Throughout the book of Genesis we have encountered numerous brothers and have seen their squabbles and fights. Things started badly with Cain killing Abel. We also saw Ishmael sent away at the birth of Isaac, the deception and trickery of Jacob to Esau, and Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt.
We close the study of Genesis with one more set of brothers. As far as we know, these are good brothers who do not bicker like their ancestors. However we are not told their story or even hear them speak. The story is no longer about one person or set of brothers but rather the story of a people. The end of Genesis is a transition from God blessing individual people and instead blessing an entire nation.
The Old Testament will become a story of the nation of Israel from this point on. Genesis gives us the background as to how the nation began. The New Testament will be about God opening the doors of salvation even further to the entire world with the church.
Last week we saw Joseph reveal himself to his brothers and invite his father Jacob and the rest of the family to stay in Egypt where they would be taken care of. We pick up at the end of Jacob’s life, seventeen years later.
28 Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. 29 When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.”
“I will do as you say,” he said.
31 “Swear to me,” he said. Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
Jacob has not only been able to see his son Joseph once more before his death, he is able to see his family become established in Egypt. While God has assured him that his descendants will inherit the land of Canaan, for the time being the family is being blessed in Egypt.
Joseph promises that Jacob will not be buried in Egypt but instead will be buried in the land of Canaan where Abraham was buried. Later Joseph would be buried there as well but not for four hundred years as his remains were carried from Egypt by the Israelites led by Moses.
1 Some time later Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him. 2 When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed.
3 Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me 4 and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’
5 “Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine. 6 Any children born to you after them will be yours; in the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers.
In ancient times it was common for the firstborn child to receive a double portion of his father’s inheritance. We have seen this ignored with the patriarchs however and it will be ignored one final time. Joseph is not the firstborn but the eleventh male. Nevertheless, he is the firstborn to Jacob’s chosen wife Rachel.
Jacob does something unusual however with the inheritance. Rather than giving Joseph a double portion of his wealth, he instead legally adopts Joseph’s two sons. Each of Joseph’s sons will receive a part of the inheritance equal to Joseph’s brothers, in effect giving Joseph a double portion but also skipping Joseph in the inheritance process.
I don’t know precisely why Jacob does this but I have two guesses. As second to only Pharaoh himself, Joseph likely had a great deal of wealth. It’s possible that Joseph was even wealthier than his father and thus had no need for an inheritance.
I believe more to the point though is the division between an Israeli inheritance and an Egyptian inheritance. Jacob knew that ultimately God would return his descendants to Canaan. By giving Joseph’s sons an inheritance, he assured that they would be a part of the future nation of Israel and not left in Egypt.
Interestingly enough, what Jacob does is actually create 13 tribes of Israel. When we hear the tribes of Israel mentioned however there are only 12 because the Levites were not considered a tribe. As the priestly class they had no land.
Also interesting is that in Revelation 7 John records a prophecy concerning 144,000 who are saved out of the tribulation. These people are numbered 12,000 from each tribe. While most people are certain to gloss over the names, Manasseh is named but not Ephraim, Levi is named despite not being considered a tribe elsewhere, and Joseph is listed as a tribe. Dan is not listed among the tribes. I can’t tell you the exact significance of this but thought it was interesting. The best I can tell you is that God does not see things the way that we always see things.
12 Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground. 13 And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them close to him. 14 But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn.
15 Then he blessed Joseph and said,
“May the God before whom my fathers
Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd
all my life to this day,
16 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
upon the earth.”
17 When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 Joseph said to him, “No, my father, 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 too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” 20 He blessed them that day and said,
“In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing:
‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’ ”
So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.
When Joseph brings his sons in to be blessed he puts the oldest on the right – the favored spot – and the youngest on the left. But Jacob crosses his arms and places his right hand on the youngest’s head, giving him the favored blessing. This continued the concept of the younger receiving more blessing than the elder.
As I have mentioned before, this looks forward to the church. The Israelites believe that they were the favored people because they were Israelites, the children of Abraham, the children of God. But God would choose to bless others alongside of Israel.
To put things simply, God doesn’t look at the things that man looks at when he chooses to bless. We believe that we have certain rights to things based on the fact that we are the oldest or the strongest or the smartest or more righteous than someone else. But God looks at those things and scoffs. He created us as the oldest or strongest or smartest and our righteousness is like filthy rags to Him. What God judges us on is something completely different.
Jesus taught on several occasions and in several different ways that the last will be first and the first will be last. In Matthew 5 the Beattitudes all appear to be contrary to human opinion. Jesus also teaches his disciples in Mark 9 that we must be servants
35Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
When Jacob blesses Ephraim and Manasseh, it is just one more reminder that God’s ways are not our ways. We wouldn’t have chosen to go through slavery or prison like Joseph did but that was the route that God used to make Joseph into that man who would save his family. God’s ways are not our ways and that is a very good thing even when we don’t understand it.