Two More Sons of Israel

“Your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are” (Gen. 48:5).  

- Genesis 48:1–7

Jacob’s demand to be buried in the “burying place” of his fathers in Canaan (Gen. 47:29–31) reveals his awareness that he is not going to live to see the fullness of God’s promises realized on earth. He knows that he is about to die, a fact confirmed in today’s passage, which speaks of Jacob’s illness with the same Hebrew term used elsewhere in Scripture for terminal sickness. Joseph, the devoted son that he is, goes to his father on his deathbed, taking his sons Manasseh and Ephraim with him to see their grandfather (48:1–2).

Moses here records Jacob’s adoption of his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh as his own sons (v. 5). This act is best seen as Jacob’s ultimate expression of his deep affection for Joseph. The Law later tells us that the firstborn son normally received a double portion of his father’s blessing to illustrate his privileged status (Deut. 21:15–17).
Jacob’s eldest son, Reuben, should have inherited this favor, yet he proved his unworthiness when he slept with his father’s concubine (Gen. 35:22). For the most part, Jacob’s other boys are shady characters (34:25–29), and so he chooses his favorite son, absent from him for more than twenty years, to gain the double blessing. Jacob’s eleven other sons father one tribe apiece, but Joseph’s inheritance will be reckoned through two tribes named after his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Joseph’s honor belongs to the entire nation, but these two clans will forever be regarded as special because they are directly linked to the one who saved the world from famine. 

Jacob’s preface to his adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh sets up the passing on of the patriarchal blessing to all his sons. Recalling his encounter with the Lord at Luz (Bethel, 28:10–22), Jacob summarizes the content of God’s word to him — life, land, and offspring (48:3–4) — with verbiage that aligns his blessing with the one given to Abraham (17:1–8) and Isaac (26:1–5). A new era in the history of the Lord’s people is about to begin, and Jacob’s words reveal his faith that even his death cannot thwart God’s intent to bless His elect. The Almighty’s promise to Abraham, mediated through Isaac and now Jacob, must come true even if it must be passed down once again.

Coram Deo

John Calvin says that Joseph’s rush to see his father one last time shows he regards it “a greater privilege to be a son of Jacob, than to preside over a hundred kingdoms.” Joseph saw his father’s great faith on his deathbed and knew the blessing of his father’s God must be his or all else would be nothing. If the Lord tarries, we too may die before seeing the fullness of God’s promise. Will we be like Jacob and trust that God’s promise will be fulfilled, even if our death comes first?

Passages for Further Study

1 Chron. 5:1–2
Ps. 27
Luke 2:22–35
Rom. 8:31–39

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