b. The Blessing of Joseph's Sons (48:1-22)
Death was not as near as Jacob (Ge 47:27-31) had supposed, yet he made the needed preparations for it in due season. Now a second event transpires as death is seen to have drawn much nearer: Jacob blesses Joseph's sons. It would seem that at most several months elapsed between these two events. For the first occasion Jacob summoned Joseph to him; in this case a report came to Joseph in an incidental way.
1, 2. And it came to pass after these things that the report came to Joseph: Behold, thy father is sick. So he took his two sons along with him, Manasseh and Ephraim. When it was told to Jacob: Behold, thy son Joseph is coming to thee, Israel made himself strong and sat upon his bed.
It is of no moment for us to know how much time elapsed between the previous event and the one about to be related, therefore the writer uses the very general phrase "after these things." "The report came to Joseph" -- for this expression the Hebrew has the impersonal "one said" (wayyó'mer). Apparently, then, Jacob did not summon Joseph and his two sons. Yet the event about to be related seems altogether too important to regard it as a mere chance occurrence: Jacob just happened to see Joseph's two sons and conceived the idea on the spur of the moment to adopt and to bless them. Such an approach leaves vital issues to be the outgrowth of whims and impulses. More acceptable by far is the approach which suggests that some plan like the one here carried out by Jacob had been discussed between the father and the son on a previous occasion. The carrying out of it may not have been feasible at the time. When Joseph hears of his father's weakened state, he promptly gets under way though he has not been sent for, bringing his two sons. Jacob is not greatly surprised when told of Joseph's coming. He had evidently expected it. Here we read "thy father is sick." Apparently Jacob had felt only the general debility of old age in the situation described at the close of the last chapter. Now actual sickness has come besides.
2. Again a double impersonal construction, "one told Jacob and said." We combine the two clauses in the translation and make them a subordinate clause. Very likely the verb form ba' is a participle, because participles are used regularly after hinneh, "behold." Such participles usually convey a future or a present (progressive) sense; therefore: not "has come" but "is coming." How considerately proper names are employed in the Scriptures. "Jacob," the father, received the message, but in his capacity as "Israel," the theocratic and divinely appointed head of the race, he "made himself strong," i. e., summoned up his reserve energy, and "sat upon his bed." An important work was to be done and he wanted to do it well.
3, 4. And Jacob said to Joseph: God Almighty appeared unto me in Luz in the land of Canaan and he blessed me, and He said to me: Behold, I am about to make thee fruitful, and I shall multiply thee and make of thee a company of tribes; and I shall give this land to thee and to thy seed after thee as an everlasting possession.
The adoption and the blessing of Joseph's sons is Jacob's manifest purpose. The adoption is to be spoken of in v. Ge 48:5. These two verses (v.3, 4) must be a natural preparation for the adoption. Jacob recalls how God had appeared to him in Luz, the later Bethel, in the land of Canaan -- this appearance is the one of Ge 35:6-13 rather than the one of Ge 28:10-19, although in Jacob's thoughts the two may have blended into one, since the substance of the divine revelation was both times practically the same. The blessing imparted had centred around great posterity and permanent possession of the land. Again hinneh, "behold," with a participle maphrekha, "am blessing thee," points to the future. The familiar fulness of expressions is used to indicate strongly that there shall be a remarkable multiplication of offspring: "be fruitful," "multiply," "make thee a company of tribes." "Tribes" is better than "people" here for 'ammîm, because in reality Jacob did not develop into separate "peoples" in the course of time as did Abraham; cf. K. W. sub verbo. Many people as descendants need a land to occupy. Consequently, multiplication of offspring and the land occupied are items of the blessing which are frequently joined together. The idea of an "everlasting possession" is familiar since Ge 17:8. However, in the nature of the case that promise is conditioned by the separate existence of Abraham's or Jacob's offspring. When these descendants are scattered abroad, they no longer have need of the land and no guarantee or title to it.
The transition from these two verses to v.5 now is this: since Jacob is to multiply greatly in numbers, he is justified in adopting such devices as are in themselves right and calculated to further this multiplication. Such a device he is about to employ.
5-7. And now thy two sons that were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before my coming to thee to Egypt, they shall belong to me: Ephraim and Manasseh shall belong to me as Reuben and Simeon do. And thy descendants whom thou shalt beget after them shall belong to thee. After the name of one of their brethren shall they be designated in their inheritance. But as for me, when I was coming from Paddan then Rachel died to my great grief in the land of Canaan during the journey when we were still a stretch removed from Ephrathah; and I buried her there on the Ephrathah road -- also called Bethlehem.
Jacob formally adopts Joseph's sons, who may now have been at least eighteen to twenty years old (cf. Ge 47:28; 41:50). His words are, "they shall belong to me." To indicate that they are not to be reckoned as loose appendages but as full-fledged sons Jacob places Ephraim and Manasseh on a par with his two eldest sons, Reuben and Simeon, mentioning the latter merely as examples. This does not imply that Ephraim and Manasseh replace Reuben and Simeon, for the latter cannot cease to be sons. Yet in one sense, as we shall see in a moment, Joseph's sons acquire the pre-eminence that the two first-born should normally have held by right of primogeniture. Jacob is conferring a favour, and yet as head of the theocratic family he also has full authority to make an adjustment such as this. He knows that Joseph will concur wholeheartedly in this arrangement. The preposition 'adh introduces the infinitive clause, here used in a temporal sense; besides 'adh is used in the "exclusive" sense in this case (K. S.401 w).
6. In constructing genealogical tables, however, any future sons of Joseph's are to be counted as Joseph's own. In the matter of inheritance, however, a special provision has to be made. Apparently Jacob is thinking of ordinary inheritances as well, but primarily of the inheritance of the promised land, which he knew would be distributed according to tribes. Such sons, counting as Joseph's, would receive an inheritance under the name of the one or the other of these adopted sons. For that reason we translated, "after the name of one of their brethren," though the words "of one" are not needed in the Hebrew. We have no knowledge of any further sons born to Joseph, and so this apparently remained an idle provision. Hôlßdhta is to be construed as a kind of future perfect, best rendered as a future in the translation: whom "thou shalt beget" (K. S.129).
7. Reading superficially, we might suppose that Jacob's thoughts went wandering at this point after the manner of old men, who are not as keen of mind as they once were; and so he seems to run off into a bit of reminiscing, which comes to an abrupt close with this verse. However, as Luther already goes to some pains to prove in his commentary, Jacob's words show a logical progression. Here Jacob motivates his choice of Joseph's sons a bit more fully. Not only are they adopted because of God's promise to make Jacob fruitful, but also because Rachel, his beloved wife, of whom he had anticipated further issue, had died prematurely at Ephrathah -- Bethlehem -- at the time of the return of the family from Paddan (usually called Paddan-Aram). The sentence structure betrays heightened emotion on Jacob's part as he recalls the bitter scene -- the pronoun 'anî stands first, "as for me." Jacob recalls how grievous the experience was and what a burden it laid upon him ('alî -- "upon me," i. e., "to my bitter grief," K. C., zu meinem Leidwesen). Now Jacob had naturally destined Rachel to be his only wife. Her sons should have been the first-born. By this arrangement of the adoption of her son's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh receive this position as is indicated by 1Ch 5:1,2. From another point of view this is very proper, inasmuch as the portion of the firstborn always was a double one, and here, then, Joseph in his two sons actually receives that double portion. From another point of view this was extremely proper, because Joseph certainly had been the benefactor of the entire family in a most eminent way. Such services called for recognition. The place of honour was his by merit.
All these deeper points of view seem hidden to those who are critically minded. Usually it is assumed that in the source from which this is taken (P) this statement led up to something which has now "been displaced in the redaction." This something K. C. thinks was the request to be buried by Rachel's side. But since that would have harmonized but poorly with Ge 47:30 it is left out; in fact, Jacob is made to say something entirely without a point.
8-10. And Israel saw Joseph's sons, and he said: Who are these? And Joseph said to his father: They are my sons, whom God gave to me here. And he said: Bring them to me that I may bless them. Now Israel's eyesight was poor because of old age; he could not see well. So he brought them near to him, and he kissed and embraced them.
Joseph now understands sufficiently well why his father is minded to bless Ephraim and Manasseh. Everything is ready -- Jacob may proceed to bless. The successive steps follow as one might have surmised. The grandfather feels that the two dim shapes that he sees are the sons in question. To verify the impression he asks: "Who are these?" We may add that he may have seen Joseph but rarely and Joseph's sons still more rarely and may not have expected that they would have grown to such full manly stature. How often we are surprised at young people's stature if we do not happen to have seen them for a time! Joseph responds, confirming his father's surmise, as much as to say: Yes; "they are my sons whom God gave me here." So Jacob naturally requests: "Bring them to me that I may bless them." Blessing one's descendants was by this time a kind of established tradition among the patriarchs. It was the regular custom. The parenthetical remark that follows explains why Jacob had asked: "Who are these?" Jacob was not actually blind; his "eyesight was poor." That must be the meaning of the Hebrew idiom: "his eyes were heavy" (kabhedhû). That does not mean that he was blind. Consequently the Hebrew "he could not see" is meant in the sense "he could not see well." Viewed thus, all items in the narrative yield a natural harmony. There is no room for the critical position that E says (v.8) Jacob saw; whereas J says (v.10) he could not see. Because of the unlikeliness of such a contradiction within two almost contiguous verses, ordinary common sense has always reconciled them without effort. Joseph complies with his father's request and "brought them near to him." Then the venerable patriarch "kissed and embraced them" in a manner that made these young men understand the better what their grandfather had meant to their father. The imperative qachem (v.9) is followed by a converted imperfect wa'abharakhem -- a rather common sequence (K. S.364 n). The clause (v.10) lo' yakhûl, etc., is asyndetic, expressing result; the imperfect is a yaqtul concomitans (K. S.152).
11-14. And Israel said to Joseph: To see thy face -- I had never expected it; and now God allows me to see even thy descendants. And Joseph brought them away from beside his knees and fell down before him to the ground. And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim in his right hand at Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand at Israel's right hand, and so he brought them to him. And Israel put forth his right hand and laid it upon Ephraim's head -- and he was the younger -- and his left hand upon Manasseh's head, and so crossed his hands; for Manasseh was the elder.
Who can blame Jacob for lapsing into reminiscences? All the more not since they are remembrances of God's mercy. The order of the sentence gives the true shade of meaning: "to see thy face" stands first. He had never hoped to catch even a passing glimpse of Joseph's face, and he is permitted by God's providence to be in his son's company and even to behold grandsons. The infinitive re'oh is unusual for a construct, yet it is found Ge 50:20; 31:28 (G. K.75 n).
12. Joseph naturally wishes to thank his father for the favour granted him. In true oriental courtesy "he fell down before him to the ground," bowing his face to the ground. But in order to be able to do this he first "brought them away from beside his knees," for there they stood in the way between him and his father. They had not been "between his knees," A. R. V., that would have required a different preposition. They had not been sitting on his knees, as some imagine. What a picture! Two youths of twenty sitting on their grandfather's knees! When brought to the old man who was sitting upon his bed, they naturally stood at either side of his knees while he embraced them. The preposition involved is me'im -- "from at," which is best rendered "beside" in this case. No need of rare conjectures about some occult adoption rite. A reference to Ge 30:3 is out of place, for nothing indicates that he took them on or between his knees.
13. What now follows is quite simple. Joseph reckons in terms of the rights and the advantages of the first-born. So he takes his two sons and guides them to his father in such a way as to bring the eldest to the father's right hand; the youngest to his left. But here again nature gives no advantages in the kingdom of God; it must be entirely in terms of free grace. Isaac was preferred before the elder Ishmael; Jacob before Esau; now Ephraim to Manasseh. The Spirit of prophecy, who enlightened Jacob to speak his blessing, guided him in this case to let the right hand rest upon the younger. By the way, here we have the first specific mention of the laying on of hands as a rite of benediction. The verb sikkel, used here only, may mean "crossed," as the Greek version already construed it. K. C. imports rather a heavy meaning into the verb from the parallel Arabic root meaning "to be dark," when he translates this verb alone as: "with secret purpose he laid on" his hands. The verb might come from the root which means "to deal wisely or prudently," and then the Piel meaning might be "to do (it) purposely," or "guiding his hand wittingly" (A. V. and Luther). But this seems rather an unwarranted jump in thought from "prudently" to "purposely." (The article in hatstsa'îr -- "the younger" -- marks the comparative, K. S.308a).
15, 16. And he blessed Joseph and said:
The God before whom my fathers walked -- Abraham
The God who shepherds me from of old to this
The Angel that redeems me from all evil -- may
He bless the lads;
And may my name be named upon them and
the name of my fathers, Abraham and
And may they multiply exceedingly in the
midst of the land.
This arrangement shows that Jacob's blessing is really poetical in form according to the Hebrew law of poetic parallelism. Quite properly it is said that "he blessed Joseph," for in blessing the sons he blessed and purposed to bless the father. The Greek Septuagint, as usual, removes the difficulty by a textual change and says "them" for "Joseph." The noun 'Elohîm with the article means "the true God." The blessing begins rather majestically with a threefold address to God, which we may well regard as designed by the Spirit of inspiration, whether Jacob at the time fully realized this import or not. For Jacob here spoke as a prophet, and not always was the fullest meaning of the prophetic word entirely apparent to the mouthpiece God employed (though by this we in no wise imply mechanical inspiration). The first reference is to the Father; the last is to the Son, the Redeemer; the second does not specifically refer to the Holy Spirit, though in a sense He may be said to shepherd God's children.
When Jacob describes the true God as the one before whom his "father walked," he suggests the necessity of knowing the true God according to the true tradition that the fathers, Abraham and Isaac, possessed concerning Him. He knows God as one whom his fathers knew intimately and whose religion was a vital, living issue with them. This word testifies to a type of godly life that was deeply sincere. In thinking of the fathers he recalls how the preceding generations had already stood under God's gracious blessing.
Then he describes God as ro'eh, "the one shepherding," the participle expressing continuity: God still shepherds. Himself a shepherd, Jacob well understood what a measure of tender care the figure involved. In this case Jacob could well testify that this care had extended "from of old to this day." This is the first of those frequent references to the Divine Shepherd (Ps 23:1; 80:1; Isa 40:11; Joh 10:11; Heb 13:20; 1Pe 2:25, etc.). The A. V. blurs this thought by rendering "fed." Without a doubt, the third reference is also to God, for it is in strict parallelism with the preceding two and ascribes a truly divine work to the Angel, namely the work of redeeming from all evil. Consequently this is a reference to the divine Angel of the Lord or Angel of Yahweh, whom we already met with Ge 22:11, and who was there already discovered to be more than a created angel. See the remarks on that passage. Cf. also Ge 16:11. For the Son is God's messenger or Angel, sent to deliver man. Here again the participle is used, go'el, "the Redeeming One," i. e., one who still redeems or continually redeems. After an experience of a lifetime marked by many a deliverance Jacob well knew how often He had been delivered.
In this case there is no need of specifying wherein the blessing upon "the lads" (ne'arîm -- "young men") is to consist. "May He bless the lads" covers the case, for it involves that He is to continue to manifest the same care, first suffering them to walk before Him; secondly, shepherding them uninterruptedly; thirdly, redeeming them also from all evil. Yet the three mentioned are one, as the singular verb "may He bless" (yebharekh) indicates. In the statement "may my name be named upon them" the term "name" (shem) signifies "character"; i. e., may my and my father's character find expression in them, or: may they express the true patriarchal character and be conscious of what deeper responsibilities are involved. The blessing concludes with a thought that was vital in those days of small beginnings: "may they multiply exceedingly (Hebrew: larobh -- "to a multitude") in the midst of the land" -- beqérebh ha'ßrets involves holding secure possession of the land and not only holding the fringes of it.
In this blessing not only did the Spirit of God speak through the venerable old patriarch, but he himself on his part gave proof of a strong and cheerful faith: Such words were an effective benediction and much more than a pious wish.
17-19. And Joseph noticed that his father was placing his right hand upon Ephraim's head, and it displeased him, and so he took hold of his father's hand to remove it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's head; and Joseph said to his father: Not so, my father; for this one is the first-born; put thy right hand upon his head. But his father refused, saying: I know, my son; I know. He too shall become a people, and he too shall be great. However, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall be a multitude of people.
Everything is apparently recorded just as it happened. The two men are placed before Jacob; he places his hands crossed upon their heads and at once pronounces his blessing. Joseph observes the irregularity but cannot act at once, for he is also giving heed to what his father says. Furthermore, so solemn a word dare not be lightly interrupted. But as soon as the father has spoken the benediction, Joseph aims to correct what he thinks is a strange oversight. In fact "it displeased him" -- yera'( imperfect from ra'a') literally: "it was evil in his sight." Having less discernment than his father, he had reckoned the right of the first-born as naturally belonging to the eldest. He even "took hold of his father's hand to remove it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's." But Jacob has been induced by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of prophecy, to do this unusual thing and recognizes that his action is the result of superior, divinely wrought insight. So he refuses very positively and tells Joseph that he himself was aware of the actual situation. Then he proceeds to tell definitely just what difference is involved. Manasseh too shall be "a people and he too shall be great." But Ephraim shall outstrip him, so that "his descendants shall be a multitude of people." This last expression melo' haggoyîm -- "the fulness of peoples" with the article means: he shall constitute a real multitude of people (die wahre Voelkerfuelle, K. C., potential article, K. S.296b). Strange to say, in the first census of Moses' time the tribe "Ephraim had 40,500 men, while that of Manasseh could only reckon 32,200; in the second, the numbers received a temporary alteration, Ephraim counting only 32,500, and Manasseh 52,700" (Whitelaw); cf. Nu 1:33-35 with Nu 26:28-37. Moses gives proof of his faith in prophecy by recording a word which in his day was not yet being fulfilled.
20-22. And he blessed them on that day saying: In thee shall Israel bless, saying: May God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh. So he put Ephraim before Manasseh. Then Israel said to Joseph: Behold, I shall die, but God will be with you, and will bring you back unto the land of your fathers. And I myself do give to thee one portion of ground above thy brethren, which I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.
Joseph had interrupted the blessing as soon as he had dared, but Jacob had not said all that was on his mind. After gently repelling Joseph's suggestion, he continues to state that these two tribes shall be so greatly blessed that they shall in the course of time become proverbial for blessing and shall provide the formula to be used, i. e., "In thee ( -- by referring to the one or the other of you) shall Israel bless" or "invoke a blessing" (Meek), saying: "May God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh." 'Elohîm occurs here rather than Yahweh because the Creator's power in multiplying descendants is being reflected on. But one noteworthy point was that Jacob still continued to "put Ephraim before Manasseh." Such is the certainty of men of God when they speak prophetically. In yesimekha the future is optative. The Jews are said to use this formula of blessing to this day.
21. But Jacob has a word for Joseph in particular. He knows death is at hand. He states the fact with the calm courage of faith. But he leaves the assurance with Joseph that Egypt is not the land of their destiny. God in His power ('Elohîm) will bring back Israel's children "to the land of their fathers." They should not allow this prospect to become submerged. Jacob foresaw very clearly on the basis of words spoken to the fathers cf. chap.15 what the next important developments in God's people would be. God's children do not walk on toward a dark and uncertain future.
22. Jacob has a last bequest for his favourite son Joseph. He gives it as something to which he, Jacob, has a particular right -- "I myself do give" ('anî, emphatic). It is a special "portion," a shékhem, that is a "shoulder" or "ridge" -- just "one above thy brethren" ('a(ch)chadh min -- construct, before a preposition, G. K.130 g). He asserts that he took this "from the hand of the Amorites with sword and bow." This is a reference to an event not recorded elsewhere in the Scriptures but referred to Joh 4:5, and so, apparently, the parcel of ground in question was clearly identified for many a century. This cannot be a reference to chapter 34, for in that deed Jacob had no hand and sharply rebuked his sons for it. Therefore the word shékhem, "portion," does not contain a subtle allusion to the town Shechem and the event there recorded. Practically all commentators see such an allusion because of the accidental correspondence of words, but they create great difficulties for themselves by such an assumption. The patriarchs did more things than Genesis records. But some will protest, as does Delitzsch, that such an act of conquest is contrary to the attitude of the patriarchs, who did nothing to further their own interests but waited patiently till God gave what He had promised to give. Yet here is a situation that would cover the case: Jacob may on some occasion have been wrongfully attacked and resolutely defended himself -- for the patriarchs could on occasion bear arms, as Abraham did Gen.14 -- and as a result in driving off the Amorites he may have acquired right and title to a "portion" or "ridge" of ground. The other explanation resorted to by not a few is to make the perfect nathatti a prophetic perfect, "I shall give," and to refer it to the time of conquest under Joshua when the Ephraimites did take Shechem and the surrounding territory from the Canaanites. But the Hebrew construction opposes itself first of all with the emphatic "I do give": what Ephraim has to conquer is not emphatically Jacob's gift. Lastly, note: nathßttî is a perfectum praesens, "herewith I give" (G. K.106 i).
The critical approach to the subject matter of this chapter is what one would be inclined to expect. Since the chapter purports to set forth a prophecy, and criticism does not believe very much in prophecy, we are assured that this must be a prophecy after the event, vaticinium post eventum, and therefore a later account which is cast into the form of a prophecy, as though Biblical writers were not above the use of such morally doubtful devices, and as though the message of the passage were just as valuable whether it be a true, straightforward prophecy or a pious fraud. Along the same line is the critical assumption that the "threefold invocation" (Ge 48:15,16) "has some resemblance to a feature of Babylonian liturgies." Such an accidental "resemblance" may exist, but it takes much more than that to warrant the assumption that therefore the thought of the patriarch must be derived from some Babylonian source.
We feel that v. Ge 48:8-20 may be used to demonstrate the potency of the prayers and the blessings of God's saints. This approach involves, of course, that blessings are prayers, and that prayer is heard. One could use the section v. Ge 48:1-20 for the same purpose.