Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
48 After this, Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 And it was told to Jacob, “Your son Joseph has come to you.” Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. 3 And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 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 offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ 5 And 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 And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance.
Chapter 48 is when we begin to see Jacob blessing his sons, and the two sons of Joseph mentioned here. To interpret these verses, we’ll start first by looking at Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(1) His two sons.—We have already seen that the purpose of the genealogy given in Genesis 46:0 was not the enumeration of Jacob’s children and grandchildren, but the recognition of those of his descendants who were to hold the high position of heads of “families.” In this chapter a still more important matter is settled; for Jacob, exercising to the full his rights as the father and head of the Israelite race, and moved thereto both by his love for Rachel, the high rank of Joseph, and also by the spirit of prophecy, bestows upon Joseph two tribes. No authority less than that of Jacob would have sufficed for this, and therefore the grant is carefully recorded, and holds its right place immediately before the solemn blessing given by the dying patriarch to his sons. The occasion of Joseph’s visit was the sickness of his father, who not merely felt generally that his death was near, as in Genesis 47:29, but was now suffering from some malady; and Joseph naturally took with him his two sons, that they might see and be blessed by their grandfather before his death.
As a modern reader, particularly a Western reader, we might interpret this section as a decree of inheritance. However, as the note provides, what is happening here is more than that. Jacob is making a determination of which people get to be heads of families. Joseph – through his sons – gets a double portion of leadership through this act of Jacob his father. The Pulpit Commentaries adds the following to verse 1.
And it came to pass after these things (i.e. the events recorded in the preceding chapter, and in particular after the arrangements which had been made for Jacob’s funeral), that one told Joseph,—the verb וַיֹּאמֶר is here used impersonally, or passively, for “one told,” or “it was told,” to Joseph (LXX; ἀπεγγέλη; Vulgate, munciatum est; Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, Murphy, et alii); or probably emphatically, by way of calling attention to the circumstance—denoting perhaps a special messenger (Tayler Lewis). Behold, thy father is sick. The word in the original conveys the idea of being worn down or becoming infirm through age or disease, and may suggest the notion that Jacob was now regarded as rapidly approaching dissolution. And he took with him his two sons, Manasseh end Ephraim—who at this time must have been about eighteen or twenty years of age (Keil), and who appear to have accompanied their father from respectful affection to their aged relative (Murphy), or to have been taken in the hope that “the words of their blessed grand father would make an indelible impression on their hearts (Lawson), rather than in order to obtain from Jacob “a pledge of their unqualified admission as members of his house,” of their exclusion from which Joseph was not altogether groundlessly apprehensive, in consequence of their being the children of an Egyptian mother (Kalisch).
This note points out that Joseph, and his sons, may have been apprehensive about their place in Jacob’s family due to Joseph’s wife being Egyptian. We can recall that earlier in Genesis, the bloodlines of Abraham’s family were viewed with supreme importance. This is why Jacob serves Laban for Leah and Rachel. Continuing with Ellicott in verse 2:
(2) Strengthened himself.—Jacob thus prepared himself, not merely because he wished to receive Joseph in a maimer suitable to his rank, but chiefly because he was about himself to perform a sacred act, under the influence of the Divine Spirit.
Sat upon the bed.—We learn that he left his bed, and placed himself upon it in a sitting posture, from what is recorded in Genesis 48:12.
Jacob is ill but gathers his strength to perform a sacred task. Going forward with The Pulpit Commentaries in verses 3 and 4:
And Jacob said unto Joseph,—recalling the experiences of early days—God Almighty—El Shaddai (vide Genesis 17:1)—appeared unto me at Luz—i.e. Bethel (vide Genesis 28:17, Genesis 28:19; Genesis 35:6, Genesis 35:15)—in the land of Canaan, and blessed me, and said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession. It is obvious that Jacob principally has in his mind the theophany at Bethel on his return from Padan-aram.
[Strong’s] appeared = רָאָה râʼâh, raw-aw’; a primitive root; to see, literally or figuratively (in numerous applications, direct and implied, transitive, intransitive and causative):—advise self, appear, approve, behold, × certainly, consider, discern, (make to) enjoy, have experience, gaze, take heed, × indeed, × joyfully, lo, look (on, one another, one on another, one upon another, out, up, upon), mark, meet, × be near, perceive, present, provide, regard, (have) respect, (fore-, cause to, let) see(-r, -m, one another), shew (self), × sight of others, (e-) spy, stare, × surely, × think, view, visions.
As the definition notes, the text is not entirely clear as to how “appeared” should be interpreted (in a vision, in a dream, in the appearance of a physical body, etc.)
Continuing with Ellicott in verse 5:
(5) As Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.—That is, Ephraim shall be regarded as my firstborn, and Manasseh as my second son. This was undoubtedly the case; for though “Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the prince (and of him the Messiah), yet the birthright was Joseph’s” (1 Chronicles 5:2). The legal right of the firstborn was a double share of the father’s goods. This was bestowed upon Joseph in giving him two tribes, and to the other· sons but one. It was in a spiritual sense, and with reference to the promise that all mankind should be blessed in Jacob’s seed, that the birthright was Judah’s. As Joseph was the son of the chief and best-beloved wife, he had a sort of claim to the birthright; but in agreement with the law afterwards specially enacted (Deuteronomy 21:15-17), Jacob acknowledges that the right had belonged to Reuben, but excludes him from the possession of it as the penalty of his great and terrible sin. Simeon and Levi are next passed over, because of their cruelty, and so Judah takes Reuben’s place.
As the note states, the act here is significant. Joseph’s two sons are now regarded as Jacob’s first two sons – taking the place of Reuben and Simeon. In this way, Joseph gets a double portion of Jacob’s blessing.
This section of Genesis creates some subsequent confusion regarding the future and destiny of Israel. Joseph’s sons come to represent Israel (the northern Kingdom) whereas Judah, and the southern kingdom, is the line through which the Messiah will come. There is a secondary belief, though, that the Messiah also comes through the line of Joseph. There is historical Rabbinic, describing a figure of “Messiah ben Joseph,” and now there is also present day scholarship that argues Jesus Christ is a descendent of both familial lines of descent. For more, let me point you in the direction of Messiah ben Joseph by David C. Mitchell. David Mitchell is a biblical scholar, musicologist, and musical director. Originally from Scotland, he lives in Brussels where he is Director of Music in Holy Trinity Pro-Cathedral.
The imbedded video below is by the author of the work,
The BrightMorningStar YouTube channel of David C. Mitchell includes other videos regarding this topic, as well as his other works.
Returning to Ellicott and verse 6:
(6) Thy issue, which thou begettest after them.—We gather from Genesis 1:23 that Joseph probably had no other sons. But if such were born to him, they were not to count as heads of tribes, but be regarded as the children of Ephraim and Manasseh, and take rank only as heads of families.
The Pulpit Commentaries also address the end of this section of verses:
And now thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt (vide Genesis 41:50-52) before I came unto thee into Egypt,—this would almost seem to imply that Jacob knew of Joseph’s having had sons born to him since his (Jacob’s) arrival at Goshen—are mine (i.e. I shall reckon them as my own sons, giving them an equal place with the other members of my family); as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine—literally, Ephraim and Manasseh, as Reuben and Simeon, shall be mine. The double portion thus conferred upon Joseph in the persons of his son? was a practical investiture of him with the birthright of which Reuben had been deprived (1 Chronicles 5:1), in respect at least of the inheritance; in respect of the honor of being the next connecting link in the chain of redemption, leading on and down to the coming of the Savior, the birthright appears to have been transferred to Judah (Genesis 49:8-10). And thy issue, which thou begettest after them, shall be thine (i.e. shall be reckoned in thine own family), and shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance. They should not form heads of separate tribes, but be ranked under the banners of Ephraim and Manasseh. It is uncertain whether Joseph had more sons than two (vide supra); if he had, they were included in the families of their brethren, as here directed (cf. Numbers 26:28-37; 1 Chronicles 7:14-29).
Jacob blesses Joseph with two tribes, through his sons, but limits him to a double portion only. If Joseph has other sons, they are to be subsumed into the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
In the rest of the chapter, we will examine the blessings given to Joseph’s sons and Jacob’s sons and look more closely at the future of the described tribes.