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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 48

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



“At the very close of his career, Jacob’s character greatly rises in moral grandeur. The spirit of prophecy comes upon him, and he utters some of the most inspiring words of revelation. The world is fading on his dim eyes, but he has now the piercing vision of the seer, which reveals what is to take place ‘in the last days.’ Cut off from the outer world by his infirmities, his soul has retired within the great covenant promises made to his fathers, which he now sees to be splendid prophetic blessings for his children. He recalls the heavenly stairway of Bethel, on which he saw the angels in his youthful exile; the struggle and victory of Peniel, where ‘Jacob’ was changed to ‘Israel;’ the renewal of the covenant promise and covenant name on his return to Bethel; the grave of Bethlehem, into which his hopes were crushed with his beloved Rachel; and finally, the strange career of Joseph, which must have seemed in retrospect like the death and resurrection of his best beloved son. All these providences he now recounts to his son Joseph, and by them he ascends into the mount of vision. Genesis 47:3-7. There is a dramatic vividness and life-like warmth in this picture of the aged patriarch, ‘strengthening himself’ to speak these last words, rising from his Egyptian bed, and sitting upon its side, as did Socrates in his last day . Phaedo, 60, B . He sees not Joseph’s sons so much as the tribes behind them; for these are not personal, but national predictions; and yet they are suggested by individual peculiarities, along which, by the path of prophetic association, the patriarch travels into the future. The return to Canaan and the far-off possession of that land of promise, are the field of his contemplation, and he takes no notice of the intervening ages of Egyptian sojourn and servitude.” Newhall.

Verse 1

1. After these things Probably soon after the events narrated at the close of the previous chapter .

Thy father is sick Extreme old age, accompanied by any unusual symptoms of physical disorder, would excite attention, and admonish Jacob’s children that the day of his death was near at hand. Accordingly, as soon as Joseph heard the report of his father’s illness he took with him his two sons, and hastened to his bedside. It is possible Joseph feared that the two sons here named, having been born in Egypt and of an Egyptian woman, might not be allowed full inheritance among the sons of Israel. So he would have them obtain the holy patriarch’s blessing ere he died. Manasseh and Ephraim “are here mentioned, as was natural, in the order of age, but the tribes were always designated as Ephraim and Manasseh, since there were ‘ten thousands of Ephraim, and thousands of Manasseh.’ Deuteronomy 33:17. Joseph came not simply to pay his dying father a visit of sympathy and affection, but to receive his blessing, and to have his children formally recognised as heirs of the covenant promises from which their Egyptian birth had alienated them for a time . Joseph here remarkably reveals his characteristic faith, and his keen moral and spiritual sense . An Egyptian prince, and the highest subject of Pharaoh, honours and wealth without stint were within his reach for his children; buthe turned away from wealth and power in his manhood, as he had from sinful pleasure in his youth . The family pride that has ruined so many virtuous men had no blandishments for him. His sons were never presented for preferment among the princes of Pharaoh, for he saw grander dignities and riches for them among the despised shepherds of Goshen than could be conferred in the courts of the Pharaohs. He presented his children to be blessed and adopted into the patriarchal family.” Newhall.

Verse 2

2. Strengthened himself “Gathered up his energies for the last interview, and sat upon the bed. If Jacob leaned upon the top of his staff (Hebrews 11:21, and Genesis 47:31, in the Sept . ,) the bed must have been elevated upon a divan, or a bedstead . Bedsteads were not common among the Hebrews, but are represented in the Egyptian monuments, according to Wilkinson, elevated and richly sculptured.” Newhall.

Verse 3

3. God Almighty “EL SHADDAI, the name by which God manifested himself at Bethel to Jacob, (Genesis 35:16,) in revelation of the fulness of his power to perform what seemed incredible . ” Newhall .

Verse 4

4. An everlasting possession “The great family promise absorbs Jacob’s soul . He is identified with the nation which is to spring from his loins, whose home is to be Canaan, whence blessings are to flow down all ages and to all lands . He sets this sublime mission before Joseph as a far higher dignity for his children than princedoms in Egypt, and so claims for himself Ephraim and Manasseh . ” Newhall .

Verse 5

5. Thy two sons… are mine… as Reuben and Simeon “They are to have the tribal rank of sons, although they were grandsons . In 1 Chronicles 5:1-2, it is said that Reuben, the firstborn, was deprived of his birthright because of his sin, and it was given to the two sons of Joseph. Joseph thus had a double portion, which was reckoned one of the privileges of the firstborn.” Newhall. The law of Deuteronomy 21:15-17, forbidding the transfer of right of the firstborn to a son of a more favoured wife, could not have governed the action of Jacob. This transfer was for sufficient cause.

Verse 6

6. Which thou begettest after them “It is probable that Joseph had other children, and that their descendants are reckoned with those of Ephraim and Manasseh, (Numbers 26:23-37,) the natural being undistinguished from the adopted sons . ” Newhall .

Verse 7

7. Rachel died by me “Jacob honours his beloved Rachel by giving her eldest son the right of the firstborn . The reminiscence of the sudden and afflictive death of Jacob’s only real wife thus rises up amid these words of blessing . ” Newhall . The expression died by me has well been thought to contain emotional tenderness. According to Lange, “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.”

Verses 8-13

8-13. “Israel groped to embrace the children whom his dim eyes could not see, and Joseph placed them between his knees, and afterwards withdrew them (Genesis 5:12,) to present them in the order of their age for his dying blessing. Joseph expected that the chief blessing would be given to the eldest, Manasseh, and so placed him that the dim-eyed Jacob would naturally lay the right hand upon his head.” Newhall.

Verse 14

14. Guiding his hands wittingly Literally, he made wise his hands . “Instructing his hands,” says the Targum Onk . ; his hands acted as if wise, and crossed each other, to symbolically express the prophetic preference of Ephraim to Manasseh . “The sacred writer minutely details this wonderful manifestation of inspired prescience . By events like this were the chosen people incessantly indoctrinated in the great truths of the divine foreknowledge and supervision of all human plans, while at the same time human and secondary causes are never ignored.” Newhall.

Verses 15-16

15, 16. He blessed Joseph “Joseph is here identified with his children, after the true patriarchal conception of the divine covenant . There is herein a threefold benediction:

God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk The God of the past, the God of the covenant .

The God which fed me all my life long unto this day The God of providence, as he has revealed himself to me as well as my fathers: (how changed from the self-reliant, self-seeking Jacob of old!)

The Angel which redeemed me from all evil The redeeming God, the Jehovah-Angel. It is the God who leads, feeds, saves.

Let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Let them be the true heirs of the three great patriarchs. And let them multiply as do the fishes, that swarm in the teeming Nile. The very imagery shows that the patriarch has come to Egypt, for now he no more sees his seed symbolized by the stars of the Asiatic firmament, nor by the sands of the Syrian sea-shore, but by the fatness of the all-fertilizing Nile.” Newhall.

Verse 17

17. It displeased him Hebrews, it was evil in his eyes . He looked upon it as an evil omen, and interfered to correct what he regarded a mistake of his father . Nor was he the first or the last fond father who has been displeased with the order of divine providence touching his sons .

Verse 20

20. He set Ephraim before Manasseh “Manasseh outnumbered Ephraim at the Exodus, (Numbers 26:34; Numbers 26:37,) yet the Ephraimite Joshua led Israel into Canaan, and after the conquest Ephraim was the leading tribe of the northern nation, as Judah was of the southern . ” Newhall .

Verse 21

21. Behold, I die; but God shall be with you “Sublime and inspiring faith! Your father dies, but his God, and his father’s God, remains . ” Newhall .

Verse 22

22. I have given to thee one portion The word rendered portion is shechem, ( שׁכם , shoulder,) and may have been employed with some allusion to the town of this name, which was situated in the hill country of Ephraim, (Joshua 20:7,) and the place near which Joseph’s bones were buried . Joshua 24:32. Here was the “parcel of a field” which Jacob purchased of Hamor, the father of Shechem . Genesis 33:19. And this in later tradition was understood to be “the parcel of ground which Jacob gave to his son Joseph.” John 4:5. But this tract, acquired by peaceable purchase, could not have been spoken of by Jacob as having been taken out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow. We have no record of any such forcible acquisition of land by the patriarchs . “Any conquest of territory,” says Delitzsch, “would have been entirely at variance with the character of the patriarchal history, which consisted in the renunciation of all reliance upon human power, and a devoted trust in the God of the promises.” Nor could Jacob have here referred to the vengeful slaughter of the Shechemites by Simeon and Levi, (Genesis 34:25-29,) which he ever reprobated as accursed and cruel, (Genesis 34:30; Genesis 49:5-7.) Rationalistic critics, who regard this whole narrative as a prophetic fiction written after the conquest of Canaan, explain it as an invention to account for or justify the double tribe-territory held by the house of Joseph, and find its historical basis in Joshua 17:14-18. But a later writer, inventing such a prophetic fiction, would not have used the preterite verb-forms, I have given, and I took; but rather, I give… what thou shalt take, or what thy sons shall take . The contest shows the aged patriarch to be speaking with his eye upon the future, and calling things that are not as though they were . The promise of the land of Canaan had been made so repeatedly to the patriarchs (comp . Genesis 48:4) that it now rises up as an accomplished fact in Jacob’s prophetic vision, and is spoken of accordingly . The iniquity of the Amorite was not yet full, (see chap . 15:16,) but its punishment is a foregone conclusion in the Divine mind. A like use of the prophetic perfect may be seen in the prophecy concerning Ishmael. Chap. 17:20. Jacob here identifies himself with his descendants, and speaks as doing in person what his posterity will certainly accomplish in the after time.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 48". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-48.html. 1874-1909.
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