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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 48

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-22


Jacob’s sickness. His blessing of his grandchildren. Joseph’s sons.

Genesis 48:1-22

1And it came to pass, after these things, that one1 told Joseph, Behold, thy father Isaiah 2:0 sick; and he took with him his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim. And one told Jacob, and said, Behold, thy son Joseph cometh unto thee; and Israel strengthened himself, and sat upon the bed. 3And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz [Bethel] in the land of Canaan, and blessed me. 4And said unto me, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and I will give this land to thy seed after thee, for an everlasting possession. 5And now thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, that 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. 6And thy issue, which thou begettest after them, shall be thine, and shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance. 7And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by2 me in the land of Canaan, 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 Beth-lehem [reason for enlarging the descendants of Rachel]. 8And Israel beheld Joseph’s sons, and said, Who are these? 9And Joseph said unto his father, They are my sons whom God hath given me in this place. And he said, Bring them, I pray thee, unto me, and I will bless them. 10Now the eyes of Israel were dim for age, so that he could not see. And he brought them near unto him, and he kissed them, and embraced them. 11And Israel said unto Joseph, I had not thought to see thy face; and, lo, God hath shewed me also thy seed. 12And Joseph brought them out from between his knees [Jacob’s], and he bowed3 himself with his face to the earth. 13And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand towards Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand towards Israel’s right hand, and brought them near unto him. 14And 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, guiding4his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the first born. 15And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed5 me all my life long unto this day, 16The angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; 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. 17And 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. 18And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father; for this is the first-born; put thy right hand upon his head. 19And 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. 20And 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. 21And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die; 22but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers. Moreover, I have given to thee one portion6 above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.


1. To the distinction of Judah, in the history of Israel, corresponds the distinction of Joseph, namely, that he is represented by two tribes. This historical fact is here referred back to the patriarchal theocratic sanction. In this Jacob authenticates the distinction of Rachel no less than of Joseph. The arrangement is of importance as expressing the fact that the tribe of his favorite son should be neither that of the priesthood (Levi), nor the central tribe of the Messiah (Judah). Only through divine illumination, and a divine self-renouncement of his own wisdom, could he have come to such a decision. It was, however, in accordance with his deep love of Joseph, that he richly indemnified him in ways corresponding, at the same time, to the dispositions of the sons and to the divine determination; and that, in this preliminary blessing, he prepared him for the distinguishing blessing of Judah. If we regard the right of the firstborn in a three-fold way: as priesthood, princehood, and double inheritance (1 Chronicles 5:2), then Jacob gives to Joseph, by way of devise, the third part, at least, namely, the double inheritance. Thus this chapter forms the natural introduction to the blessing of Jacob in Genesis 49:0 Neither of them can be rightly understood without the other.

2. Contents: 1) The distinguishing blessing of Joseph, especially the adoption of his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, Genesis 48:1-7; Genesis 2:0) the blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh, Genesis 48:8-16; Genesis 3:0) the precedence of Ephraim, Genesis 48:17-19; Genesis 4:0) The preference of Joseph, Genesis 48:20-22.


The adoption of Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim (Genesis 48:1-7). Delitzsch. “We must call it an act of adoption, although, in the sense of the civil law, adoption, strictly, is unknown to Jewish antiquity; it is an adoption which may be compared to the adoptio plena of the Justinian code (adoption on the side of the ascendants, or kinsmen reckoned upwards).” The theocratic adoption, however, has, before all things, a religious ethical character, though including, at the same time, a legal importance.—After these things.—Jacob’s history is now spiritually closed; he lives only for his sons, as testator and prophet.—And he took with him.—The sons of Joseph must now have been about twenty years old. They were already born when Jacob came to Egypt, and he lived there seventeen years.—And Israel strengthened himself.—Delitzsch: “It is Jacob that lies down in sickness; it is Israel that gathers up his strength (compare a similar significant change of these names Genesis 45:27 : Jacob recovers from his fainting; it is Israel that is for going straight to Egypt).”—God Almighty appeared unto me.—Jacob makes mention first of that glorious revelation which had shed its light upon the whole of his troubled life. He makes prominent, however, the promise of a numerous posterity, as an introduction to the adoption.—They shall be mine.—They shall not be two branches, merely, of one tribe, but two fully-recognized tribes of Jacob and Israel, equal in this respect to the firstborn Reuben and Simeon.—Shall he thine.—The sons afterwards born shall belong to Joseph, not forming a third tribe, but included in Ephraim and Manasseh; for Joseph is represented in a two-fold way through these. After this provision, the names of the other sons of Joseph are not mentioned; it was necessary, however, that they should be contained in the genealogical registers, Numbers 26:28-37; 1 Chronicles 7:14-19 (Jos 16:17).—As for me, when I came from Padan.—The ואני here makes a contrast to Joseph. The calling to mind of Rachel here would seem, at first glance, to be an emotional interruption of the train of thought. In presence of Joseph, the remembrance of the never-to-be-forgotten one causes a sudden spasm of feeling (Delitzsch). But the very course of the thought would lead him to Rachel. She died by him on the way to Ephrath (עלי would mean, literally, for him; she died for him, since, while living, she shared with him, and for him, the toils of his pilgrimage life, and through this, perhaps, brought on her deadly travail. She died on the way to Ephratah, that is, Bethlehem, after she had only two sons. And so must he make this satisfaction to his heart’s longing for that one to whom he especially gives the name of wife (see Genesis 44:27), his first love, that there should be three full tribes from these two branches of Rachel. And thus, through their enlargement, is there a sacred memorial, not only of Joseph, but also of the loves and hopes of Rachel and Jacob. Knobel rightly remarks that the descendants of Joseph became very numerous, inferior only to those of Judah (Numbers 1:33; Numbers 1:35), and even surpassing them, according to another reckoning Numbers 26:34; Numbers 26:37); so that, as two tribes, they were to have two inheritances (Numbers 1:10), a fact which Ezekiel also keeps in view for the Messianic times (Ezekiel 47:13; Ezekiel 48:4); although (Deuteronomy 33:13) they are put together as one house of Joseph. Knobel, however, will have it that it is the narrator here who must be supposed to make this explanation instead of allowing that the patriarch himself might have foreseen it.—Padan.—Put here for Padan-aram.—Bethlehem.—An addition of the narrator.

2. The blessing of the sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:8-16).—Who are these?—“The old, dim-eyed patriarch interrupts himself. He now perceives, for the first time, that he is not alone with Joseph, and asks, Who are these here? Here again Knobel puts us in mind, in his presumptive way, that the narrative follows the old view, that the uttered blessings of godly men have power and efficacy” (a view which has not wholly died out), and remarks that these young persons ought to have been well known to Jacob. In the Elohistic time-reckoning, therefore, the question was an improbable one (he would say). Then, too, ought the old, and almost blind Isaac to have been able to distinguish his two sons, Jacob and Esau !—And he brought them near.—The emotion of the grandfather grows stronger as he calls to mind, how God had given him joy beyond his prayers and anticipations. He had not even expected to see Joseph again, and now he beholds not only him, but his two children.—And Joseph brought them out.—Jacob, in his embrace, had drawn them between the knees, and to his bosom; for we must think of him as sitting. This would suggest the idea of boys, or of children in the arms, a thing which Knobel has not overlooked; and yet it is self-evident that even as grown-up children, they might stand between the knees of Jacob. The blessing was a religious act, and in receiving it, they must take another and more solemn attitude. Therefore does Joseph draw them back, and kneels down himself, to prepare the sons, and himself with them, for the patriarchal blessing. Hereupon he brings them in the right positions before Jacob. If Jacob would lay his right hand upon Manasseh, Joseph must present him with his left, and, with like cure, must Ephraim be placed before the left hand of Jacob. Among the Hebrews the right hand was the place of precedence (1 Kings 2:19). But Jacob crosses his expectation.—Guiding his hands wittingly.—Delitzsch and Knobel are in favor of the LXX interpretation, with which agrees the Vulgate and the Syriac, he changed, crossed his hands; Keil disputes it. The expression denotes a conscious and well-understood act. This is the first mention, in the Scriptures, of the imposition of the hands in blessing (Numbers 27:18; Numbers 27:23).—And he blessed Joseph.—In his blessing of Manasseh and Ephraim, “who are also comprehended as Joseph in the blessing of Jacob (Genesis 49:0) and Moses” Knobel.—God before whom.—The לפניו here is not to be disregarded (see Genesis 48:16). It is the God who reveals himself to the fathers through His Presence the angel of His Presence, מַלְאַךְ פָּנָיו Isaiah 63:9).—Who fed me.—Led me, guided me, as my shepherd, Psalms 23:0.—The angel.—Compare Isaiah 63:9. The word הַמַּלְאָךְ has no Wau conversive. Delitzsch explains this as showing “that the separate self-existence of the God-sent angel mentioned Numbers 20:16, is inconsistent with the idea of his being a medium and mediator of the divine self-witnessing” This is evidently a mingling of the divine and the creaturely which the Old Testament does not recognize. A creaturely angel cannot stand in connection with God as a fountain of blessing (but see Keil, p. 281). It is inconsistent when Delitzsch would here, too, regard the Logos as represented by this angel. It is worthy of notice, that along with this threefold naming of God (which would seem to sound like an anticipation of the trinity; see Keil, p. 281), there is, at the same time, clearly presented the conception of God’s presence, of his care as a shepherd, and of his faithfulness as Redeemer—all, too, in connection with the laying on of hands. We have, therefore, in this passage, a point in which the revelation makes a significant advance.—From all evil.—Jacob could tell of many seasons of sore pressure, in which the prospect of deliverance had almost vanished. They are connected with the names Esau, Laban, Shechem, Joseph, and the famine. The most grievous calamity was the ban of unrevealed guilt, that, for so many years, lay as a burthen upon his house, and which threatened to carry him away into a death-night of anguish; for here, along with evil there is also wickedness, and so the first ground laid for that last prayer “Our Father (deliver us from evil).”—Bless the lads.—“There is expressed here, in the singular, the threefold denotation of God in the unity of the divine being” Keil. And so also in the unity of the divine government,—And let my name be named on them.—The blessing divides itself into a spiritual and an earthly aspect. Here, the first rightly precedes; for the words are not at all nota adoptionis (Calvin), in which case not only would the name of the fathers be unsuitable, but the extinction of Joseph’s name would be altogether out of place; much rather are they to be acknowledged as genuine children of the patriarchs, and so prove themselves to be, notwithstanding their mother was the daughter of an Egyptian priest. The remembrances and the promises of salvation are to be sustained by them and through them. The name of the fathers is the expression of the life of the fathers, and the thus becoming named denotes the realization of that which is verified in these names, that is, the faith of the fathers, as well as the recognition, which, by virtue of them, becomes their portion. To the predominant spiritual blessing there is added the predominant earthly, or, rather, the human, with like force.—And let them grow into a multitude.—The verb דגה is from דָּג with relation to the extraordinary increase of the fishes. And truly shall they so multiply themselves in the midst, that is, in the very core of the land.

3. The precedence of Ephraim(Genesis 48:17-19).—When Joseph saw.—Joseph looks to the natural right of the first-born. He supposes that his father has made a mistake, and this, all the more, from the pains he had taken in the proper presentation of the sons.—I know it, my son, I know it.—Joseph, with his merely natural judgment, stands here in contrast with the clear-seeing and divinely imparted wisdom of the prophet, who knows right well that, by his crossed hands, he is giving the precedence of the birthright to the younger son. From his interposition he takes occasion to announce to the father the future relations of the two. True it is that a rich blessing is bestowed upon Manasseh, but Ephraim shall be the greater.—“This blessing begins to fulfil itself from the days of the Judges onwards; as the tribe of Ephraim in power and compass so increased that it became the head of the northern ten tribes, and its name became of like significance with that of Israel; although, in the time of Moses, Manasseh still outnumbered Ephraim by twenty thousand (Numbers 26:34; Numbers 26:37).” Keil.

4. The preference of Joseph(Genesis 48:20-22).—In thee shall Israel bless.—This rich expression of benediction shall, in its fulfilment, become proverbial, in Israel.—And he set Ephraim before Manasseh.—These words close the preceding narrative, but they belong here, as denoting that Ephraim is preferred only in the sense that Manasseh, too, was to be a great people. It was, moreover, a single tribe that again branched into two great districts, having separate inheritances on each side of Jordan.—And God shall bring you again.—This was, for Joseph and his children, a great promise and dispensation: Notwithstanding their Egyptian relations they are not to complete their history in Egypt.—Moreover, I have given unto thee one portion.—Jos 17:44. We may well suppose that שְׁכֶם is a play of words upon Shechem, which lay in the district of Joseph (Joshua 21:11), and where, at a later day, the bones of Joseph himself were interred in the field purchased by Jacob (Genesis 33:19). This is to be inferred from the great importance that Shechem attained in the later history of Israel; but not at all, as Von Bohlen and others suppose, that there is reference here to an actual occupation of Shechem, on the ground that Jacob had afterwards appropriated to himself the act of his sons. The perfect, לָקַחְתּי, is used in a prophetic sense. Keil: “The words cannot be referred to the purchase at Shechem (Genesis 33:19), for a forcible taking by sword and bow cannot be called a purchase;7 much less can they relate to the wicked robbery perpetrated by Jacob’s sons (Genesis 34:25); for Jacob could not possibly take to himself, as his own act, this evil deed for which he lays a curse upon Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:6)—to say nothing of the fact that the robbery had, for its consequence, not the occupation of this city, but the withdrawal of Jacob from the country. Moreover, the conquest of that district would have been in entire contrariety to the character of the patriarchal history, which consists in renunciation of self-willed human works, and in resigned believing hope in the God of the promise (Delitzsch)” Nevertheless, this connection of Jacob’s prediction with the time then present, is not without significance. There appears here, in an isolated form, the first indication that the Israelites, in their return out of Egypt (when the iniquity of the Amorites shall have become full, Genesis 15:16), should acquire lands by conquest with sword and bow. This foresight of Jacob, however, may have had its suggestive origin in the thought, how two of his sons, in a religious yet unholy zeal, had once conquered the entire city of Shechem. In the germinal fanaticism of such “sons of thunder,” the prophetic eye discerns the seed of a future purer heroism. Thus regarded, the private acquisitions of the patriarchs in Hebron, and especially in Shechem, are a kind of symbolical occupation of the land, in which the promise of God is typically realized. Beyond all, in this respect, is the designation of Canaan as the home of Israel, and the strengthening of its home-feeling, as that by which, at a later day, the march of Israel, after the migration from Egypt, is directed. And so, too, the prediction of Jacob becomes the first established point for the future partition of Canaan, causing that Joseph’s children, especially the Ephraimites, would, at all events, be pointed by a well-understood indication, to the land of Shechem. On this account, too, might it have been said, in later times (John 4:5), that Jacob had given his field at Shechem to his son Joseph. That pointing, however, must have exerted an influence in the whole partition of the land of Canaan among the twelve tribes.—The Amorite.—A poetical name for Canaanites generally.


1. In the decline of life, the believer looks cheerfully back upon his entire experiences of the grace of God, that he may thereby quicken his hopes and prospects for the future, and for eternity.
2. The adoption had for its aim not only to incorporate into the people of Israel the sons of Joseph who had been born in Egyptian relations—not only to honor and glorify Rachel in her children—not only to assign to Joseph the double inheritance as the third part of the birthright—but also to keep full the tribes to the number twelve. By the adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh, there is also, already, introduced the spiritual distribution of the tribe of Levi among all the tribes; although this turn of things can only indicate such a dispersion (Genesis 49:0). The historical compensation between the line of Leah and that of Rachel, is indicated in this blessing, as in later times there appears the contrast between Ephraim and Judah. The Messiah, indeed, is to come from the tribe of Judah; but the first elements of his Church, to say the least, came out of Galilee, the district of the ten tribes, and Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin.

3. The crosswise position of Jacob’s hands has been interpreted allegorically of the cross of Christ. On this account has the occasional appearing of the cross figure been regarded as momentous; and yet, without reason, unless there is kept in view the general idea, namely, that one direction, or determination, has been thwarted by an opposing one; as here the natural expectation of Joseph in respect to Manasseh. In the symbolical sense, the form of the blessing here carries with it no theocratic destiny of sorrow.

4. Here first appears the imposition of hands in its great significance for the kingdom of God. The evident effect, outwardly, is that Jacob makes a difference in the value of the blessing for both sons. It is, in the first feature, a symbolic of the blessing, through the symbol of the hand, especially the right. Then there is a theocratic inauguration and investiture. The grandchildren of Jacob are raised to the condition of sons. Thus, afterwards, does the imposition of hands denote a legal consecration, Numbers 27:18-23; Deuteronomy 34:9. The impartation thereby of an actual power of blessing, appears already in the Old Testament, in its typical beginnings; but in the New Testament it comes forth in its full significance, Matthew 19:13; Acts 6:6. The idea in common of the different applications of the imposition of hands, is the transfer, or traduction, of the community of life through the hand. Through this, the animal offerings became symbolical resignations of human life, and so, inversely, the sick were restored to health. See the article “Imposition of Hands,” Herzog’s Real-Encyclopedia; also Keil, p. 281. On the significance of the hand see also the citations from Passavant by Schröder.

5. On the great place of Ephraim in the life and history of Israel, compare the History of the Old Testament.
6. The blessing of Joseph’s sons is throughout denoted as a blessing of Joseph himself in his sons. We cannot say that this was because Joseph had become an Egyptian. Such service had no more taken away his theocratic investiture, than the foreign position of Nehemiah and Daniel had done in their cases. Even Joseph’s bones still belonged to Israel.
7. It is incorrect to regard the effect of Jacob’s benediction as a representation merely of Hebrew antiquity; and so is it also when we regard the prophetic significance and power of the benediction alone, as a positive addition to the authority of the divine promise. The divine promise reveals itself even in the human life germs. Ephraim’s future lay in the core of Ephraim’s life, as laid there by God.
8. The elevated glow of Jacob’s spirit, as it lights up on the hearth of his dead natural life, his eagle-like clairvoyance with his darkened eye-sight, reminds us of the similar example in the blessing of Isaac. The fact of a state of being raised high above the conditions of old age, meets us here in even a still stronger degree. The possibility and inner truth of such a contrast, wherein the future life already seems to present itself, is confirmed by manifold facts in the life of old men when pious and spiritually quickened.
9. In the threefold designation of God in the blessing of Jacob, Keil, without reason, finds an anticipation of the trinity (p. 281). But, in fact, this is the first place in which the previous duality of Jehovah and his angel begins to assume something of a trinitarian form. That, however, which is to be regarded, in its general aspect, is the unfolding of the revelation consciousness in the blessings before us, especially the appearance of that conception of deliverance from all evil.

10. The prophetic bestowment of territory on Joseph, at the close of the blessing, is the first indication that Israel shall conquer Canaan by the sword and the bow. The allusion to Shechem can only be regarded as the crystallization-point for the whole Israelitish acquisition. If Shechem is to be a portion for Ephraim, Judah must be transferred to the south, and find its point, of holding (its habendum et tenendum) in the grave of Abraham. These determinations have others for their necessary consequences.


The benedictions of Jacob.—Jacob almost blind, yet with an eagle glance in the light of God—Joseph left out in the numbering of the brethren, yet obtains his blessing before them.—Joseph’s double inheritance.—The settlement of the birthright in Israel: 1. In correspondence with the facts, or the diverse gifts of God; 2. as a prevention of envy on the one side, or of pride on the other; 3. an indication of the divine source of the true, or spiritual, birthright; 4. a preparation for the universal priesthood of the people of God.—The blessing of Jacob as given to Ephraim and Manasseh: 1. The names; 2. the fulness; 3. the certainty.
1. The adoption of Joseph’s sons (Genesis 48:1-7). Starke: Here, for the first time, is Ephraim preferred to Manasseh.—Herewith, therefore, is the first privilege of the birthright, namely, the double inheritance, taken from Reuben and given to the two sons of Joseph, in the same manner as the princehood, and the magisterial power, is given to the tribe of Judah, and the priesthood to Levi.—The duty of visiting the sick, of ordering one’s own household, of remembering kindred and friends when dead.—Calwer Handbuch: Observe how the names of Israel and Jacob are changed.—When the spirit is elevated and strong, the sick body gets a new power of life, especially for the transaction of high and holy duties.

Genesis 48:3. Canaan; ever Canaan. Egypt was only his transition-point, and so it must be for Joseph.—Schröder: They who are blessed of God can bless in turn.

2. The blessing of the sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (48:8-16). Starke: The laying on of hands in the various applications. Among others, in the condemnation of a malefactor (Leviticus 24:14; Hist. Susanna, Genesis 48:34.) [As far as concerns this kind of hand-imposition, it expresses merely that the witnesses feel themselves stained with the guilt of the accused, and this guilt, with its stain, they would lay upon his head (see Leviticus 5:1). A still deeper comprehension of this act of laying on the hands, makes it an acknowledgment of human community in the guilt, and a symbolical carrying over of a penitent guilt-consciousness to the guilty, as that which can alone impart to punishment a reconciling character. On the meaning of Goel (גּוֹאֵל), see the Dictionaries.]—Christians are called that they may inherit the blessing.—Calwer Handbuch: Though born in a foreign land, they are engrafted into the patriarchal stem.—Schröder: Ha-Elohim, who fed me, or was my shepherd; a form of speech dear to all the patriarchs, and, in the deepest sense, to Jacob on account of his shepherd life with Laban (Psalms 119:176).—Heim: He is my redeemer (or, who redeemed me), my goel. It is the word that Job uses (Job 19:25), when he says, “I know that my redeemer liveth”

3. The precedence of Ephraim (Genesis 48:17-19). Starke: How God sometimes prefers the younger to the elder, we may see in the case of Shem who was preferred to Japheth, in the case of Isaac who was preferred to Ishmael, of Jacob who was preferred to Esau, of Judah and Joseph who were preferred to Reuben, of Moses who was preferred to Aaron, and finally, of David, who was preferred to all his brethren. God set thee: a form of speech to this day in use among the Jews. As they greet with it men and their young companions, so it is also said to wives and young women: God make thee as Sarah and Rebecca.—Cramer: Human wisdom cannot, in divine things, accommodate itself to the foreknowledge, the election, and the calling of God; but must ever mingle with them its own works, character, and merit.

Genesis 48:10. Cramer: When God speaks, the deed must follow.—Schröder: He fancies that the dimness of his father’s eyes may deceive him, even as he once deceived his father Isaac.

4. The preference of Joseph (Genesis 48:20-22). God distributes his gifts as he wills; in so doing he wrongs no man.

Genesis 48:22. Citation of various interpretations (some hold that sword and bow mean merely the impressions on the coin with which he bought the field at Shechem. Rashi explains the bow as meaning prayer. There is also an interpretation of it as prophetic).—My God, let me set my house in order in due season, Psalms 90:12.—Schröder: Which I took out of the hand of the Amorite. With prophetic boldness, he uses the past for the future. The prophetic impulse, as it appears in this language, prepares us for that which immediately follows.

[Interpretation of the words Goel, Malak Haggoel, Redeemer, Angel Redeemer. Genesis 48:16.—In the Homiletical and Practical, just above, the reader is referred to the Dictionaries for the meaning of these words. Their great importance, both in the patriarchal and the Christian theology, makes proper a more extended examination of them. The primary sense of the root גאל is that of staining, or being stained, with blood. Then it is applied, metaphorically, to the one who suffers a brother’s or kinsman’s blood to go unavenged, on the ground that he himself is stained with it,—polluted by it, as the idea is afterwards applied to the land, or civil community, that takes the place of the individual Bluträcher in the ancient law. Then it is given to him officially, and he is called from it הַגֹּאֵל, or the one who removes the stain by taking vengeance. Hence it becomes a name for the next of in himself, and, later still, it is applied to him as one who redeems the lost inheritance,—being a transfer, as we may say, from the criminal to the civil side of jurisprudence. See Leviticus 25:25; Ruth 4:4; Ruth 3:12; Numbers 5:8. This civil sense could not have been the primary, as it could only come in after the establishment of property and civil institutions. Gesenius, in making it first, is illogical as well as unphilological. His referring it to the later Hebrew, Hebraismo sequiori, has no force. The word is found, in this sense of polluted, in Isaiah, and in the Lamentations of Jeremiah. There having been a few occasions for such use in Malachi and Nehemiah, decides nothing as to the earlier senses of the word. The land-redeeming idea, at all events, must be secondary. It is not difficult to explain, too, how the primary sense might come out in the vivid language of the prophets, whilst the secondary meets us oftener in the less impassioned historical portions of Scripture. Both transitions are clear. The next of kin who avenges, and the next of kin who redeems (buys back) the lost inheritance, is the same person. It is redemption in both legal aspects, the criminal and the civil, as said before. And so the shadow of the word, and of the idea, is preserved in the legal nomenclature of later times. Thus in the Greek judicial proceedings, whether in a criminal or a civil action, the plaintiff was called διώκων, the pursuer, the defendant φεύγων, the fleeer. We find it still in our most modern law language. The words prosecutor and pursuer (the latter used in the Scotch law) are remnants of the old idea, though redeemer has no counterpart.

The term Goel is applied to God, or to an angel representing God, and this makes the derivation from blood-staining, as above given, seem harsh and unsuitable. It has led Olshausen, and others, to reject it when given in the interpretation of Job 19:25, where Job says גֹאֵלֻי חָי, “I know that my Goel, my redeemer, liveth.” It is an appeal there to some one as an avenger of his cause, of his blood, we may say, as against a cruel adversary. Comp. Job 16:18, “O earth, cover not thou my blood,” and the appeal, in the next verse, to “the witness on high” (שָׂהֳדִי בַּמְּרוֹמִים, the same etymologically with the Arabic شَاِصلٌ the attesting, or prosecuting angel on the day of judgment, Koran xi. 21). Whom could Job have had in mind but that great one who was believed on from the earliest times, and who was to deliver man from the power of evil. He was the antagonist of the ἀνθρωποκτόνος or “man-slayer from the beginning” (John 8:44), who plays such an important part in the introduction to this ancient poem, or Jobeid, as we may call it. It is this Deliverer that meets us, in some form, in all the old mythologies. He is the great combatant by whom is waged the μάχη�, the “immortal strife” between the powers of good and evil,—“war in Heaven, Michael and his angels fighting with Satan and his angels.” He was to be of kin to us. The theanthropic idea can be traced in most of the old religions, and especially was it an Oriental dogma. All this points to that ancient hope that was born of the protevangel, Genesis 3:15, whatever form it may have taken according to the varied culture or cultus of mankind,—whether that of warrior, legislator, benefactor, or of the more spiritual Messiah as depicted in the Hebrew Scriptures. This Deliverer of humanity was to be בֶּן אָדָם, Son of man, and, at the same time, one of the bené Elohim, Sons of God, or chief, or firstborn, among them. The patriarchs knew him as הַמַּלְאַך הַגֹּאֵל, the avenging or “redeeming angel.” The first, or rescuing aspect, however, is earliest and most predominant. The other, or the redeeming idea, in the more forensic sense, came in later. In modern times it has become almost exclusive. In the patristic theology, however, the avenging, or rather, rescuing aspect of the Redeemer’s work, had a conspicuous place. He appears more as a militant hero who fights a great battle for us, who delivers us from a powerful foe, when we “had become the prey of the mighty.” Redemption consisted in something done for us, not forensically merely, but in actual contest, in some mysterious way, with the great Power of evil, who seemed to have a claim, or who asserted a claim, to our allegiance, and whom the Redeemer overcomes before the forensic work can have its accomplishment.

From the two ideas have come two sets of figures, the forensic and the warlike, as we may call them, both clearly presented in the Bible, but the former now chiefly regarded. Hence the ideas of debt, of satisfaction, of inheritance lost and recovered. These are most true and Scriptural, but they I should not have been allowed to cast the others into the shade. Much less should they have led any, as has been lately done, to speak of the patristic view, in which these figures of rescue are most prominent, as “the devil theory of the atonement.” The redemption is explained by both: it is the ransoming of the captive taken in war; it is the paying of the bankrupt’s heavy debt. We owed ten thousand talents without a farthing to pay; but we were, none the less, prisoners to a “strong one” who had to be bound and despoiled of his prey,—or who had shed our blood, and who was, therefore, to be pursued and slain. The forensic language undoubtedly abounds in the New Testament, but there is there, as well as in the Old, much of the other imagery. Thus Colossians 1:13, “Who hath rescued us from the power of darkness”—the strong Homeric word ἐῤῥύσατο, so often used of deliverance on the field of battle. Compare also Colossians 2:15, “Having spoiled (stripped of their armor) principalities and powers,”—evil spirits (see Ephesians 6:12; John 12:31). The Redeemer did a work in Hades. It is clearly intimated as a fact, 1 Peter 3:19, though the nature of it is veiled from us. He made proclamation (ἐκήρυξε) in Sheol, not a didactic sermon, but an announcement of deliverance. “Thou wilt call,” says Job, “and I will answer” (Job 14:15). The patriarchs waited there for the coming and the victory of the מַלְאָך הַגֹּאֵל, the angel Redeemer. In 1 John 3:8 it is said that the Son of God came, ἵνα λύση, that he might unbind the works of the devil, that is, free his captives. In Romans 11:26, he is called ‘Ο ΡΥΟΜΕΝΟΣ; “there shall come forth from Zion the Deliverer.” It is the LXX rendering of גוֹאֵל, Isaiah 59:20, as in Isaiah 48:20, and other places. The petition in the Lord’s prayer is ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς�, “rescue us from the evil one” The rendering deliver would be well enough if the old sense of the word were kept, but probably to most minds it suggests rather the idea of prevention, of keeping safe from, than that of rescue from a mighty power by which we are carried captive; and thus the weaker sense given to ῥῦσαι obscures the personality that there is in τοῦ πονηροῦ, the evil one.

These ideas are as much grounded on the Scripture as the others, and it will not do to treat them lightly, as “specimens of patristic exegesis,” to use a phrase that has been sneeringly employed. John Bunyan may have known little of patristic interpretations, but he was deeply read in the Scripture, and impressed with the significance of its figures. This militant view of the Redeemer’s work is, therefore, the ground conception of his greatest book, the “Holy War, or the Battle for the Town of Mansoul, between Immanuel and Satan.” Such a view, too, is necessary to give meaning to some of the Messianic titles in the Old Testament, besides that of the Goel or Redeemer. Especially is it suggested by the El Gibbor (אֵל גִּבּוֹר) the hero God, or divine hero, of Isaiah 9:5, who “poured out his soul unto death, and divided the spoil with the strong,” Isaiah 53:12. It may be said, too, that this militant idea is predominant in Christian feeling and experience, although the forensic is more adapted to formal articles of faith. Hence, while we find the one prominent in creeds, as it ought to be, the other especially appears in the hymns and liturgies of the church, both ancient and modern.

For striking examples of גֹּאֵל (Redeemer, in the sense of rescuer or avenger), see such passages as Isaiah 49:26, “Thy Redeemer, the mighty one of Jacob;” Isaiah 43:1, “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee;” Exodus 15:13, “thy people whom thou hast redeemed;” Exodus 6:6, “Redeemed you with a stretched-out arm;” Psalms 19:14, “My rock and my Redeemer;” Psalms 78:35, “the Most High their Redeemer;” Psalms 77:16; Psalms 103:4, “who re-deemeth thy life from corruption; “Psalms 119:154, “contend for me in my conflict and redeem me;” Jeremiah 50:34, גֹּאֲלָם חָזָק, “their Redeemer is strong, Jehovah of Hosts is his name;” so Proverbs 23:11, “come not nigh to the field of the orphans, for their Goel is strong.” Compare also Hosea 13:14, “I will ransom them from Sheol, מִמָּוֶת אֶגְאָלֵם, from Death will I redeem them; I will be thy destruction, Sheol;” Isaiah 35:9, “the redeemed shall walk there;” Job 19:25; Isaiah 44:22; and many other similar passages.—T. L.]


[1][Genesis 48:1.—וַיֹּאמֶר. An ellipsis of הָאוֹמֵר or הַמִּגִּיד one who told. The construction is rare in the singular. It is probably used here, not impersonally, or passively, as some grammarians say, but emphatically, by way of calling attention to it—denoting, perhaps, a special messenger. Rashi gives it as the opinion of the Rabbins that it was Ephraim who was the messenger, and that the same is the subject of וַיִּגֵּד Genesis 48:2.—T. L.]

[2][Genesis 48:7.—מֵתָה עָלַי. Died by me. It cannot here denote simply nearness of position; for Joseph need not have been informed of that. There is an emotional tenderness in the preposition. On account of me, for my sake;—as Lange intimates, she had borne for him the hardships of the journey in her delicate state, and that had brought on the deadly travail. Or it may be used like μοι redundant, as it is wrongly called, in Greek—Rachel to me, or my Rachel, more emphatic than the genitive would have been. Very near to it, would he Luther’s rendering, starb mir Rachel. The LXX and the Vulgate both omit it, but the LXX adds, Rachel thy mother, which has much, internally, in its favor; since it would seem strange that Jacob, in speaking to Joseph, her son, should call her Rachel merely, just as he would speak of Leah. כִּבְרַת, rendered a little way. Rashi makes it a thousand cubits, or the same as the תחום שבת, the limit of a sabbath day’s journey.—T. L.]

[3][Genesis 48:12.—וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ. And he bowed. The LXX render it in the plural, καὶ προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ and they bowed, or kneeled down before him, that is, Manasseh and Ephraim; as if they had read וישתחוו which is given in the Samaritan Codex. The reading is also followed by the Syriac, and has much internal probability on its side.—T. L.]

[4][Genesis 48:14.—שִׂכֵּל אֶת יָדָיו Literally, he made his hands intelligent, that is, did not go by feeling only, in aid of his dim eyes. The LXX rendering, ἐναλλὰξ τὰς χεῖρας his hands crosswise, and the Vulgate, commutans manus, is merely inferential, and requires no change in the Hebrew test. See Glassii Phil. Sacra, 1629.—T. L.]

[5][Genesis 48:15.—הָאֱלֹהִים הָרֹעֶה אֹתִי—the God who fed me. It is the pastoral image. The God who was my shepherd,—or, in a more general sense, my tutor, guide, or guardian ruler. Compare the frequent Homeric ποιμήν, ποιμαίνει, to express the kingly relation.—T. L.]

[6][Genesis 48:22.—שְׁכֶם אַחַד, See what is said on this in the Exegetical and Critical. See also the very same phrase Zephaniah 3:9 (.with one shoulder, that is, with one consent, or shoulder to shoulder), though its usage there does not shed much light on this passage. Glassius (Phil. Sacra, p. 1985) gives it as an example of the Biblical enigma. The conjecture of Gesenius seems very probable. He regards it as the common word for shoulder, taken metaphorically for a tract of land, from some supposed resemblance, like the Arabic سَناَىبٌ So the English word shoulder is used in architecture. See Webster.—T. L.]

[7][It is, however, so called in the language of the English common law. According to Littleton and Blackstone, purchase (to which the Hebrew קנה and מקנה well correspond) is any mode of getting, or acquiring, lands, or other property, except by descent. Such also is the wide sense of the Greek κτῆσις, κτῆμα.—T. L.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 48". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/genesis-48.html. 1857-84.
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