Genesis 48 Commentary
Jacob must do one more thing before he dies. He must bless his children – Joseph first. Chapter 48 is about Joseph’s blessing while Chapter 49 extends to the rest of the children.
In a very strange operation, Jacob adopts Joseph’s two children Manasseh and Ephraim. He reorders things and the children become Ephraim and Manasseh. Ephraim is put first though he is actually second born. The two shall enjoy the same status as Jacob’s children, just like Reuben and Simeon.
The tradition of a double portion for the firstborn bypasses Reuben and instead goes to Joseph. In the land that Israel would inherit two full portions of land would go to Ephraim and Manasseh. Remember that there are only 12 slots for the 12 sons. How history resolved this puzzle is fully and partly explained in the next chapter – chapter 49. But for now two slots are taken and that leaves us with 10 slots for 11 sons.
In blessing his children (Ephraim and Manasseh) the patriarch Jacob recalls the LORD’S blessing of increase and fruitfulness. This is the blessing assigned to Joseph. It’s a blessing of fruitfulness and increase.
Then he blessed Joseph and said, “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully, 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 on the earth.”
Genesis 48:15-16 NIV
The patriarch doesn’t hold back.
The reference to Rachel here may indicate a reference to the intense pain that Jacob experienced when Rachel died. How comforted he was that the fruit of her womb was now standing right in front of him – the fruit he had temporarily lost! Every child is a product of both father and mother. The extraordinary beauty of Rachel resided in Joseph as he was described as being well-built and handsome. Jacob was reminded of his beloved Rachel as he looked at Joseph and the memory of that pain came back to him. Was he also thinking of honoring his beloved Rachel in this way? It would not be a bad coincidence. Actually some Bible translations tend to reflect that thought. But in truth that would just be a bonus thought and quite human. The LORD had already put pieces together for Joseph and the patriarch prophetically worked along the set parameters.
Joseph gets another additional item – a piece of land that Jacob took from the Amorites with his sword and his bow. It may not be much in terms of money value but it was everything to Jacob as it represented his might and personal connection. He would pass it on to Joseph.
As history unfolded, the Bible records a lot of activities in and around Shechem. That is the land that Ephraim inherited. Joshua was an Ephraimite who led Israel after the human author (Moses) of this amazing book rested with his fathers. Initial leadership of Israel was centered on Ephraim though the scepter belonged to Judah through the Davidic line, but that would not come until several centuries later.
We shall see in the next chapter that while the blessing of increase and fruitfulness rested on Joseph, the blessing of leadership (scepter) rested on Judah. These two sons symbolized Jacob’s blessings on behalf of the entire community of God’s peoples.
Leadership here may be connected to authority and political oversight exclusively but that would be very wrong. While Judah’s leadership was seen at several points, it is the deeply moving moment of sacrificial act of saving Benjamin that earns Judah the scepter. So really leadership here is strongly connected to saving (hence salvation though Christ) rather than political oversight – though it is very much part of the equation.
More resources check Summary of Genesis at http://www.bibleproject.com