Jacob bows his final bow—perhaps in the weakness of old age or in thankfulness for Joseph’s promise, or maybe in prayer to the Lord.
In the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, custom demands that the firstborn son become the next head of the family and inherit the name, status, and wealth of his father. But as we have seen throughout Genesis, God makes a habit of ignoring human customs, subverting tradition, and privileging the younger over the older. When it comes to the covenant, God typically chooses to pass its blessings and duties to the younger. The trend continues throughout Scripture as God selects David and then Solomon, both younger sons, as the two greatest kings over Israel. It is almost humorous the way Joseph tries to engineer the situation placing Manasseh, his firstborn, at his father’s right hand to receive the greater blessing. But Israel has none of it. He crosses his hands and extends the right hand to Ephraim, the second-born. Joseph is sure his ailing father has made a mistake. But Jacob knows exactly what he is doing.
48 Soon after this, Joseph was brought word that his father was gravely ill; so he took his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to see Jacob. 2 When Jacob was told that his son Joseph had come to see him, he gathered his strength and sat up in bed.
Jacob (to Joseph): 3 The All-Powerful God[a] appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan many years ago and spoke His blessing over me, 4 telling me, “I am going to make you fruitful and multiply your descendants so that you will give rise to nation after nation. I will give this land to them after you to have as their possession forever.” 5 So Joseph, your two sons who were born to you in Egypt before I came here are mine. I claim Ephraim and Manasseh as my own, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine. 6 As for any children you father after them, you may regard them as your own. When it comes time for your other children to gain their inheritances, they will be given land within the regions granted to their brothers, Ephraim and Manasseh. 7 When I left Paddan, your mother Rachel died on our journey in the land of Canaan. We were not far from Ephrath, so I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (which is also known as Bethlehem).
8 Just then Israel noticed Joseph’s sons.
Jacob: And who are these?
Joseph: 9 These are my sons, Father, whom God has given to me here in Egypt.
Jacob: Please bring them here to me, so I can lay my hands on them and bless them.
10 Israel’s eyes were dim because of his old age, so he couldn’t see well. Joseph brought the boys near to him, and Israel kissed them and hugged them warmly.
Jacob (to Joseph): 11 I didn’t know if I would ever see your face again, but now God has given me more than I hoped: He has let me see your children too.
12 Then Joseph moved the boys aside—they had been at his father’s knees—and he bowed down low with his face to the ground. 13 Then Joseph took his sons and brought them near to his father. He took his younger son Ephraim in his right hand and put him to the left hand of Israel, and he took Manasseh in his left hand and put him to the right hand of Israel. 14 But Israel stretched out his hands and crossed his arms, laying his right hand on the head of Ephraim, the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, the firstborn. 15 And he spoke this blessing over Joseph.
Jacob: May the God before whom my ancestors Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd all of my life and still to this day,
16 The messenger who has rescued me from all harm,
bless these boys.
And let my name be perpetuated through them,
as well as the name of my ancestors Abraham and Isaac,
And let them grow into a great multitude of people
throughout the world.
17 When Joseph saw that his father had laid his right hand on Ephraim’s head, he was troubled, and so he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s.
Joseph: 18 No, Father! Since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.
19 But Israel refused.
Jacob: I know, my son, I know. Manasseh will also become a people, and he will be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his children will give rise to many nations.
20 So it was that Israel blessed Joseph and his sons that day.
Jacob: When the people of Israel speak blessings, they’ll remember you: “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.”
So this is how Israel ranked Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.
Jacob (to Joseph): 21 Look, I am about to die; but I know that God will be with you, and He will bring you back to the land of your ancestors someday. 22 I am going to hand down to you more land than I give to your brothers. You will inherit a mountain ridge that I seized from the Amorites with my sword and my bow.
- 48:3 Hebrew, El Shaddai