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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. The implication seems to be that it was not the brothers who told Joseph that their father was on his death bed. We could translate "someone or other told Joseph...". There is no record of any communication between Joseph and his brothers in the 17 years they were in Goshen before Jacob died. And we note in Gen. 50 how after Jacob's death, they send a message to Joseph claiming their father had said things to them outside of Joseph's presence. But Joseph's dream had been that the brothers and Jacob would come to Egypt and live near him. Likewise when he reveals himself to them, he begs them to come near him. The impression is that his dream for reconcilliation in this life was never realized. And so many live and die with a dream for reconcilliation unfulfilled. Be it unrequited love, a desperate desire to be understood by those you are unreconciled with, unity within a church or denomination... unrequited desire for reconcilliation and, in a word, relationship... is the stuff of every man's life path. "Please understand me, please accept me" is written large on every man, and we die like it. And really that is a reflection of God's largely unfulfilled desire for intimacy with His creatures now. This approach explains why the dreams of Joseph's brothers and parents bowing down to him await a yet future fulfilment- not least because his mother was dead before his brothers bowed before him. And there is no time when the brothers and Jacob bow together before Joseph. We must be realistic and hopeful enough to realize that ultimate reconcilliation will only be in the Kingdom, and that is one of the many joys ahead of us.

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. And yet despite having arrived at this correct theoretical understanding, Jacob now goes on to try to fulfil God's promises of fruitfulness, of El Shaddai, the God of fruitfulness [shad = breast], God Almighty, in his own strength- by forcibly adopting Joseph's sons as his own sons, to increase his number of children.

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.

But more negatively, it seems that Jacob justifies claiming Joseph's sons as his own on the basis that God had promised to multiply him. For this is the context of his comments about the promises. So he is still trying to fulfil God's promises for Him in his own strength and  not perceiving the grace implicit in God's promises. And yet God worked through this- because Ephraim and Manasseh did indeed become part of the Israel of God.

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.  

"Even as Reuben..." would suggest that Jacob was confirming that Reuben, his biological firstborn, had indeed been removed from firstborn status, and he was now giving this not to Judah nor Joseph, as he had previously attempted, but to Ephraim, with Manasseh after him. The confusion is reflected in 1 Chron. 5:1-3: "The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn; but, because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel; and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright. For Judah prevailed above his brothers, and of him came the prince; but the birthright was Joseph’s. The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel..."(Reuben is also called this in Num. 26:5). This choice of Ephraim was however done by Jacob on a quite arbitrary whim, as there is no evidence for Ephraim's qualification. We see him obsessed, still, with birthright and firstborn status- when he ought to have learned from the night of wrestling in Genesis 32 that these things are nothing. There is no very clear Divine comment on whom He considered Jacob's firstborn- because the issue is totally irrelevant in spiritual terms. Jacob had grasped all this so clearly in Gen.32, but he returns to his old obsessions and human weakness. Just as we shall all come to our graveplanks imperfect, having learnt some lessons but failed to retain them to the end.

The firstborn inherited a double portion. Clearly Jacob wanted Joseph to be his firstborn, although he was only firstborn of Rachel, not Jacob's absolute firstborn. By demoting Reuben from firstborn status and adopting Joseph's two sons, it worked out that Joseph received a double portion- because each of his sons received one portion. So the whole things seems to me to be Jacob cunningly trying to make Joseph inherit the firstborn's double portion, through giving a portion to each of Joseph's children, whom Jacob adopts as his sons. So the blessing upon Joseph, which is ostensibly what Jacob is doing here, involves Jacob adopting Joseph's two sons as his own. He blesses Joseph with a double portion through adopting Joseph's two sons as his own. Although God works through this, and accepts Ephraim and Mannaseh as inheritors of land and tribes of Israel / Jacob, I suggest Jacob's initial reasoning and motivation was completely human. And a total failure to learn the lessons from his experience with Esau over the firstborn. The way he just tells Joseph that his two sons are now his... hardly comes over as very spiritual, and seems manipulative and domineering over the son whom he was supposed to fall down and worship and respect as his saviour. Yet God graciously works through these things. And I would like to add that here again, we have an example of the absolute psychological credibility of the Biblical pictures of people; an old man, suffering from Anno Domini, but absolutely mentally sharp, cunning and acute as he had ever been.


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. But the plain meaning of the text is that she died by or on account of Jacob. Jacob's cursing of whoever had taken the idols actually came true (Gen. 31:32). For Rachel died soon afterwards. Hence Jacob later reflects that Rachel died by or because of him. This is one of many Biblical warnings that what we say, especially in wishing evil, has a way of coming true. We think of David's cursing of Saul and Absalom in his Psalms, and how bitterly he wept when his cursings came true. Again we see the importance of life and living, and the significance of words, even if said in anger. We enquire why Jacob raises this issue in the context of telling Joseph that Jacob is going to count Joseph's sons as his personal sons. It could be that he is reasoning that the fruitfulness promised to him in Gen. 35:11 had not happened because of this sin, and that was why he was taking Joseph's sons as his own sons, seeing they were in the line of Rachel. But that would reflect a very poor understanding of the promise of fruitfulness; it referred to his seed multiplying in Egypt, and in the future seed, the Lord Jesus. But Jacob apparently understood it as meaning simply that he would have many more children, which didn't come true after that point. And so he felt he must force the fulfilment of it by taking Joseph's sons as his own. Again, we see him trying to force through the fulfilment of [his perception of] God's promises, in his own strength.  

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- although see on :1. 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).

Paul seems to allude here by saying that God does for us  exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think; making Jacob representative of every believer.  Jacob was focused upon Joseph and now he had seen him, he felt prepared to die in peace, rather than from a broken heart as he had imagined he would earlier. His attitudes to death were governed by the status of Joseph. If Joseph was dead or consumed by a wild animal, he would die broken hearted; but if Joseph were alive, as he demonstrably was, he would die in peace. Whether or not his other sons fessed up to him about their sins was not relevant to him, compared to his focus upon the 'resurrection' of Joseph. And our hang ups over whether others have or have not fully repented and set the record straight is utterly obscured by the joy of knowing and seeing the risen Lord Jesus. Jacob at this point and in this sense represents us all.  

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.

In Gen. 32 and 33, Jacob resigned his material blessing, and gave up his struggle to be the firstborn. He collapsed upon grace. “Blessing” (brkh), “firstborn” (bekhor) and “birthright” (bekhora) are all related words. But despite that peak of appreciation, which having slipped from he apparently reached again in Gen. 35 (see notes there), even on his grave planks, Jacob was still conniving in his own strength about blessings and firstborns. And yet he will be saved ultimately; along with all of us who likewise are still immature at the end of our mortal path.

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-

The Angel who redeemed Jacob from evil may specifically refer to the Angel with whom Jacob wrestled, who then blessed Jacob in response to his begging for blessing. And he wishes that blessing of grace upon his grandsons. Yet Jacob appears to see that gracious blessing of him as ongoing, because his wrestling with the Angel for blessing and grace was a cameo of his entire life.

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.

"Will become a multitude of nations" alludes to the promises to Abraham (Gen. 17:6,20). It was as if Jacob in his immaturity wanted the line of Abrahamic descent to go specifically through Ephraim. But there is no evidence God respected that. Rather, all who showed themselves to be the seed of Abraham through faith, receive an equal share in the Abrahamic blessings. Again we see Jacob's stubborn immaturity even at the end of his days.

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.

It seems on balance that Jacob was referring to how his sons Simeon and levi had massacred the men of Shechem; and it seems Jacob joined in with his sword and bow. He later criticizes his sons for having done this, and he and his tribe only survived revenge from the surrounding tribes by God's grace. And yet, so true to human thought and behaviour, he now later glories in his part in the massacre, whilst later cursing his sons for their part in it. God destroyed the Amorite before Israel, Am. 2:9, but He worked through their quite wrong behaviour towards the Shechemites. Jacob seems proud of capturing Shechem when he ought to have been ashamed of how it was done, and had forgotten that he was saved from the consequences by grace alone. 

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. And another option is that the inheritance at Shechem was the parcel of land bought by the patriarchs for burials, which Jacob gave to Joseph (Jn. 4:5), and where Joseph's bones were buried. But in this case, we enquire how Jacob took that land from the hand of the Amorite with sword and bow.