This article is part of a series of articles that resulted from my time preaching through the book of Genesis. The commentary on the passage is my own, resulting from hours of research and exegetical study. It is my intent to draw a biblical theology chapter by chapter through the book of Genesis that places the events of the narratives into the broad picture of the entire Bible, demonstrating the progressiveness of theology and the sufficiency of every Word of Scripture. It is my prayer that these articles are helpful to those seeking a better understanding of the book of Genesis and of the Bible as a whole. The sermon series and other resources can be found at www.fbcroxana.com.
The household of Israel had been called out of the Promised Land of Canaan to Egypt by God through Joseph. There was no contingent of people left in the land. There was no livestock. Every member and part of Jacob’s household had moved to Egypt. All of this was according to God’s word to Abraham that his descendants would live in a different country (and be enslaved in that country) until the time of the Amorite was complete. Now these things were happening, and the household of Israel was settling in for a long wait. It would be more than four centuries before they returned to the land which God had promised them.
During this time, the household of Israel would turn into a great nation. So Jacob called Joseph, his favored son, in order to bless him with the double portion of the inheritance. This was the portion normally accorded the firstborn. While Joseph was indeed the firstborn of Jacob’s favored wife, Rachel, he was not the firstborn of the house of Jacob.
1 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. 2 When it was told to Jacob, “Behold, your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel collected his strength and sat up in the bed. 3 Then Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 4 and He said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and numerous, and I will make you a company of peoples, and will give this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting possession.’
Jacob remembered the words of God which had been spoken to him many years beforehand. He had held onto these promises, knowing that if God was truly God Almighty, He would fulfill them. These promises that God gave to Jacob were the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant. In part, the Abrahamic Covenant was God’s covenant with Himself to give Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession. Now Jacob had become a numerous household which would soon turn into a large nation.
5 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. 6 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. 7 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).”
In this way, Jacob honored Rachel’s memory: he gave Joseph the double portion of the inheritance. This double portion is what would go to the firstborn. As his dearly-beloved wife, who was not buried in the family’s burial cave at Machpelah, he wished to honor her firstborn son with the inheritance. In order to do this, he counted Ephraim and Manasseh as his own sons. However, neither Ephraim nor Manasseh would father kings of Israel. That honor would go to the eldest qualified son of Leah.
So Joseph and Jacob enter into the formal ritual of the inheritance blessing:
8 When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” 9 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.” 10 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. 11 Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face, and behold, God has let me see your children as well.” 12 Then Joseph took them from his knees, and bowed with his face to the ground. 13 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. 14 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 firstborn.
Unlike his father, Isaac, Jacob was willing to be obedient to the leading of God in blessing the secondborn son of Joseph over the firstborn. He gave his blessing to Joseph by blessing his children.
15 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,
16 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.”
How Jacob’s knowledge of God has increased since he met Him at Bethel on his way to Paddan-aram! Now he knows him not only as the God of his fathers, but as his very own shepherd who has redeemed him from all evil. He prays to God to bless the boys and their ancestors by making them into a large multitude in the earth. In other words, Jacob was asking God that the Abrahamic Covenant would be fulfilled through them.
17 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. 18 Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn. Place your right hand on his head.” 19 But 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 shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.”
20 He blessed them that day, saying,
“By you Israel will pronounce blessing, saying,
‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!’”
Just as Jacob had predicted, Ephraim became a very large people. Both Ephraim and Manasseh would become so large that Jacob said that they would be the standard of enlargement.
Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh. 21 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. 22 I give you one portion more than your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow.”
Here, Jacob clearly told Joseph that he was giving him the double portion of the inheritance. It is clear that he was thinking not only in terms of splitting his wealth among his twelve sons, but the land that God had promised him. Jacob looked forward to the time that his descendants would leave Egypt (when the iniquity of the Amorite was completed) and conquer the land with sword and bow. Jacob also foretold that the land would be split between the tribes named after his sons, and by his adoption of Joseph’s sons he secured two portions of land for Joseph.
Jacob matured in his faith in God over the years of his sojourning in the land. He believed the promises, and knew that God would surely fulfill them. It seems that he remembered that God had told Abraham that his descendants would go into a foreign land for four hundred years until the time of the Amorite was complete (Gen 15:16). Thus, he was not surprised that his family had been moved completely out of the land of Canaan. And he understood that his descendants would grow large and mighty in order to conquer the Amorites and inhabit the land of Canaan, just as God had promised him and Abraham and Isaac before him.
So we can trust God to fulfill everything that He has said. Though He delays, we continue to faithfully watch and wait. One day, our Savior will appear from heaven and catch us up to Him. On that day, we will begin to see the final fulfillment of everything that God has spoken. The Abrahamic covenant will be brought to pass in its entirety, as well as the other covenant promises of Scripture. Everything God has determined to do will be done. Sin will be vanquished. The curse will be lifted. Christ will reign forever over the earth.