November 26, 2017

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe             

 

        Lesson IV.F.2: Jacob Adopts the Sons of Joseph. (48:1-7)  

 


Genesis 48:1-7 (KJV)

 

1 And it came to pass after these things, that one told Joseph, Behold, thy father is sick: and he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

2 And one told Jacob, and said, Behold, thy son Joseph cometh unto thee: and Israel strengthened himself, and sat upon the bed.

3 And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me,

4 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.

5 And now thy two sons, 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.

6 And thy issue, which thou begettest after them, shall be thine, and shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance.

7 And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to come unto Ephrath: and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath; the same is Bethlehem.

 

 

Introduction to Genesis Chapter 48

 

The Genesis road now turns its final bend.  Joseph is on the throne, the days of his rejection and abuse are over, and the long day of his glory has arrived.  The story could end there, and we would be content with such a happy ending.  But, as Moses looks over his manuscript, the Spirit of God tells him to write an appendix.  The appendix deals with two notable deaths—the death of Jacob (47:27-50:21) and the death of Joseph (50:22-26).  As with Abraham and Isaac, the Spirit of prophecy descended now on Jacob and enabled him to see the future of his people with great clarity.

 

 

Introduction to Chapter 48:1-7

 

This passage tells us of Jacob’s last sickness and his blessing of the two sons of Joseph.  We are told in Hebrews 11:21 that “by faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.”

 

Jacob’s chosen favorite was Joseph.  As a youngster he had been his father’s pride and joy, and the delight of his heart.  Not one of Jacob’s other sons had been worth a dime.  Even Benjamin brought with him the sad memory of Rachel’s death, but Joseph had brought nothing but enjoyment.  Simeon and Levi were cruel, Reuben was contemptible, Judah was carnal, the sons of the slave women were corrupt.  But Joseph was a prodigy.  Joseph as a lad was all that Jacob ever wanted in a son; Joseph as a noble vindicated everything he had ever thought or said about him.

 

Throughout the Old Testament, and particularly in Genesis, it is stressed that the land of Egypt is not the permanent home of these people.  They must have their eyes on Canaan.  To emphasize this point, Jacob was buried in the family burial cave and Joseph was embalmed for future burial in Canaan. 

 

The adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh into the family of Jacob is very remarkable.  They were thus separated from Egypt and its prospects as the sons of the prime minister, and included in the people of God.  It must have been a real test for them. 

 

 

Commentary

 

1 And it came to pass after these things, that one told Joseph, Behold, thy father is sick: and he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

 

Jacob’s health took a turn for the worse, and news came to “Joseph” one day that his “father is sick.”  At once affairs of state were laid aside and Joseph, with his two sons in tow, hurried off to see the patriarch; and soon Joseph and his two sons were at the aged man’s bedside.  Since Jacob had rejected Reuben, Joseph was now performing the duties of the firstborn son, including the burial of the father.

 

Jacob’s desire was that his funeral would be a clear witness that he was not an idle-worshiping Egyptian but a believer in the true and living God.  When you stop to think that your funeral and burial are the last public testimonies you will ever give, it makes you want to plan carefully.  Making your last will and testament is important, but don’t neglect your last witness and testimony.  Let’s follow the example of Jacob and carefully plan our funeral to the Glory of God.  Joseph not only promised to fulfill his father’s wishes, but later he also asked his brothers to make the same promise to him that he had made to their father (50:24-26).

 

And one told Jacob, and said, Behold, thy son Joseph cometh unto thee: and Israel strengthened himself, and sat upon the bed.

 

As soon as “Jacob” heard that “Joseph” was coming, he “sat up in bed,” though it was difficult for him.  “Israel strengthened himself,” we read.  The work before him was of the utmost importance, for it concerns the structure and composition of the tribes for the rest of time. It was an important meeting, about which father and son evidently had talked previously. 

 

“Joseph,” Ephraim, and Manasseh entered the bedroom and gazed on the revered old shepherd.  Joseph’s heart was full.  Ephraim and Manasseh were there, dressed no doubt like the young Egyptian aristocrats they were.  They had been brought up in Pharaoh’s court, so their appearance, manners, education, and outlook must have been more Egyptian than Hebrew.  Perhaps that is why Joseph brought them along.  He wanted them to feel the full weight of the old patriarch’s dying presence and wanted too for his father to give them a spiritual blessing before he died.

 

3 And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me, 4 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.

 

“Jacob” peered at them, and his memories hearkened back to that eventful moment at “Luz” (Bethel; see 28:10-22), where he had his dream-vision of divine messengers ascending and descending the ramp to heaven.  At that time “God Almighty” had “appeared” to him, becoming personally real and conveying the covenant promises to him. He began by making a statement about this amazing experience.  “And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz 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” (48:3-4).  God had appeared to Jacob twice, once after his own deception of Isaac, with the wrath of Esau still ringing in his ears, and once after the disaster at Shechem, with the wrath of all “Canaan” [The land that would one day be home for his descendents (49:29-32; 23:1).]  ringing in his ears (28:10-19; 35:6-13).  Both times God had reconfirmed to Jacob His promises to Abraham and Isaac.  Probably Jacob had both occasions in mind when he spoke about the past. Now Jacob intended to pass these covenant promises, along with attendant obligations, to his descendants.  He had already come to know the will of God concerning which son would be singled out for this privilege, but had told no one.

 

And now thy two sons, 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.

 

Jacob intends to pass the covenant promises along to his descendants.  His first step was to adopt Joseph’s “two sons” as his own.  In fact, he placed them on a par with “Reuben and Simeon,” his two oldest sons.  Jacob had never forgotten his loss of Rachel (7), so he intended to honor her by elevating these grandchildren to the status of sons and eventually as tribes in Israel.

 

Jacob’s words are filled with legal implications.  Jacob clearly equates Joseph’s “two sons” with his own firstborn and second-born, intimating that the former are to have as good an inheritance, or better, as the latter, and thus once more invokes the great Genesis theme of the reversal of primogeniture [The system of inheritance or succession by the firstborn, specifically the eldest son.].  (Note that he already places “Ephraim,” the younger, before “Manasseh” when he names Josephs’ sons.) The fact that “Reuben” has violated Jacob’s concubine and “Simeon” (with Levi) has initiated the massacre at Shechem may suggest that they are deemed unworthy to be undisputed first and second in line among Jacob’s inheritors.  The language Jacob uses, moreover, is a formula of legal adoption, just as the gesture of placing the boys on the old man’s knees (48:12) is a ritual gesture of adoption.  The adoption is dictated by the fact that “Ephraim and Manasseh” will become tribes, just as if they were sons of Jacob. “Ephraim and Manasseh” are over 17 years old because they were born before Jacob came to Egypt.

 

Jacob officially adopted Joseph’s “two sons” into his family as his “sons,” to stand on equal footing with his own twelve boys.  That meant, of course, that there would actually be 13 tribes [There was never a Joseph tribe, but there were the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, and that makes 13 in any man’s mathematics.], although God invariably only counts twelve in any given list. But I believe there is a good reason for saying there were twelve tribes, not thirteen. This is how it is explained.  Levi’s descendants will become the high priestly clan, and were not given any land or territory but were scattered as priests throughout the other tribes. So they were not counted as a tribe.  You may consider that to be a rather devious way of counting, but I didn’t do it; the Word of God counts it that way.  That is the way God wanted it to be, and so that is the way God made it, leaving the people as a whole with only 10 “regular” clans, so the two groups that trace their ancestry to Joseph become two tribes in order to make up the number 12. 

 

As we’ve seen, Joseph replaced “Reuben,” Jacob’s firstborn (49:3-4; 1 Chronicles 5:2); and now Joseph’s sons would replace “Simeon” and “Levi” (Genesis 49:5-7), Jacob’s second and third sons.  The Levites were given no inheritance in the Promised Land but lived in forty-four cities scattered throughout Israel (Numbers 18:20; Deuteronomy 18:2; Joshua 13:33; 14:4; 21:1); and Simeon was eventually absorbed into the tribe of Judah (Judges 19:1-9).  In this way, God punished “Levi” and “Simeon” for their anger and violence at Shechem (Genesis 34).

 

Not only did Jacob adopt his two grandsons, but he also gave them his special blessing.  Jacob was probably setting on the side of the bed and the boys were standing before him, while Joseph was bowed down with his face to the ground.  Whether the boys realized it or not, it was indeed a solemn occasion. 

 

And thy issue, which thou begettest after them, shall be thine, and shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance.

 

Joseph’s name would be perpetuated through other sons that were apt to be born to him. It is, however, difficult to square the phrase, “And thy issue, which thou begettest after them” with the narrative as we have it, which indicates that Joseph has only two sons.  The efforts of some commentators to make the verb a future tense are not at all warranted by the Hebrew grammar, and, in any case, Joseph has been married more than twenty-five years.

 

Although the phrase, “and shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance,” is familiar, the meaning is not entirely clear.  What Jacob probably is saying is that it is Ephraim and Manasseh who will have tribal status in the future nation, and therefore any other sons of Joseph would be “called by their name,” and would have claim to land that was part of the tribal “inheritance” of Ephraim and Manasseh and so designated.

 

And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to come unto Ephrath: and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath; the same is Bethlehem.

 

The passing of the years had not softened that blow.  Jacob’s voice still choked when he thought of his one true love.  Thinking of Joseph’s sons made Jacob think of their grandmother.  Had circumstances been different for him, doubtless he would have married none of the others.  Rachel was all the wife he had ever desired.  All his sons would have been Rachel’s sons if he had had his way.  It was fitting, therefore, that Joseph, Rachel’s firstborn, be given the inheritance rights of the firstborn.  So Jacob gave the double portion to Joseph by bringing in Ephraim and Manasseh as full sons; it was his last tribute to a memory that would not die.

 

“Ephrath” is an older name for Bethlehem, which is inserted by the writer to make the location clear.

 

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