Love for Sick and Aged Parents (vv. 1-2)
It is usually the case that those who go to visit the sick receive a greater blessing than the sick. We hope to raise their spirits, and we may a little, but it is our spirits that are raised by contact with those who shall soon be with the Lord of glory. Joseph heard that his father was sick. A sickness unto death was feared, and Joseph took his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, with him. They were likely 18 and 20 years old at this time, and may not have seen their grandfather for several years (v. 8). It is a good thing for older children to respect the wishes of parents and show great respect to grandparents. Children, you would not be here were it not for those whose earthly lives you now watch slipping away. Those leaving this earth should do all in their power to bless and guide those remaining for a while longer, so that one generation will praise God’s name to the next.
We do great injury to young souls by shielding them from death and treating death in such a sterile manner that many now pass through most of their lives having never seen death firsthand. It is good if death leaves an early mark upon the soul – I am sinful, and I too much die. I will stand before God’s judgment seat and must have righteousness there; I will get me to Jesus Christ early and thus avoid wasting my years as most do. Hearing that his son approached, Israel – for he had covenant work to do before he died – strengthened himself upon his bed. Nobility of soul – he was weak and dying, but he would not draw attention and sympathy as much to that as to the covenant promises. When it comes to our dying, it should be our aim not that our dear families and friends hold on to us but to God’s word and covenant through Jesus Christ. Death cannot part us from that which is eternal!
Pointing to the Promises (vv. 3-4)
Jacob’s first words – see the beauty of faith ripening for heaven as it remembers God’s faithfulness on earth! God Almighty, El Shaddai, appeared to me in Luz, the older name of Bethel, God’s house, where the Lord met Jacob when he left Canaan. This glorious God blessed me, and now I will bless you. Jacob rehearsed the promises – Manasseh and Ephraim heard them firsthand from the last of the patriarchs. I will give you this land and make your fruitful. I will give it to you and your seed for an everlasting possession. This promise pertains to Christ more perhaps than our fathers then understood, but they saw Christ’s day (John 8:56). The promise of an everlasting possession in Canaan was but a down payment, a pledge that Abraham was the heir of the world (Rom. 4:13). The covenant was never limited to the Jews’ possession of Canaan, for they were not the ultimate seed of Abraham – Christ was and is (Gal. 3:16). And thus, the promise of the land pertains to him also, except he is now King of kings and Lord of every land. He is both the creator and mediatorial heir of this whole earth, and all should bring their gifts to him, bow before his scepter, kiss him in faith, or feel the back edge of the sword coming out of his mouth. Most nations are feeling this edge today, as we are in a season of great rebellion against Messiah the Prince, but he will prevail over his enemies and continue to drive them forward to destruction. This earth is his; all its nations and peoples must confess that he is Lord (Ps. 2:8).
Ephraim and Manasseh Adopted (vv. 5-6)
We see more of this than Jacob and Joseph could, for the Heir has come and brought life and immorality to light through the gospel (Matt. 21:38; 2 Tim. 1:10)! Yet, Jacob’s faith stretched toward this goal as he prepared to depart this life. Now, what to do about Joseph – he is part of the family, even its savior – and his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, whom Jacob named second in anticipation of the blessing he would soon give? They must have their place in the family of faith – they are half-Egyptian but they are full-Israel by virtue of their father’s faith and now their grandfather’s adoptive act. In grace, Jacob claimed them as his own children. As Reuben and Simeon are to me – full sons – so are Ephraim and Manasseh. This is not a replacement but a declaration of adoptive equality. It was gracious, as God’s adoption of us in Christ is. Perhaps their adoption was something of a type of ours, for we were full-Egyptian, heirs of God’s wrath and curse, but he has brought us into his family so that we are his sons and daughters through faith in Jesus Christ. It can even be said of us that we are the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, although Gentiles by birth and cut off from the covenant, so that we are now made heirs of all God’s promises to them (Gal. 3:26-29). Jacob has learned the beauty of God’s grace – that those outside are brought inside by God’s mercy and love. May we also bow before his grace and rejoice in his love for us! “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1).
It was important to Jacob to secure his entire family within the covenant. The rest of Joseph’s sons would be his, but all those living at Jacob’s death must be legal heirs of God’s promises. It is moving to see Jacob’s faith so lively as he was so near death, but the soul does not weaken as the body does. Where faith is present and we give ourselves to God’s promises, old age and even the deathbed can be seasons of great fruitfulness. But this was not merely spiritual concern for Jacob. He was the leader of God’s church on earth and the main living heir of God’s promises. He must do all within his power to secure all its members. The Lord had shepherded Jacob’s heart and led him through the wilderness, and now he will from his deathbed shepherd God’s lambs through the compromising wilderness of Egypt. He felt keenly the dangers facing his family and knew that only faith in God’s promises could sustain them and bring them home.
Rachel Remembered (v. 7)
Nearing death and exiled from God’s promised land, Jacob’s thoughts turned to Rachel. She had died some forty years earlier, but her memory was very fresh to Jacob. She was the human love of his life. Why did he think of her at this point? Perhaps he was explaining to Joseph that his adoption of her two grandsons was as we would say, In Memoriam. This is the most likely explanation. Joseph had become a great man, but he did not forget his mother. He would be moved to accept this arrangement out of respect for his dying father’s kindness and prophetic arrangement of his family affairs, and also in loving memory of his mother. Approaching death reminds us of what is most important – God’s promises, our beloved family, a future secured by faith, the condition of the church after our departure – did we serve the Lord in our generation and leave his precious Bride holier and happier than we found her? If more of us thought about these things and labored for them throughout our active years, our dying years would be more satisfied with the memory of God’s powerful, energetic grace in our lives. There was nothing wrong with Jacob thinking of Rachel and wanting to do one of her sons a kindness. If our comings and goings today, self-absorbed, distracted lives, makes the dead “out of sight, out of mind,” then it is best if all the electricity and modern conveniences immediately fail and never be restored. This life is not all there is, and our individual lives must be seen in the tapestry of God’s working in his whole people, down through generations in many different parts of his flock, to fulfill his purposes. Our hearts should remain tender toward his broader work and never think that we are the center of life.
The Gift of Blessing (vv. 8-16)
8 And Israel beheld Joseph's sons, and said, Who are these? 9 And Joseph said unto his father, They are my sons, whom God hath given me in this place. And he said, Bring them, I pray thee, unto me, and I will bless them. 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim for age, so that he could not see. And he brought them near unto him; and he kissed them, and embraced them. 11 And Israel said unto Joseph, I had not thought to see thy face: and, lo, God hath shewed me also thy seed. 12 And Joseph brought them out from between 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 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. 15 And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, 16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.
Meaningful Touch (v. 10)
The interchanges recorded here are so natural and unrehearsed that they are an inspired, eye-witness account of this moment. Who are these? Jacob knew who they were, as he has just adopted them, but his eyes were also failing (v. 10). Are these your two sons? He had been part of a blessing obtained by deception and did not want to be deceived. Joseph affirmed that they were his two sons, and Jacob directed that they be brought near to him. Jacob kissed and hugged them. Blessing and securing the next generation requires covenant words and promises (vv. 3-4) and also legitimate, meaningful affection. God does not give us his promises to stuff our heads with knowledge but to fill our hearts with love for him and for each other. Christian parents that are catechetical experts but strangers to heart and physical affection cannot expect to pass a warm, covenant faith to the next generation. God gives us his truth, draws us to himself, and forgives our sins so that he may dwell with us, walk with us, love and receive our love. Again and again – I love you, he says to us – now love me and stay in my love (John 15:9-11). Love me with all your heart; I love you with my Son as the gift of my love (Rom. 8:32). Ephraim and Manasseh were almost men, but Jacob kissed and embraced them. There ought never to be a time that parents and children and grandchildren greet one another coldly. When it comes time to take our leave of each other in this life, it should be with the deepest emotion and love of shared life, shared faith, and shared destiny. Hard or doubting hearts can often be melted and secured by affection – when words fail. We were created to love God our Savior and one another, and dying times especially must reflect this. Those parting hugs and kisses must last until heaven, so make them meaningful. Seal God’s truth with your affectionate regard for your posterity, and the Lord will use this to seal their hearts for heaven.
Grace and Humility (vv. 11-12)
At this moment, Jacob was deeply conscious of God’s grace. By mentioning the Lord’s goodness in allowing him to see Joseph and Joseph’s children, Jacob is deflecting attention away from himself. Are not many elderly bitter or melancholy because the spotlight has passed from them so that they are no longer the center of attention? Jacob forces the spotlight away! God has brought me to this moment. What I do now, I do because of his grace to me. He has given me what I never imagined – I get to die holding my Joseph’s children! God be praised! Joseph was so overwhelmed that he pulled the boys back from where they were standing next to Jacob and bowed down before his father – with his face either near or upon the earth. No amount of greatness drove away Joseph’s humility before God and men. He was undone by God’s goodness and his father’s love. His blessings and his exaltation did not ruin him but make him humbler and quicker to affection. God’s goodness must lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4), or we do not understand either him or ourselves – him in his mighty, condescending love that is full of so many unexpected blessings or ourselves in our unworthiness. The higher and more loving we see our God, the meeker our hearts will be before him. Then, his blessings will not ruin us but fill us with a growing and deeper love for God. His kindness will melt our hearts, drive pride far away, and make us willing and able to serve him in all things.
My God and Redeemer Bless the Lads (vv. 13-16)
Gathering himself, Joseph guided Manasseh, the firstborn, toward Jacob’s right hand, and Ephraim toward his left. Jacob switched his hands, guiding them prudently, for he was led by the Lord to reverse the order of blessing. His blessing upon the boys is a beautiful poem celebrating the presence and faithfulness of God. “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk” – same God, same covenant, the God of our fathers, the God who has drawn near to us in love and mercy. “The God which fed me all my life long unto this day” – Jacob was sustained that moment in Egypt by the faithful God who fed him. Good and necessary it is continually to remind ourselves and all around us that we live at God’s expense and that every morsel of food is a gift of his hand. Strange and sad and horrible that those with far less light than we have were far more conscious of their daily dependence upon God! We must recover a conviction of “Give us this day our daily bread,” else we shall never learn to live gratefully before God or love and obey him for all his goodness to us! Every believer has this same confession, but it is telling that few make it – I have nothing except from God’s faithful hand (1 Cor. 4:7)! Humility, trust, joy, and obedience are the fruits of this sincerely felt confession – let us be quick to make it ours!
Higher yet – the Angel – the Angel of the covenant – who has redeemed me – my “Ga-al,” or Redeemer – from all evil, bless the lads! Jacob in a sense reviewed his entire life in these words: his departure from Canaan on the run from Esau’s wrath, Laban’s mistreatment, his return to Canaan and subsequent peace with Esau, the wrestling with God at Panuel, the years of loss and sorrow after Joseph’s departure. My Redeemer was with me during all these trials. Perhaps I could not see it clearly at the moment or even forgot him, but he was with me and brought me through every adversity. He is God’s Angel and God himself. He will be with you and bless you. Trust him all your days. I am leaving, and you are remaining in Egypt. The temptations will be great – may he redeem you from all evil as he has redeemed me! And let me name be on them – Israel – he who wrestled with God and prevailed – may you prevail with him through praying and yielding to him. May my fathers’ names – Abraham, father of many nations, and Isaac, he laughs – be upon you – heirs of God’s promises and joy in his salvation. May you grow into a multitude of peoples – and they did, as subsequent censuses would reveal.
Perhaps we have grown too big – I actually mean too small – to give such blessings. We think too much in terms of estates we leave behind and end of life comfort and care rather than the only real thing of substance – that we pass on a living faith in the Redeemer. He brings each of his children through so many trials and evils that we should have a long story to pass forward, at least if we are honest and want to magnify him for all his goodness. Even a simple life has much for which to bless him – if nothing else, that in the midst of the flood of evil around us, God has preserved his truth and promises and people. This is a sufficient miracle to which we should direct the attention of each passing generation. Yet, we have many personal testimonies to add of his grace and faithfulness. Store them up in memory so that you can write them upon the souls of your children and grandchildren as you prepare to cross the Jordan. And even if some of the stories make you look bad, remember that God’s grace and mercy shine the more illustriously as we are honest about our sinful stubbornness – all praise to you, O mighty Redeemer! You alone have delivered me from all evil! I have nothing but what you have given me! You have been faithful and true; you have walked with me all my days and kept your word.
The Sovereignty of Grace (vv. 17-22)
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. 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. 21 And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers. 22 Moreover I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.
The Younger Greater than the Older (vv. 17-20)
Joseph thought his father had made a mistake in blessing Ephraim as the firstborn. He held up his father’s arm to redirect it to Manasseh’s head, but Jacob refused the change. His “I know, I know,” shows that he felt under prophetic necessity to reverse the order of the blessing. Both sons were blessed, but the Lord intended to bless Ephraim more. Again, the younger would outshine the older. This was such a common occurrence in the patriarchal age that it almost became the norm. Why would they not come to expect some display of God’s sovereignty in the bestowal of his grace and blessings? It is still difficult for us to leave to God the disposition of our lives and futures. Birth order blessings have lost their significance in our age – which is tragic and manifests a loss of biblical faith in the having, rearing, and guidance of covenant children, indeed, the whole ordering of our societies and lives has more in common with a factory than with flesh and blood human beings. Yet, we struggle with issues of “fairness” and the expected way of doing things. God, however, gives his gifts according to his will. He is bound by no human expectations of birth order; merit does not enter into the equation at all, for “all we like sheep have gone astray.” In our homes and disposition of property, we do well to remember this – that not all have children and grandchildren may have the same claim upon family property. It depends upon whether or not children are walking in the family faith. Otherwise, they may be passed over in order to remind them that faith has historical consequences and to bless faithful children so that their hearts may be encouraged to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness.
God Will Bring You Home (vv. 21-22)
Not quite his dying words – not by a long shot! (ch. 49) – but words worthy of the dying man of faith, the man by whom God even called himself – the God of Jacob. “I die, but God shall be with you.” He did not need to say anything else. In the centuries ahead, these words would ring in the souls of the believing Israelites. God will bring us home again. He will never forget his promise. He may wait centuries to fulfill his word – a most necessary reminder to us not to grow impatient – but “not one word of his promise will fall to the ground” (1 Kings 8:56). His word will not return to him empty and ineffectual (Isa. 55:11). His covenant hung upon this promise for four hundred years. The faith of his people hung upon this slenderest of threads – which is really wider than any ocean! I will bring you home. Jacob also gave Joseph an additional portion of his goods – almost as an afterthought – of which Jesus made reference (John 4:5-6). The faithful will be repaid for their troubles and service to the Lord. More important to Joseph than the property was the promise. It sustained him for the next sixty years, when he would die and pass on similar faith to his family. It is also our promise. We must pass through different but no less severe troubles (Acts 14:22). What is our hope in this world but that God will be with us and bring us home? That he will sanctify our troubles and work an eternal weight of glory through our sorrows? Regularly we must call this promise to mind. “I am with you.” It was our Savior’s parting promise. It is the promise that sustains us when we are being chastened and struggle along our pilgrim way (Heb. 13:5). Jesus died and rose to secure this presence for us, to dwell with us by his Spirit until the resurrection morning when he brings all his brothers and sisters home to glory.
Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts
1. What are some reasons that children need to be around the elderly sick and dying?
2. What was Jacob’s main concern as he prepared to die?
3. How is the land promise fulfilled in Christ – see Romans 4:13, Psalm 2:8, and Matthew 5:8.
4. Why did Jacob adopt Joseph’s two sons?
5. Why did he mention Rachel at this point?
6. What is the role of physical affection in God’s covenant down through generations?
7. What does this teach us about love and its centrality in God’s saving purposes – see John 13:1?
8. Are God’s gifts and goodness leading you to repentance or filling you with pride?
9. Why did Joseph bow before his father? Be sure you understand the spiritual pathos of this moment!
10. How did Jacob call attention away from himself to God and his grace?
11. What are the main parts of Jacob’s blessing? Are you walking with your Redeemer so that you may bless your children in his name?
12. Why did God regularly reverse the birth order when it came to blessing children?
13. How is the promise, “I will be with you,” both the covenant heart and sustaining center of salvation in Christ?