The following study is based on Hebrews 11:21, “By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.”
Jacob is an old man at this time. He can barely see. He calls Joseph to his side knowing that he will soon pass away.
What is the blessing that Jacob utters to Joseph?
- Genesis 48:3-4
3 And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me, 4 And said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession.
- He blesses Joseph and his sons in a prophecy to point forward to a time when the children of Israel would leave Egypt and go inherit the land of Canaan that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was a reminder of the covenant between God and His people.
- He saw beyond the comfortable life in Egypt and how they had all settled there already, that God would still fulfil His promise, even though it seemed hard to imagine.
- It takes the eye of faith to see beyond your comfortable life here on this earth. We like the creature comforts that this life affords. No matter where you live now, we like to be comfortable. But we must remember like Jacob that we’re just passing through. And we must live in such a way to remember that!
- This is what Hebrews 11 was talking about – when Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph, that he saw beyond the present circumstances and remembered the covenant that was given to him, to Isaac his father, and to Abraham his grandfather.
- Let’s look at it.
What was the blessing given to Jacob?
- Genesis 28:10-22 is the whole encounter but we will just be looking at part of it.
- Genesis 28:12-14
12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. 13 And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; 14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
- What was the place?
- Genesis 28:19
And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.
- Genesis 28:19
- So you can see from this text that it correlate to what Jacob was speaking about back in Genesis 48. It was the same place.
What was the blessing given to Isaac?
- Genesis 26:1-4
1 And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar. 2 And the Lord appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of: 3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father; 4 And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;
- This is the blessing that was uttered to Isaac.
- Similar blessing to Jacob!
What is the blessing given to Abraham?
- Genesis 17:7-8
7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. 8 And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
- Once again you see it is very similar. What was given to Abraham would be passed down to Isaac, which would then be passed down to Jacob.
Jacob is reminded, he does not forget about the covenant even though he now has a comfortable life in Egypt, and he realizes that he is about to pass away not seeing the promise from God fulfilled in his life time. He doesn’t even know how it will be fulfilled, but by the eye of faith he passes on the covenant. To who? To Joseph and his 2 sons. That is the essence of what Hebrews 11:21 is talking about.
However, in studying this passage in Genesis 48, there are other important lessons we must learn.
Jacob is about to pass down the blessing of the birthright to Joseph and his 2 sons, and not to his actual firstborn Reuben.
- Why not Reuben? After all Reuben was the first born son. He should have had right to this spiritual blessing, the birthright.
- What had happened?
- Genesis 35:22
And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine: and Israel heard it…
- Reuben had committed a grievous sin. He had slept with his father’s concubine! On top of that, look at what the Bible also says about him.
- Genesis 49:4
Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.
- So Reuben would not have claim to the spiritual blessing.
But it then should have gone to the next oldest, Simeon.
- Why not Simeon?
- Genesis 34:25
And it came to pass on the third day, when they were sore, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brethren, took each man his sword, and came upon the city boldly, and slew all the males.
- He was guilty of mass murder of the Shechemites.
- Genesis 49:5
Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations.
So how is Jacob able to pass the birthright on to Joseph and his seed?
- Genesis 48:5
And now thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.
- He adopts them as part of his own children. They are not considered his grandchildren but rather his own children.
It is very clear that Joseph is the one that receives the birthright.
- 1 Chronicles 5:1-2
1 Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but, forasmuch as he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright. 2 For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler; but the birthright was Joseph’s:)
- Through Jacob would come the eventual Messiah, the blessing of the birthright, but the birthright itself was given to Joseph
We might say that Jacob is still playing favorites and it seems that way by how he talks.
- Genesis 48:7
And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to come unto Ephrath: and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath; the same is Bethlehem.
- Joseph was the son of Rachel, Jacob’s chosen wife.
- Rachel was his bride by choice. But Leah was his bride by chance. Remember that he was deceived by his father-in-law, Laban, into marrying the older daughter first.
- Bilhah and Zilpah was his brides by competition. These two wives were enforced on him by his two wives. They were the wives helpers.
But what do we see here?
- Jacob has finally realized after all these years, that God is not bound by human tradition
- What was the human tradition?
Law of the firstborn
- Deuteronomy 21:15-17
15 If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated: 16 Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: 17 But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.
- The birthright always goes to oldest. That was according to Mosaic law, and really it was according to God.
What does Jacob do?
- He’s passing the birthright to Joseph, but also to his children.
- Genesis 48:13-14, 17-18
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 unto him. 14 And 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. 17 And 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. 18 And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.
- Joseph wasn’t happy. He tries to move the father’s hand from the youngest to the oldest. He thought the father made a mistake
- Remember, the OLDEST is meant to get the birthright!
- Genesis 48:19-20
19 And 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. 20 And 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.
- Jacob knows what he is doing. God is guiding the affairs. He didn’t make a mistake.
The book of Genesis is full of instances where the younger is chosen over the older
- Seth was chosen over Cain (even Abel before that).
- Shem was chosen over Japeth (sons of Noah).
- Isaac over Ishmael.
- Jacob over Esau.
- Ephraim over Manasseh.
And what’s interesting is when Jacob chooses the younger over the older!
- He chose Rachel (the younger) over Leah (the oldest daughter of Laban).
- But in God’s providence, Leah would become mother to Judah – the line whom the Messiah would come. It would not be through Rachel, the wife that he loved the most.
- Leah was also mother to Levi, who would become the head of the priestly line.
- Leah, not Rachel, was given the honour of being buried with Jacob in the cave of Machpelah (Genesis 49:31).
- God does not see as man sees. Even though the birthright was given to Joseph and his sons, the true spiritual blessing still came through Leah. Yes it wasn’t through Reuben or Simeon. But it still came through Leah. Man’s designs can never frustrate the plans of God.
What then really is this message that we see run throughout the book of Genesis in God’s dealings with man?
- Man’s ways are not God’s ways. Jacob finally understands God’s election.
- God’s election, whom He chooses, is not based on outward qualities – as if Jacob could do more for God than his brother Esau could do or vice versa.
- No – God simply chooses because He is God and He must choose someone to represent Him.
- But even though the choice is made and the blessing granted, it doesn’t mean that they are blessed and that’s it!
- Look at the example:
- Reuben is first born, but the birthright goes to Joseph.
- YET the Messiah would come through Judah, and not Joseph!
- So even though Jacob blessed Joseph, it didn’t mean that everything would be set in stone.
So now we come to Ephraim and Manasseh.
- Jacob blessed Ephraim over Manasseh.
- The younger is blessed over the older.
Did Ephraim really become greater than Manasseh? Let’s have a look.
First, in the naming of the tribes
- Numbers 2:18
On the west side shall be the standard of the camp of Ephraim according to their armies: and the captain of the sons of Ephraim shall be Elishama the son of Ammihud.
- Numbers 2:20
And by him shall be the tribe of Manasseh: and the captain of the children of Manasseh shall be Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur.
- Ephraim was first, and next to him was Manasseh.
- Numbers 2:24
All that were numbered of the camp of Ephraim were an hundred thousand and eight thousand and an hundred, throughout their armies. And they shall go forward in the third rank.
- The group of Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin are put under the camp of Ephraim.
- Ephraim definitely was the greater.
- So it seems that Ephraim is first according to the blessing from Jacob. But let’s dig a bit deeper.
Let’s look at the 12 tribes that are mentioned in Revelation.
- Revelation 7:5-8
5 Of the tribe of Juda… Of the tribe of Reuben… Of the tribe of Gad…
6 Of the tribe of Aser… Of the tribe of Nepthalim… Of the tribe of Manasses…
7 Of the tribe of Simeon… Of the tribe of Levi… Of the tribe of Issachar…
8 Of the tribe of Zabulon… Of the tribe of Joseph… Of the tribe of Benjamin…
- Ephraim is missing!
- Manasseh is there.
- Why? What happened?
- Hosea 4:17
Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.
- Hosea 4:17
What changes God’s election? What can change whom God chooses?
- How we live our life!
- God wants to bless you!
- He wants His covenant of blessing to be poured upon each person.
- But we must ALLOW God to work in and through us.
- We can short change that by the way we live.
- Just because the pastor prays for you for a blessing, it doesn’t mean you will be blessed!
- You must align your life with God’s will in order for that blessing to come.
- Just because you’ve accepted Jesus into your life before, it doesn’t mean that He is abiding there right now!
- That must be a day-by-day conscious choice that we make.
- We must allow God to work in us to do for His good pleasure.
- We must learn to live by faith today.