as a sort of substitute for those children death robbed her of.
But we continue with verses 8-13…8 When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” 9 Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So, Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. 11 And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” 12 Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. 13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him.
So, Joseph brings his sons to Jacob, and Jacob says, ‘Whose sons are these?”. Now some people think he said this because his eyesight was failing. And they argue this because in verse 10 it says that “Israel’s eyes were dim with age, and he couldn’t see well.
However, Jacob has lived in Egypt now for 17 years, and it is highly unlikely that he doesn’t know or has never met Joseph’s two sons. After all, he is the one proposing to adopt both of them. And so, what more modern scholarship argues is that his question as to who the two boys are is more likely a part of the adoption ritual. It is simply a legal ritual whereby he is identifying them. It is similar to the question asked at a child’s baptism like “What name is given to this child? or at a wedding, ‘Who gives this woman to this man?”. Neither of those questions are asked in ignorance by the member of the clergy. They are asked in order to officially establish the true identity of the candidates as part of the process. And likewise, Jacob here is going through the legal adoptive process by establishing the names of the two boys
But Joseph brings them close to Jacob, who kisses and embraces them. And he says to Joseph, I never expected to see your face again, but God has allowed me to not only see you again, but to see your children as well. He recognizes these children are a gift from God. Both Jacob and Joseph are blessed through these two boys. Joseph is blessed after all the years of his affliction, and Jacob after losing all hope of ever even seeing Joseph again
Joseph then bows himself before Jacob. Ironically, this is exactly opposite of the dreams Joseph had as a young teenager, when he dreamed his father would bow before him. It is also ironic that the one who is virtually equal to Pharaoh, the number two person in all of Egypt, humbles himself before Jacob, the patriarch who mediates God’s promises. Joseph may be the second most powerful man in Egypt, but he never loses respect for his father.
But we continue with verses 14-16, which read…14 And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). 15 And he blessed Joseph and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, 16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”
So, we saw that Joseph positions the two boys in front of Jacob in such a way as to ensure Jacob’s right hand, the symbol of power and action, will naturally rest on Manasseh, the first-born. Incidentally, in English, the word “left” derives from an Anglo-Saxon word “lyft”, which means “useless” or “weak”. But when offering a blessing, the father would place his right hand on the older child, and his left on the younger child. The placing of the right hand upon the head established physical contact between the parties of the blessing.
The high importance this has for Joseph is conveyed by the precision of the language here, which sees the repeated use of the terms “right” and “left” seven times in verses 13 and 17.
And so, what we see is that even though Joseph positioned the boys such that Manasseh would receive the blessing of the older, Jacob reaches out and crosses his arms, placing his right hand upon Ephraim, and his left hand upon Manasseh.
Jacob may be old and losing his sight, but he is not losing his insight. Ironically, the older, frail, and partially blind Jacob shows an insight into the future that his clear-sighted and sometimes clairvoyant son Joseph is denied
But even though we know he is blessing Joseph’s two sons; the text here reads that he blessed Joseph. Now some translations read that “he blessed them”, others translate as “he blessed the sons of Joseph”. Other commentaries explain that the father is the recipient of the blessing vicariously through the blessings bestowed upon their children. But regardless, the important point in this scene is that Jacob chooses the younger brother over the older brother with the greater blessing.
And in blessing them, Jacob blesses them as his father Isaac had blessed him. He mentions God’s blessings on him in Egypt in allowing him to once again see his beloved Joseph, and then switches to the blessings that the two boys will receive when they return to the promised land.
By becoming part of the covenant family, Ephraim and Manasseh become part of the covenant family. But God’s promises to Abraham and Isaac were certain because they walked before God. For the heirs to experience the promised blessings, they too must walk before God. And we see in the history of Israel that when they failed to walk before God, they were punished.
Jacob also says “may they be called by my name and the names of my fathers”, meaning, may they be reckoned among the tribes of Israel, and as part of the family that are heirs to the promises and blessings God granted to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob felt it was more important for the two boys to be counted and named among the tribes of Israel than numbered among the princes of Egypt.
And finally, Jacob says “let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth”, and we see that is exactly what happens. These two tribes grow exceedingly in number. We know this based on the two censuses taken during the wilderness wanderings, but also, we see that in Moses’ farewell address that he mentions the “myriads of Ephraim” and the “thousands of Manasseh”. And this huge population actually posed a special problem for Joshua in the allotment of tribal territories that we read about in the book of Joshua.
In fact, we see that Ephraim became the more powerful and more influential of the two tribes, so much so that the name of Ephraim eventually became synonymous with the entire kingdom of Israel. And this phenomenon is traced back to this blessing from Jacob
And so how does Joseph respond to all of this? We are told in verses 17-20, which tell us …17 When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” 19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.” 20 So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, ‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’” Thus, he put Ephraim before Manasseh.
So, the answer to the question of how Joseph responded was “not good”. It says he was displeased, and he tries to correct Jacob. Now the word translated as “displeased” here, literally means “it was evil in his eyes”. Joseph thought that it was wrong to ignore the rule of blessing the firstborn. He is acting sort of like Abraham when Abraham was so reluctant to give another son the rights over his firstborn. Joseph may also be fearful that Jacob is now making the same mistake that he did in favoring the younger Joseph, which led to his brother’s jealousy and hatred of him. And he doesn’t want Jacob to repeat that mistake by favoring another younger brother.
And you also get the sense that he is blaming Jacob’s error on his poor eyesight, because he tries to correct him, as if Jacob is making a mistake because he simply can’t see them well enough. And it is ironic, because if you remember, many years before, Jacob had exploited his father Isaac’s poor eyesight in stealing Esau’s blessing
And so, Joseph wants him to correct his error, but Jacob refuses. The aged patriarch, empowered by God, is right now more powerful than the ruler of Egypt. Jacob simply responds to Joseph by saying, “I know, son, I know”. IOW, I know who the older son is, and I also know why you placed them before me in the positions you did, and I know what I’m doing. Jacob’s eyesight may be failing, but he still knows exactly what he’s doing. There’s no fooling Jacob. He wasn’t named “the deceiver” for nothing!
Ironically, Isaac was basically blind and blessed Jacob without knowing it. But Jacob here, although his eyesight is failing, knows full well, and deliberately blesses the younger.
You know, we are very familiar with the passage in Isaiah 55, where God declares “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”. And God simply overrides human social convention at times. There are several examples of this, such as Cain & Abel, Isaac & Ishmael, Jacob & Esau, and even Joseph over all of his older brothers. We also see God choose the future King David over his older brothers.
But before we think about criticizing Joseph too much here, are we much different? How often do we thrust before God our own Manasseh? We want God to bless what we have in mind. We have some favorite idea or plan or scheme that we are wanting God to bless. But then he suddenly brings about circumstances that change all of those plans, those plans are shot down. And we begin to wonder and ask if God hears our prayers, is He listening to what it is that we want?
Like Joseph, we always have some plan, a Manasseh, that we want God to bless. And God is constantly changing our plan, and putting before us some Ephraim, and blessing it. And also, like Joseph, when things don’t turn out like we planned, we don’t like it. We are displeased. Like Joseph, we cry out “‘Not so, my father”! Not this one!! Not like this! Not this course? Not this way! Not this place!
Sometimes it takes many years to realize how much God loves us, how much better His plan was, and that He didn’t give us exactly what we asked for, and you look back and thank God that He didn’t. And you thank God, and are glad, that His ways are not your ways! And sometimes we learn that what we most need in life is often found in the places where we least want to look.
And so, with that, Jacob blessed Ephraim and Manasseh, and we finish the chapter with the last two verses, which read…21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers. 22 Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.”
And so, we see that Jacob is about to die, and we will actually read about his death in the next chapter. But he reassures Joseph that God will be with him.
Jacob also tells him that he has given to him, rather than to his brothers, a mountain slope that he took from the Amorites. Now he says that he took it with his sword and his bow. It’s possible that there was some later conflict between Jacob and the Amorites that we are not aware of. But more likely, Jacob is taking responsibility for what his sons did in the city.
But in short, what is most likely happening here is that Jacob is giving Joseph a double portion of land, thus elevating him to the status of the first-born.
The reason many commentators believe this is because the phrase used in the Hebrew, contains the word “shechem”, which is an illusion to the city of Shechem. And if you remember, this is where two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, raided and massacred the men of the city over the rape of their sister.
And we see that eventually, Shechem would become the most important city in the northern kingdom of Israel, and also is where Joseph would later be buried.
But in closing out this chapter, I will leave you with this thought. Just as we see with Jacob and the other patriarchs, there is no better blessing you can leave to your family, or your children, than the example of your relationship with and your trust in God. To teach them of God. Encourage them to seek God early, and to trust Him through their lives.
The best family heirloom is the knowledge of God. Because in the end, that is all that truly matters. All the material possessions or money that you can leave behind will come to an end. But God is eternal. Your soul is eternal. And God does not look at your net worth. God doesn’t judge you as the world does. God looks upon your heart.
And as Christ taught us, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”