Genesis 48

The Word Made Fresh

1Some time passed, and Joseph received word that his father was ill. He took his sons Manasseh and Ephraim to visit. 2When Jacob was told his son Joseph had come he struggled to sit up in bed. 3He said to Joseph, “God the Almighty honored me by appearing to me at Luz in the land of Canaan. 4God told me, ‘I am going to give you many descendants and yours will be a large family indeed, and I am going to give this land to them permanently.’ 5Your two sons who were born to you in Egypt before I arrived are mine just as Reuben and Simeon are mine. 6Your offspring after them will belong to your family tree and their names will be included among your descendants and their names will be recorded as such and they will have their inheritance. 7When I came back from Paddan, your mother Rachel died in the land of Canaan before we reached Ephrath (Bethlehem). I buried her on the way there.”

8When Israel saw Joseph’s sons he said, “And whose are these?”

9“They are the sons God has given me here,” Joseph answered.

Jacob said, “Bring them to me and I will give them my blessing.”

10Israel’s eyesight was nearly gone now, so Joseph brought them to him. Jacob kissed them and embraced them both. 11He said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children as well.”

12Then Joseph pulled his sons back from his father and bent over until his face was touching the ground. 13Then he stood up and took them to his father Jacob, with Ephraim on his right towards his father’s left hand, and Manasseh on his left towards his father’s right hand. 14But Israel crossed his arms and reached out with his right hand on Ephraim, though he was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh, who was the elder.

15Then he affirmed Joseph, saying, “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac lived and who has been my shepherd every day of my life, 16and the angel who has rescued me from every danger, honor these boys. Let them perpetuate my name and the names of my ancestors Abraham and Isaac. Let them multiply into a mighty family on the earth.”

17Joseph was not pleased that his father had placed his right hand on Ephraim and tried to move it to Manasseh. 18He said, “No, father. This one is the firstborn; place your hand on his head.”

19But his father said, “I know, my son. And he also will become a great family. But his younger brother will be even greater than he and many large families of people will be his offspring.” 20So he affirmed them that day, saying, “Israel will honor you and say, ‘God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh,’” deliberately putting Ephraim before Manasseh.

21Then Israel said to Joseph, “I will die soon. But God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your fathers. 22To you I hereby give one extra parcel of land, the land I took from the Amonites with sword and bow.”

Commentary

1-7: Jacob is ill, and Joseph goes to visit him with his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. This is perhaps the first time Jacob has seen them. He recalls the dream he had at Bethel (here he calls it by its older name, Luz – see 28:18-19) of the ladder reaching into heaven, and the words God spoke to him in the dream promising the land to his descendants. He claims Ephraim and Manasseh as his sons and thus among his descendants who will settle Canaan. He sadly remembers that Joseph’s mother Rachel is buried in Bethlehem.

8-16: In the last paragraph he was called Jacob; in this paragraph he is called Israel. Some scholars believe this is an indication that two different traditions are woven together here, and indeed in verse 8 Israel seems to notice Ephraim and Manasseh for the first time even though he claimed them as his own in verse 5. Here he is nearly blind, doesn’t recognize them and has to ask Joseph who they are. Then he embraces them as if he has never seen them before. For the blessing, Joseph guides the eldest, Manasseh, to Israel’s right hand and the youngest, Ephraim, to his left hand, but Jacob switches hands to bless them. Yet the blessing he gives is for “the boys,” without distinguishing between them.

17-22: Joseph protests, but Jacob insists he’s doing what he wants to do and that Ephraim will be greater than Manasseh. (This is what occurs later when they settle Canaan. Indeed, in later years the nation of Israel is often referred to as Ephraim.)  Then he gives Joseph the inheritance of the eldest son – a double portion of the estate. Of course, Joseph is the eldest son of Jacob and Rachel, but the eleventh son overall, and when Jacob blesses his sons in chapter 49, Joseph will be the 11th in line. Here, though, Jacob gives Joseph an extra inheritance, the ridge of land Jacob took from the Amorites (which is the city and region of Shechem – see chapter 34).

Takeaway

It has always amazed me that the best people in the Bible are still capable of the most questionable behavior. Noah awakes from a drunken stupor and curses his grandson. Abraham passes his wife off as his sister to protect himself. Joseph turns the whole population of Egypt into slaves. All of us, great and small, are in need of confession and forgiveness.