Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 48:20-22

20 And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh. 

21 And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers.

22 Moreover I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.

Ephraim and Manasseh will not only be full-fledged tribes in Israel, but also the envy of all the others. Of course, these prophecies will take time to be fulfilled, at this point the sons of Jacob have their own households, but they are hardly full-blown tribes. We won’t hear of them in that capacity until the book Exodus, at which point they are slaves to the Egyptians, longing for the return to their promised land.

Which, Israel assures Joseph in verse 21, will certainly occur. He entrusts his son to the care of the same God that has kept and preserved him, and passes on the promise that he received of God: that the Israelites would be returned to their homeland once again.

This moment is a beautiful callback to when Jacob was a much younger man, leaving his father’s home to escape the wrath of his brother Esau. Then, in a strange land, he had committed to pay a tithe in return for the promise that he would one day be returned back to his father’s abode. Now he is in a strange land once again, but trusts that though he will die here, his people will return back home just as he did all those years before. No doubt he is able to have faith in that unknown, by having experienced the fulfillment already in the past.

In fact, Jacob’s earlier journeys in a strange land foreshadow the Israelites detour in Egypt in many ways. Just as he was under unfair servitude to his uncle Laban, they will be under unfair servitude to the Egyptians. And just as he was eventually delivered by the blessing of the Lord, so too, will they. Jacob’s entire life was being used as a template to let his own people, the Israelites, what to expect. Rightly, then, did the Lord name him Israel.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 48:17-19

17 And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head.

18 And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.

19 And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.

Joseph notices a little late that Jacob has his hands crossed upon Ephraim and Manasseh’s heads. He seeks to correct the placement, presumably assuming that Jacob had made some oversight.

Jacob assures that he knows exactly what it is he’s doing, though. As mentioned before, the record makes it sound as though Jacob and Joseph have had very little interaction over the past years, that this might even be his very first time meeting these grandsons, and so it cannot be petty favoritism that Jacob holds towards Ephraim over Manasseh. The only reason Jacob has to differ from the norm in this blessing is because he is being guided by truth and prophecy.

For every blessing that is a true blessing must also be so guided. It is not supposed to be a concoction of the speaker. It is not meant to represent what the giver of the blessing hopes for, for then it is merely a declaration of wishes, with no binding power behind it. A true blessing must be the words and actions inspired of God, a declaration of truth, totally independent of expectation or personal desire. And the truth in this matter is that Ephraim will exceed Manasseh. Not because Jacob wants it, but simply because that was what would be.

How many of us when we seek a blessing do so with the intent of receiving pure truth, unfiltered? How many of us are willing to set aside what we hope to hear, to accept what we do hear?

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 48:13-16

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 unto him.

14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.

15 And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day,

16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.

Joseph presented his sons on either side of Jacob, Manasseh aligned with the right hand and Ephraim with the left. Thus, to put his right hand on Ephraim’s head instead, Jacob must have crossed his arms in front of his body, an action that is clearly intentional.

Then he begins his blessing, invoking upon Joseph’s sons the protection and nourishment of the same God that has preserved his grandfather, father, and himself. Previously, God had promised these men that they would be fed and cared for, and that they would become fathers to a great multitude. Now the same blessings are being given to them, passing along the covenant of Abraham as their very own.

I find particularly interesting that Jacob also calls on “the Angel which redeemed me from all evil” to “bless the lads.” Most assume that “the Angel” is another term for Jesus Christ, given how it is mentioned as “redeeming from all evil.” It should be noted that the word used in the original Hebrew is “malak,” which means “a messenger,”” and is almost exclusively used throughout the bible when common emissaries of God, angels, are being described. Obviously in its English translation it is being rendered with a capital “A,” suggesting it is not just “an angel,” but “THE Angel,” as in THE messenger of God’s gospel, the one sent to bring knowledge of and fulfillment of God’s will. The word “malak” does not suggest such a special designation, though, it would seem the capitalization is being used simply to fit the assumption that this is a reference to Christ.

Honestly, it seems a confusing interpretation either way to me, but exactly what Jacob meant by saying “malak” frankly isn’t very important. Perhaps he meant Christ, or perhaps he felt he had a guardian angel. If the latter, perhaps he meant the one who had wrestled with him or had assured him of a safe reunion with Esau, and he wanted the same guardianship to be over these grandsons as well. Regardless of whom exactly Jacob meant, it is clear he intended for these grandsons to be cared for as he had been.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 48:8-12

8 And Israel beheld Joseph’s sons, and said, Who are these?

9 And Joseph said unto his father, They are my sons, whom God hath given me in this place. And he said, Bring them, I pray thee, unto me, and I will bless them.

10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim for age, so that he could not see. And he brought them near unto him; and he kissed them, and embraced them.

11 And Israel said unto Joseph, I had not thought to see thy face: and, lo, God hath shewed me also thy seed.

12 And Joseph brought them out from between his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth.

At first, I wondered whether this was a senile moment from Jacob, not recognizing his own grandsons, but then he says: “I had not thought to see thy face: and, lo, God hath shewed me also thy seed.” This suggests that this was his first time meeting the boys.

Joseph already had his own responsibilities and circle of life established in Egypt. He is responsible for the lives of countless souls, and it is not too difficult to imagine that he has been very preoccupied since he welcomed his father to the land.

Thus, it seems that this is both Ephraim and Manasseh’s first time meeting the patriarch and the last. What a strange experience that must have been. This man is top of the trunk of their family tree, but he is from a land and a people that they have never known. Though their father, Joseph, has presumably kept them within the traditions of their people, all the world around them has been the customs of the Egyptians.

Jacob adopting them into his inheritance might also be seen as adopting them back into the fold of their heritage. This is an opportunity to refresh in their hearts their true country and master: the promised land and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And as for Jacob, this final moment to meet his grandsons brings out sweet declarations. Returning to his statement, “I had not thought to see thy face: and, lo, God hath shewed me also thy seed,” I hear a great sense of fatherly contentment. He had thought that he had lost Joseph, but now he has his son restored, and also has been able to live long enough to see him as a grown man with children of his own, a man like unto himself. A branch that Jacob thought he had lost had been returned, abundant and fruitful.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 48:7

7 And as for me, when I came from Padan, 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; the same is Beth-lehem.

This is a very unusual verse. Jacob was just talking about giving an extra inheritance to the sons of Joseph, and immediately following he’s going to pronounce a blessing upon those two sons. So why this sudden interruption where he recounts the death of his wife Rachel?

Some have suggested this is a way for him to give justification for the extra inheritance to Joseph. Since Rachel died prematurely, there was no opportunity for her to give birth to other sons that might have received. But honestly, this theory seems like a stretch of logic to me. There is nothing in this verse to signify that this is Jacob’s intent at all in bringing Rachel up.

Others have noted that Jacob emphasizes the place where Rachel was buried, which reminds us of last chapter, where he made Joseph swear that he would bury him in the land of Canaan. Perhaps this verse was originally included as part of that conversation, but through different translations and compilations got shifted here instead.

Or, if not that, the other possibility that occurs to me is that this is the result of a senile mind. Jacob might have momentarily lost the thread of the conversation, lost within his own memories and grief, only to return to the present moment and continue as though nothing happened. If this is the case, then it is a sign of just how profoundly the loss of Rachel impacted Jacob, a trauma that is ever close the fore in his mind, overcoming him at random from time to time.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 48:3-6

3 And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me,

4 And said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession.

5 And now thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.

6 And thy issue, which thou begettest after them, shall be thine, and shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance.

Presumably Joseph only brought his sons to receive a blessing, but in an unexpected turn of events, now they are being adopted by their grandfather! This is hardly an adoption in the traditional sense, though, Jacob is about to die and is not going to raise these two boys in place of Joseph. Rather, he is saying that they will receive of his inheritance, as if they had been born among his immediate sons. They will be counted among the twelve tribes of Israel. And this is why, when Joshua will later divide the land of Canaan among the twelve tribes, there will not be just one land for Joseph’s descendants, but two: one for Ephraim and one for Manasseh.

Which brings up the question of “just what are the twelve tribes of Israel?” The answer to that is a bit inconsistent. Jacob had twelve sons naturally, and here he is said to be adopting two more. In Deuteronomy 27:12-13, the tribes are listed under the names of Jacob’s twelve biological sons, but when the land of Canaan was divided by Joshua, Joseph was replaced with Ephraim and Manasseh, and Levi was not given any land, only specific cities and the temple in Jerusalem. So, in a sense, Jacob had either twelve, thirteen, or fourteen branches, depending on which aspect of Israel you are talking about.

It is also worth noting that while Jacob said Joseph would retain any further sons within his own house, we never receive any indication that Joseph did have any other sons. And if he didn’t, this would explain why there wasn’t an additional land of “Joseph” parceled out when the Israelites came into Canaan.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 48:1-2

1 And it came to pass after these things, that one told Joseph, Behold, thy father is sick: and he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

2 And one told Jacob, and said, Behold, thy son Joseph cometh unto thee: and Israel strengthened himself, and sat upon the bed.

Now begins the final story of Jacob. It began a full 23 chapters ago, in Genesis 25, when he strove with his brother in the womb. At that time, we were told that the striving was representative of the wars that would rise between the two nations that came of those brothers, but more than this, it set the tone for the rest of Jacob’s life.

All throughout, Jacob has been a man of strife. He strove against his brother for the birthright, he strove against his father-in-law for his wife and for fair wages, he strove against the Lord before his reunion to Esau, he strove against his rebellious sons, and he strove against the famine. Over and over again, he has had to make himself strong against the struggle.

Here in verse 2, he makes himself strong one more time, striving against his own declining body to receive his son and bless his grandchildren. He will do this, and give a final blessing to all his sons, and then he will die.

I also find interesting the repeated phrase “one told.” This was not a pre-arranged meeting between Jacob and Joseph, they are each dependent upon third parties to make known to them the state of the other, and to motivate and prepare them for this final reunion. Fortunately, everything works itself out for them to have this moment before it is too late.