Genesis chapter 48

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8And Israel beheld Joseph's sons, and said, Who are these? 9And Joseph said unto his father, They are my sons, whom God hath given me in this place. And he said, Bring them, I pray thee, unto me, and I will bless them. 10Now the eyes of Israel were dim for age, so that he could not see. And he brought them near unto him; and he kissed them, and embraced them. 11And Israel said unto Joseph, I had not thought to see thy face: and, lo, God hath shewed me also thy seed. 12And Joseph brought them out from between his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. 13And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near unto him. 14And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim's head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh's head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn. 15And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, 16The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth. 17And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father's hand, to remove it from Ephraim's head unto Manasseh's head. 18And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head. 19And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations. 20And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh. 21And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers. 22Moreover I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.

What does Genesis chapter 48 mean?

After settling in Egypt (Genesis 47), Jacob gives a major portion of his family blessing to Joseph's two oldest sons: Ephraim and Manasseh.

Jacob had talked about dying for many years (Genesis 37:35; 47:9), but now he truly nears the end of his days. If this scene takes place immediately before the events of chapter 49, Jacob is literally on his deathbed. Joseph, hearing of his father's illness, comes to Jacob's side with his two oldest sons to receive a blessing. Jacob's frailty is reflected in the effort it takes him to sit up in bed (Genesis 48:1–2).

Weakness aside, Jacob has clearly prepared for this moment. He begins by pointedly recalling one of the times God Almighty appeared to him in Luz—also known as Bethel—and the promise God made to make his descendants into a nation with their home in Canaan (Genesis 28:12–15). It is important that Joseph understand the significance of this promise for himself and his sons after him. He announces that he is claiming Joseph's two oldest sons as his own sons. In fact, he will elevate their position in the family above his actual oldest sons Reuben and Simeon. In doing so, Joseph's family will receive a double portion of the inheritance. It's significant that even now, the loss of Rachel is still fresh in Jacob's mind. Perhaps claiming Ephraim and Manasseh as his own sons is a way to honor her once more (Genesis 48:3–7).

Next comes a moment rich in irony, as it reflects Jacob's own youth. When he was younger, Jacob conspired to trick his elderly, blind father into giving him a blessing instead of his older brother, Esau (Genesis 27:1–4; 19). Now, his own sight failing, Jacob asks Joseph to clearly identify the people standing before him. Despite his tendency to complain and worry, Jacob recognizes that God has blessed him tremendously. Not only was he reunited with a son he thought dead (Genesis 37:31–34), he has lived to see that son's descendants (Genesis 48:8–12).

Joseph prepares his sons to receive their grandfather's blessing. He arranges the sons such that the older is to Jacob's right side, and the younger to Jacob's left. This followed typical customs of the day, and implied that the older son would receive the greater blessing. Perhaps because he is bowing, Joseph doesn't notice that Jacob crosses his hands—placing his right hand on the head of the younger grandson (Genesis 48:13–14).

When Jacob imparts the official prayer of blessing on Ephraim and Manasseh, he evokes God's presence with his own ancestors, and guidance through Jacob's long series of hardships. The reference to God as "the angel" might be a reference to a theophany, or a physical manifestation of God. In some sense, it foreshadows a growing understanding of the Trinity. The blessing itself consists of a prayer for these two men to experience the same blessings Jacob has received from God during his lifetime. Jacob asks God to continue the legacy of Abraham and Isaac through them (Genesis 48:15–16).

When he realizes what is happening, Joseph becomes angry. The Hebrew word used here implies distress or frustration. Why, exactly, Joseph feels this way is unclear. He may have thought his father accidentally switched the boys. Perhaps he simply disagrees with the decision to give the greater honor to the younger Ephraim. Jacob clarifies that this is exactly what he intended. He concludes by saying the people of Israel will wish each other well by evoking the success of Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:17–20).

The chapter concludes with Jacob giving Joseph and his descendants a very specific piece of land in Canaan as a gift, as well. Earlier portions of Genesis don't mention this specific piece of land, or Jacob's conquest of it. The exact Hebrew word Jacob uses is shakem, so some speculate this is Shechem, which was overpowered by Jacob's sons (Genesis 34:27). Yet he did not stay in that area or take possession of the territory. Joseph will be buried in this somewhat-obscure place (Joshua 24:32) Later, the New Testament will refer to a well dug by Jacob, in an area known by the name of Sychar (John 4:4–5). Regardless of how he came to possess it, this is part of Jacob's legacy for his favored son, Joseph (Genesis 48:21–22).

As Genesis continues, Jacob will make predictions and bestow other blessings on his remaining sons.
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