Manasseh and Ephraim (48:1–22)
But second and more important, by adopting Joseph’s two sons Jacob was in effect giving Joseph the double portion of inheritance to which the eldest son was traditionally entitled. Jacob was deliberately giving Joseph the status of “firstborn” among the brothers (1 Chronicles 5:1–2). This explains why Jacob later referred to Joseph as the one who was over his brothers (verse 22).
8–14 Jacob then asked that Manasseh and Ephraim be brought to him so that he could bless them (Hebrews 11:21). Since Jacob was almost blind,136 Joseph positioned his sons so that the elder, Manasseh, would be closest to Jacob’s right hand.137 But Jacob, as he reached out to bless each boy, crossed his hands so that his right hand was on the head of Ephraim, the younger brother. Joseph was displeased, and thinking his blind father was making a mistake, he tried to switch Jacob’s hands (verse 17). But Jacob would not allow it; guided by God, he had deliberately given Ephraim the status of “eldest son.”138 In doing so, he repeated the pattern we have seen earlier in the book of Genesis in which the younger brother gets the blessing that belonged “by right” to his elder brother.139
Why did God establish this pattern? He did so to demonstrate that His choices are not based on natural descent, or on anyone’s “rights” or “merits”; rather, His choices are based on grace alone. God sovereignly chooses who He wants to inherit His blessings. Therefore, should any one of us seem for a period to be especially blessed or favored by God, we must always remember that it has come about not by our own doing but rather by God’s grace (1 Corinthians 15:10).
15–20 Jacob’s words of blessing are recorded in verses 15 and 16. The blessing actually was given to Joseph, the one who was now designated “firstborn”; but through Joseph, the blessing came to his two sons also. Jacob solemnly identified his God as the “God before whom . . . Abraham and Isaac walked.” This was the same God with whom Enoch and Noah walked (Genesis 5:24; 6:9), the same God from generation to generation, forever and ever. “Walking with God” in faith and obedience is what God expects from each of us—from generation to generation (Deuteronomy 30:16; Micah 6:8).
Jacob called God his shepherd (verse 15), a common biblical description of our loving heavenly Father, who guides us, protects us and leads us into green pastures (Psalm 23:1–2). Jacob also called God the Angel who delivered him (verse 16)—namely, God Himself who appeared a number of times to Jacob in the form of an angel.
21–22 Finally Jacob gave a concluding word of blessing to Joseph and his sons,140 repeating God’s covenant promise to be with them and to take them back to the promised land in due time.