My study today took me through Genesis 48. In this chapter Joseph is summoned to see his father Jacob, because he is ill and presumably on his deathbed. Joseph takes his sons Manasseh and Ephraim with him, and when they arrive Jacob sits up and speaks to them. Jacob tells Joseph of the promise God had made to him a long time ago – God had said “I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.” (v. 4). Jacob tells Joseph that his 2 sons will share in the inheritance and in this blessing from God just as Joseph’s other brothers will. Then, Jacob proceeded to bless Joseph’s sons, but not as in the manner Joseph would have expected. Joseph placed his sons before Jacob so that his firstborn, Manasseh, was on Jacob’s right, and Ephraim was on his left. But Jacob crossed his arms while he blessed them, placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head, and his left on Manasseh’s. This displeased Joseph, but Jacob tells him “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” (v. 19). Then Jacob tells Joseph that he is about to die, but that God will take care of him and allow him to return to the land of Canaan.
My study (Precept Upon Precept) had me read this chapter, then took me on a Biblical field trip on walking with God (as Jacob mentions his forefathers did in verse 15). I will return to this topic of walking with God tomorrow, but for today I want to look at the blessing that Jacob bestows on Joseph’s sons.
My first observation from this chapter is that, when Joseph is summoned to Jacob’s bed when he is ill, Joseph must know that he is going to bless him and his sons. The reason I say this is because, from what I can tell, Jacob has not met Joseph’s sons before this point. Jacob acts like this is the first time he has seen them – “When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, ‘Who are these?’ ” (v. 8). This seems odd to me, because the text tells us that Jacob spent 17 years in Egypt before he died (see Genesis 47:28), and that seems like a long time for him to live there without meeting his grandsons, who were born before he moved to Egypt (see Genesis 41:50-52). Of course, Jacob’s vision was failing him, so it is possible that he just didn’t recognize them, but I really don’t think this is the case. So why would Joseph take his sons to meet their grandfather now, but not before? First, Joseph obviously knows that there are some social divisions in Egypt that might cause problems if he were to have too close of a relationship with his family. In chapter 46, Joseph explains to them that shepherds are detestable to Egyptians, and in chapter 47, he tells Pharaoh that his family will be living in Goshen, which is a ways away from the center of Egyptian leadership and a majority of the population. Joseph, having a highly public and respected position, perhaps could not risk getting too close to his family, or having his sons get too close them. Another reason Joseph may have known that his sons would be blessed by Jacob in this meeting was that it was possibly a deathbed tradition. Jacob’s father, Isaac, had blessed his sons while on his deathbed (see Genesis 27), so perhaps this was just something that Joseph expected.
My next observation is that, when Jacob went to bless Manasseh and Ephraim, he crossed his arms and placed his right hand on the younger grandson. Joseph had attempted to put his sons in their right place, placing the firstborn on the right side of Jacob where his right hand could touch him during the blessing, and placing the younger son on Jacob’s left. Jacob saw where they were, and crossed his arms so that his right hand would touch Ephraim during the blessing. This obviously disturbed Joseph – the right hand must have held more blessing power or something. But Jacob reassures Joseph that he knows what he is doing. This story reminds me that God makes choices based on his own holiness and righteousness, and his own knowledge that supersedes time and human understanding. As Matthew Henry put it in his commentary over this chapter
Jacob acted neither by mistake, nor from a partial affection to one more than the other; but from a spirit of prophecy, and by the Divine counsel. God, in bestowing blessings upon his people, gives more to some than to others, more gifts, graces, and comforts, and more of the good things of this life. He often gives most to those that are least likely. He chooses the weak things of the world; he raises the poor out of the dust. Grace observes not the order of nature, nor does God prefer those whom we think fittest to be preferred, but as it pleases him.
So Henry suggests that God, and not just Jacob, chose Ephraim to be the greater of the 2 brothers. To Joseph and Manasseh this may have seemed unfair, but I try to remember that we, as humans, usually aren’t wise enough or powerful enough to understand why He makes the choices He makes. Romans 11:33 says “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” God is way bigger, wiser, and more powerful than we can understand – if He were small enough for us to understand, He wouldn’t be big enough to worship. I hope to remember this when I consider questioning God during the times that I don’t understand what is going on.