Blessing Future Generations
Topic: Sovereignty of God Passage: Genesis 48:1–48:22
“BLESSING FUTURE GENERATIONS”
1 After this, Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 And it was told to Jacob, “Your son Joseph has come to you.” Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. 3 And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 4 and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ 5 And now 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. 6 And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance. 7 As for me, when I came from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).”
8 When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” 9 Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. 11 And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” 12 Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. 13 And 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 him. 14 And 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). 15 And he blessed Joseph and said,
“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, 16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”
17 When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father, since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” 19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.” 20 So he blessed them that day, saying,
“By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, ‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’”
Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh. 21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers. 22 Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.”
The prospect of dying has a way of getting us to take stock of our lives. In our less-sober moments, we may joke about death or avoid talking about it altogether. Both responses are merely defense-mechanisms aimed at shielding us from what the Bible calls man’s “last enemy” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:26). We enter this life with an innate fear of death, and that is because we instinctively know the biblical truth that “It is appointed for man to die...and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
“Judgment.” That can be a frightening enough prospect. But because it lies on the other side of death, there is a note of finality attached to it that can make it absolutely terrifying.
Many fear death because they don’t fully know what awaits them on “the other side.” Others fear it because it means saying farewell to those we love and leaving behind all those things that are most precious to us. There is a line in the Jewish Talmud that reads, “Man is born with his hands clenched; he dies with them open. Entering life, he desires to grasp everything; leaving the world, all he possessed has slipped away.”
Death will one day lay claim to every one of us. We may try to run from it, but we cannot hide. In time it will find us at the precise moment that has been “appointed” to us.
Our Lord Jesus faced the hour of His death with confidence, knowing His purpose in life and the mission for which the Father had sent Him into the world. When He rode into Jerusalem on that first “Palm Sunday,” He did so aware of the destiny that awaited Him because He was persuaded that what God had purposed and promised, He would fulfill. A cross awaited Him, but that cross was the means by which the wrath of God toward the sins of men would be fully satisfied. Christ, who lived the life we could never live, would die the death that you and I deserved to die, and in the process give life to those who would repent of their sins and entrust themselves to Him.
Joseph’s father, Jacob, was now an old man. As the time of his departure drew nearer he began preparing himself and his family for that inevitable day. Earlier the Lord had assured him to “not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there (God would) make (him) into a great nation.” God would go with him, and would bring him back to Canaan again. And what’s more, the hand of Joseph—the beloved and long-lost son who had been given up for dead more than two decades earlier—would be with him in the hour of his death (cf. Genesis 46:3-4).
In time, Jacob asked Joseph to swear to him that he would not allow his body to be buried in Egypt, the land of his people’s sojourn. Instead he made his son promise to take his body back to Canaan where he could be laid to rest with his father, Isaac, and grandfather, Abraham. Rather than being a mere matter of personal preference, it was an act that would be in keeping with God’s promise to grant that very land to His chosen people. Not only would Jacob return there, but in due course so would all His people.
As we move into Genesis 48 this morning, we observe from verse 1 that some time had passed and that Jacob’s health had declined to the point where death appeared to be imminent. The patriarch has had ample opportunity to look back on his life and consider the legacy that he would be leaving for his sons and his sons’ families. As is often the case, we want our loved ones near as death approaches. If we have planned well and considered the legacy we will be leaving, we want them to hear and to remember our final words.
That was certainly the case with Jacob. Chapters 48 and 49 of Genesis actually fit together in serving as his “last will and testament.” Before pronouncing blessing upon his own twelve sons, he first summons to his bedside Joseph and his two sons—Manasseh and Ephraim. The words he shares with them prove to be foundational for the future of the nation that will bear the name God had given to Jacob years earlier...“Israel” (cf. Genesis 32:28).
Death tends to bring all of life into focus. And the closer to death we are, the sharper the focus tends to become. Not only are we more aware of the present moment, but the past becomes more explainable, and the future more realistic. We find all three of these perspectives in this account of Jacob blessing his two grandsons.
In the first place, we read of Jacob’s...
Past recollection and reflection (Genesis 48:1-7).
If it has not already been made clear, we should note that Joseph and Jacob lived some distance apart from one another...Joseph in the royal city and Jacob in the delta region known as “Goshen.” When Joseph heard that his father had fallen ill, he hurriedly rushed to his side, taking his two sons with him. Learning of their arrival, Jacob found strength to sit up in his bed and greet them.
According to the biblical record, Jacob’s primary concern was not discussing his health-related issues. Instead, he reflected back upon his life from the time that “God Almighty” (“El Shaddai”) first appeared to him and blessed him. What a great place for any of us to begin our story. When and where was it that the Lord first spoke to you and you were made aware of His active presence in your life? Does it still excite you, inspire you, and motivate you? Are you able to express it to those closest to you?
For Jacob it was at “Luz,” which is the ancient name for Bethel (which means “house of God”). It was there that Jacob had his dream of the angels “ascending and descending” on a ladder, the top of which “reached to heaven” (cf. Genesis 28:10-17). It was in this dream that the Lord affirmed to him the promised blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant. His descendants would multiply and become a nation, inheriting the land on which he lay, and become a blessing to many others. When he awoke, Jacob said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”
God appeared to him a second time as he fled for his life from his brother Esau (cf. Genesis 32:22-31). It was on this occasion that Jacob wrestled with God and “prevailed.” He would limp away from that experience with a dislocated hip and a new name, “Israel,”
Years later, shortly before the death of his beloved wife Rachel, the Lord appeared to him again at Luz, blessing him there and reaffirming the earlier covenant promises He had made (cf. Genesis 35:9-15).
And as we saw just a couple of weeks ago, God for a fourth time came to him—this time in a night vision, reassuring him that it was part of His sovereign plan for Jacob to journey to Egypt with his family in order to escape the severe famine of that day. The Lord assured him that He would go with him, and that He would one day bring both him and His people back to the land of Canaan (cf. Genesis 46:1-4).
It was important for Jacob to recollect his salvation story in the presence of his son and his sons’ sons. That is because future generations, whether they always realize it or not, are always dependent upon lessons their forbearers have learned from their sojourns. If we do not glean from those who go before us, we will always be starting from “square one.” Jacob presses that truth in a straightforward and unusual manner in verses 5 and 6, saying,
“And now 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. And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in the inheritance.”
In a scene that seems strange to us, Jacob was in essence “adopting” Joseph’s two sons. He would assume responsibility for them, as he had his other sons, and would include them in the ordering of “the tribes of Israel” when the people would enter, conquer, and occupy “the promised land.” What this meant was that they would be granted privilege that was equal to their being his own sons. In time the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh—along with those of Asher—would occupy the northernmost region of Canaan. What this amounted to for Joseph would be a “double blessing”...two tribes bearing his “name,” whereas his brothers would be allotted just one each. Normally a “double portion” of the inheritance belonged to the firstborn—in this case, Reuben—but here Jacob decreed that privilege to Joseph.
Jacob’s failing eyes looked past Joseph and spotted the two grandsons of whom he had just spoken. In verses 8 through 16 we have the account of his blessing upon them. Advancing beyond his past recollection and reflection, Jacob next pronounces a...
Present benediction and supplication (Genesis 48:8-16).
In all likelihood, Joseph’s two sons are now eighteen to twenty years old. They are young men, not small children. They represented “the next generation”... and “the next generation” was now. It is doubtful that this would have been the first time Ephraim and Manasseh had been in their grandfather’s presence, but it may well have been the last time they would see him alive.
As Joseph brought them nearer to the old man’s bedside, we can almost hear the joy in Jacob’s quivering voice as he tells his son, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” In response, Joseph prostrated himself to the floor, then rose, and led his two sons by the hand to Jacob. What transpires in verses 13 and 14 may seem to contain superfluous detail. But I assure that it is anything but unnecessary or unimportant to the narrative. It reads:
“And 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 him. And Israel (note the name change...it is not accidental) 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). And he blessed Joseph...”
Did you happen to notice that while Jacob’s hands rested upon the heads of his grandsons, he pronounced the blessing upon...Joseph? What this seems to suggest is that the blessings were given to the sons through the mediation of Joseph. They had done nothing to earn such favor, but their father had. In this case, he had merited his father’s favor, and that favor was now being bestowed, through him, to his sons. Is not this a preview of the work of Christ on our behalf? We have done nothing to merit God’s favor, and yet the blessings we receive come to us by virtue of our faith in the finished work of Jesus. If Christ is the subject of all of Scripture—and He is!—then such word-pictures help us to better understand the foundation of our salvation.
One older commentator has even gone so far as to suggest that the “crossing of (Jacob’s) hands” is symbolic of the blessing that comes to believers by reversing our position as lost sinners through the “cross” of Christ. And while that may be extending the metaphor at bit too far, the point is nevertheless made. Everything that we receive from God is by virtue of our being “in Christ,” not because of anything we may or may not have done.
The “right hand” of the one granting the blessing represented the bestowal of authority and greater privilege. That right hand was here being granted to Ephraim, the younger of the two sons. Manasseh, the older, would also receive the blessing of his grandfather, but the greater honor would not be his. It would belong to his younger brother. If memory serves us, then are we not reliving scenes and experiences we have seen before in the Genesis story? More about that in a moment.
Ultimately, the One who actually blesses is God. Therefore, Jacob’s blessing becomes a prayer in verses 15 and 16. It is both a supplication and an invocation. He says,
“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”
This would be Jacob’s last recorded testimony to the faithfulness of God in his life. Of this section, Charles Spurgeon has written of the patriarch,
He had lost Rachel—how it stung his heart—but he says, “God has redeemed me from all harm.” A great famine had come in the land, but he says that God had fed him all his life long. He had lost Joseph, and that had been a great sorrow. But now, in looking back, he sees that even then God was redeeming him from all harm. He said once, “Joseph is gone and Simeon is gone. Now you want to take Benjamin. Everything happens to me!” But now he eats his words and says, ‘The Lord has redeemed me from all harm.” He now believes God had always been with him, had always fed him, always redeemed him, and always blessed him.
In other words, Jacob had gained perspective for the present by reflecting upon the past. And that new perspective had led him to bless others and to make further request of the God he had come to depend upon. As you and I go through the daily trials and struggles of life, we may wonder why God is keeping His distance. As we maintain our trust and sharpen our focus, however, we—like Jacob—are able see that He has been there all the time.
Our faithfulness to God in the midst of His sometimes-“invisible” faithfulness to us is the legacy that we are able to pass along to those who will follow in our steps. We should be recognize that we are building that legacy now...not “one day.” It is neither too late nor too early to begin preparing the next generation to carry on the ministry of the Gospel once we have completed our course. This happens intentionally, not accidentally or by osmosis. May it not be said of us on the Day of Judgment that we have handed off to others the responsibility God has given us to carry out. Let us “See (to it) that (we) fulfill the ministry that (we) have received in the Lord” (Colossians 4:17).
We have witnessed Jacob’s past recollection and reflection, and we have heard his present benediction and supplication. What is left in this scene is his...
Future prediction and assertion (Genesis 48:17-22).
Joseph’s immediate reaction to Jacob’s blessing of his sons appears to have been one of incredulity. The text says that “When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, ‘Not this way, my father, since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.”
Let us not overlook the fact that the blessing is transmitted from “the greater” to “the lesser” (cf. Hebrews 7:7). Respectfully, Joseph thought that his aged father had inadvertently blessed the wrong son, and he wanted to step in and rectify the matter before it was too late. As we learn from other Scripture, including Jacob’s own early life, patriarchal blessings were irrevocable (cf. Genesis 27:30-38). But Jacob lovingly replied, “I know, my son, I know. He (Manasseh) also shall become a people, and he shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall be a multitude of nations.”
No, there was no mistake. Despite not being the one with the natural birthright, Ephraim was God’s choice to receive the greater blessing. The implications would extend far into the future. It was not so much a matter of one brother versus another, but rather the providential plan for the entire nation in the days to come.
Verse 20 says, “So he blessed them that day, saying, ‘By you Israel (the nation, not the man) will pronounce blessings, saying, ‘God make you as Ephraim and Manasseh.’ Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh.”
The word “blessed” (“barak”) implies “the saying or giving of good things.” Its New Testament equivalent (“μαρκιοs”) is, at times, rendered “happy.” Happy is the man who is able to look beyond men and see God. Faith recognizes that God’s ways are not man’s ways. It took Jacob a lifetime to learn that. And it will take us that long as well. By the grace of God, we will one day see clearly what looks so unclear now.
Following the blessing of the grandsons, we read in verse 21 that “Israel (the man who is now walking in step with God) said to Joseph, ‘Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers.” And then he granted to his son—his beloved son whom he had been without for two decades—“Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and my bow.”
It is a strange ending to what has otherwise been a very personal snapshot from the life of this family. None of Jacob’s other sons appear to have been present at that moment, although all of them will be in the next chapter of the story. Here then is a special gift from this father to the son he has loved more than all the others from the day of his birth. As the story of Joseph has unfolded before us, we are not shocked by what we witness here. Before reading his “last will and testament” in the hearing of them all, Jacob wanted this private moment with Joseph.
In addition to receiving the “double portion” through the blessing of his sons, there was an inheritance that would be exclusively his. I believe that if these last few verses of this chapter were not here, we would not be able to see the next chapter as clearly as we will.
Opinions vary as to what Jacob may have been referring to in verse 22. Some think that the reference is to territory gained in the revenge taken by Simeon and Levi following the rape of their sister Dinah in Genesis 34. But Jacob had severely rebuked his sons for this act of impetuous cruelty. So, that can’t be it.
Others believe the reference to be to the parcel of ground that is spoken of in John 4(:5-6) when Jesus conversed with the Samaritan woman. There we read that Jesus “came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there.” This would seem to be the most plausible explanation. If that is the case, then it was there where Jesus spoke of the “living water” (cf. John 4:11) that was—and still is—being offered to all willing to receive it. Was it not then, more—much more—than a plot of land that Jacob was bequeathing to this son in particular? It would be the ground upon which the Messiah would one day stand and quench the spiritual thirst of any and all who came to Him.
Repeatedly in the Genesis narrative, we find God confounding the wisdom and ways of natural man. Especially do we find this to be true in His sovereign choice of who is to receive the blessing. If anyone should have recognized the Lord’s providential control over circumstances, it should have been Joseph. His life had the fingerprints of God all over it. And yet here we find him “displeased” and even distressed. There are times in our lives when we too are frustrated as we fail in our limited understanding to see the wisdom of God.
Joseph could have reflected back just a few generations in his family’s history and recalled that Isaac, not the earlier-born Ishmael, had been the promised heir (cf. Genesis 15:4-6). Even his father, Jacob, was God’s choice over Esau, even though his brother had been born first (cf. Genesis 27:26-29, Romans 9:13). And in the passage before us we find Ephraim receiving the blessing over his older brother Manasseh. The theme remains constant throughout the Word of God: the ways and thoughts of the Lord are infinitely higher than our own (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9). He alone sees the end from the beginning, and that is because He is the One who ordained it to be (cf. Isaiah 46:9-10).
We might take God’s sovereign act of passing by the firstborn in an earlier and even more significant light. Just as Adam, “the first man...a man of dust” forfeited his right to rule because of sin, so Jesus Christ, “the second man...the man of heaven” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:47-48) regained the right to reign over God’s creation that the first man had lost. The Son of God is also the Son of Man. He alone has the exclusive right to rule.
It is to Jacob’s credit that Jacob rebuffed his son’s insistence to confer the blessing on the older son. We see him here as “more Israel”—the man of God—than ever. Despite having been an eyewitness and recipient of God’s sovereign grace throughout his life, Joseph needed this stark reminder as he faced the future that the Lord reigns in the hearts of men and is constantly turning them in the directions He pleases.
It is those who are in step with His plan who can truly understand this. And those who do furthermore recognize that it is their responsibility to teach this great truth and to prepare the next generation to receive it as well. But we must do it God’s way and with God’s wisdom, and not our own. Throughout His Word, God repeatedly reminds us and shows us that He is the sovereign Lord of all. Where human logic and reasoning fall short (and they always will), God rules for the greatness of His own glory and the good of His people.
Consider these questions as we conclude:
- So what legacy are you leaving for those who come after you?
- Where will your “fingerprints” be found when you are gone?
- What blessing of God are you passing along to others now?
- In years to come, what memory of you will your family and friends most immediately call to mind when your name is mentioned?
- When they think of you, will they be able to trace God’s sovereign hand through the life you have led?
- To whom are you calling to the “well of salvation” in order to drink of the “living water”?
- Will they be able to say that they have seen Jesus in you?