48:8When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, "Who are these?"
9"They are the sons God has given me here," Joseph said to his father.
Then Israel said, "Bring them to me so that I may bless them."
10Now Israel's eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them.
11Israel said to Joseph, "I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too."
12Then Joseph removed them from Israel's knees and bowed down with his face to the ground. 13And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right towards Israel's left hand and Manasseh on his left towards Israel's right hand, and brought them close to him. 14But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim's head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh's head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn.
15Then he blessed Joseph and said, "May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, 16the Angel who has delivered me from all harm--may He bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly upon the earth."
17When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim's head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father's hand to move it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's head. 18Joseph said to him, "No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head."
19But his father refused and said, "I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations." 20He blessed them that day and said, "In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: `May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.'" So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.
21Then Israel said to Joseph, "I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers. 22And to you, as one who is over your brothers, I give the ridge of land I took from the Amorites with my sword and my bow."
Jacob was 147 years old. At this time, knowing that the end of his life was near, he decided to give his sons what would normally be a deathbed blessing. In Jacob's case though, by the Spirit of God, he gives a deathbed prophecy to each of his sons. And the prophecies are not so much about his sons, but about the tribes that will descend from each of his sons. As we shall see in these studies, Jacob minces no words; he tells it like it is. He speaks not as a man, but as a mouthpiece of God, for only God could prophesy so accurately about events that were to happen years, even centuries, later. Jacob speaks the entire truth of what the Spirit of God inspires him to say about the future of the tribes. Many of the words to his sons must surely have sounded to them more like curses than blessings. Speaking such frank prophecies must have been difficult for Jacob. Nevertheless, Jacob spoke God's truth.
These prophecies, because of their vividness and accuracy, should have been a valuable support for the faith of the members of the tribes of Israel. As they saw the prophecies being fulfilled, their faith in the providence of God surely should have been strengthened. In the same way, we who have the full counsel of the written Word of God, and the myriad of prophecies therein, can be assured that God is in control. As we study how the prophecies of God have been fulfilled in the past, we can be assured that the (as yet) unfulfilled prophecies of God, as well as the promises of God, will also be fulfilled. For instance, we can be assured that our Lord Jesus Christ is coming back; we can know that we will be raised from the dead into eternal life in the presence of God; we can trust that in everything in this life, whether perceived as good or ill, God is working for the ultimate good of those whom He has called. And so on and on: the prophecies and promises of God are many.
"When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, `Who are these?' `They are the sons God has given me here,' Joseph said to his father. Then Israel said, `Bring them to me so that I may bless them.'" (vss. 8-9). Jacob first chooses to prophesy concerning his two adopted sons. Recall from the previous study that Jacob adopted Joseph's two eldest sons as his own (see 48:5-6). This was Jacob's way of giving the double-portion of his inheritance (usually reserved for the eldest son) to Joseph. As we shall see when Jacob prophesies over his eldest son Reuben, Jacob took the birthright away from Reuben because of Reuben's sin of incest. Jacob then divided the privileges of the birthright between two of his other sons. To Joseph, he gave the double-portion of the inheritance by adopting Joseph's first two sons. To Judah (as we shall see in next month's study), Jacob bestowed the leadership privilege usually reserved for the eldest son.
Jacob (called Israel here) first pronounces a beautiful blessing upon Joseph's sons through Joseph: "Then he blessed Joseph and said, `May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm--may He bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly upon the earth'" (vss. 15-16). Note the three references to God here--a veiled reference to the three persons of the Holy Trinity. God the Father is "the God before whom [Jacob's] fathers Abraham and Isaac walked"; the guidance of the Holy Spirit is seen in "the God who has been [Jacob's] shepherd all [his] life to this day"; and Jesus Christ, often called "the Angel of the Lord" in the Old Testament, is "the Angel who has delivered [Jacob] from all harm".
The blessing that Jacob prays here concerns the next great work that God will perform in the history of His people: building the nation of Israel. Jacob prays: "May they be called by my name and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly upon the earth" (vs. 16). This prayer, of course, was fulfilled. The Jews, to this day, are known as the sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, their patriarchs. And yes, the Jews, from the sons of Jacob, have grown to a nation of millions.
During this last blessing upon him, Joseph was "bowed down with his face to the ground" (see vs. 12). Because of this, Joseph did not notice that Jacob had crossed his hands when laying them upon Ephraim and Manasseh (see vs. 14). Joseph was careful to place Manasseh towards Jacob's right hand (he being the oldest), and Ephraim towards Jacob's left hand (see vs. 13). It was the custom that the father place his right hand upon the eldest son, the receiver of the birthright. Upon rising from being blessed himself, Joseph was surprised to see Jacob's right hand upon the younger son Ephraim: "When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim's head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father's hand to move it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's head" (vs. 17). Joseph thought it was a mistake by Jacob, probably due to Jacob's failing eyesight (see vs. 10). However, what Joseph could not see with his good eyes, Jacob could see with his prophetic eyes. The Holy Spirit guided Jacob to cross his hands in an act of prophecy concerning the two tribes that would descend from Ephraim and Manasseh. Jacob refused to change his hands, saying: "[Manasseh] too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations" (vs. 19). Jacob, of course, was right. Ephraim became the chief tribe of the ten tribes in northern Israel. In fact, when the ten tribes in the north split from the two tribes in the south, the northern tribes were sometimes collectively called Ephraim.
I am sure that Jacob himself did not mind giving this prophecy concerning the younger son of Joseph. Recall that Jacob himself was in the same position: he was the chosen of God to be a patriarch, but he was not the eldest son in his family. "This passing over the firstborn is one of the most striking features of the book of Genesis. So it was with Seth instead of Cain, Shem instead of Japheth, Abraham instead of Haran, Isaac instead of Ishmael, Jacob instead of Esau." God chooses whom He will, and often not as the world chooses. "Lest any one should glory in the flesh, He designedly illustrates His own free mercy, in choosing those who had no worthiness of their own."