It’s been a few weeks since we were studying Genesis together. We’ve followed the story of Abraham and God’s promise to him of a people and a place: God would make him into a great nation; and give him and his descendants a land to live in. And God repeated the same promise to Isaac, Abraham’s son. And he repeated the same promise to Jacob, one of Isaac’s sons. God promised to make them into a great nation, so that the number of their descendants would be like the stars in the sky and like the sand on the seashore, too many to count; and he was going to give them the Promised Land to live in, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land like the Garden of Eden, where they would have all they needed.
And we’ve seen how God’s promise to them is fulfilled in two ways. First of all, in an earthly, ordinary and provisional way in the people of Israel and the land of Canaan. And secondly, in a spiritual, greater and eternal way in the church of Jesus Christ and in the new heavens and the new earth, because everyone who trusts in the Lord Jesus is a spiritual descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and we’ll live for ever and for ever with God in glory.
So, we’ve seen these promises repeatedly in the book of Genesis. And today we come to chapter 48; and we won’t be surprised to see that the promise of a people and a place crops up here as well.
Well, it’s clear from verse 1 of this chapter that we’re now near the end of Jacob’s life. Verse 1 tells us that Jacob was ill. You see, he was an old man by now; he’d become frail and weak and ill; he knew he didn’t have long to live. And in chapters 48 and 49, he’s putting his affairs in order, and he’s passing on his blessing to his sons. And having blessed his sons, we read at the end of chapter 49 how he drew his feet up into his bed, and he breathed his last, and was gathered to his people. He rolled over in bed and died. So, in chapter 48, we’re coming near to the end of Jacob’s life.
Well, the chapter can be divided into three parts. First of all, there’s verses 1 to 7 where we read how Joseph went with his two sons to see his father. Secondly, there’s verses 8 to 16 where Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons. And thirdly, there’s verses 17 to 22 where Joseph tried to correct what he thinks is his father’s mistake. But it’s clear that Jacob knew exactly what he was doing. And we’ll look at those three sections now.
Verses 1 to 7
Let’s turn to verses 1 to 7. Joseph went with his two sons to see his father, who was ill and close to death. But whenever Jacob heard that Joseph was there, he rallied his strength and sat up. Well, anyone with aged parents or aged grandparents can picture this scene, because I can certainly remember being taken to see my elderly grandfather, who lived in Fermanagh, when he was in his last days. And he too was confined to bed, because he’d become so frail. And he, like Jacob, was blind so that he could not see. And he could barely hear anything either. But whenever I was brought in, he’d do his best to sit up and speak to me.
Now, why has Joseph brought his two sons to Jacob? Well, let’s remember who they are. They were Joseph’s sons who were born to him in Egypt. And their mother was an Egyptian. In fact, their mother was the daughter of a pagan priest. And the boys are now about 20 years old. We know they’re about that age because Jacob lived in Egypt for 17 years before he died, and the boys were born before Jacob moved to Egypt. So, they’re about 20 years old. And the reason Joseph has brought these boys to his father is because he wants Jacob to adopt them. He wants them to be named alongside Jacob’s other sons and to be treated as sons of Jacob. Through they were born in Egypt, and though their mother was an Egyptian, Joseph wants to make sure that his sons are included among the children of Israel and are regarded as part of God’s people. And Jacob seems to understand what Joseph wants and he’s clearly willing to adopt these boys into his family.
And so, look what happens. In verse 3, Jacob reminds them of the time when God appeared to him. He says:
God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and there he blessed me.
The Lord appeared to him at Luz — or Bethel as it was also called — on two occasions. He appeared to Jacob when he was leaving the land of Canaan to go and stay with his uncle Laban. And he appeared to him again, when Jacob has left Laban and had come back to Canaan. And on both occasions God promised him a people and a place: his descendants would multiply and become a mighty nation; and God would give them the land of Canaan as their very own. And here’s Jacob reminding his son Joseph and Joseph’s two sons of God’s promises to him. And he’s really saying to them:
As part of my family, these promises are for you too. This is part of your inheritance.
So, think of a family treasure which is passed down from generation to generation. Perhaps it’s a ring; and a mother gives it to her daughter and says:
This belonged to my mother, and to her mother, and to her mother, and to her mother. And now, I’m giving it to you.
That’s what Jacob was saying to Joseph’s sons. But what Jacob was offering them was something more valuable than a ring or a watch. He was passing on to them the promises of God about a people and a place. It’s as if he was saying to these boys:
God gave me these promises, which he also gave to my father and my grandfather. And now these promises will become yours as well, because I’m about to adopt you into my family.
So, Jacob reminded them of God’s promises. And in verse 5 he made clear that he’s willing to adopt these two boys as his own. So, from that time on, Ephraim and Manasseh would be reckoned or regarded as Jacob’s sons. They’d be just like Reuben and Simeon and all the rest of his sons and they’ll be included among the tribes of Israel and will inherit a portion of the land of Canaan. That’s why, if you read the book of Joshua, where we read how the land was divided, you’ll see portions of the land were given not only to Reuben and Simeon and Judah and Gad and so on, but a portion of the land was given to the tribe of Ephraim, and another portion of the land was given to the tribe of Manasseh. The tribe of Levi got none of the land, because they were to serve in the temple; but the land was divided up among the other tribes, and the tribe of Ephraim and the tribe of Manasseh received their own share of the land, because from now on, they would be regarded as sons of Jacob.
So, the scene is set. Joseph has brought his two Egyptian sons to Jacob and Jacob has made clear that he’s willing to adopt them into his family.
Verses 8 to 16
And in verses 8 to 16 we have the adoption ceremony and the blessing itself. So, in verse 8 Jacob — who is also called Israel — looks at the boys and asks:
Who are these?
Now, even though he’s old, he’s not being forgetful here. This is part of the adoption ceremony. Think of the way a minister will ask as part of a marriage ceremony:
Who gives this woman to be wed?
The minister knows who the father of the bride is, but the question is part of the ceremony. And Jacob asking ‘Who are these?’ is part of the adoption ceremony. So, we might say:
For the record, state your names.
And then he asks Joseph to bring them near. And we read in verse 10 that Joseph brought them up close. In fact, according to verse 12 they were sitting on his knees. Probably they weren’t really sitting on his knee: after all, Jacob is a frail, old man; and the boys are in their 20s. So, it’s likely they were standing or kneeling by his knees. And then, Jacob kissed them and embraced them. Probably the kiss and the embrace are part of the ceremony as well, and they act as a sign that he’s prepared to treat them as his children.
And then we read how Jacob reached out his hands to place them on the two boys to bless them. And Joseph has placed Manasseh — the older boy — on his left so that if Jacob reached straight out, he’d place his right hand on Manasseh’s head. And Joseph has placed Ephraim — the younger boy — on his right so that if Jacob reached straight out, he’d place his left hand on Ephraim’s head. But look at verse 14: Jacob crossed his arms and placed his right hand — the hand signifying strength and honour and power and glory — on Ephraim’s head; and he placed his left hand on Manasseh. Now, when we get to verse 17, we’ll see that Joseph tried to correct what he assumed was his father’s mistake. But for the moment, the focus of the passage remains on Jacob and on what he said when he blessed Joseph and his sons.
And it’s a marvellous blessing. Look how he describes the Lord in verses 15 and 16:
[He’s] the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked.
In other words, his God, the God he worshipped and trusted, and to whom he now looked to bless the boys, is the same God who revealed himself to Abraham and Isaac. You see, God’s love for his people is an everlasting love; and his faithfulness spans the generations, because he has promised to be, not only our God, and the God of our children after us.
And then Jacob said about the Lord:
[he’s] the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day.
Just as a shepherd watches over and protects his sheep, so Jacob could testify how the Lord has watched over him and protected him all the days of his life. Though his life was often hard and difficult and though his life was often painful, nevertheless this old man could testify to the truth that his God had cared for him all his life so that even though he often had to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he did not fear, because the Lord his Shepherd was with him.
And then he said:
[he’s] the Angel who has delivered me from all harm.
It’s clear that when he refers to this Angel, he’s still talking about God. And Jacob describes God as the one who has delivered him. In other words, he’s the Redeemer, who delivers his people from all their troubles. And isn’t that marvellous? Think of all of Jacob’s troubles? His brother hated him and wanted to murder him when he was young. His uncle deceived him over and over again. Years later, he thought his beloved son had died. His other sons were often troublemakers and caused him grief and worry. Then there was the famine in the land. But now, near the end of his life, he’s able to testify that his God has delivered him from all his troubles.
It’a a marvellous description of the Lord and we too can describe him in the same way, because we too can testify that he has been our shepherd, looking after us throughout our lives, and providing for us and protecting us. And we too can testify that, though we have often faced troubles and sorrows, we know that God has been with us to help us and to strengthen us and to deliver us. He has been our Shepherd and Deliverer; and Jesus Christ his Son is the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for us and who has delivered us from our sin and misery so that we and our children who walk before him might enjoy peace with God and the hope of everlasting life.
It’s a marvellous description of the Lord our God. And now, Jacob calls on this God to bless these two boys. And he said about them:
May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac.
May they now be treated as my sons and as the descendants of my forefathers.
may they increase greatly upon the earth.
So, God promised to make Abraham into a mighty nation; and he promised to make Isaac into a mighty nation; and he promised to make Jacob into a mighty nation; and now that these boys have been adopted into Jacob’s family, Jacob is praying:
May too they become part of that mighty nation so that the number of their descendants is multiplied and they become like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, too many to count.
Verses 17 to 22
Verse 17 takes us back to when Jacob placed his hands on the boys. Joseph thinks his father has made a mistake. After all, his father is unwell and his sight is poor. So, Joseph assumes he’s make a mistake and he tries to correct his father’s mistake by taking his hands and re-arranging them. But Jacob knew what he was doing. You see, by placing his right hand on Ephraim, he was being a prophet and was foretelling what the Lord intended to do for Ephraim and how the tribe of Ephraim would be the greater of the two. Manasseh’s descendants will become a great people, but Ephraim’s descendants will be greater still. And God would bless them both so greatly that it would become a saying among the Israelites:
May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.
And the chapter ends with Jacob turning to Joseph and saying to him:
I am about to die, but God will be with you — or ‘yous’, we might say in Northern Ireland, because he’s referring to Joseph and his sons, and probably to all of Jacob’s sons — I am about to die, but God will be with yous, and will take you all back to the land of your fathers.
Now, do you see that? The blessing on the boys was about God’s promise of a people:
increase them greatly and make them into a great nation.
But now Jacob reminds them of God’s promise of a place:
God will bring you back to the Promised Land.
And to Joseph, Jacob gives one small portion of the land, this ridge of land which he mentions in verse 22. However, the word for ‘ridge’ can also be translated as Shechem. And do you remember the city of Shechem? The men of the city of Shechem raped Jacob’s daughter; and Jacob’s sons killed them in retaliation and they must have taken over the city. And now, Jacob gives Shechem to Joseph.
Why did he give him that city? Well, Shechem for Joseph was like Machpelah for Abraham. Machpelah was the place where Abraham was buried; and Joshua 24 tells us that Shechem was the place where Joseph was buried. The only bit of the Promised Land which Abraham ever owned and which Joseph ever owned was the ground where they were buried. The only bit of the land they owned was their grave. But, of course, that was enough for them, because they were looking forward to a better country than the land of Canaan, because they were looking forward to a heavenly country, where all of God’s believing people will dwell forever.
And so, the chapter ends. Jacob has adopted the boys into his family. He prays that God will multiply them. And he looks forward to a time when his descendants will go back to Canaan.
Well, before we finish, I want to take you back to the adoption, because it’s a picture of what the Lord Jesus Christ does for all who trust in him.
Let’s remember that while these are Joseph’s sons, they were born in Egypt and their mother was the daughter of a pagan priest. And so, it was possible that they might have been shunned by the rest of the Israelites and treated as strangers and outsiders. But here’s Joseph, bringing them to Jacob, and though they were not Jacob’s natural sons, nevertheless Jacob was willing to welcome them and to adopt them into his family and to give them all the rights and privileges of his natural sons. And so, from that moment on, everyone would know them and treat them as sons of Jacob, members of the people of God, and heirs of the promises.
And isn’t that what the Lord Jesus Christ does for all who trust in him? Do you remember how Paul put it in his letter to the Ephesians? He began that letter with praise to God:
Praise be to the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us … to be what?
to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace.
There it is: adopted into God’s family through Jesus Christ. That was God’s plan for us before the beginning of the world. That’s what he wanted to happen. And in due course, when the time was right, he enabled us to trust in the Lord Jesus. And the Lord Jesus, as it were, took us by the hand — just as Joseph took his sons — and he brought us to his Father in heaven. And though we were not God’s natural sons — though we were in fact his enemies because of our sins and our rebellion — nevertheless for the sake of Jesus Christ — who is his one and only true Son — God the Father welcomed us as his very own and he adopted us into his family and he has given us all the rights and privileges of true sons and daughters, so that we’re able to call him ‘Father’ and we’re able to rely on him to help us every day. And as his sons and daughters, we know that we will inherit from him everlasting life in his presence. We didn’t deserve any of this. We didn’t deserve it; we deserved to be condemned. But just as Joseph brought these boys to Jacob, so the Lord Jesus Christ brings all who believe in him to his Father in heaven; and in Jesus Christ we’re adopted into God’s family. ‘How great is the love the Father has lavished on us’, says the Apostle John.
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
Whenever we read in the Bible about the tribes of Israel, we read the names of Ephraim and Manasseh. And if you didn’t know the history, you’d just assume that they were the natural-born brothers of Reuben and Simeon and the rest. But no. The only reason they’re listed among the tribes of Israel is because of Joseph, who brought them to his father. And the only reason our names are listed among the children of God is because of the Lord Jesus Christ, who brought us to his Father in heaven. If Jesus Christ is your Saviour, then you’re adopted into God’s family; and for ever and for ever you can call him ‘Father’ and you can count on him to love you and care for you for ever.
But notice this last final point. Here were these sons of Joseph, whose father was the Prime Minister of Egypt. No doubt they grew up in a palace, with servants surrounding them, bringing them whatever they wanted, doing for them whatever they wanted, serving their every need. No doubt they had gone to the best schools and had made friends with the children of Egypt’s elite. They were the sons of Joseph, the Prime Minister. They had it all.
But look at them now, in this chapter. They were in their 20s. So, they’re not infants now who don’t know what’s happening. And they’re not wee boys who have to do what they’re told. They’re adults. And these adult sons of Joseph were willing now to associate themselves forevermore with Jacob and Jacob’s family.
Joseph, their natural father, was the Prime Minister. But what was Jacob? He was a shepherd. And do you remember that little note at the end of chapter 46 about what the Egyptians thought of shepherds? Joseph told Jacob that all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians. So, these two sons of Joseph are going from being known as the sons of the Prime Minister to being known now as the sons of a detestable shepherd. Why would they agree to such a thing?
Well, presumably because they understood what the Lord Jesus would one day say:
What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose his soul.
They could have had everything. Everything in Egypt. But they were willing to give it all up and to be associated forevermore with Jacob and his family and with the people of God. Like Abraham before them, and Isaac, and like Jacob, they too were looking beyond this world and all the things it has to offer, and they were looking to that better country, that heavenly country, the new heavens and the new earth where all of God’s people will live for ever in perfect peace and rest in that fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore which God has prepared for all who love him. And so, these boys gave up the world and all it had to offer, because they set their sights on something far, far, far better in eternity.
And that’s the challenge for us. What do we want? Some people, by the decisions they make, and the choices they take, and the things they decide to do, show that what they’re really interested in, and what they really want is this world and what it has to offer. And so, they put their education first. Or their job first. Or their bank balance first. Or their friends first. Or their reputation first. They put the things of this world first. They put this world before Jesus Christ and his church and the promise of everlasting life in the new heavens and the new earth.
But what good is it if we gain the whole world and lose our soul? So, let’s follow instead the example of Ephraim and Manasseh and look upwards to heaven and to Jesus Christ our Saviour and to God our Father and let’s look forward to the heavenly city where all of God’s faithful people will come at last. And while we wait for Christ to come again, and while we wait to enter that heavenly city, we ought to remain faithful to our Great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who loved us and who gave up his life for us and who has brought us to God the Father so that we can be adopted into his family.