Jacob Adopts and Blesses Joseph's Sons
Before the other sons get blessed, Jacob takes Joseph aside and adopts Joseph's two sons as his own. This gives them equal land rights and claims within the tribes, something that becomes very significant in the future. It is also a way for Jacob to show his love for Joseph, his favorite and resotred son, one more time. Joseph's own blessing will come in the next chapter.
Verse 5: “Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine (NIV)
- By rights, the firstborn son deserves a double portion of inheritance. Jacob could not get away from that.
- But by giving a full son't portion to Joseph's two boys, he got around tradition.
- This was making Joseph's family the firstborn in terms of size of inheritance.
- This is also an overt act of favoritism again.
Verse 7: As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem). (NIV)
- This verse gives another possible explanation for why Jacob is doing this, his favorite wife died and didn’t give him more children, so he will count Joseph’s kids as the ones she would have given him. This is not certain, though, as it says the children will be counted as Jacobs, not as Rachel’s.
Verse 8: When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, “Who are these?” (NIV)
- This repeats what we already heard and so is probably another break between traditions, different parts remembered slightly differently and combined here so that we have both accounts.
- Israel/Jacob already knew about Joseph’s sons, see previous verses. We know he was going to bless/adopt them, but this is another account of that event.
- It is also quite possible that before now Jacob truly had not ever seen his grandsons before, as they lived in different areas of the country. Joseph probably came with enough of a retinue that his sons could have blended in.
Verse 10: Now 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. (NIV)
- This sounds very familiar doesn’t it? Jacob got his blessing from his father when Isaac couldn’t see either. And the blessing went to the younger son then too.
- This verse is written in so obvious of a similarity between this situation and Jacob's own time of blessing. It is supposed to make you remember that story so you as the listener can anticipate the switch/con that is about to happen.
Verse 11: Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.” (NIV)
- This is probably a metaphorical use of “see” but his vision could be just dim enough he had to be close to see anything. The wording here is unclear as to how much he could really see.
- In a very real sense, by adopting Joseph’s children, Jacob was not only giving Joseph a double inheritance through his children, but Jacob saw it as a reward that his one son that was lost came back with two descendents. Having someone to pass you things on to was very important, part of you lived, and your memories and stories. Jacob had gained through his loss.
Verse 13: And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them close to him. (NIV)
- Manasseh is the oldest, Ephraim the younger. This has to be kept very clearly in mind for any of the rest of this account to make sense.
- The difference between the right and left hands is very important to ancient cultures.
- Left hands often associated with being dirty, mainly from not having toilet paper. Shaking with the left hand was an insult, etc.
- Traditions very important, symbolism key, and they mainly evolved from very practical purposes.
- Joseph was being very careful about who was at which hand because it made a statement about priority and paved the way for the elder to, rightly, receive the primary blessing. Joseph assumed his father would go with tradition.
Verse 14: But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands, for Manasseh was the firstborn. (NIV)
- The right hand would have been the main blessing and the left hand of Jacob would have given the lesser blessing. And so by switching hands, Jacob was making a statement about who his favorite son was.
- We know of nothing that would make Manasseh less important of unworthy of his rights as elder son. This was purely Jacob showing favoritism like so much of his life.
- Jacob was a younger son, as was Joseph, so he blessed his grandson who was younger, to be like him.
- In a very real sense, blessings are about praying that someone have the best of what we have. And our children are about having more of us to keep living. So choosing the younger helps Jacob to raise up someone like himself.
- Much of Jacob’s life was him showing favoritism, he was never bashful about who he liked and who he didn’t. This is the final example of that.
Verse 15: 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, (NIV)
- This verse says that he is blessing Joseph, and yet the blessing is aimed at his sons.
- This could indicate that Joseph is simply blessed through his children, which was a common thought.
- This also helps to support the idea that Jacob was blessing Joseph's sons to doublt bless Joseph himself.
- The Septuagint also simply says “blessed them” which includes all three of them, with the sons simply under Joseph because he is their father.
- Ancestors were very important. You followed your ancestors, they were your guides. So that this was the God of all the ancestors is important.
- But right after the ancestor element is a personal element. God of the ancestors, but also Jacob’s own God and guide. These are powerful reasons everyone should have to believe that this blessing will happen because this God is known to come through in a pinch.
Verse 16: 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." (NIV)
- “Called” is the same phrasing as calling on God’s name. But it is passive and so is when people are calling out for these kids they call out Jacob’s name. **This “calling” when used with God involves the character and honor of God, so this might be about asking that Joseph’s children take part in the character and tradition of Jacob and their ancestors.
- This is a passing down of the family blessing. The same God who has been there be here. The same type of people who were there, be here. So that the same blessing that was given there will be here too.
- The last bit of this verse is the true blessing part. Yes the first part involves praying that they will be like him, but the end involves asking they be blessed like him.
- Part of the request is that Jacob will be remembered because of how great his descendents are. “Let them be so awesome that people ask where they came from.”
- This is a family blessing, one that passes along the generations as long as they serve God. The Jews believe it even to this day.
- The basis of this request is that they truly participate in those who came before, that those people were a part of them, and so they have a right to the same blessing. A family community idea.
- We use some of the same logic when we call on some of the blessings Jesus and Paul promise the early believers for ourselves.
- We participate in the same community, the same line as those believers, calling on the same God, with the same Holy Spirit in us. So their blessing applies to us.
Verse 17: 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. (NIV)
- This verse appears to be out of order as Joseph would surely have tried to say something as soon as Jacob placed his hands on his sons, not after a blessing had been given.
- It doesn’t appear that he was really angered at his father so much as not happy that there was a mistake going on.
- Jacob must have been extremely blind for Joseph to be so certain that his father was mistaken that he would grab Jacob's hand.
Verse 18: Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head. (NIV)
- The firstborn is of course the one who should be receiving the blessing, though why Joseph is ok with getting a double blessing at all since he is not the oldest is uncertain, when he is so upset with his younger son getting the blessing of the oldest.
Verse 19: But 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.” (NIV)
- This blessing is very much a replica of Jacob’s own life, but he is giving it freely rather than having it taken from him by the youngest. Jacob must be seeing some irony and parallels here with his own story, if not actively creating those parallels.
- Ephraim never became a full host of nations. It was part of the northern tribes that split from Judah and was eventually lost in the Assyrian exile. It did become powerful enough, however, that people associated it with all of northern Israel, which is a group of tribes (Keil 385).
Verse 20: He blessed them that day and said, “In yourc name will Israel pronounce this blessing: ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’ ” So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh. (NIV)
- This is a prophetic promise that people when they bless others will simply ask that they become like Manasseh and Ephraim. It is like saying "I hope you turn out like Will Smith and Bill Gates."
Verse 21: Then Israel said to Joseph, “I am about to die, but God will be with youd and take youe back to the land of your fathers. (NIV)
- This promise is kept when at the Exodus they take Joseph’s body back home. This is quite impressive when you think about a group keeping a verbal promise for 400 years.
Verse 22: And 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.” (NIV)
- There are several different readings here. Either that Joseph is greater than his brothers or simply that he gets a larger chunk of land than his brothers.
- “Schechem” (translated here "ridge of land") can mean a shoulder (ie choice piece of something), or rise in land. It could also be the town of Shechem itself, or a mountain slope. This changes the reading, whether it was an extra offering, an extra city, or a choice piece of mountainside. Commentators are uncertain about which.
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