Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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.XLVIII.
THE BLESSING OF MANASSEH AND EPHRAIM, AND THE RECOGNITION OF THEM BY JACOB AS HEADS OF TRIBES.
(1) His two sons.—We have already seen that the purpose of the genealogy given in Genesis 46 was not the enumeration of Jacob’s children and grandchildren, but the recognition of those of his descendants who were to hold the high position of heads of “families.” In this chapter a still more important matter is settled; for Jacob, exercising to the full his rights as the father and head of the Israelite race, and moved thereto both by his love for Rachel, the high rank of Joseph, and also by the spirit of prophecy, bestows upon Joseph two tribes. No authority less than that of Jacob would have sufficed for this, and therefore the grant is carefully recorded, and holds its right place immediately before the solemn blessing given by the dying patriarch to his sons. The occasion of Joseph’s visit was the sickness of his father, who not merely felt generally that his death was near, as in Genesis 47:29, but was now suffering from some malady; and Joseph naturally took with him his two sons, that they might see and be blessed by their grandfather before his death.
And one told Jacob, and said, Behold, thy son Joseph cometh unto thee: and Israel strengthened himself, and sat upon the bed.(2) Strengthened himself.—Jacob thus prepared himself, not merely because he wished to receive Joseph in a maimer suitable to his rank, but chiefly because he was about himself to perform a sacred act, under the influence of the Divine Spirit.
Sat upon the bed.—We learn that he left his bed, and placed himself upon it in a sitting posture, from what is recorded in Genesis 48:12.
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. The act recorded in this chapter is grounded by Jacob upon the promise made to him at Bethel on his return from Padan-aram; and it was under the old covenant name by which God had revealed Himself to Abram (Genesis 17:1) that he was there made the heir of the Abrahamic promises. (See Note on Genesis 35:11.)
Luz.—This use of the old name shows how very slowly the new titles of places, derived from incidents in the history of a small tribe, took the place of their native and original appellations. In a similar manner in the recent exploration of Palestine, it has been found that the high-sounding titles given by the Seleucidæ and Romans to towns there have never been adopted by the peasantry, who still call them by their old names.
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.(4) A multitude of people.—In Genesis 35:11 the words are “a congregation (or church) of nations;” here “a congregation (same word) of peoples.” (See Note there.)
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) As Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.—That is, Ephraim shall be regarded as my firstborn, and Manasseh as my second son. This was undoubtedly the case; for though “Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the prince (and of him the Messiah), yet the birthright was Joseph’s” (1Chronicles 5:2). The legal right of the firstborn was a double share of the father’s goods. This was bestowed upon Joseph in giving him two tribes, and to the other· sons but one. It was in a spiritual sense, and with reference to the promise that all mankind should be blessed in Jacob’s seed, that the birthright was Judah’s. As Joseph was the son of the chief and best-beloved wife, he had a sort of claim to the birthright; but in agreement with the law afterwards specially enacted (Deuteronomy 21:15-17), Jacob acknowledges that the right had belonged to Reuben, but excludes him from the possession of it as the penalty of his great and terrible sin. Simeon and Levi are next passed over, because of their cruelty, and so Judah takes Reuben’s place.
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) Thy issue, which thou begettest after them.—We gather from Genesis 1:23 that Joseph probably had no other sons. But if such were born to him, they were not to count as heads of tribes, but be regarded as the children of Ephraim and Manasseh, and take rank only as heads of families.
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) Rachel died by me.—Heb., died upon me, or as we should say, “died in my arms.” The mention of Rachel is to account for an act so authoritative as the bestowal of the double portion of the firstborn upon Joseph. Jacob grounds the justification of his act, not upon her being the chief wife, but upon her untimely death, which prevented her bearing other sons. Even now Leah, if we count Levi, had six tribes, each handmaid two, and Rachel three.
The same is Beth-lehem.—A note added subsequently, when the place was famous as the birthplace of David. It would not be called Beth-lehem until corn was cultivated there.
And Israel beheld Joseph's sons, and said, Who are these?(8) Who are these?—This question is asked as the solemn turning of the discourse to the young men who were now to be invested with the patriarchal rank. They were at this time about eighteen or twenty years of age.
And Joseph brought them out from between his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth.(12) He bowed himself.—The Samaritan, Syriac, and LXX. Versions regard the Hebrew verb as a contracted plural, and many modern commentators adopt this view. It would thus be Manasseh and Ephraim who stood before Jacob with faces bent towards the ground. The pronoun, however, is in favour of the verb being singular, and the sense it gives is equally satisfactory.
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.—The LXX., Syriac, and Vulg. translate, “placing his hands crosswise;” but the Targum of Onkelos favours the translation of our version. There is some amount of philological support for the rendering of the three chief versions; but it must mainly rest upon their own authority, which is, however, very great.
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, 16) He blessed Joseph, and said.—In Jacob’s blessing there is a threefold appellation of the Deity, and a threefold blessing given to Joseph’s sons. God is, first, the Elohim before whom his fathers had walked. Next, He is the Elohim who, as a shepherd, had watched over Jacob all his life long. But, thirdly, He is that Divine Presence which had been, and still was, Jacob’s “goël,” redeeming and rescuing him from all evil. The blessing is first general, the verb “bless” being singular, which, following the threefold repetition of God’s name in the plural, is rightly used by Luther as a proof of a Trinity in Unity in the Godhead. Secondly, Ephraim and Manasseh are to bear the names, and be the representatives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Lastly, they are to grow into a multitude with extraordinary rapidity, the word used signifying that they were to increase with a prolificness as great as that of fishes.
The word “goël” is here used for the first time. It subsequently became the term for the nearest blood relative, whose duty it was to avenge a murder; but it is here used in its wider sense of a Saviour and a Deliverer. (Comp. Exodus 6:6; Isaiah 59:20, &c.) The angel who wrestled with Jacob cannot accurately be described as having appeared to him in the character of a deliverer (Genesis 32:24-30). He appeared as an adversary; and Jacob learned in the struggle, by overcoming him, that he had power with God and man, and would prevail over all the difficulties and foes that still stood in his way. Moreover, the verb is present, “the angel that redeemeth me from all evil.” Jacob recognised a Divine Presence which constantly guarded him, and which was ever his Redeemer and Saviour.
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 brother shall be greater.—In the final numbering of the tribes on the plains of Moab, the tribe of Manasseh had 52,700 souls, and that of Ephraim only 32,500 (Numbers 26:34; Numbers 26:37). It was the division of the tribe of Manasseh into two portions which made it politically insignificant, while Ephraim obtained a commanding position in the land of Canaan; and as Joshua was an Ephraimite, it naturally held the rank of foremost tribe during his days, and claimed it always afterwards. For Joshua, after the conquest of Canaan, must have held a position similar to that of General Washington after the independence of the United States had been secured, and all Israel would regard him as their ruler and chief. The influence also of the tribe would be strengthened by the ark being placed in one of its towns.
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 thee shall Israel bless.—In conformity with these words, the Israelites to this day use Jacob’s formula in blessing their children.
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) One portion.—Heb., one Shechem. In favour of this being the town of Shechem is the fact that it did belong to Jacob (Genesis 37:12, where see Note); also that Joseph’s embalmed body was deposited there (see Joshua 24:32, where the land is said to have been bought for a hundred kesitas); and, lastly, the testimony of John 4:5, where a parcel of ground at Sychar, close to Shechem, is identified with the ground given by Jacob to Joseph. On the other hand, one Shechem is an unnatural way of describing a town. Shechem also means, as we have seen (Genesis 12:6), the shoulder, and Abul-walid, in his Lexicon, quoting this place, says that both the Hebrews and Arabs gave this name to any elevated strip of ground. This is confirmed by Numbers 34:11, &c., though the word actually used, chatef, is different. Probably, therefore, there was a play upon words in calling this plot of hill-ground Shechem, and not chatef’, but made with the intention of showing that the town of Shechem was the portion really signified. But what is meant by “Jacob having taken it out of the hand of the Amorite by his sword and his bow”? Shechem was strictly a town of the Hivites, but as they were but a feeble tribe, the term Amorite may be used to give greater glory to the exploit. In Genesis 15:16, the Amorites, literally mountaineers, are described as owners of the whole country, and probably it was a term loosely applied to all the inhabitants of the uplands, though occasionally used with a more definite meaning (Genesis 15:21). As Jacob so strongly condemns the conduct of Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:5-7), he can scarcely refer to their exploit, and therefore commentators generally suppose that he used the words prophetically, meaning, “which my descendants will, centuries hence, conquer for themselves with their swords and bows.” But this is, to take the words of Holy Scripture in a non-natural sense. Jacob was the owner of a strip of this “shoulder-land” in a way in which he was not the owner of any other portion of land in Canaan, except the cave of Machpelah; and we find him sending his cattle to pasture there when he was himself dwelling far away (Genesis 37:12). And it is quite possible that, after the inhuman treatment of the Hivites at Shechem, the Amorites did gather themselves together to avenge the Wrong, but were deterred by the threatening position taken up by Jacob, or even repulsed in an attack. The latter supposition would best harmonise with the fact that “a mighty terror fell upon all the cities round about” (Genesis 35:5), and also with the exultant spirit in which Jacob, a pre-eminently peaceful and timid man, here alludes to the one military exploit of his life.