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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 48

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

13. Jacob’s worship in Egypt 47:28-48:22

Jacob demonstrated his faith in God’s promises by demanding that his sons bury him in the Promised Land. He also showed he had learned that God will bless those He chooses to bless by blessing the younger Ephraim over the older Manasseh.

Verses 1-11

Jacob’s adoption of Joseph’s sons 48:1-11

The events recorded in the last three chapters of Genesis deal with the last days of Jacob and Joseph. In these last chapters there are many other references to earlier episodes in the book.

"This constant harking back to earlier episodes and promises is totally in place in a book whose theme is the fulfillment of promises, a book that regularly uses analogy between episodes as a narrative technique. And at the close of a book it is particuarly [sic] appropriate to exploit these cross-linkages to the full. It reinforces the sense of completeness and suggests that the story has reached a natural stopping point." [Note: Ibid., p. 461.]

"It is appropriate that the end of Genesis should draw to a close with repeated references to the thematic word of the book (b-r-k, ’to bless’)." [Note: Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, p. 863.]

This very important section explains how Ephraim and Manasseh came to have equal standing with Joseph’s brothers and why Joseph did not become the head of a tribe. Manasseh would have been between 20 and 26 years old at this time (Genesis 41:50; Genesis 47:28). Ephraim, of course, was younger.

It was as Israel, the prince with God, that Jacob performed this official and significant act (Genesis 48:2-4; cf. Hebrews 11:21). His action was in harmony with God’s will and purpose for the chosen family, and it involved the patriarchal promises to which he referred (cf. Genesis 35:10-12).

"Jacob may be losing his health, but he is not losing his memory. He can recall the incident of many years earlier when God appeared to him at Luz [Bethel] (Genesis 35:9-15). He repeats the promises of God about fertility, multiplication, that his seed will be an assembly of nations, and finally the promise of land. The only essential element of that theophany he does not repeat is the name change from Jacob to Israel. In this way, Jacob minimizes his role and maximizes God’s role in that event." [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters 18-50, p. 628.]

By adopting Joseph’s first two sons as his own and giving them equal standing with Joseph’s brothers, Jacob was bestowing on Joseph the double portion of the birthright (Genesis 48:5; cf. Genesis 48:22; 1 Chronicles 5:1-2). He was also in effect elevating Joseph to the level of himself. Joseph was the first son of Jacob’s intended first wife. Jacob’s reference to Rachel (Genesis 48:7) shows that she, as the mother of Joseph, was in his mind in this act. This act honored her. The other sons of Joseph received their own inheritances.

"Verse 7 has long puzzled biblical interpreters. Why the mention of Rachel at this point in the narrative, and why the mention of her burial site? If we relate the verse to what precedes, then the mention of Rachel here could be prompted by the fact that just as she had borne Jacob ’two sons’ (Genesis 44:27, Joseph and Benjamin) at a time when he was about to enter (Genesis 48:7) the land, so also Joseph gave Jacob ’two sons’ (Genesis 48:5) just at the time when he was about to enter Egypt." [Note: Sailhamer, "Genesis," p. 271.]

Jacob’s eyes were failing in his old age (Genesis 48:10) so he may not have recognized Ephraim and Manasseh (cf. Genesis 27:1). However it seems more likely that by asking "Who are these?" (Genesis 48:8) Jacob was identifying the beneficiaries as part of the legal ritual of adoption and or blessing (cf. Genesis 27:18). The eyesight of both Isaac and Jacob failed in their old age.

"There is a slight touch of irony here: Jacob had secured Isaac’s blessing by guile and deceit, while Joseph is securing the blessing for his sons by honesty and forthrightness." [Note: Davis, p. 294.]

Jacob gave God the credit that he was able to see Joseph’s sons (Genesis 48:11). He had come to acknowledge God’s providential working and grace in his life as he realized how faithful God had been to him in spite of his unfaithfulness.

Verses 12-20

Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh 48:12-20

Ephraim and Manasseh had been standing close to Jacob, between his knees, so he could see and touch them (Genesis 48:12). Ancient Near Eastern adoption ritual included placing the adopted child on the knees of the adopting parent to symbolize giving him birth in place of the birth mother. [Note: See I. Mendelsohn, "A Ugaritic Parallel to the Adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh," Israel Exploration Journal (1959):180-83.] Now Joseph took them back to where he had been standing, in front of his father. He then bowed before Jacob.

"Joseph may be the second most powerful man in Egypt, but he never loses his respect for his father, and he never ceases to be gracious toward him." [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters 18-50, p. 635.]

Arranging Manasseh and Ephraim in the normal order for Jacob’s blessing, by their age, Joseph then brought them forward again (Genesis 48:13).

This is the first of many scriptural instances of the laying on of hands (Genesis 48:14). By this symbolic act, a person transferred a spiritual power or gift to another. This rite was part of the ceremony of dedicating a person or group to an office (Numbers 27:18; Numbers 27:23; Deuteronomy 34:9; Matthew 19:13; Acts 6:6; Acts 8:17; etc.), offering sacrifices, and the healings Jesus Christ and the apostles performed. In this case Jacob symbolically transferred a blessing from himself to Joseph’s sons. Once uttered, blessings were irreversible (cf. Numbers 23:20; Romans 11:29).

Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh also carried prophetic significance and force (Genesis 48:19-20). Under the inspiration of God, Jacob deliberately gave Ephraim the privileged first-born blessing and predicted his preeminence. This was the fourth consecutive generation of Abraham’s descendants in which the normal pattern of the firstborn assuming prominence over the second born was reversed: Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over Reuben, and Ephraim over Manasseh. We can see this blessing in the process of fulfillment during the Judges Period when the tribe of Ephraim had grown very large and influential. The combined tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh increased from 72,700 in the second year after the Exodus (Numbers 1:32-35) to 85,200 40 years later (Numbers 26:28-37). By contrast the tribes of Reuben and Simeon decreased from 105,800 to 65,930 during the same period. The Ephraimites took the lead among the ten northern tribes and flourished to the extent that the Jews used the name Ephraim equally with the name Israel. The Ephraimites occasionally demonstrated an attitude of superiority among the tribes that we can trace back to this blessing (e.g., Judges 12:1; et al.). The Hebrew phrase translated "a multitude (group) of nations" (Genesis 48:19) appears only here in the Old Testament and probably means a company of peoples, namely, numerous. The reference to Israel in Genesis 48:20 applies to the nation in the future from Jacob’s viewpoint.

Verses 21-22

Jacob’s announcement of Joseph’s birthright 48:21-22

Jacob (Israel, the prince with God) firmly believed God’s promise to bring his descendants back into the Promised Land (cf. Genesis 46:4). Jacob’s prophetic promise to Joseph (Genesis 48:22) is a play on words. The word for "portion" means ridge or shoulder (of land) and is the same as "Shechem." Shechem lay in Manasseh’s tribal territory. The Israelites later distributed the land among the tribes (Joshua 24:1) and buried Joseph at Shechem (Joshua 24:32). Jacob regarded the land that he had purchased there (Genesis 33:18-20) as a pledge of his descendants’ future possession of the whole land. In Jesus’ day people spoke of Shechem (near Sychar) as what Jacob had given to Joseph (John 4:5).

Jacob spoke as though he had taken Shechem from the Amorites by force (Genesis 48:22). Probably Jacob viewed Simeon and Levi’s slaughter of the Shechemites as his own taking of the city (Genesis 34:27-29). [Note: Waltke, Genesis, p. 601.] Another view is that Moses used the perfect tense in Hebrew, translated past tense in English ("took"), prophetically. In this usage, which is common in the Old Testament, the writer spoke of the future as past. The idea was that, since God predicted them by divine inspiration, events yet future are so certain of fulfillment that one could speak of them as already past. Here the thought is that Israel (Jacob) would take Canaan from the Amorites, the most powerful of the Canaanite tribes, not personally, but through his posterity (cf. Genesis 15:16). [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:385.] Other scholars have suggested still another explanation.

"It is not impossible that the property which Jacob owned at Shechem was taken away by the Amorites after he left the region (cf. Genesis 35:4-5) and that he eventually returned and repossessed it by force of arms?" [Note: Davis, p. 294. Cf. H. Vos, p. 165; Aalders, 2:267; Leupold, 2:1158; Bush, 2:384; and Thomas, p. 464.]

Apparently Jacob gave Joseph Shechem, which he regarded as a down payment of all that God would give his descendants as they battled the Canaanites in the future.

"For Joseph it was an honour that his father entrusted him with his funeral in Palestine (47.30f.). In 48.21f., the implication in family law is finally drawn: Joseph, instead of Reuben, receives the double heritage as a sign of his primogeniture (48.22a). Just as the son is commanded to bury the father in Palestine, so it is in Palestine that the priority of Joseph within the family takes effect. These two scenes thus enclose a detailed blessing for Joseph and his sons, so filling out the promise of his superiority in Palestine (48.22a)." [Note: Horst Seebass, "The Joseph Story, Genesis 48 and the Canonical Process," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 35 (June 1986):30.]

Believers whom God has shepherded for a lifetime can see God’s purposes and plans for the future more clearly even though the maturing process has been difficult for them. [Note: See William J. McIlwain Jr., "My Ways Are Not Your Ways," Exegesis and Exposition 3:1 (Fall 1988):92-100.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 48". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/genesis-48.html. 2012.
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