Genesis 48: Jacob Blesses Manasseh and Ephraim Joseph’s Sons
Jacob Blesses Manasseh and Ephraim who are the Sons of Joseph
Manasseh and Ephraim were the two sons born to Joseph in Egypt. Before their grandfather Jacob died, Israel reckoned them as his and blessed them.
Some time later Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him. Genesis 48:1
Joseph had promised his father Jacob that after Jacob died; Joseph would have his father’s remains interred in the land of promise where Abraham and Isaac had been laid to rest. It was some time after that agreement that Joseph was told that Jacob had fallen deathly ill.
More than a quarter of a century before, Joseph had interpreted Pharaoh’s two dreams. The king rewarded Joseph by honoring him with the highest ranking office in Egypt and placed him in charge of preparing for the future famine. Pharaoh also had given Joseph Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife.
The city of On was also known as Heliopolis, “The City of the Sun.” It was the center of worship of the sun god, Ra, and was located 10 miles northeast of modern Cairo. The high priest in On held the title of “Greatest of Seers.” When Joseph married into this family, he joined a social class befitting a national leader. Also implied in the marriage arrangement was Pharaoh’s confidence that Joseph, too, was a “seer,” or prophet, of the highest caliber.
The names of Joseph's sons, born to him in the land of his exile, are significant. Asenath bore Joseph two sons. The first he named Manasseh meaning “forgetfulness.” In naming his firstborn child Manasseh, Joseph had declared that God made him forget all his toil and his father’s entire household.
The second son Joseph called Ephraim, meaning “doubly fruitful.” In naming his second son Ephraim, Joseph acknowledged that it was God who had caused him to be fruitful in the land of his affliction.
Joseph having learned of his father’s illness took Manasseh and Ephraim along with him to see their grandfather.
When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed.
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 48:2-4
After Jacob had deceived his father Isaac and had stolen Esau’s blessing, Jacob fled from his family’s home in Beersheba at set out for Harran. When Jacob stopped for the night, he took a stone and put it under his head and went to sleep. Jacob dreamt of a stairway that rested on the earth and reached up to heaven with God’s angels ascending and descending upon it.
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz. Genesis 28:16-19
Jacob was so spiritually and emotionally impacted that, to memorialize the occasion and the place, he blessed the stone on which his head had rested, sanctified it by anointing it with oil and gave Luz the name “Bethel” (God's House).
Twenty years later, Jacob returned from Paddan Aram and prepared to face his brother Esau. Jacob, having learned that Esau was coming with four hundred men to meet him, was in dire fear that Esau was planning to attack and kill him. Jacob divided his family and animals into two groups in an attempt to save one group if the other was attacked.
Jacob sent his family, his servants and his possessions across the Jabbok, which is a tributary of the Jordan River, but he stayed on the other side.
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Genesis 32:24-27
Jacob wrestled with the “Angel of the LORD,” and in spite of the excruciating pain of a dislocated hip, would not let go until he received a blessing.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” Genesis 32:28
Jacob whose name means, “heel-grabber” or “usurper” had deceived his father and stolen his brother’s blessing. In spite of being deceived and cheated by Laban for twenty years, Jacob remained faithful to fulfill his end of their work agreement. Jacob’s struggles served to refine his character. His name change reflected his new nature. Israel means “prince of God" or “he who struggles with God.”
Five years later, Jacob travels to Bethel where God appeared to him again and blessed him. God Almighty promised to make Jacob into a great nation. God also reiterates His promise given to Abraham and Isaac that Canaan would be the everlasting possession of their descendents. After the conquest of Canaan, the Promised Land would be known as "Eretz Yisrael" - “Land of Israel.”
“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. Genesis 48:5
Jacob proclaimed from his death bed that he was adopting Joseph’s two sons. His grandsons would be elevated to the position of sons of Israel. Joseph would now receive a double portion, which is the privilege of the firstborn. When it came time for the tribes of Israel to possess the Promised Land, Ephraim and Manasseh would each inherit their own portion of territory.
Reuben who was Jacob’s firstborn son should have been Jacob’s heir. As firstborn he was entitled to the first rank among his brothers, the leadership of the tribes, and to a double share of the inheritance. But Reuben forfeited and lost these privileges because he defiled his father’s bed. The next two brothers in line for the birthright, Simeon and Levi also forfeited their privileges because of their violence and cruelty against the inhabitants of Shechem.
Jacob stated that just as Reuben and Simeon, who were his first and second born sons, were his sons so would Ephraim and Manasseh be his sons. Even though Manasseh was Joseph’s firstborn, Jacob lists Ephraim first.
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. Genesis 48:6
If Joseph were to have any other sons after Manasseh and Ephraim, these sons would be reckoned as his own. They would be considered as Jacob’s grandchildren. They would not have their own tribes or territories but would reside in the territories of Ephraim and Manasseh as if they were the sons of Ephraim and Manasseh.
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 48:7
Of Jacob's two wives (Rachel and Leah) and two concubines (Bilhah and Zilpah), Rachel was the only one that Jacob truly loved or wanted to marry. Jacob only married Leah because he had been deceived by his father-in-law Laban.
When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn't I? Why have you deceived me?" Genesis 29:25
Laban not only tricked Jacob into marrying Leah instead of Rachel, but extracted another seven years of labor from him in order to pay a second bridal price.
It was through Rachel and Leah's insistence, not Jacob's, that two concubines were included in the multi-wife family:
When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”
Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”
Then she said, “Here is Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and I too can build a family through her.” Genesis 30:1-3
When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. Genesis 30:9
On his death bed Jacob recounts to his son Joseph how his beloved wife Rachel died in childbirth and was buried beside the road to Bethlehem. Rachel was Joseph’s mother and the first of Jacob’s four wives to die.
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. Genesis 37:3-4
Joseph was the long awaited son of Rachel, the wife that Jacob loved. Joseph was the son born to Jacob in his old age. Israel loved Jacob more than any of his other sons. For this reason, Jacob adopted Joseph’s sons as his own and Jacob gave Joseph the double blessing as if he was the firstborn son.
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
For twenty-two years Jacob believed that Joseph was torn to death by a wild animal because Joseph’s jealous brothers had presented Joseph’s ornate robe to their father covered in blood.
So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. They told him, “Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt.” Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them. But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. And Israel said, “I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.” Genesis 45:25-28
Jacob not only lives to see Joseph before he dies but also to see Joseph’s sons as well.
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
Joseph bows down in respect to his father and in reverence and thankfulness to God. Joseph then places his younger son Ephraim towards Israel’s left hand and his firstborn son Manasseh towards his father’s right hand.
According to Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, the word “Hand” most frequently represents the ownership, power, or control that its possessor (either an individual or a people) exercises. This can be seen in the story of the exodus from Egypt. God's hand, described as mighty (Exodus 3:19-20), overcomes the hand of the Egyptians (Exodus 3:8) through miraculous plagues and the parting of the Red Sea.
The hand of God, and especially the right hand, is also understood as a place of salvation, refuge, and protection. It is the favored position for the firstborn of Joseph to receive Jacob's blessing. Israel crossed his arms so that Ephraim would receive the right hand of blessing as if he were the firstborn son of Joseph.
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 48:15-16
Israel refers to the God of Abraham and Isaac as his shepherd and the Angel who had delivered him from all harm.
A Christophany is an appearance of the incarnate Christ in the Old Testament, or after his ascension. A Christophany is thus a special case of a theophany. The word, “Theophany” is derived from the Ancient Greek, meaning “appearance of God.” Whenever someone received a visit from “the angel of the LORD,” this was in fact the pre-incarnate Christ. The visible appearances of God in human or angelic form in the Old Testament, is actually the Son of God manifesting Himself prior to His incarnation. Old Testament theophanies that involved the manifestation of God in human form were appearances of the second person of the Trinity, and as such their purpose was not only to provide immediate revelation but also to prepare mankind for the incarnation of Christ.
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
This was not the first time in the history of God’s people that the younger brother would become greater than the firstborn son.
The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” Genesis 25:23
Within Rebekah’s womb were two sons from whom two nations would descend. From Esau, the first born or older son, the Edomites would arise. From Jacob, the younger son, the Israelites would emerge. In the LORD’s sovereignty and foresight, Jacob would obtain the birthright and blessing that the older son Esau would despise. By divine intervention, the usual natural order of leadership was reversed.
Israel’s act of blessing Ephraim with the right hand of blessing was an intentional act performed by divine guidance and to fulfill God’s purposes.
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. Genesis 48:20
It is staggering that Jacob chose his grandsons, the sons of Joseph to be bearers of the birthright. That birthright was the passing on of the promises given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob himself. This included the promise given to Jacob that his seed would become a “Nation and a Company of Nations!”
Friday night, when Jewish families gather around the table to celebrate the Sabbath festive meal, parents bless their children. To the girls they say, “May God make you like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah.” To the boys they say, “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.” It’s easy to understand why Jewish parents choose to bless their girls to be like the great Matriarchs. But why don’t they bless their sons to be like the holy Patriarchs?
Of course one reason that Jewish boys are blessed to be like Ephraim and Manasseh is that it was the blessing that Jacob pronounced over Joseph’s sons. But there is also a lesson to be learned.
Ephraim and Manasseh accomplished something that no one else in the covenantal family had achieved. Isaac and Ishmael were brothers, but they weren’t able to live together. Ishmael was banned from Abraham’s home. Jacob and Esau were twins, and they, too, had their share of sibling rivalry. At one point, Esau wanted to kill his brother. Next came the sons of Jacob, and as we know, their jealousy of Jacob’s favorite led them to sell Joseph into slavery.
Jacob explained that he had seen in prophecy that great men will come from Ephraim, the younger brother, and so he needed the greater blessing to help those descendants. Amazingly, Manasseh doesn’t protest. He was not jealous and he was not resentful. Ephraim and Manasseh were the first brothers in the line of Abraham who loved each other unconditionally and did not fight.
This is another reason why parents bless their sons to be like Ephraim and Manasseh. Because, as great as it is to be righteous and holy like the Patriarchs, it is so critical to be able to live in harmony with our brothers. As it says in the Psalm 133:1, Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! Few things make the Lord happier then when there is unity among His children.
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 48:21-22
After the Exodus and forty years in the wilderness, God would bring the tribes of Israel along with the bones of Joseph back to the land of Canaan in Joshua's time.
Israel promised that Joseph would receive one more ridge or portion of land than his brothers. The word in Hebrew translated as “ridge or portion” is “Shechem.” Not only the ridge, but the city of Shechem itself, and all the adjacent country, eventually was possessed by the tribe of Ephraim.