Genesis Segment 35 (48:12-22)

Gen 48:12 And Joseph brought them out from between his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth.

Israel adopted Ephraim and Manasseh in verse 5. He did so by the statement “Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.” We know from 1 Chronicles 5:1, that Joseph’s sons replaced Reuben as firstborn. Additionally, Ephraim received the blessing of the firstborn son of Joseph, and Israel’s adoptive firstborn.

Some translations state that Joseph took the boys from Jacob’s knees; others , like this, say the Joseph brought them out from his knees indicating by antecedent ‘Joseph’ and subsequent pronoun ‘his’ that they were between Joseph’s knees. However, in some cases, because of context, this can be misleading. In context, looking back to verse 10, Jacob embraced the boys and this seems to show that the boys were on Jacob’s knees, or on Jacob’s lap, or between Jacob’s knees. So which is it?

Some commentaries, including a rabbinic one, state that the boys being taken from Joseph’s knees and placed before Jacob that this was a ritualistic enactment of the adoption. That is certainly plausible. But we see a similar ritual in where Joseph has his grandsons, the children of Machir on his knees while he adopted them. As far as the ritual is concerned, either way would suffice. Transferring from Joseph’s knees to Israel’s or them being on Israel’s knees equals the same thing, the transfer of sonship or adoption.

Because of the context, we should understand that the boys were standing between Israel’s knees, and since Israel was nearly blind, that Joseph guided them away from Jacob’s knees and into position for their blessing. The context bears this out.

Gen 48:13 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 unto him.

Joseph honored his father’s wish gratefully by bowing down before him, recognizing his father’s right to confer blessing. He was also grateful that his father was there to bless them. This added strength to Joseph’s sons being a part of Israel. In fact, this blessing made two half Egyptian boys into true Israelites, true members of his father’s family. I believe that Joseph wished for his father to bless them for this reason. Again, Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews1 points out that Joseph wanted his father to bless them and that was the specific reason he brought the boys along.

Note that Joseph placed the boys in the position so that Manasseh would get the firstborn blessing and Ephraim the second. He placed Manasseh at Israel’s right hand and Ephraim at his left.

Gen 48:14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.

The scripture says Jacob knowingly crossed his hands and placed his right hand on the second born and his left hand on the firstborn, reversing the order that Joseph had set up. Jacob knew that Joseph would have put the older son at his right hand and the younger at his left. Why did he do this? From the leading of the Holy Spirit according to  Legends.2

This is an example of type and antitype in the Bible. Typology in the Bible is usually a relationship of events and people in the Old Testament and Christ. The Old Testament type prefigures Christ in some way. The type is the old object or person, the antitype is Christ. Paul gives an excellent example of this in 1 Corinthians 15:45-47:

And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.

Here Adam, the first man, was a type of Christ, Who is the last Adam. The first was of the earth, the second was from Heaven, the spiritual Adam. Therefore Adam is a type of Christ in that he was the son of God (Luke 3:38), and Christ was the Son of God (Mark 1:1). Adam was the type, Jesus the antitype. Adam was the first and sinned, Christ was the second and he had no sin. Thus the second born ruled over the firstborn, the opposite of what the world dictates. You can see examples of the type/antitype in Seth, Adam’s second son (for Cain was banished and therefore no longer a son of Adam), Isaac, Abraham’s second born, and in Jacob, Isaac’s second-born. You can even see it in David and Saul, though not as clearly. Saul was anointed king first, but David, the second anointed king ruled over the first in Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son. It is also seen in Amnon and Solomon. Amnon was David’s firstborn, Solomon was his last. Solomon ruled over Amnon. This also applies to Ephraim and Manasseh. Ephraim was second born, but Jacob blessed him with the rights of first-born.


Jacob Blessing Ephraim and Manasseh. Painted 1766-68 by Benjamin West. Public Domain Photo. (Left to right) Servant, Jacob, Manasseh, Ephraim, Joseph, Asenath

Gen 48:15-16 He blessed Joseph, and said, The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God who has fed me all my life long to this day, (16) the angel who has redeemed me from all evil and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.

Notice that though he placed his hands on the boys, he blessed Joseph as well. The blessing of Joseph is through his sons. The sons were to carry on the blood line of Israel that had passed from Abraham, to Isaac, then to Jacob and now to Joseph through his boys. Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, a 17th Centruy Scholar said that Jacob blessed Joseph, “in order to show that there is no greater blessing for a father than the wish that his children should take after him and become good people.” Horowitz understood the deep love Jacob had for his son and maintains that that is the greatest blessing Joseph could receive from his father was that his sons should grow to follow in his footsteps. Joseph was a good and God fearing man and would have wanted his sons to follow that way in their adulthood.

It is easier to understand Jacob’s statement if we take the complete sentence he spoke and set it by itself in two parts. Part 1: “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God who has fed me all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil“. God had taken care of Jacob through all the troubles of his life. He had protected Jacob from his uncle Laban’s attempts to defraud him; He went ahead of him and softened Esau’s heart at Jacob’s homecoming; He provided for Jacob’s wellbeing through the hardships he suffered. He even provided for Jacob through the supposed death of his son, Joseph. After all, Joseph, because of his brethren’s deceit, had become the leader of Egypt enabling him to care for his entire family in the time of severe drought that affected Canaan as well as Egypt. So Jacob told him that God had done those things for him.

When Jacob used the term ‘angel’ in his sentence, he was referring to Yehovah Elohim. Note the sentence structure. It is successive clauses beginning with the word ‘God’ in the first two clauses and ‘Angel’ in the third. Jacob said, in essence, “God, who was the God of my fathers; God who fed me; He also was the Angel that redeemed me.” Some folks see an actual angel here, which is a messenger of God, because Jacob saw angels ascending and descending the ladder. Most, however think of a Theophany, which is an appearance of God to man. God, as the Angel of the Lord, appeared to Abraham at Mamre. God, in the appearance of a man, as He was at Mamre, wrestled with Jacob all night and did not prevail over him. He put Jacob’s hip out of joint and then blessed him. Jacob knew it was God so he named the place Peniel, meaning “face of God” for he saw the face of God and did not die. Therefore in this portion of the Sentence, all three names, God, God, and the Angel were of the same Person, Yehovah.

Part 2: “bless the lads, and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac. Let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” Ephraim and Manasseh would always be tribes of Israel and would carry the title patriarch as well as the name “Israel”. They were remembered as the seed line of Abraham, which is the seed line of Jesus the Christ. They would not let Jacob down, for they lived a blessed life (Gen 50:23), walking in the ways of the Lord, and did grow into a multitude (Numbers 26:34 & 37). Matthew Henry says, “Let them not succeed their father, in his power and grandeur in Egypt; but let them succeed in the inheritance of the promise made to Abraham.” In other words, the lads should grow in the lineage of and receive the inheritance of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That inheritance was the Abrahamic covenant, in which God promised Abraham the land of Canaan, that his descendants would be numerous and many nations, and the promise that Abraham and his progeny would receive blessings and redemption from God. Jacob did not want them to receive the inheritance of Egyptian royalty from their father, Joseph.

Gen 48:17-18 And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head. (18) And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.

A more accurate rendering of the phrase, “it displeased him” would be “it was evil in his eyes.” Yet the use of the words “evil in his eyes,” which is what the Hebrew words mean, seem a bit strong to the Western mind. Evil in the Western mind is “wicked, corrupt, or perverse, such as evil thoughts, evil deeds, evil speaking, or an evil generation” (Webster 1838 Dictionary). However, evil can also mean unsuitable, incorrect, or wrong. Hence it seems to me that Joseph though it was incorrect, so this rendering may give us a better understanding: “it was incorrect in Joseph’s eyes.” Several translations follow this reasoning. For example, the phrase is rendered, “he thought he had made a mistake (The Message),” “he thought it was wrong (New Jerusalem Bible),” and “it did not seem right to him (The Bible in Basic English).” I don’t really believe Joseph was displeased with his father, only that he wanted to correct what he thought was a mistake. He thought his father had made an error, perhaps because of his near blindness (a malady of age), so he told Jacob that he had made a mistake and attempted to correct it.

Gen 48:19 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 his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.

However, Jacob told him that he had deliberately placed his right hand on the younger son. Jacob then gave a prophecy about their posterity. But the question that comes to mind is why did Jacob do this? Again, we saw from Ginzberg’s Legends3 that is was under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We can confirm that from what we read in Heb 11:21, “By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.” Jacob had faith that God was leading him to do the right thing because of his own experience and from what he knew of his lineage. Let me repeat that the blessing of the firstborn had been given to Abraham’s second born, Isaac, and to Isaac’s second born, Jacob. This refers to Adam being the first man, who was a sinner, and Christ being the second Man, who was sinless, and from whom all blessings flow.

Ephraim, the younger would be the father of a multitude on nations, while Manasseh would become a great people, or one nation. By the adoption of the sons of Joseph, and bestowing the blessing of the firstborn on Ephraim, the birthright really transferred from Reuben to Ephraim (though the 1 Chr 5:1 says both the brothers took Reuben’s place). Note the Ephraim’s name became synonymous with the nation of Israel, because his tribe became numerous and a “multitude of Nations,” and he received the blessing of the firstborn from Israel.

Gen 48:20 And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh.

This blessing was for Joseph and his sons. This basically says that the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh wall be the tribe of Joseph. Ephraim and Manasseh were half tribes; Joseph was the whole tribe. We see them referred to in several places in Scripture as the tribe of Joseph, specifically in Num 13:11 and Rev 7:8. But this is implied in several more passages, e.g. Num 36:5, 12; Deu 27:12, 33:13; Josh 16:1; Eze 37:16; Zec 10:6; and several others. This day Joseph received a double blessing, a blessing for himself and a blessing for his sons (see Eze 47:13).

Gen 48:21 And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers.

Jacob said, almost nonchalantly, that he would die in the very near future; perhaps in a day or two. There was no fear or trepidation in this statement; it was simply a statement of fact. He accepts that it is his time to die. I hope we are all so accepting of our inevitability. My own days are surely short on this earth. I have lived more of my life than what remains of it. Yet, I have no fear of death, thanks be to God. I am saved by the blood of Christ. I have eternal life. How difficult it must be for those who do not have the hope of eternal life. For this reason, Jacob had the assurance of eternal life because of his faith in God. Consider his vow made after he dreamt of the stairway to Heaven, “Because God is with me protecting me on this journey, and provides for my needs, and safety, then Yehovah will be my God.” That shows his faith in God’s ability and willingness to deliver him from death. Thus he also has the assurance that he will live eternally. The fact that Moses and Elijah appeared to the disciples at the mount of transfiguration is proof of eternal life even in the Old Testament era. The “land of Joseph’s fathers” is that land God promised to Abraham and to Jacob (see Gen 28:13-15). Jacob confirmed that promise to Joseph in this statement.

Gen 48:22 Moreover I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.

Jacob purchased that land from Hamor’s family for a hundred kesitah, which were silver coins. The Septuagint says he paid a hundred lambs for the property. It is possible the price of a lamb was approximately one silver coin, hence the reason the Septuagint rendered it “lambs” instead of money. It is uncertain where the sword and bow come in to play. We do not find anywhere in the scriptures where Jacob himself took that land from the Amorites (sons of Hamor) with a sword and bow. However we do see where shortly after Jacob purchased that parcel that Simeon and Levi with a group of warriors (probably Jacob’s men) did take the land by sword and bow. They did so after Shechem raped their sister Dinah. See Genesis chapter 34. Perhaps that is what Jacob alluded to here.

  1. The Legends of the Jews is a seven volume compilation of the legends and parables from the Hebrew Bible, written over the period from the expulsion from Palestine until recent times. Though there are legends and parables, they emerge from actual historical happenings. Much can be learned of Jewish life from this work. Though not necessarily factually historical, the book is very useful for an understanding of Ancient Jewish thought, which helps our understanding.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
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