Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
13 And 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 him. 14 And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). 15 And 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 long to this day,
16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys;
and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;
and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”
17 When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” 19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude[d] of nations.” 20 So he blessed them that day, saying,
“By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying,
‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’”
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 will bring you again to the land of your fathers. 22 Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.”
Joseph’s two sons receive a blessing. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And 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 unto him. Joseph naturally expected that Jacob’s right hand would fall upon the head of Manasseh, as the firstborn, although with regard to even this a doubt might have been suggested if he had remembered how Isaac had been preferred to Ishmael, and Jacob to Esau.
The note is a little bit of a spoiler. We are reminded of the patriarchal history of second son preference. We saw it with Isaac and Jacob himself. Continuing on with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(14) Guiding his hands wittingly.—The LXX., Syriac, and Vulg. translate, “placing his hands crosswise;” but the Targum of Onkelos favours the translation of our version. There is some amount of philological support for the rendering of the three chief versions; but it must mainly rest upon their own authority, which is, however, very great.
The note here makes one aware of the fact that there is some dispute about the translation here. Ellicott disagrees with the ESV quoted at the top of this post. The Pulpit Commentaries also addresses the text in this verse:
And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head,—the first instance of the imposition of hands being used as a symbol of blessing. Though not necessarily connected with the form of benediction, it is not without a natural fitness to suggest the transmission of spiritual benefit. Accordingly it afterwards became the recognized mode of conveying to another some supernatural power or gift, and was employed in the Old Testament Church in the dedication of priests (Numbers 27:18, Numbers 27:23; Deuteronomy 34:9), and in the New in the ordination of Christian office-bearers (Acts 6:6; Acts 8:17; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6), as well as by the Savior and his apostles in the performance of many of their miracles—who was the younger (literally, and he the little one, i.e. the younger), and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly;—literally, he placed his hands, prudently, i.e. of set purpose, the piel of שָׂכַל, to look at, conveying the intensive signification of acting with prudence and deliberation (Gesenius, Furst); intelligere fecit manus suas hoc est, docte, scite, et petite imposuit eis manus; a rendering of the words which has been adopted by the best scholars (Calvin, Dathe, Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, Murphy, Taylor Lewis, and others), though the translation, “he crossed his hands,” which regards שִׂכֵּל as the pile of an unused root signifying to intertwine, ἐναλλὰξ τὰς χεῖρας (LXX.), commutans marius (Vulgate), is not entirely destitute of learned supporters (Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem, Pererius, Knobel, Delitzsch, Gerlach, and others)—for Manasseh was the firstborn.
The actual blessing begins in verses 15 and 16. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And he blessed Joseph (i.e. in his sons), and said, God,—literally, the Elohim. The use of Elohim in a passage (Genesis 48:15-19) which is undoubtedly Jehovistic in its import, and is by advanced critics (Davidson, Colenso) assigned to that writer, has been explained (Hengstenberg) as an indication that “the great spiritual Sun, Jehovah, was at that time,” viz; at the entrance of the captivity, “concealed behind a cloud from the chosen race;” but, without resorting to any such doubtful hypothesis, it is sufficient to observe that Jacob practically identities the Elohim spoken of with Jehovah, while by using the former expression he conveys the thought that the blessing about to be pronounced proceeded forth, not from Deity in general, but from the particular Elohim who had graciously manifested himself in the manner after described—before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk,—(cf. Genesis 17:1; Genesis 24:40) the God here referred to was one who had “a face,” or manifested presence; in other words, was Jehovah—the God which fed me—literally, the Elohim shepherding me (cf. Psalms 23:1; Psalms 28:9)—all my life long—literally, from as yet (sc. I was), i.e. from the beginning of my existence, ἐξ νεότητος (LXX.)—unto this day, the Angel—the Maleach here spoken of cannot possibly be a creature, since he is explicitly identified with Elohim, but must have been the Jehovah Angel with whom Jacob wrestled at the ford of Jabbok (Genesis 2:23). The reading of the Samaritan codex, הַמֶּלֶךְ, the king, is open to suspicion—which redeemed me from all evil,—literally, the (sc. angel) redeeming me; the first use of the term goel, from גָּאַל, to buy back or redeem (Gesenius), to separate or untie (Furst), or to stain as with blood, hence to be stained or polluted, as one who suffers a kinsman’s blood to go unavenged, hence to remove the stain of blood by taking vengeance on the murderer (Taylor Lewis). Applied under the law to the next of kin (Le Genesis 25:25; Genesis 27:13, Genesis 27:15, Genesis 27:19, &c; &c.), it is also used of God redeeming men, and especially Israel, from captivity (Exodus 6:6; Isaiah 43:1). In this sense it was employed by Jacob (cf. Genesis 48:16 with Genesis 49:18) and by Job (Job 19:21) to describe the Divine Rescuer who had delivered them from ill both temporal and spiritual, and who was to complete his emancipating work by ultimately ransoming them from the power of the grave. The Goel to whom both Jacob and Job looked forward, and of whom both Moses and the prophets testified, was Christ (Galatians 3:11; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:18)—bless the lads. The singular verb suggests to Luther the reflection that the writer “conjungit in uno opere benedicendi tres personas, Deum Patrem, Deum Pastorem, et Angelum,“ from which he draws the obvious conclusion, “aunt igitur hi tres unus Deus et unus benedictor.” And let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;—literally, and my name and the name of my fathers shall be named in them, i.e. they shall be counted my sons and the children of my ancestors, though born of thee (Calvin, Rosenmüller, Lawson, Murphy, Wordsworth, and others); or, May this name be preserved by them, and the race of Abraham propagated by them? may the fathers and I live in them! (Gerlach, Kalisch); or, what seems more appropriate than either, May the grace and salvation enjoyed by my fathers and myself be renewed in them! (Keil, Lange)—and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth. The original conveys the sense of swarming like the fishes of the sea, the ἀπαξ λεγόμενον, דָּגָה (from which comes the term דָּג, a fish, from being so wonderfully prolific), signifying to cover over with a multitude (vide Gesenius, ‘Lexicon,’ sub voce).
Ellicott also tackles these two verses:
(15, 16) He blessed Joseph, and said.—In Jacob’s blessing there is a threefold appellation of the Deity, and a threefold blessing given to Joseph’s sons. God is, first, the Elohim before whom his fathers had walked. Next, He is the Elohim who, as a shepherd, had watched over Jacob all his life long. But, thirdly, He is that Divine Presence which had been, and still was, Jacob’s “goël,” redeeming and rescuing him from all evil. The blessing is first general, the verb “bless” being singular, which, following the threefold repetition of God’s name in the plural, is rightly used by Luther as a proof of a Trinity in Unity in the Godhead. Secondly, Ephraim and Manasseh are to bear the names, and be the representatives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Lastly, they are to grow into a multitude with extraordinary rapidity, the word used signifying that they were to increase with a prolificness as great as that of fishes.
The word “goël” is here used for the first time. It subsequently became the term for the nearest blood relative, whose duty it was to avenge a murder; but it is here used in its wider sense of a Saviour and a Deliverer. (Comp. Exodus 6:6; Isaiah 59:20, &c.) The angel who wrestled with Jacob cannot accurately be described as having appeared to him in the character of a deliverer (Genesis 32:24-30). He appeared as an adversary; and Jacob learned in the struggle, by overcoming him, that he had power with God and man, and would prevail over all the difficulties and foes that still stood in his way. Moreover, the verb is present, “the angel that redeemeth me from all evil.” Jacob recognised a Divine Presence which constantly guarded him, and which was ever his Redeemer and Saviour.
The initial part of this blessing states that these two boys will carry Jacob’s name forward and he blesses them both to grow into a multitude. The two sons of Joseph became tribes which subsequently kept the name “Israel” even as Judah broke away as a separate kingdom. We’ll explore more below about the blessing concerning the two becoming a multitude. Continuing on with The Pulpit Commentaries:
And when (literally, and) Joseph saw that his father laid (or was laying) his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him:—literally, and it was evil in his eyes (cf. Genesis 28:8)—and (supposing his father had made a mistake) he held up (or took hold of) his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head.
And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head. “From Joseph’s behavior we cannot certainly infer that, like Isaac, he loved the firstborn better than the youngest; but he was sorry that an honor was not given to the eldest which he would naturally expect, and bestowed on the youngest, who did not expect it, and who would not have been hurt by the want of it” (Lawson).
Here Jacob crosses his hands and bestows the elder son blessing on Joseph’s second born. The note indicates that this may have pointed toward a preference for the elder son – as Isaac had a preference for Esau. However, given Jacob’s physical health, I think it might also be the case that Joseph simply assumed Jacob was making a mistake and hoped to correct him. Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries, Jacob makes it clear that his actions are intentional and purposeful:
And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly (literally, and over against that; אוּלָם, the strongly adversative particle, signifying that which stands in front of, or opposite to, another thing) his younger brother shall be greater than he (cf. Numbers 1:33 with Numbers 1:35; Numbers 2:19 with Numbers 2:21), and his seed shall become a multitude of nations—literally, shall be a fullness of nations. In the time of Moses this prediction began to realize itself. In the first census which took place in the wilderness the tribe of Ephraim had 40,500 men, while that of Manasseh could only reckon 32,200; in the second the numbers received a temporary alteration, Ephraim counting only 32,500, and Manasseh 52,700; but after the conquest the ascendancy of Ephraim wag restored, so that she easily assumed the lead among the ten northern tribes, and acquired a name and an influence only second to that of Judah (cf. Judges 4:5; Judges 5:14; Judges 8:1-35.; Judges 12:0.).
Also, from Ellicott:
(19) His younger brother shall be greater.—In the final numbering of the tribes on the plains of Moab, the tribe of Manasseh had 52,700 souls, and that of Ephraim only 32,500 (Numbers 26:34; Numbers 26:37). It was the division of the tribe of Manasseh into two portions which made it politically insignificant, while Ephraim obtained a commanding position in the land of Canaan; and as Joshua was an Ephraimite, it naturally held the rank of foremost tribe during his days, and claimed it always afterwards. For Joshua, after the conquest of Canaan, must have held a position similar to that of General Washington after the independence of the United States had been secured, and all Israel would regard him as their ruler and chief. The influence also of the tribe would be strengthened by the ark being placed in one of its towns.
The note above describe how Ephraim seems to fulfill this blessing during the time of the conquest of Canaan and then after. Returning to The Pulpit Commentaries for verses 20 and 21:
And he (i.e. Jacob) blessed them that day, saying, In thee (i.e. in Joseph, who is still identified with his sons) shall Israel (the nation) bless, saying, God (Elohim, the supreme source of all blessing) make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim Before Manasseh—”in the position of his hands, and the terms of the blessing” (Keil).
And Israel (Jacob) said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: but God (Elohim) shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers. “For Joseph and his children a great promise and dispensation” (Lange).
Jacob tells Joseph that he (Joseph) and his descendants will return to the land of Canaan. As we know, this came to pass. Concluding the chapter, first with Ellicott:
(22) One portion.—Heb., one Shechem. In favour of this being the town of Shechem is the fact that it did belong to Jacob (Genesis 37:12, where see Note); also that Joseph’s embalmed body was deposited there (see Joshua 24:32, where the land is said to have been bought for a hundred kesitas); and, lastly, the testimony of John 4:5, where a parcel of ground at Sychar, close to Shechem, is identified with the ground given by Jacob to Joseph. On the other hand, one Shechem is an unnatural way of describing a town. Shechem also means, as we have seen (Genesis 12:6), the shoulder, and Abul-walid, in his Lexicon, quoting this place, says that both the Hebrews and Arabs gave this name to any elevated strip of ground. This is confirmed by Numbers 34:11, &c., though the word actually used, chatef, is different. Probably, therefore, there was a play upon words in calling this plot of hill-ground Shechem, and not chatef’, but made with the intention of showing that the town of Shechem was the portion really signified. But what is meant by “Jacob having taken it out of the hand of the Amorite by his sword and his bow”? Shechem was strictly a town of the Hivites, but as they were but a feeble tribe, the term Amorite may be used to give greater glory to the exploit. In Genesis 15:16, the Amorites, literally mountaineers, are described as owners of the whole country, and probably it was a term loosely applied to all the inhabitants of the uplands, though occasionally used with a more definite meaning (Genesis 15:21). As Jacob so strongly condemns the conduct of Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:5-7), he can scarcely refer to their exploit, and therefore commentators generally suppose that he used the words prophetically, meaning, “which my descendants will, centuries hence, conquer for themselves with their swords and bows.” But this is, to take the words of Holy Scripture in a non-natural sense. Jacob was the owner of a strip of this “shoulder-land” in a way in which he was not the owner of any other portion of land in Canaan, except the cave of Machpelah; and we find him sending his cattle to pasture there when he was himself dwelling far away (Genesis 37:12). And it is quite possible that, after the inhuman treatment of the Hivites at Shechem, the Amorites did gather themselves together to avenge the Wrong, but were deterred by the threatening position taken up by Jacob, or even repulsed in an attack. The latter supposition would best harmonise with the fact that “a mighty terror fell upon all the cities round about” (Genesis 35:5), and also with the exultant spirit in which Jacob, a pre-eminently peaceful and timid man, here alludes to the one military exploit of his life.
And also from The Pulpit Commentaries:
Moreover (literally, and) I have given—or, I give (Keil), I will give (Kalisch), the preterit being used prophetically as a future, or even as a present, the event being regarded, from its certainty, as already accomplished. It is thus not absolutely clear that Jacob here alludes to any past transaction in his own personal history—to thee one portion—literally, one shoulder, or ridge, or elevated tract of land, שְׁכֶם; unam pattern (Vulgate), with which agree several of the ancient versions (Onkelos, Syriac)—above thy brethren, which I took—or take (Keil), or shall take (Kalisch)—out of the hand of the Amorite—a general name for the inhabitants of Canaan (vide Genesis 15:16)—with my sword and with my bow. As Scripture has preserved no account of any military exploit in the history of Jacob such as is here described, the patriarch’s language has been understood as referring to the plot of ground at Shoe. hem which Jacob purchased of Hamor the father of Shechem (Genesis 33:19), and as signifying either that he had captured it by sword and bow, in the sense that his sons at the head of his armed retainers had put the inhabitants of the town to the sword, and so taken possession of the entire district (Calvin, Rosenmüller, Murphy); or that, though he had peacefully paid for it, he yet required at a subsequent period to recover it by force of arms from the Canaanites (Lawson, Bush, Wordsworth); or that after the terrible tragedy at Shechem, when God put a fear upon the surrounding cities, Jacob and his sons stood in the gate of Shechem in the armed expectation of a hostile attack, and so may be said to have taken it by sword and bow (Rabbi Solomon, Lyra, Willet). It seems, however, better to regard the words as a prophetic utterance pointing forward to the conquest of Canaan, which Jacob here represents himself, in the persons of his descendants, as taking from the Amorites by means of sword and bow, and as intimating that the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh would receive a double portion of the inheritance, the word שְׁכֶם being probably designed to convey a hint that the tract to be in future assigned to Joseph’s descendants would be the region round about the ancient city Shechem (Ainsworth, Keil, Kalisch, Lunge, &c.).
As the notes state, the prevailing belief as to the place Jacob refers to in verse 22 is Shechem.
The Torah.com discusses this section in an article titled “When Moses Placed Ephraim Before Manasseh.” I will include an excerpt below, though I encourage reading the entire article:
The midrash (see Genesis Rabbah 97:5), commenting on the concluding words of the verse, “and he placed Ephraim before Manasseh,” suggests that this seemingly superfluous repetition of what has already been said is designed to convey that in addition to blessing Ephraim and Manasseh “on that day,” Jacob also determined that from that day forward, Ephraim and his descendants would precede Manasseh and his descendants in all matters:
וַיְבָרְכֵם בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא [וגו’ וַיָּשֶֹם אֶת־אֶפְרַיִם לִפְנֵי מְנַשֶּׁה]: כשם שקִדְּמוֹ כאן, כך קִדְּמוֹ בכל מקום.
“And he blessed them on that day [etc. “and he placed Ephraim before Manasseh]” – Just as he placed him first here, he did so everywhere.
קִדְּמוֹ בתולדות: בתחילה ‘אלה תולדות בני אפרים’ ואחר כך ‘אלה תולדות בני מנשה’;
He placed him first in the list of generations. First it says “These are the generations of the sons of Ephraim” and afterwards “these are the generations of the sons of Manasseh.” 
ביוחסין: ‘לִבְנֵי אֶפְרַיִם תּוֹלְדֹתָם לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם’ [במ’ א 32] ואחר כך ‘לִבְנֵי מְנַשֶּׁה תּוֹלְדֹתָם לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם’ [שם 34];
In the list of descendants: “For the sons of Ephraim according to their generations and families” (Num 1:32) and afterwards “For the sons of Manasseh, according to their generations and families” (Num 1:34).
קִדְּמוֹ בנחלה: ‘זאת נחלת בני אפרים’ [יהו’ טז 8] ואחר כך ‘זאת נחלת בני מנשה’;
He placed him first in allotting the tribal territories: “This is the territory of the sons of Ephraim” (Josh 16:8) and afterwards, “This is the territory of the sons of Manasseh.”
קִדְּמוֹ בדגלים: ‘דֶּגֶל מַחֲנֵה אֶפְרַיִם’ [במ’ ב 18], ואחר כך ‘וְעָלָיו מַטֵּה מְנַשֶּׁה’ [שם 20];
He put him first when determining the tribal divisions: “the division of the camp of Ephraim” (Num 2:18) and afterwards “and alongside it the tribe of Manasseh” (Num 2:20).
קִדְּמוֹ בנשיאים: ‘בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי נָשִׂיא לִבְנֵי אֶפְרָיִם’ [במ’ ז 48], ואחר כך ‘בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי נָשִׂיא לִבְנֵי מְנַשֶּׁה’ [שם 54];
He put him first among the tribal chieftains (who brought their dedicatory offerings): “On the seventh day, the chieftain from the sons of Ephraim” (Num 7:48) and afterwards “On the eighth day, the chieftain from the sons of Manasseh” (Num 7:54).
קִדְּמוֹ בשופטים: יהושע משל אפרים וגדעון משל מנשה;
He put him first among the judges: Joshua was from Ephraim and Gideon from Manasseh.
קִדְּמוֹ במלכים: ירבעם משל אפרים ויהוא משל מנשה;
He put him first among the kings: Jeroboam was from Ephraim and Jehu from Manasseh.
קִדְּמוֹ בברכה: ‘בְּךָ יְבָרֵךְ יִשְֹרָאֵל לֵאמֹר יְשִֹמְךָ אֱלֹהִים כְּאֶפְרַיִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה’;
He put him first in the blessing (to be invoked by future generations): “By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying ‘God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh’” (Gen 48:20).
קִדְּמוֹ בבכורה ‘וַיָּשֶֹם אֶת־אֶפְרַיִם לִפְנֵי מְנַשֶּׁה’.
He put him first with regard to the birthright (Gen 48:20): “And he placed Ephraim before Manasseh.”
In the view of the Midrash, then, the verb וַיָּשֶֹם (“he placed”) refers to some actual act of placing, or at least determining the placement of, Joseph’s two sons and their descendants.
Rashi adopts the position taken by the midrash:
וַיָּשֶֹם אֶת אֶפְרַיִם בברכתו לִפְנֵי מְנַשֶּׁה, להקדימו בדגלים ובחנוכת הנשיאים.
“And he placed Ephraim before Manasseh” in his blessing, so as to establish his precedence with regard to the tribal divisions and the dedication offerings of the tribal chieftains.
Rashi too thus views the concluding phrase as adding additional information, namely, that by blessing Ephraim before Manasseh, not only did Jacob determine the form of the blessing for future generations, he also established Ephraim’s future precedence over Manasseh. Just like the midrash, and unlike Rashbam and ibn Ezra, Rashi interprets the word וַיָּשֶֹם (“he placed”) as indicating an additional act of positioning Joseph’s sons and their descendants.
The two tribes, through Joseph, occupy an interesting place in a lot of current religious belief. British-Israelism, and a lot of Protestant evangelical eschatology, sometimes identify the tribes with the Anglos who ultimately became the British Empire and the United States of America. The belief is not widely held by scholars (though there is a lot of fascinating scholarship involved in the belief) but despite the fact it is not a mainstream view, British-Israelism persists doggedly among many residents of those two countries, anyway.
The core tenets of the belief are as follows:
- The lost tribes of Israel eventually gave up the practice of Judaism, but the bloodlines became dominant in certain places within Europe.
- The British, in particular, are said to be descended from the Lost Tribes.
- The British Monarchy is thus a continuation of the Davidic Monarchy.
- Britain and the United States can be identified with the Tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
As I mentioned before, some of the effort to tie Britain and the U.S. into the fold of the Lost Tribes is the result of an effort to make “end times” guesses and to sort out where the Americas might fit into all of that. We will look at that more through the rest of the chapter.