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Deeper Commentary

Gen 48:1 It happened after these things, that someone said to Joseph, Behold, your father is sick. He took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim- The implication could be that Joseph and his sons weren't living near to Jacob. This just possibly might be a factor in Jacob apparently not recognizing the sons; but see on :8.

Gen 48:2 Someone told Jacob, and said, Behold, your son Joseph comes to you, and Israel strengthened himself, and sat on the bed- This blessing on the bed was given in faith (Heb. 11:21); on the surface, it seemed that Israel were established and prosperous in Egypt. Yet by faith Jacob envisaged the fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant in Joseph's sons in a quite different context of time and place. And by faith we too must see beyond the immediate to the things of the new covenant, remembering that the promises to Abraham are that new covenant with us too.


Gen 48:3 Jacob said to Joseph, God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me- The next verse quotes from Gen. 35, so out of the two appearances of God to Jacob at Luz, it seems the second one is in view. Jacob's perception of the power of God, this one Almighty El,  is growing. Ex. 6:3 says that Yahweh appeared to Jacob "by the name of God Almighty", so presumably this Name was declared to Jacob at the vision in Bethel; for this, Jacob says, was when God primarily "appeared" to him. And yet he is only recorded as using this name 50 years later. It took 50 years for the fact that God really is all mighty to sink in, and for him to come out with this publicly.


Gen 48:4 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 seed after you for an everlasting possession’- Jacob’s personal grasp of the wonder of the promises at the end is revealed here. God never actually said all this to Jacob; Jacob is quoting the promise to Abraham of Gen. 17:8 and applying it to himself. And with us too, a personal grasp of the wonder of it all, that it really applies to me, is a mark of that final maturity we fain would achieve.  


He seems to have perceived the spiritual danger his children were in, living in the luxury of Egypt. The promises of being fruitful and being given a land were being fulfilled, in a primary sense, in Israel's experience in Egypt (cp. Gen. 47:27). Joseph was given the land of Egypt (Gen. 41:41), using the same words as in Gen. 45:18; 48:4 concerning how the true land -of Canaan- had been given to Abraham's children. Jacob's children were given a possession in Egypt (Gen. 47:11), and therefore Jacob emphasized that their real possession was the eternal inheritance of Canaan, not Egypt (Gen. 49:30; 50:13). Thus Jacob at the end realized the importance of warning God's people against the world, against the temptation of feeling that God's present material blessing of us with a foretaste of His Kingdom means that in fact we lose our enthusiasm for the true Kingdom, in its real, material sense. Like Paul in his final flourish of 2 Timothy, Jacob saw the need to warn God's people, to point them away from the world, and towards the future Kingdom. Jacob saw that his people, like him in his earlier life, would be tempted to see God's promises on an altogether too human and material level.  

Jacob didn't want them to think that their multiplication and prosperity in Goshen was the total fulfilment of the promises. It was only a primary fulfilment, a foretaste of so much to come. "A company of peoples", laqahal amim, has the idea of a company or ecclesia gathered out of the peoples, or as in Gen. 35:11 "a company / ecclesia of gentiles". The true Israel was going to incorporate gentiles; they were to share their blessings with them, and be a light to the gentile world, welcoming believers into the covenant, sharing it with them. But in this Israel failed miserably, and do to this day. The 70 families who went down with Jacob into Egypt were supposed to represent the 70 nations of the eretz listed in Gen. 10 (cp. Dt. 32:8). And the inheritance was to be "an everlasting possession", understood in the New Testament as implying eternal life on an individual level. But we all tend to be like Israel, satisfied with what we have, and not looking to these longer term implications of the covenant.


Gen 48:5 Now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you into Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh, even as Reuben and Simeon, will be mine- He carefully mentions Ephraim first, because he intended to make him the firstborn although he was the youngest. Reuben and Simeon were Jacob's first two sons, and he is saying that they are to be replaced by Joseph's sons. At the very end, Jacob's blessing of Joseph's sons as the firstborn is seen as an act of faith (48:5; Heb. 11:21). Yet on another level, Jacob was taking the blessings away from the firstborn [Reuben] who was the son of the wife he disliked, and giving those blessings to Joseph (via his sons) the son of his favourite wife, who was not the firstborn. This was quite contrary to the will of God as expressed in Dt. 21:17. At best we can say that God allowed one principle to be broken to keep another (although what other?). At worst, Jacob was simply showing rank favouritism, and yet at the same time he foresaw in faith the Messianic suggestions in Joseph's experience, and therefore made Joseph's sons the firstborn. God saw the good in Jacob at this time, and counted this to him, and recognized and worked with Joseph's decision to make "the son of the hated" the firstborn (1 Chron. 5:1,2), even though this may have been contrary to God's highest intentions. Likewise God worked through Jacob's paganic use of poplar rods and mandrakes. The way Jacob insisted on blessing Ephraim as the firstborn again seems to show some kind of favouritism and a desire to see his grandson living out his own experience, i.e. the younger son who fought his way up and received the blessings as opposed to the rightful heir. Ephraim becomes a code-name for apostate Israel throughout the prophets. And yet God accepted Jacob's preferential blessing of Ephraim and repeated this in Dt. 33:17.  

It seems that the sons of Rachael, Jacob’s favourite wife, were favoured by Jacob. Ephraim and Manasseh [the sons of Joseph, counted as Jacob’s personal sons] and Benjamin marched in front of the ark (hence Ps. 80:2), and these three tribes were represented in the second row of the breastplate by the three most precious stones. Could it be that God so identified with Jacob even in his weakness, that He too reflected this perspective of Jacob’s, in treating these three sons as somehow especially favoured? Such was and is the extent of God’s identity with His wayward children.  

 

Gen 48:6 Your issue, whom you become the father of after them, will be yours. They will be called after the name of their brothers in their inheritance- If Joseph was to have any more sons, they would not become separate tribes, but numbered amongst Ephraim and Manasseh.


Gen 48:7 As for me, when I came from Paddan, Rachel died by me- Literally, 'upon me', as if she died in his arms.

In the land of Canaan in the way, when there was still some distance to come to Ephrath, and I buried her there in the way to Ephrath (the same is Bethlehem)- Jacob's tendency to have an over-physical view of the promises was still with him at the end. He seems to speak as if he saw the fact that Rachel was buried in Canaan as a proof that therefore in that sense he had  possessed the land of Canaan. Yet the NT says that the fact Jacob didn't own the land meant that he hadn't received the fulfillment of the promises, but would do so in the future.

Another possible weakness of Jacob is that to his deathbed, he continued his obsession with the unspiritual Rachel. Although he didn't realize the significance of it at the time, he stresses that she didn't make it to Bethlehem, the Lord's birthplace.


Gen 48:8 Israel saw Joseph’s sons, and said, Who are these?- Or, "whose". He knew who and whose they were. This is part of a way of saying 'You think they are such and such, that they belong to this one; but I am telling you that they are now such and such and belong to me'. It could be that Jacob literally could not see them because of his blindness (:10), and yet we are told that he indeed "saw Joseph's sons". Jacob was surely aware that he was now in the position of his blind father Isaac whom he had deceived. And he was determined that by his own wit he would not be likewise deceived, and wished to emphasize that unlike Isaac, he understood exactly what he was doing.


Gen 48:9 Joseph said to his father, They are my sons, whom God has given me here. He said, Please bring them to me, and I will bless them- There was a unity, a mutuality, between Jacob and God at the end. No longer did he see God as someone else's God, not even just his father's God. The lessons of Jacob's name change were finally learnt. Thus he asks Joseph to bring his sons to him, so that he may bless them; but when he gives the blessing, he states that this is God blessing them (48:8,9,15,16); he saw God working through him. See on Gen. 49:33.


Gen 48:10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim for age, so that he couldn’t see. He brought them near to him; and he kissed them, and embraced them- Gen. 27:26 has the same scene, when Jacob deceitfully 'came near' to his father Isaac to fraudulently obtain the blessing of the firstborn. That sin of Jacob was to be remembered by him to his very deathbed. Not that it wasn't forgiven; but we are providentially enabled to understand how others feel, whom we sinned against.


Gen 48:11 Israel said to Joseph, I never thought I would see your face, and behold, God has let me see your seed also- see on Gen. 49:8. This is Jacob's final appreciation of God's grace, the way He does far above what our works should deserve. "Thought" is 74 times translated "pray", and only once "thought" ; the idea is surely: 'I never prayed to see you again, I didn't therefore have the faith in the resurrection which I should have done, just as I didn’t believe your mother could be resurrected when you spoke of her coming to bow before you (Gen. 37:10); but God in His grace has done exceeding abundantly above all I asked or didn't ask for, and shewed me not only your face in this life, but also your children'. 

There seems an allusion to this scene in the Kingdom prophecy of Is. 49:21: "Then shalt thou say in thine heart, Who hath begotten me these seeing I have lost my children, and am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro? and who hath brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; these, where had they been?" (AV).

 

Gen 48:12 Joseph brought them out from between his knees- They would have been around 18 and 20 years old. To come out from between the knees was a euphemism for giving birth, although usually applied to women rather than men (Gen. 30:3). However the same idiom is used for Joseph's grandchildren being raised upon his knees (Gen. 50:23), as if to emphasize that they were 'his'. So the idea may not be of toddlers hiding shyly between daddy's knees, but rather that these sons who were really biologically Joseph's... were now to become Jacob's.

And he bowed himself with his face to the earth- The grammar is unclear as to whom bowed to whom. We are inclined to think that Jacob was bowing to Joseph, in fulfilment of the dream which he had so objected to in Gen. 37:10. At the end of our spiritual paths we may come to accept some realities which we have struggled against all our lives. The man who rejects his gay son as a brother in Christ comes to accept him, the forgiveness which was unthinkable to grant is given, and the impossible reconciliations achieved. We think of how Paul accepted John Mark as his co-worker, when Paul was on his death bed (see on 2 Tim. 4:11).


Gen 48:13 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 to him- Jacob himself was the younger who had been more blessed than his elder sibling Esau. But whilst on one hand he was correct to continue the theme of the second born being as the first born, he also was missing the point- that all this angst about the blessing of the firstborn was irrelevant. He had himself recognized that at the acme of his spiritual perception when he met Esau again, as he effectively handed back to him the blessing of the birthright, feeling that being in receipt of God's grace was the only blessing worth anything (see on Gen. 33:11). But what we may grasp at one point in our lives, we sadly don't always take with us. And even on his deathbed, Jacob was still wanting to play games over this issue of the blessing of the firstborn. He apparently paid no attention to how Manasseh was going to feel and subsequently carry with him in life, stripped of the coveted status of firstborn by the apparent caprice of a cranky old grandfather. And Joseph also might have learnt the lesson and not been concerned about the issue. I suggest Jacob's highest level response to the boys coming to him for blessing would have been to say to the effect: 'All that blessing of the firstborn stuff... I got over that years ago. Focus on getting the blessing of God's grace, that's all you need, boys. And Joseph, you too, don't sweat all that stuff, you too like me should know better by now'. And reviewing the subsequent history of Israel's sons, the whole issue of which son had the birthright was insignificant. It was only an item in their minds and cultural patterns at the time. See on :14.


Gen 48:14 Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it on Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands knowingly, for Manasseh was the firstborn- Ps. 78:67 comments that God did not chose Ephraim- whereas Jacob did. The implication could well be that even at the end of his life, Jacob's choice of Ephraim over Manasseh reflected some sort of weakness, a being out of step with God. This attitude that he could bring about the fulfillment of God's promises through his own efforts was the outcome of Jacob's self-righteousness. See on :13. The firstborn was known as the son of the right hand. I note on :19 that Jacob had changed the firstborn several times, and had even named Benjamin "son of my right hand", effectively shifting the firstborn to his youngest son. Jacob was quite obsessed with the issue of who was the firstborn; at different times Reuben, Joseph, Benjamin and Judah had it, and now he wants Ephraim to have it. Even at the end of his days, he had not quite learnt the lesson taught him earlier, that it is God's blessing of grace and not being the firstborn which is the important thing.

Gen 48:15 He blessed Joseph, and said, The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has fed me all my life long to this day- At age 130, Jacob had mumbled to Pharaoh: "Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been", as if every day had dragged (Gen. 47:9). But at the very end, 17 years later, he more positively speaks of the Angel that had redeemed him from all evil (48:15). He felt that he was but a sheep, and God had "fed" or 'shepherded' him. He says this fully aware of the Egyptian way of despising sheep and shepherds, and yet he states here that God Himself is Israel's shepherd, despised of men, but clearly perceived by His people. If we read this as meaning 'fed' in a literal sense, Jacob’s all too physical view of the promises is suggested. He wanted to make Yahweh his God because He had fed him all his life long. Earlier he had promised to do this, if Yahweh would indeed provide him with daily food (Gen. 28:20). That bargain he struck with God would surely have been best repented of rather than carried through.


Jacob’s reference to how Abraham and Isaac 'walked before' his God is a reference back to Gen. 17:1; 24:40. Jacob had  meditated upon these records, in whatever form they were preserved, and now bubbled out with reference to them. Those same promises concerning the Lord Jesus and his Kingdom should become the centre of our thought as we reach spiritual maturity. "Let my name be named upon them (Joseph's children), and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac" (48:16) indicates that he saw an equivalence between Abraham and Isaac and himself; he saw they were "heirs of the same promise" (Heb. 11:9). Jacob finally came to graduate from mere Sunday School Christianity, the faith of mum and dad, to realize that those promises made to them were the very basis of his faith too, as well as theirs, and he knew therefore that he would be resurrected with them into the glory of God's Kingdom. And so he wanted to be buried with them; he didn't reject them, but he came to understand that the promises were gloriously true for him on a personal level.


Almost on his deathbed, Jacob speaks of how the God of Abraham and Isaac is his God (48:15,16); he speaks of being gathered to his people, to them, just as they too had been gathered to their people (Gen. 49:29 cp. Gen. 25:8; 35:29). He really stresses his desire to be buried in Canaan along with Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 47:29,30; 49:29; 50:5,6), alongside his dad and grandfather, remembering how they had lived together in the same tents in his childhood (Heb. 11), speaking together of the promises. The fact he had prepared his grave there years before shows that this was not only the sentimental feeling of a dying man. This repeated emphasis on his connection with Abraham and Isaac shows that at the end, Jacob saw the supreme importance of being a member of God's people. He didn't just fix on his own personal hope, but on the fact he was connected with all the heirs of the promise. Paul also focused on this aspect when he came to his time of departing. And so with us, we will come to see (if we haven't already) that our association with Christianity is not just a part of our social structure. We aren't just Christians because of parental expectation. Our association with God's people is eternal, the consequences of being baptized into the body of Christ (the believers) are related to our salvation. Thus the believers are joint-heirs together of the same Abrahamic promises (Rom. 8:17; 1 Pet. 3:7), just as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived together as joint heirs of the same promises (Heb. 11:9).


Gen 48:16 The Angel who has ever 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- See on Ex. 23:27. It is so easy to under-estimate the amount of work the Angels are doing in our lives; Jacob recognized that his Angel physically fed / shepherded him all his days, and that it was not just at the crises in his life that the Angel had been present; he describes the Angel as "ever redeeming me" (Heb.), as if the whole process of life is one continual redeeming process by the Angel, as He designs trials for us which will perfect us in order to gain redemption, as well as physically redeeming us more times than we realize. Subsequent generations were to take comfort in the fact that God had redeemed Jacob / Israel; Isaiah is full of this idea, encouraging the Jews of the restoration, and all of us, that the same God who redeemed Jacob is our God, to no lesser an extent. Jacob had primarily in view his deliverance from Esau and Laban by the Angel with whom he wrestled; but he realized that those incidents were but examples of an ongoing redemption which was ongoing even as he spoke.

At the end, Jacob spoke of God as his redeemer, which is the first Biblical reference to the concept of redemption. Joseph was the one who had redeemed Jacob from all evil, but Jacob realizes that it was ultimately God working through this great seed of Abraham, and thereby he looks ahead to the Messianic seed, who was the ultimate redeemer (Gal. 3:11; Tit. 2:14; 1 Pet. 1:18). This was not the only area in which Jacob was a paradigm breaker (consider how he coined the word abiyr to describe God's mightiness). The Hebrew for "redeem" is taken from the idea of the nearest kinsman. Jacob at the end of his days is surely saying that now he saw God as closer than his family. We really have a lot to learn here. God comes before family- although increasingly this isn't appreciated by Anglo-Saxon believers. The new convert who sacrifices family ties for allegiance to Christ realizes this full well. But in my observation, second and third generation believers aren't so committed. The majority of the divisions and bitterness which plague the body of Christ are largely a result of believers wanting to stay with their family, rather than follow Divine principles. Time and again brethren and sisters change fellowships, with all the disruption this causes, simply because of family, not for any genuine Biblical conviction. Effectively they will throw others out of fellowship, throw new converts into turmoil and disillusion, just to stick with a dogmatic family member, even though they may not share his or her convictions. And so God's Truth becomes a social and family affair rather than a candlestick burning with the fire of the Spirit. Christians tend to follow parental expectation and the norms of their social network rather than God's word.

Let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth- The "land" in view was that promised to Abraham. Jacob's dying wish was that his children would hurry up and return to Canaan as originally intended and made potentially possible at the end of the famine (see on Gen. 45:7); and there and not in Egypt would they become a multitude, in fulfilment of the promises given to Abraham and Jacob.

Gen 48:17 When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him. He held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head- As noted on :13, Joseph ought to have learnt from history, that this whole angst about the blessing of the firstborn was irrelevant. It is true that Genesis has repeatedly recorded how the second born or younger was more blessed than the older: Abel, Seth, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph; and the Old Testament history continues the theme, with Moses over Aaron, David over his brothers etc. But that blessing was not by human device, but by Divine blessing and the operation of His Spirit in human life.


Gen 48:18 Joseph said to his father, Not so, my father; for this is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head- See on Gen. 17:18. Joseph was wrong to have so much angst about who got the blessing of the firstborn; see on :13 and :17.


Gen 48:19 His father refused, and said, I know, my son, I know. He also will become a people, and he also will be great. However, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his seed will become a multitude of nations- Although Jacob maybe favoured Judah on a human level, he certainly favoured Joseph spiritually. It seems that he made up his mind that Messiah would come from Joseph (when in fact Christ came through Judah). He said that Ephraim's seed would become a multitude of nations (48:19)- he was applying the Messianic promise to Ephraim. Likewise he stated that from Joseph (Ephraim's father) would come the Shepherd / Stone / Messiah (see on Gen. 49:24); presumably, Jacob thought, through Ephraim. Yet Jacob was wrong in this. Thus whilst Jacob showed his spiritual maturity by an enthusiasm for the Lord Jesus Christ, even right at the very end of his life, he still had an old flaw: a desire to fulfill God's promises in the way he wanted them fulfilled, a desire to turn God's word round to fit in with his preferred way of thinking (in this case, that Messiah would come through Joseph / Ephraim). The way the prophets continually describe sinful Israel as "Ephraim" is perhaps God's way of showing that Jacob's way was not His way.

And yet despite these wrong perceptions by Jacob, it is true that at the first census in the wilderness, Ephraim numbered 40,500 and Manasseh only 32,000; and later, when in the land, Ephraim became the most numerous tribe in the ten tribe kingdom, to the point that it was often called "Ephraim" just as the two tribe kingdom was called "Judah". Jacob was almost repeating the prophetic word spoken about himself (Gen. 25:23). It is natural to want our own experience to be replicated in others, especially our offspring. But although Jacob was not completely mature in his reasoning about this whole blessing of the firstborn, God still worked through it. He had removed Reuben from being firstborn (1 Chron. 5:1), replaced him with Joseph, and then when he disappeared, he decided that Benjamin should be the firstborn, renaming him "Son of my right hand", another title of the firstborn; again wanting the youngest to be as the eldest. And now Joseph is back on the scene, he seems to want to change things around so that Ephraim and Manasseh become his adopted sons, and out of them, Ephraim [the youngest] is as it were his firstborn; the very youngest of his 'sons' treated as the eldest. But all this chopping and changing about the firstborn had no ultimate meaning in Israel's subsequent history.


Gen 48:20 He blessed them that day, saying, In you will Israel bless, saying, ‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh’. He set Ephraim before Manasseh- "Bless" is literally 'to bow the knee'. "In you" is you singular, and refers to Joseph. Jacob is accepting what at the time he had refused to- that the dreams of Joseph would indeed come true, and his brothers ["Israel"] would bless or bow to him.

 

Gen 48:21 Israel said to Joseph, Behold, I am dying, but God will be with you, and bring you again to the land of your fathers- As explained on Gen. 45:7 and elsewhere, the people were supposed to return to Canaan once the famine finished; see on :16. Jacob wished they had done that whilst he was still alive; but he knew that God would work in their experiences so that He would bring them back to the land. They should have returned there themselves; but God would "bring" them there, just as Abraham ought to have left Ur for Canaan and broken with his family immediately, but he didn't, and so God brought him there and made him separate from his father's house (see on Gen. 20:13). Jacob sensed an analogous situation was going to happen to get them out of Egypt; and the same was to occur centuries later in getting them to leave Babylon. In our days too, we don't make the moves we are supposed to make, or to the extent intended; and God's Spirit works to bring about those moves. This is His saving grace. And Joseph quotes these words of his father on his own deathbed (Gen. 50:25), as he too retained the perspective that Israel out to leave Egypt and return to Canaan, but he believed that if they didn't, then God would structure situations to ensure that they did- by His grace.


Gen 48:22 Moreover I have given to you Shechem, one portion above your brothers, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow- This indicates that Jacob's old self-reliance was still not totally gone; his sense that through his own effort he could bring about the fulfillment of God's promises for him. He appears to be referring to some unrecorded military conflict in which he captured Shechem; perhaps he refers specifically to the burial ground which Abraham had bought in the area, which perhaps he had had to forcibly recapture (Gen. 33:19). And he wanted the family tomb to specifically be Joseph's inheritance, as he more than any appreciated the significance of resurrection to fulfil the Abrahamic covenant. But the reference to having taken it by how own strength shows that the weakness of Jacob remained, in thinking that his own strength was so significant. These very words are alluded to in Josh. 24:12 and Ps. 44:1-6, where the Spirit says that the land was given to Israel not on account of their bow and sword. The more closely we analyze the Bible heroes, the more apparent it is that they were shot through with weakness; and some of those weaknesses it seems they unsuccessfully battled with until the day of their death. Jacob, right at the end of his life, still hadn't completely overcome that besetting weakness of self-reliance. This is, of course, a dangerous road to go down. In no way can we be complacent about our urgent need for spiritual growth. But on the other hand, we will never reach the stature of Christ without righteousness being imputed to us. In this sense, true Christian believers aren't good people, but people who know and believe in God's grace.

However it could be that just as "I have given" is a prophetic perfect, speaking of the future [he means 'I will give'] as if it has happened because of his faith, so he speaks of taking Shechem as already having been achieved by him when it was yet future. Yet another alternative is that Jacob is again showing weakness by recalling the massacre at Shechem and proudly claiming that this was his victory, and he wanted Shechem to be Joseph's.