The Great Reversal

Genesis 48

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
January 2016

We have been studying the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. This is the sixty-second week on this book. We are coming to the final chapters in the book. This is a part of biblical history most people do not know about. Last week, Jacob moved to Egypt and saw his favorite son for the first time in over twenty years, a meeting he never dreamed would take place, because he thought Joseph was dead.

Then, after meeting Joseph, he meets Pharaoh. Seventeen years take place in that chapter (47:28). He spent a total of thirty-four years with Joseph. Jacob spent time with him during the first seventeen years of Joseph’s life and the last seventeen years of his own life.

At the end of Genesis 47, Jacob is one hundred forty-seven years old and it says “the time drew near for Israel to die” (47:29; cf. 48:21) and called Joseph and asked him to swear to him that he would not bury him in Egypt. That is how the chapter ended.

As Genesis 48 begins, Jacob is not only old and dying, he is sick. Genesis 48:1 says, “Some time later Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” This is the first mention of sickness in the Bible. People had to get sick before this but the first one said to be sick is Jacob.

Notice Joseph’s response. So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him. When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed (48:1-2). We see how sick Jacob is. He is so sick that he can barely sit up in bed. He has to gather up enough strength just to sit up in bed to see Joseph.

Joseph wants to see him before he dies and he brings his sons with him. How old were his sons at this point. We have a good idea. They were not toddlers. Genesis 41:50 tells us when they were born. Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him (ESV). If they were born in the year before the famine, they would be nineteen. Jacob came after two years of the famine and lived seventeen years longer, so they were least nineteen and may have been in their twenties.

What happened next is very interesting. They took a trip to grandpa’s house. They came to see their sick grandfather and try to be an encouragement and a blessing to him. The Bible tells us to visit widows, orphans and the sick. That is the kind of ministry we are to have to other people but instead of them being a blessing to Jacob, he takes the time to be a blessing to them. He blessed them.

Jacob blessed Pharaoh in the last chapter and he blesses his grandkids in this chapter. Before he blesses them, he shares his testimony to them. He passes something on to them before he dies. These two boys could learn a lot by talking to this one hundred forty-seven year old patriarch. He lived in a different era. He tells them his life story but he is very selective about what he tells them.

He does not tell them all of the bad things that have happened to him and how hard his life has been for one hundred forty-seven years. He doesn’t tell them about how he lied to his blind father.  He does not tell them how he did something that got his brother so mad that he wanted to kill him.  He did not tell him that he became a fugitive and had to flee the country. He does not tell them about how his Uncle Laban cheated him and how his wedding was a disaster but he did have a lot of things to share with them.

He had different life experiences. When you are old and have your grandkids come to you and have a chance to share what is really important to you, what would it be? As you look back at your long life, what is the most important thing that you learned that you could share and pass on to the next generation? These boys had lived a life of luxury in Egypt. They had never even been to Canaan.

Do you have a testimony of salvation? Do you have incredible stories about how God has worked in your life? Not all of us have been delivered from a life of prostitution or crack cocaine but we should all have some kind of testimony to share. Someone called this the first Sunday School class. These boys get to hear a Sunday School lesson.

What was important to Jacob as he looked back over his life, which seemed short to him but incredibly long to us (one hundred forty-seven years long). He remembered how God had blessed him. Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he BLESSED ME and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and 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’ (48:3-4).

He told that that “God has been my shepherd all my life to this day” (48:15).  Jacob was the first one to call his shepherd.  This was long before David did in Psalm 23. David lived a thousand years later.  He also said that an angel delivered him from all harm (48:16).  Many Bibles translate delivered “”redeemed”.  It is the first mention of redemption in the Bible.

In fact, God blessed Joseph above his expectations. Notice what he said to Joseph: “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too” (48:11). In his old age, he remembered how God had blessed him. As we look back on our life, do we do the same thing? Do we remember how God has blessed us throughout our life?

As Jacob looked back on his life, two other things stood out in his mind. He remembered when God came into his life and he remembered when Rachel went out of his life. There were a lot of things he left out. He doesn’t mention the all-night wrestling match with an angel, which left his hip out of joint but he did remember when God appeared to him in the land of Canaan.

That is a big event. Most of us have never had a physical appearance of God to us. We have never have God speaking out loud to us. He speaks to us in other ways but usually not audibly. This made a big impression when it happened to Jacob four thousand years ago.

God did not just appear to Jacob, he made special promises to him and those promises included a land. The land that God promised him was in Canaan, not Egypt. They had not taken possession of the land yet. In fact, the only land that Jacob owned so far was in Egypt. He made a special covenant with Jacob and his descendants.

He also remembered how the love of his life, Rachel, died before they even get to the Promised Land. They are on the edge of it and she dies suddenly. Jacob was devastated. It was one of his many sorrows but as he looks at Joseph’s two sons, he does something very unusual. He adopts them.

Notice what he says. 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. Any children born to you AFTER THEM will be YOURS (48:5-6 NIV). Jacob adopts children that are not his own as his own. He adopts two of his grandchildren (Manasseh and Ephraim) as his own children. Jacob did not adopt all of his grandsons, just these two.

When he adopts Ephraim and Manasseh, they become equal with his own sons. He treats them now as sons, not as grandsons. They will be able to share in Jacob’s inheritance equally with Jacob’s own sons. They now have the same rights and privileges as his other twelve sons. What does this meant? It means that there are not twelve sons of Jacob and twelve tribes but fourteen sons of Jacob which will now make up fourteen tribes. This raises an important question.

If there are fourteen tribes of Israel, then why does the Bible say that there are only twelve tribes? How many tribes of Israel are there? The answer is twelve. The land was divided among twelve of Jacob’s sons. Why twelve, if there were fourteen sons of Jacob? The tribe of Levi and the tribe of Joseph did not count.

Deuteronomy 10:19 says, “That is why the Levites have no share or inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the LORD is their inheritance, as the LORD your God told them.” There is no tribe of Joseph officially. There is a Tribe of Joseph but it is made up of his two sons (Numbers 13:11). The Tribe of Jacob is made up of two tribes.

That raises an interesting question.How could Ephraim and Manasseh be the head of two tribes of Israel when their mom was not even Jewish? How could they be considered Jewish if their mom was not? In the Bible, you are Jewish if your dad is Jewish. It is patrilineal descent.

What This Story is Really About

Now most people read this chapter and completely misunderstand it. Many people read this chapter and see it as a story of adoption. Some preachers use this chapter to talk about adoption. Make no mistake. There is an adoption in this chapter.

It is not just an adoption, it is a foreign adoption. It takes place in another country (Egypt). It is a biracial adoption. They are also biracial (half Egyptian and half Jewish). Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, had biracial kids. They may not have looked Jewish. Remember, Joseph had an interracial marriage. Joseph’s wife was not a Hebrew. She was an Egyptian.

It is also a grandparent adoption. Grandparent adoptions still take place today. Usually the natural parents die or are unable to become parents and the grandparents adopt the child and become his or her legal parent. Adoption is important. Kids need people to adopt them but that is NOT what this is about.

Why do most people adopt orphans? They want to give them a better life. They want to help out a child in need who does not have a mother or a father. The only problem is that Ephraim and Manasseh had a mother and a father.  In fact, they already had a great life. They were well off. They were wealthy. Joseph was wealthier than his dad was. He was the Prime Minister of Egypt. Their dad was the prime minister. Their grandfather was the high priest of Egypt. They had connections. They had political connections and religious connections.

Most people adopt because they want to have kids and adoption is the answer. It is the answer to infertility. The only problem here is that Jacob already has twelve sons and one daughter and yet he still wants to adopt two more on his deathbed. Jacob is old and dying. He adopts them right before he dies, so he is not adopting them for himself so he can spend time with them. This chapter is not really about adoption. It is about inheritance.

Joseph is given a DOUBLE PORTION of the inheritance. It was supposed to go to Reuben. Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn son. He was the oldest. Instead, it went to Joseph though his sons. The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (he was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s marriage bed, his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel; so he could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright (I Chronicles 5:1).

One of Jacob’s sons made up two of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The Promised Land would be divided up into twelve sections. Joseph’s portion was two-twelfth of the land or one-sixth through his sons. All of the other sons got one tribe of Israel but Joseph was given TWO TRIBES. There are some very strange things said about these two tribes. In most places, you will not hear it but in this class I want you to be aware of many different viewpoints, so if you hear something crazy from someone you will have an answer for them.

Genesis 48 and the Cults

The cults have a very strange interpretation of Ephraim and Manasseh.  The theory is that Ephraim and Manasseh refer to England and America today.  That was the view of Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Church of God, was a leading proponent of this view. He wrote a book called The United States and Britain in Prophecy[1]. It is called “the British-Israel Theory”.  Glen Beck, the conservative political commentator, also believes in this theory.[2]

Is the theory correct?  Is the US the tribe of Manasseh? You can go to website after website that teaches that America is Manasseh?  It is pure hogwash. A number of red flags should immediately come up with this interpretation.

It is a completely racist interpretation of Genesis.  According to this theory, the real Israelites today are white Anglo-Saxons in Britain and America. They are the ones who now inherit the promises.  It is really a joke.  Manasseh had an Egyptian mom and yet from this biracial couple supposedly came the Anglo Saxons.

We know from the Book of Genesis that this interpretation is impossible. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.  All of the races and people in the world today came from these three sons and their wives. The Europeans came from Japheth. Indo-European peoples came from Japheth (Greeks, Russians, Italians).  Ephraim and Manasseh were descendants of Shem, so there is absolutely no basis to this theory.

How does Jacob adopt Joseph’s kids? He blesses them. A father is not blessing his sons here. A grandfather is blessing his grandsons and he is doing it on his deathbed. He is old and frail. These are deathbed blessing. We have a formal adoption ceremony in this chapter. It is a legal adoption.

In many ways it is very similar to when Isaac blessed Jacob. There were a lot of similarities between these two blessings. In both cases, the father who blesses them is in bed and has to sit up. In both cases, the father has vision problems. Isaac was completely blind (27:1). Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see (48:10).

In both cases, the dad asked for identification. When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, “Who are these?” (48:8). That was what Isaac asked Jacob right before he blessed him. He went to his father and said, “My father.” “Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing” (27:18-19). In both cases, there is a lot of kissing and hugging.

In both cases the younger son is blessed. Jacob blessed the younger son intentionally and deliberately. Isaac blessed the younger son unintentionally. He thought he was blessing Esau but there is an important difference between these two blessings. In the last blessing, Jacob resorted to deception, dishonesty and lying. There is no deception or dishonesty in this blessing. It is completely transparent. Something unusual does happen in this blessing.

The Cross Blessing

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. 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.

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. Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.” 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.” (48:13-14, 17-19)

This is very interesting. Joseph brings the oldest son to his dad’s right side and his younger son to his left side but Jacob crosses his hands so that his right hand is on the head of Joseph’s second born son and his left hand is on the head of his firstborn son (48:14). He pulls a switcheroo. Joseph was not happy about this. Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head” (48:18) but Jacob refused.

This raises two interesting question. The first question is this: Why was it so important that Jacob put his right hand on the first born? Why did it matter? What difference did it make? Why did the blessing have to be with the right hand? Most people in the world are right handed. Only about ten percent of the population is left-handed.

In the eastern world right means good and left means bad. In most Arab countries, the left hand is considered unclean.  It is considered impolite to reach out you left hand to greet someone.  It is considered an insult to Arabs, because they use that hand in the bathroom.

Jesus told a parable about the sheep and the goats. In the final judgment, there will be two groups of people (sheep and goats). The sheep will be on Jesus right hand and will be invited to enter the kingdom. The goats will be on the left hand and are told to depart into everlasting fire.

The good guys were on the right and the bad guys were on the left. When Jesus ascends into heaven, He sits at the right hand of God. He does not sit at the left hand of God. Now this is just a metaphor. God is a spirit. He does not have hands. The right hand is the place of honor and authority. The blessing had to be done with the right hand.

The second question is this: Why does Jacob bless the younger son? This is very interesting. In the ancient world, the blessing was to go to the oldest son. The oldest son gets to inherit certain things. What do we learn by what Jacob did? God is completely sovereign. Many do not like this doctrine. Preachers don’t like this doctrine.

God is not limited by human custom or precedent. He is not limited by tradition, including church tradition. God chose someone else to get the double portion. He did not choose the firstborn. If you did not get this point, it is the fourth time in the Book of Genesis that we have seen this point.

First, Isaac was chosen over Ishmael. Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn son. He was the oldest but Isaac got the blessing. God said, “In Isaac, your seed will be called.”

Second, Jacob was chosen over Esau. Esau was Isaac’s firstborn son. He was Isaac’s favorite but the blessing did not go to the older son but to the younger son. It went to Jacob, not Esau.

Third, Joseph was chosen over Reuben. Jacob’s firstborn son was Reuben but Joseph was his favorite. He was the only one of the twelve sons to ge the special coat. Joseph was not the oldest. In fact, he had ten older brothers but he got the special coat.

Now, Ephraim is chosen over Manasseh. Manasseh was Joseph’s oldest son but Jacob puts his right hand on the head of Ephraim, not Manasseh

Many do not like the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. They say that it is not fair. They would say that the blessing should have gone to Jacob’s firstborn son Reuben or if it went to Joseph’s kids, it should at least go to his firstborn son but the firstborn son was passed over but God’s thought are not our thoughts.

He looks at things differently. He does not do things the way we would do things. He has the right to give the blessing to whoever He wants but there is no room for criticism here. Ephraim got the double portion but Manasseh still received a great blessing. Jacob said, “He too will become a people, and he too will become great” (48:19). Although Manasseh would still be greatly blessed, the younger son would be blessed more.

Why did Jacob do this? Hebrews 11 answers this question. Hebrews 11:21 says, “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff”. Jacob blessed these sons BY FAITH.

That is strange. It does not seem that what Jacob did here involved a great act of faith but it did. The author of Hebrews puts it on par with Noah building the ark and Abraham offering up Isaac in sacrifice. It is the one thing in his life that the NT records as an act of faith and not his wresting with God all night).

Notice the name change in the chapter. The beginning of the chapter he is called Jacob but the whole time he blesses these boys he is called Israel. He was acting by faith. How was blessing these two boys an act of faith?

He believed that one day they would be back in the Land of Canaan and Joseph’s sons would comprise two tribes in that Promised Land. Jacob’s words were more than blessings, they were prophecies. Jacob was not just a patriarch, he was a prophet. Ephraim would be greater than Manasseh (Genesis 48:5–21).

The Northern Kingdom (Israel) was called Ephraim (Hosea 5:3). The Southern Kingdom, also known as Judah. Jacob could not see very well physically, but he saw well spiritually. He saw better than Joseph did and he might have had twenty-twenty vision.

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