From all the struggles and victories of Jacob, the writer of the book of Hebrews choses this act as Jacob’s defining faith moment.
“By faithfully trusting Yaakov, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Yosef, and he bowed in worship while leaning on the top of his staff.” –Hebrews 11:21
This final faith act of Jacob looks forward to the resurrection and the eternal promises of God.
Gen 48:1 And it came to pass after these ha-d’variym the words (things), that it was said to Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds), “Hinei Behold now, your father has become weak”: and he (Joseph) took with him his two sons, M’nasheh (Cause to forget) and Ephrayim (Double fruitfulness).
This account comes after the events of the preceding chapter and specifically after the last words spoken in the preceding chapter, which were the unrecorded words of the oath of Joseph concerning his father’s future interment at Hebron.
It’s unlikely as Radak suggests, that the news of Jacob’s illness was delivered by one of Joseph’s brothers because the text says, “your father” and not, “our father”.
It’s important to note that the two sons of Joseph are listed according to their birth order when Joseph takes them to see his father Jacob. This will change when they come into the blessing of God, which will be pronounced over them by Jacob.
Gen 48:2 And it was made known to Yaakov (Follower), and he was told, “Hinei Behold now, your son Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) is coming to you”: and Yisrael (Overcome in God) strengthened himself, and sat up on the bed.
It is likely that the same messenger who brought the news to Joseph returned ahead of him to inform Jacob that his son was coming. Given his weak state, the act of sitting up in bed must have required Jacob to summon the last of his strength. So important to him was his role as a Patriarch of the tribes and guardian of the promises of Hashem that he was willing to give all he had to pass on his hope to the next generation. These are the actions of one who has heard from, believed in and set his eyes on HaShem (YHVH: Mercy).
Gen 48:3 And Yaakov (Follower) said to Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds), “El Shaddai (God Almighty the all sufficient Protector) appeared to me in Luz (Almond tree: Beit-El, House of God) in the land of K’naan (Lowland, humility), and blessed me, Gen 48:4 And said to me, ‘Hin’niy Behold now, I will make you fruitful, and multiply you, and I will make of you a multitude of people; and will give this land to your seed after you for an everlasting possession.’
Using the meanings of the names in the text we can read an allegory as follows:
“The follower said to the one who adds mercy, ‘The All Sufficient Protector appeared to me in the House of God, when I was in a place of humility. He blessed me and said, “Now, become aware, I will make you fruitful, and multiply you, and I will bring forth from you generation upon generation of children; and will give this land to your seed after you for an eternal possession.”’”
Joseph has come to Israel, but it is Jacob who speaks.
Luz is the old name for Bethel (Genesis 28:19), where God appeared to Jacob as he was going to Padan-aram, and on his return from Padan-aram (Gen. 28:11-13; 35:10-11). It’s not clear which of those times Jacob is referring to. However, both occasions qualify since the same promises were made to him both times.
Gen 48:5 “And now your two sons, Ephrayim (Double fruitfulness) and M’nasheh (Cause to forget), which were born to you in the land of Mitzrayim Egypt (Double straits) before I came to you in Mitzrayim Egypt, are mine; as Ruvein (Behold a son) and Shimeon (Heard), they shall be mine.
Jacob changes the birth order of the sons here. He has just finished speaking of HaShem’s blessing of fruitfulness, thus it makes sense that he would name Ephrayim, the doubly fruitful one, first.
Jacob qualifies his meaning by comparing Ephraim and Manasseh to his sons Reuben and Simeon (His eldest sons). This shows that he intends for Joseph’s sons to be named as tribes of Israel in their own right and to inherit equal shares of the Promised Land.
The last phrase concerning Reuben and Simeon seems to imply that they will lose their position as first and second born to Ephraim and Manasseh. This may be as a result of Jacob’s disappointment with their past actions (Gen. 34:30; 35:22; 49:3-7; 1 Chron. 5:1).
Joseph’s sons would have been approximately twenty years of age or more. We know this because Jacob had been in Egypt seventeen years, and had come there after two years of famine, and Joseph's sons were born to him before the famine began (Gen. 41:50).
Gen 48:6 And your progeny, which you produce after them, shall be yours, and shall be called after the name of their brothers in their inheritance.
Simply put, if sons or daughters are born to Joseph after Ephraim and Manasseh, those children will find their inheritance in the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
Gen 48:7 And as for me, when I came from Padan (Field of exaltation) Rachel (Ewe) died by me in the land of K’naan on the way, not far from Ephratah (Place of fruitfulness): and I interred her there on the way to Ephratah (Place of fruitfulness); also called Beit-lechem (House of bread/food).”
Jacob explains that he had felt that his fruitfulness in Rachel had been cut short. This is one of the reasons for the hope he sees in Ephraim, whose name literally means “Double fruitfulness”. This moment of sorrowful reflection concerning Jacob’s troubled journey toward fruitfulness ends with the naming of the town from which Israel’s Messiah will come forth. Bethlehem, the house of bread, food, provision.
Gen 48:8 And Yisrael (Overcome in God) beheld Yosef’s (YHVH: Mercy adds) sons, and said, “Who are these?”
This question of Jacob connects the blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh to his own experience of blessing at the hand of his elderly father (Gen. 25:22-33; 27:1-45).
Gen 48:9 And Yosef said to his father, “They are my sons, whom Elohiym (God: Judge) has given me in this place.” And he (Jacob) said, “Bring them, I plead with you, to me, and I will bless them. Gen 48:10 Now the eyes of Yisrael were dim from age, so that he could not see. And he (Joseph) brought them near to him (Israel); and he (Israel) kissed them, and embraced them. Gen 48:11 And Yisrael said to Yosef, “I had not thought to see your face: and, now, Elohiym (God: Judge) has shown me also your seed.”
By telling the story of Rachel’s death prior to announcing his adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh Jacob connects them to her as sons.
Gen 48:12 And Yosef brought them out from between his (Jacob’s) knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. Gen 48:13 And Yosef took them both, Ephrayim (Double fruitfulness) in his right hand toward Yisrael's left hand, and M’nasheh (Cause to forget) in his left hand toward Yisrael's right hand, and brought them near to him.
Joseph is directing the boys toward Jacob in such a way as to ensure that Manasseh receives the blessing from Jacob’s right hand, the hand that signifies strength and the blessing of the first born.
“R’ David Feinstein observes, by placing Ephraim on his own right hand, Joseph unwittingly affirmed Ephraim’s supremacy” – Art Scroll Chumash Commentary
Gen 48:14 And Yisrael stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephrayim’s (Double fruitfulness) head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon M’nasheh (Cause to forget) head, guiding his hands intentionally; for M’nasheh was the firstborn.
Jacob trusted the promises of Hashem and the ultimate outcome of those promises. Thus it is Fruitfulness that he seeks out as head over the brothers. Forgetfulness will come too often to Israel in the days ahead. Jacob wants Israel to look forward to the goal of her worship, for only then can she truly forget her suffering.
Gen 48:15 And he (Jacob) blessed Yosef, and said, “Ha-Elohiym the God (Judge), before whose face my fathers Avraham (Father of many peoples) and Yitzchaak (He laughs) walked, Ha-Elohiym the God (Judge) ha-roeh who tended (as a shepherd) me continually throughout my life up to this day,
Jacob names God for His awesome Judgement (Elohiym) and for His intimate relationship (Before the face), and subsequently identifies the terrifying Judge as a loving Shepherd Who ha-roeh, tends, shepherds the flock. The intrinsic link between the practical shepherding role of Israel and the spiritual Shepherd of Israel is an essential part of her discipleship.
Jacob has identified God as:
Gen 48:16 Ha-Malakh ha-goel the Messenger Who redeemed me from all ra evil, bless the youths; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Avraham (Father of many peoples) and Yitzchaak (He laughs); v’yid’gu larov and may they proliferate into a multitude like fish, in the midst of the earth.
The first part of verse 16 literally reads, “The Messenger the Redeemer of me from all evil.”
Joseph’s name is used here as a collective noun that combines Ephraim and Manasseh. It is used in a similar way in 1 Chronicles 5:2. The Blessing that Ephraim and Manasseh will receive is imparted to them through their father.
Jacob has again acknowledged God in three distinct ways:
It is clear from Jacob’s words that the God who tended him continually and the Messenger (Angel) Who redeemed him, are one in the same.
Jacob says, “and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Avraham and Yitzchaak…” because he is calling Ephraim and Manasseh the new heads of the tribes in the sense that they will take over the roles that Reuben and Simeon have failed to uphold.
With regard to the naming of the tribes following this blessing, some lists include Joseph and the clerical tribe of Levi (Deut. 27:12-13), while others omit Levi and divide Joseph into the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (Numbers 1:5-15).
Gen 48:17 And when Yosef saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephrayim (Double fruitfulness), it displeased him: and he held up his father's hand, to remove it from Ephrayim’s (Double fruitfulness) head and move it to M’nasheh’s (Cause to forget) head. Gen 48:18 And Yosef said to his father, “Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put your right hand upon his head.” Gen 48:19 And his father refused, and said, “I know, my son, I know: 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.”
Prophetically speaking it is better that Israel become doubly fruitful rather than forgetful. It is only when Israel remembers that which she has been delivered from that she returns to HaShem in humility and repentance.
Joseph thought that his father, who was weak sighted, must have made an unintentional mistake in placing his right hand on Ephraim. Jacob gently assures him that he knows what he’s doing. He says this twice to affirm the establishment of God’s will to bless Ephraim as the greater of the two brothers.
Ephraim was 8300 men greater than Manasseh when Israel came out of Egypt (Numbers 1:23) and lead the tribes of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam. Joshua, the successor to Moses was of the tribe of Ephraim and Samuel the prophet (a Levite via Kohath) was from the tribal land of Ephraim. Ephraim eventually became an alternate name for the northern kingdom (Hosea 5:3, Isaiah 7:1-17).
Gen 48:20 And he (Jacob) blessed them that day, saying, “In you shall Yisrael (Overcome in God) bless, saying, ‘Elohiym God make you as Ephrayim (Double fruitfulness) and as M’nasheh (Cause to forget)’”: and he set Ephrayim before M’nasheh.
The traditional Jewish blessing of the children every yom shishi (Friday evening) is based on the Targum which says, “This custom continues with the Jews to this day, to place their hands on persons to bless them; if a son, they say, ‘God make you as Ephraim and Manasseh;’ if a daughter, ’God make you as Sarah and Rebekah:’”
One of the reasons given in Jewish tradition for the pronouncing of this blessing concerning Ephraim and Manasseh, is because these sons of Joseph maintained their Jewish identity according to their father’s teaching even though they were living in Egypt. Thus Jewish parents throughout the world pray that their children will do likewise.
Gen 48:21 And Yisrael said to Yosef, “Hinei Behold now, I die: but Elohiym God (Judge) shall be with you, and bring you again to the land of your fathers. Gen 48:22 Moreover I have given to you shekhem (portion) one above your brothers, which I took out of the hand of the Amori (Speaker, Sayer of sayings) with my sword and with my bow.”
The Hebrew word for "portion" is "Shekhem", which is understood by some Jewish commentators (Targum Yonatan and Yarchi) to refer to the city of Shekhem. The portion of land being referred to in Jacob’s blessing of Joseph was near to Shekhem, and the city itself, and all the adjacent country, eventually came into the possession of the tribe of Ephraim (Joshua 20:7).
“Jacob and his sons had very grievous war with the Amorites on account of the slaughter and captivity of the Shechemites” –Shalshalet Hakabala, fol. 5. 1
However, the taking of the land out of the hand of the Amorites is probably not referring to the taking and plundering of the city of Shekhem by Jacob’s sons Levi and Simeon, because Jacob wasn’t involved and even rebuked them for their actions. Additionally, Shekhem was a Hivite town at the time.
Iben Ezra and Ben Gershom suggest that the past tense “Which I took” is to be understood in a future prophetic sense as referring to Jacob’s progeny, as if he had foreseen that his descendants would take it out of the hands of the Amorites, the most powerful of the Canaanite nations, and then it would be given to Joseph's seed.
In giving Joseph this portion above his brothers, Jacob is effectively offering him the double portion belonging to the first born, that is, the birth right (Deut. 21:17), and hence Joseph's bones were interred in Shekhem, because it had become his own land according to his birth right (Joshua 24:32).
© Yaakov Brown 2017
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.