Genesis 48
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 48 (E (J, P).) Jacob’s Blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh

This narrative is chiefly taken from E; but Genesis 48:3-7 are from P.

And it came to pass after these things, that one told Joseph, Behold, thy father is sick: and he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.
1. after these things] A vague description of time, as in Genesis 15:1, Genesis 22:1, Genesis 39:7, Genesis 40:1.

Manasseh and Ephraim] Observe the order of the names. Manasseh is put first as the elder.

And one told Jacob, and said, Behold, thy son Joseph cometh unto thee: and Israel strengthened himself, and sat upon the bed.
And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me,
3. God Almighty] Heb. El Shaddai: see note on Genesis 17:1. This title for the Deity and the phrases “make fruitful and multiply” (cf. Genesis 1:28), “a company of peoples” (cf. Genesis 28:3, Genesis 35:11), “an everlasting possession” (cf. Genesis 17:8), are characteristic of the style of P. “Appeared”: the appearance referred to is that of Genesis 35:9-13.

Luz] See Genesis 28:19, Genesis 35:6; Genesis 35:9.

And said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession.
And now thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which 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.
5. are mine] Joseph’s sons are adopted into the family of Jacob (cf. Joshua 14:4); and the account records their acknowledgment to be full tribes in the parent stock of Israel.

Ephraim and Manasseh] Observe the change in order. The writer of P here, as E in Genesis 48:20, gives the precedent to the recipient of the greater blessing. But, while this order is found in Numbers 1:10, Joshua 17:17, the other is the more usual; cf. Joshua 14:4; Joshua 16:4.

And thy issue, which thou begettest after them, shall be thine, and shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance.
6. begettest] Better, as R.V. marg., hast begotten.

they shall be called] The meaning is that any other children of Joseph, and their descendants, shall be attached to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, and shall be called Ephraimites or Manassites.

And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, 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 Bethlehem.
7. And as for me] This verse, with its reference to Genesis 35:16-19, is introduced very abruptly. The mention of Rachel’s grave is not followed by any further statement, and, standing by itself, it comes in strangely. It hardly admits of explanation as an old man’s wandering soliloquy. Such an explanation is too modern in character. Possibly the passage originally contained the tradition of Jacob’s request, that he might be buried in the same grave with his beloved wife, Rachel. But the entreaty to be buried at Machpelah having already (Genesis 47:30) been inserted from J, it was necessary to drop the concluding portion of Jacob’s utterance, i.e. the request to be buried with Rachel, to which the allusion to Rachel’s death and burial at Ephrath was leading up. This theory accounts for the introduction of the touching allusion to Rachel and her burial-place, and for the sudden dropping of the subject.

Paddan] For “Paddan-aram,” as in LXX. See Genesis 25:20.

by me] R.V. marg. to my sorrow, lit. “upon me,” expresses the full meaning. Compare “against me” in Genesis 42:36; see note.

when there was still some way] See note on Genesis 35:16. The Heb. gives a measure of distance; cf. 2 Kings 5:19; and the LXX gives the strange rendering κατὰ τὸν ἱππόδρομον χαβραθὰ τῆς γῆς, where χαβραθὰ transliterates the Heb., and κατὰ τὸν ἱππόδρομον, “according to the race-course,” reproduces the tradition that the race-course at Alexandria was the length of this Hebrew measure; cf. Schleusner, s.v. The Vulg. has eratque vernum tempus (!). “On the way to Ephrath,” LXX ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ τοῦ ἱπποδρόμου.

And Israel beheld Joseph's sons, and said, Who are these?
8. And Israel] The narrative resumes the thread which was interrupted at Genesis 48:3 by the insertion of the P version. The incident about to be described was regarded as of national significance. Of the two divisions of Joseph, the younger one became the more powerful. The blessing of Jacob implies the ratification of the relation of the two new tribes to the older ones and to each other.

beheld … Who are these?] Jacob enquires as if he had not before seen the sons of Joseph. Jacob was in Goshen: Joseph and his sons lived not far off. It is possible the question is due to the old man’s blindness (Genesis 48:10). He discerned faintly that there were two other persons with Joseph. But it is more probable that this story stands by itself, and that it assumes that Jacob had not before met Joseph’s sons.

And 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.
Now 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.
10. the eyes of Israel] Cf. the similar account of Isaac, Genesis 27:1.

And Israel said unto Joseph, I had not thought to see thy face: and, lo, God hath shewed me also thy seed.
11. thy seed also] This expression, like the question in Genesis 48:8, seems to imply that Jacob had not before set eyes upon the sons of Joseph.

And Joseph brought them out from between his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth.
12. Joseph brought … his knees] To set a child upon the knees was to symbolize reception or adoption into the family: see note on Genesis 30:3. From this passage it would appear that Joseph had set Ephraim and Manasseh upon, or against, the knees of their grandfather, so that they might receive the formal symbol (not here described) of adoption. This being done, he then removes them from between the knees of Jacob.

he bowed himself] For “bowed himself,” see note on Genesis 47:31. Who bowed himself? (1) Either Joseph, who thus threw himself on the ground to receive the blessing described in Genesis 48:15. (2) Or Jacob, who thus rendered thanks to God for enabling him to adopt into his family the children of Joseph. According to (2), Jacob would be represented as able to prostrate himself with his face to the earth (see note on Genesis 47:31). According to (1), Genesis 48:13-14 are interposed between Joseph’s prostration in Genesis 48:12 and the imposition of Jacob’s blessing in Genesis 48:15. But, if we may regard this story as independent of Genesis 47:29-31 (J), it seems simplest to refer the act to Jacob.

And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near unto him.
13. Ephraim in his right hand] i.e. so that the right hand of Jacob might rest on Manasseh the elder. The gesture of benediction, by the laying on of hands, signified the communication of rights and privileges. As in the story of Isaac (ch. 27), the blessing by the head of the house, on his deathbed, was irrevocable. The person who received it could not be deprived of it.

And 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, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.
14. guiding his hands wittingly] Better, as R.V. marg., crossing his hands. So LXX ἐναλλὰξ τὰς χεῖρας = “the hands crosswise”; Lat. commutans manus.

The aged Jacob is moved by a supernatural impulse to cross his hands as he blesses the two boys; and their destinies are determined accordingly.

And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day,
15. And he blessed Joseph] While his hands were resting on the lads’ heads, Jacob blessed Joseph by uttering his benediction upon Ephraim and Manasseh. LXX εὐλόγησεν αὐτούς = “blessed them,” and Vulg. benedixit filiis Joseph, avoid the difficulty.

The God] Observe the threefold invocation: (1) ancestral—“the God of the fathers”; (2) personal—“the Shepherd of Israel”; (3) redemptive—“the angel of deliverance.” Compare the threefold Aaronic benediction of Numbers 6:24 ff.

before whom … did walk] See Genesis 17:1, Genesis 24:40.

fed me] Lit. “who shepherded me,” Lat. qui pascit me. For the metaphor of the shepherd as applied to the God of Jacob, cf. Genesis 49:24; Psalm 77:20; Psalm 80:1. The metaphor is more applicable to the leading of a multitude, or of a nation, than of an individual. But there is, as we know from Psalm 23:1 and St John 10:11-16, a pathetic tenderness in the simile, even as applied to personal experience; and Jacob himself had from early times led the life of a shepherd.

The English rendering “fed” fails to reproduce the metaphor: see Isaiah 40:11, “feed like a shepherd,” and compare John 21:15-17.

The 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.
16. the angel] “The angel” is here indistinguishable from the “God of Jacob.” As in Genesis 16:7; Genesis 16:10; Genesis 16:13, it was the impersonation of the Divine Being as an Angel, whom Jacob had met and acknowledged as his God in the crises of his life, Genesis 28:12-16, Genesis 31:11; Genesis 31:13; Genesis 31:24, Genesis 32:1; Genesis 32:24-31. The reference here is to the manifestation at Peniel (Genesis 32:30, where see note).

hath redeemed me] “To redeem” is to play the kinsman’s part, Leviticus 25:48-49; Ruth 3:13; Ruth 4:6. Jacob acknowledges that the manifestations of the Angel had been the fulfilment of a Divine goodness of purpose towards him. The idea of “redemption,” the deliverance by the Goêl, or kinsman-Redeemer, is a favourite one in the religious teaching of the O.T., e.g. Psalm 103:4. Cf. Isaiah 44:22-23; Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 63:9. Here the deliverance is from calamity, as in 2 Samuel 4:9; 1 Kings 1:29. It is different from the more common word for “redeem,” pâdah = “deliver,” “ransom,” e.g. in Psalm 25:22.

16. let my name be named on them] This is the formula of adoption according to E, corresponding to that in Genesis 48:5 according to P. The meaning seems to be, “let my name be given to them,” in other words, “let them be counted as the children of Israel.”

grow into a multitude] For the fulfilment of the blessing, see the numbers of the tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, in Numbers 1:33; Numbers 1:35; Numbers 26:34; Numbers 26:37. Compare Deuteronomy 33:17, “they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.”

And 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.
And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.
And 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.
19. his younger … greater] The preference given to the younger reminds us of the blessing of Jacob himself. Cf. Genesis 25:23, Genesis 27:29; Genesis 27:40. See also the story of Perez and Zerah in Genesis 38:29-30. For the superiority of Ephraim over Manasseh, the history of Israel affords the fullest testimony. Cf. Numbers 1:33; Numbers 1:35; Numbers 2:19; Numbers 2:21.

a multitude] Lit. fulness, as Isaiah 31:4, “a multitude (lit. fulness) of shepherds.” To become “the fulness of the nations” is to be as full of population as all the nations of the world; a strong hyperbole.

And 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.
20. In] Better, as marg., By. The meaning is that the blessing upon Ephraim and Manasseh shall be quoted as a formula for the invocation of Divine favour. Compare the blessing in Ruth 4:11-12.

bless] The versions, LXX, Vulg., and Syriac, give the passive “shall be blessed.”

And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers.
21. bring you again] Jacob predicts the restoration of his descendants to Canaan. This was the Divine promise. Cf. Genesis 15:16, Genesis 46:4, Genesis 50:24.

Moreover I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.
22. portion] Heb. shechem, “shoulder,” i.e. mountain slope. This unusual expression (not elsewhere used in O.T.) for a “ridge,” “saddle,” or “shoulder,” of a hill, is here employed as a play upon the proper name “Shechem.” LXX σίκιμα ἐξαίρετον; Lat. unam partem. The allusion may no longer be clear; but it evidently refers to the city of Shechem, and has some bearing upon its subsequent position as a principal city in the tribe of Ephraim, and as the site of Joseph’s burial-place.

above thy brethren] As if the distribution of other portions had already been made.

which I took … Amorite] This allusion to a conquest of Shechem by Jacob has nothing to correspond with it in the earlier narrative. In Genesis 33:19 Jacob purchases a parcel of ground at Shechem. In ch. 34 his sons massacre the Shechemites; but on that occasion Jacob condemns their action (cf. Genesis 34:30), and departs to dwell elsewhere. Probably we have here some quite distinct tradition of a conquest of Shechem by Jacob, which is connected with a feat of arms. In Joshua 24:32 it is combined with the purchase of ground in Genesis 33:19. The survival of that tradition appears in St John 4:5.

with my sword and with my bow] In order to avoid the appearance of warlike activity on the part of the peaceful patriarchs, Targ. Onkelos renders “with my prayer and entreaty.” We may compare the strange paraphrase of Jerome, “dabo tibi Sicimam quam emi in fortitudine mea, hoc est, in pecunia quam multo labore et sudore quaesivi” (Quaest. ed. Lagarde, p. 66). For Abraham as a warrior, see chap. 14.

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