JACOB’S DEATHBED BLESSING REVEALS HIS FAITH IN GOD’S SOVEREIGN ELECTION
What event in the life of Jacob would you have chosen to illustrate his faith in God? It is interesting and significant that the writer of the book of Hebrews points to the events of this chapter:
“By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.”
Hughes: we worship when we, by faith, trust God for all of life and give ourselves to him (cf. Romans 12:1, 2). By faith Jacob crossed his hands in worship and blessed his adopted sons as he surrendered his life and the future of his people to God’s word. And his sunset faith unleashed the wild grace of God to do its wondrous work in the generations to come.
S. Lewis Johnson: In the remainder of the instances of faith in Hebrews chapter 11, that characteristic of faith shines forth, the conviction of things not seen. It may well be that this is the thing that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews thinks is the important thing in the life of Jacob, the conviction of things that are not seen.
Parunak: The point of Jacob’s action in these verses is to elevate Ephraim and Manasseh from being Joseph’s sons to being counted as peers with Jacob’s other eleven sons. In this section he first declares and explains what he wishes to do, then actually performs the adoption, and finally deals with a side-effect of this legal action.
Steven Cole: In Genesis 48, we see Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, handing his heritage in God to his son, Joseph, and to his grandsons, Manasseh and Ephraim. He adopts Joseph’s two sons as his own, blessing Joseph through them. One reason this chapter is here is to explain why Joseph isn’t listed as one of the tribes in Israel. He got a double inheritance through his two sons who were adopted by Jacob. . . This was the fourth consecutive generation of Abraham’s descendants in which the normal pattern of the firstborn assuming prominence over the second born was reversed: Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over Reuben, and Ephraim over Manasseh.
I. (:1-7) PREPARATION FOR DEATHBED BLESSING FROM JACOB
A. (:1-2) Family Gathering
1. (:1) Joseph Responds to Reports of His Father’s Failing Health
“Now it came about after these things that Joseph was told, ‘Behold, your father is sick.’ So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim with him.”
First reference to sickness in the bible
Parunak: In picturing this scene, we should keep in mind that these sons are mature young men. They were born (41:50) before the years of famine came, during the seven years of plenty. When Jacob came into Egypt, two years of famine had past (45:6), so they were at least two. Jacob was 130 at this point (47:9), and this is seventeen years later, when he is 147 (47:28), so the boys are at least 19, just a few years older than Joseph when he was sold into slavery.
2. (:2) Jacob (Israel) Gathers His Strength to Communicate His Final Blessings
“When it was told to Jacob, ‘Behold, your son Joseph has come to you,’ Israel collected his strength and sat up in the bed.”
B. (:3-6) Covenant Promises
1. (:3) Rooted in Divine Revelation
“Then Jacob said to Joseph, ‘God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me,’”
Luz = old name for Bethel (28:12-14; 35:11-15) – reference here is primarily to the second appearing
2. (:4) Reminded of Foundational Promises
a. Prosperity and Fruitfulness
“and He said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and numerous,”
b. Posterity and Power
“and I will make you a company of peoples,”
c. Possession of the Promised Land
“and will give this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting possession.’”
Hughes: The point of Jacob’s recollections of the promises here is that as heir to those promises, he had the right to decide to whom they would go with his blessing. This was a moment of immense power. Jacob’s covenant recollections were redolent with faith that God would fulfill the promise through him.
3. (:5-6) Reproduced in Succeeding Generations
a. (:5) Significance of Ephraim and Manasseh to Jacob’s Legacy
“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.”
Hughes: these boys would become the firstborn sons of Jacob. Ephraim and Manasseh would become not Jacob’s grandsons, but sons number one and two. They displaced Reuben and Simeon. (1 Chron. 5:1-2)
b. (:6) Significance of Subsequent Offspring to Joseph’s Legacy
“But your offspring that have been born after them shall be yours; they shall be called by the names of their brothers in their inheritance.”
MacArthur: After summarizing God’s affirmation of the Abrahamic Covenant to himself, Jacob/Israel, in gratitude for Joseph’s great generosity and preservation of God’s people, formally proclaimed adoption of Joseph’s sons on a par with Joseph’s brothers in their inheritance, thus granting to Rachel’s two sons (Joseph and Benjamin) 3 tribal territories in the Land (cf. v. 16). This may explain why the new name, Israel was used throughout the rest of the chapter.
C. (:7) Tender Remembrances
“Now as for me, when I came from Paddan, Rachel died, to my sorrow, in the land of Canaan on the journey, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath; and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).”
A time for Jacob to reflect on the death and burial of his beloved wife Rachel – whose firstborn child was Joseph
Parunak: In spite of the promise that God made at Bethel, Rachel died in childbirth soon after the family left Bethel on its way to Hebron to reunite with Isaac. She was apparently the last remaining wife, or at least the last one able to bear children, and her passing left Jacob without the additional children God had promised him at Bethel. So he now claims Joseph’s sons as his own.
Constable: “Verse 7 has long puzzled biblical interpreters. Why the mention of Rachel at this point in the narrative, and why the mention of her burial site? If we relate the verse to what precedes, then the mention of Rachel here could be prompted by the fact that just as she had borne Jacob ‘two sons’ (Genesis 44:27, Joseph and Benjamin) at a time when he was about to enter (Genesis 48:7) the land, so also Joseph gave Jacob ‘two sons’ (Genesis 48:5) just at the time when he was about to enter Egypt.” [Note: Sailhamer, Genesis , p271.]
II. (:8-20) BLESSING OF EPHRAIM OVER MANASSEH – REVEALING FAITH IN GOD’S SOVEREIGN ELECTION
A. (:8-13) Staging of the Blessing
1. (:8-9) Presentation of the Two Sons
“When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, ‘Who are these?’ And Joseph said to his father, ‘They are my sons, whom God has given me here.’ So he said, ‘Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.’”
MacArthur: Blind Jacob asked for identification of Joseph’s sons before he would pronounce their blessings. Perhaps, at this point, he recollected the time of blessing before his own father and the trick played on blind Isaac (27:1-29).
2. (:10-11) Proclamation of God’s Gracious Providence
“Now the eyes of Israel were so dim from age that he could not see. Then Joseph brought them close to him, and he kissed them and embraced them. And Israel said to Joseph, ‘I never expected to see your face, and behold, God has let me see your children as well.’”
3. (:12-13) Positioning of the Two Sons
“Then Joseph took them from his knees, and bowed with his face to the ground. And Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward Israel’s left, and Manasseh with his left hand toward Israel’s right, and brought them close to him.”
B. (:14-16) Surprising Reversal of the Blessing
1. (:14) Switching Hands
“But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, crossing his hands, although Manasseh was the first-born.”
Constable: This is the first of many scriptural instances of the laying on of hands (Genesis 48:14). By this symbolic Acts, a person transferred a spiritual power or gift to another. This rite was part of the ceremony of dedicating a person or group to an office (Numbers 27:18; Numbers 27:23; Deuteronomy 34:9; Matthew 19:13; Acts 6:6; Acts 8:17; etc.), offering sacrifices, and the healings Jesus Christ and the apostles performed. In this case Jacob symbolically transferred a blessing from himself to Joseph’s sons. Once uttered, blessings were irreversible (cf. Numbers 23:20; Romans 11:29).
2. (:15-16) Swearing the Blessing
“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 to this day, The angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; And may my name live on in them, And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; And may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.’”
– God walks with His children
– God shepherds His children
– God redeems His children
Parunak: This first, prayer-blessing has three requests.
God … bless the lads.—The first is adorned with a three-fold description of the one to whom he prays for this blessing. This three-fold description relates God’s increasingly intimate protection of his people, and describes three roles that he fills.
1. He judges all that his people do. Abraham and Isaac walked before him, that is, in his sight. . . Of course, he is conscious of all that anyone does, but the expression denotes the recognition by Abraham and Isaac that they were answerable to God. By asking this God to bless Ephraim and Manasseh, he is reminding them that they too should live in the consciousness of God’s judgment.
2. He not only judges his people, but he also shepherds them. This is the fuller sense of “fed me.” Jacob was an expert shepherd, and it is appropriate that here he introduces for the first time in Scripture this lovely metaphor of the Lord as the shepherd of his people (an image that he will repeat in 49:24).
3. Finally, he is the redeeming angel. . .
let my name be named on them.—This is the language of adoption. He desires that they be counted as his offspring.
let them grow into a multitude.—Finally, he prays that they may flourish, and be a significant part of the great seed promised to the patriarchs. In fact, in the first census at the exodus, together they are second in number only to Judah, and in the second census they outnumber any other tribe.
Steven Cole: Even in Jacob’s great time of sorrow, when Rachel died, God’s comfort had been real. The pain of that loss was still with the old man as he reminisced here (48:7). But God had been with him. Then the hammer blow of Joseph’s loss had hit the grieving man. He had thought that he would never see his son again. He went through years of confusion, wondering how the loss of his one son who seemed to follow the Lord could fit in with the promises of God. But now, at the end of his journey, God had proved Himself faithful, as Jacob held in his arms not only Joseph, but Joseph’s two sons. And so as he blesses his grandsons, Jacob tells them how God has been his shepherd all his life to that day and how God will be with them (48:15, 21).
C. (:17-20) Sovereign Preference of the Younger Over the First-Born
1. (:17-18) Joseph’s Protest
“When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on Ephraim’s head, it displeased him; and he grasped his father’s hand to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, ‘Not so, my father, for this one is the first-born. Place your right hand on his head.’”
Hughes: Blessings once uttered could not be undone (cf. 27:34-37). Since Isaac’s unwitting blessing of Jacob could not be reversed (though Jacob had deceived his father), how much more immutable was Jacob’s deliberate blessing of Ephraim over Manasseh.
Put yourself in Manasseh’s shoes – all his life he had been prepared for the privilege and responsibility of the blessing of the first-born; quite a shocker
2. (:19-20) Israel’s Persistence
“But his father refused and said, ‘I know, my son, I know; he also shall become a people and he also shall be great. However, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.’ And he blessed them that day, saying, ‘By you Israel shall pronounce blessing, saying, May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!’ Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh.”
MacArthur: Ephraim did indeed become the dominant tribe of the 10 northern tribes, eventually being used as the national designate for the 10 tribes in the prophets (Is 7:2, 5, 9, 17; Hos 9:3-16).
III. (:21-22) BLESSING OF JOSEPH OVER HIS BROTHERS CULMINATES JACOB’S LEGACY
A. (:21) Promise of Return to Canaan
“Then Israel said to Joseph, ‘Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you, and bring you back to the land of your fathers.’”
B. (:22) Portion of Privileged Inheritance
“And I give you one portion more than your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow.”
Deffinbaugh: Jacob achieved his purpose by adopting both of Joseph’s sons as his own, on a par with Reuben and Simeon (verse 5). Now each of them would receive one portion, but in so doing Joseph received a double portion: vs. 22.
Parunak: “One portion” is literally “one Shechem.” The reference to his sword and bow can only refer to the conquest of the city by Simeon and Levi. Though he strenuously condemned their violence, ultimately he as the head of the family was responsible for it, and through it Shechem came into their possession. Now he grants it to Joseph as his personal possession, and it is where Joseph’s bones are laid to rest in Josh 24.
Constable: Jacob spoke as though he had taken Shechem from the Amorites by force (Genesis 48:22). Probably Jacob viewed Simeon and Levi’s slaughter of the Shechemites as his own taking of the city (Genesis 34:27-29). [Note: Waltke, Genesis, p601.] Another view is that Moses used the perfect tense in Hebrew, translated past tense in English (“took”), prophetically. In this usage, which is common in the Old Testament, the writer spoke of the future as past. The idea was that, since God predicted them by divine inspiration, events yet future are so certain of fulfillment that one could speak of them as already past. Here the thought is that Israel (Jacob) would take Canaan from the Amorites, the most powerful of the Canaanite tribes, not personally, but through his posterity (cf. Genesis 15:16). [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:385.] Other scholars have suggested still another explanation.
“It is not impossible that the property which Jacob owned at Shechem was taken away by the Amorites after he left the region (cf. Genesis 35:4-5) and that he eventually returned and repossessed it by force of arms?” [Note: Davis, p294. Cf. H. Vos, p165; Aalders, 2:267; Leupold, 2:1158; Bush, 2:384; and Thomas, p464.]
Apparently Jacob gave Joseph Shechem, which he regarded as a down payment of all that God would give his descendants as they battled the Canaanites in the future.
S. Lewis Johnson: What a legacy for a father to leave to his children; a legacy of acquaintance with the Lord God of heaven. We think that our father has been good when he leaves his children some real estate and some securities, and if he does that, then he has been a good father. The greatest thing that a father can leave his children is the heritage of the knowledge of God. The greatest thing that you can do for your children is to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord God. You cannot give them any inheritance that is greater than that, and if you give them all of these other things and fail there, you have failed as a father and you have failed as a mother. The greatest thing that you can do is just what Jacob leaves for his children.