What does Genesis 48 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
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.
Verse Context:
Genesis 48:1–22 describes the blessing Jacob pronounces over Joseph's oldest two sons. Significantly, Jacob claims Joseph's two oldest sons as his own, ensuring that each will receive a full portion of his inheritance. This means Joseph's family will receive a double portion. Jacob blesses the pair with a prayer for God's blessing in their lives as he himself has experienced it.
Chapter Summary:
Genesis 48 describes Jacob's deathbed blessing of Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. In a surprising move, Jacob claims Joseph's two oldest boys as his own. This makes each a full heir. The result is that Joseph's family will receive a double portion of the inheritance. Jacob prays for them to receive many of the blessings God has given to him during his long life. In another twist, Jacob gives greater blessing to the younger of his two grandsons.
Chapter Context:
Despite a long, difficult life, Jacob survives another 17 years after moving to Egypt. The suffering of his son, Joseph, resulted in the salvation of his family line. Now truly at the end of his days, Jacob claims Joseph's oldest two sons as his own—giving them full rights to a portion of his inheritance. The following chapters will include Jacob's remaining blessings for his sons, and a description of the death and burials of both Jacob and Joseph.
Book Summary:
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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