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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 48

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This chapter relates the ninth in the series of episodes comprising the [~toledowth] of Jacob, as we outlined at the beginning of Genesis 37. Actually, this division into so many sequential events is somewhat arbitrary, as are all outlines of Biblical books, and the list varies according to the grouping. Some would include this and Genesis 49 in a single episode pertaining to the final blessings bestowed by Jacob, but due to the importance of the elevation of Ephraim and Manasseh to the status of sons of Jacob through the device of his legally adopting them as his own sons, we have followed in this instance the grouping mentioned in Genesis 37.

Verses 1-2


“And it came to pass after these things, that one said to Joseph, Behold, thy father is sick: and he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. And one told Jacob, and said, Behold, thy son Joseph cometh unto thee: and Israel strengthened himself, and sat upon the bed.”

“After these things” does not specify the chronology of this event, but the relation of it in this context indicates that the time was shortly before the death of Jacob, in which case, Manasseh and Ephraim would have been grown men about the ages of twenty or twenty-two. Some time prior to this, Jacob had taken a solemn oath of Joseph concerning the disposition of his body upon the occasion of death, but apparently some considerable time had intervened. Having given the matter much thought, Jacob was prepared at this time to bestow the blessing upon Joseph’s sons and to elevate them to a full status as his legal sons by formal adoption. His reason for this will appear in the narrative.

Moses referred to Jacob by that name here in speaking of his sickness, but used Israel in relating his work as the patriarchal head of the Chosen Nation. We have already noted that some consider this usage of the two names as interchangeable, and this is apparently true generally. But here it seems that Israel was the name chosen because Jacob’s actions were so directly related to the destinies of the covenant people.

Verses 3-4

“And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me, and said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a company of peoples, and I will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession.”

The appearance of God to Jacob which is mentioned here is a reference either to Genesis 28:19 or Genesis 35:9-13, or possibly both. Luz was the original name of the place, but Jacob changed the name to Bethel. All of the patriarchs realized that the promise of the land of Canaan to their seed was to have its fulfillment in the far distant future. It is of that sacred promise which Jacob spoke in this final interview with Joseph.

Verses 5-7

“And now thy two sons which were born to thee in the land of Egypt, before I came unto thee in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh, even as Reuben and Simeon, shall be mine; And thy issue, that thou begettest after them, shall be thine; they shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance. And as for me, when I came from Paddan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when there was still some distance to come unto Ephrath (the same is Bethlehem).”

This is not an account of the formal adoption which would follow, but it is a statement to Joseph of Jacob’s purpose, including also an emotional statement of one of his principal reasons for the action he was about to take. Reuben and Simeon were the two firstborn sons of Jacob, and the proposal here is that Ephraim and Manasseh would be placed on a parity with them, and thus reckoned among the other sons of Jacob, ranking them among the patriarchs. But Jacob made it clear that any other sons of Joseph would not be accorded that distinction. There were doubtless many reasons why Jacob had decided to do this. The incest of Reuben and his irresponsibility had clearly disqualified him to receive the double portion according to the rules of primogeniture, and Simeon too, in the massacre of the Shechemites had showed a disposition that was incompatible with any thought of transferring the birthright to him. Jacob therefore decided to give Joseph the double portion, one of the principal benefits pertaining to the birthright, an honor that Jacob surely felt that Joseph was qualified to receive. Not only was Joseph the firstborn of Rachel, the only wife that Jacob ever decided to marry, but, additionally, he was the savior of the whole nation in being the instrument through whom God had preserved the covenant people through the famine. Furthermore, Jacob’s true wife, in the sense of his intentions, had suddenly died, at a time when Jacob was doubtless praying that through her he would have other sons. She died in giving birth to Benjamin, cutting short Jacob’s hopes, but now Jacob would expand his beloved Rachel’s status as the mother of the Patriarchs by the addition of her two grandsons born to Joseph. This intention fully explains the mention of Rachel’s death in this context. Kline and many other discerning scholars have recognized that this reference to the death and burial of Rachel was “prompted by the honoring of her son Joseph”(F1) at this very moment when Jacob was in the act of doing so. One can marvel at the blindness that sees nothing appropriate in this. Dummelow even suggested that, “The verse would perhaps be more appropriately placed after Genesis 49:31, where Jacob spoke of the burial of his ancestors!”(F2) The burial of Jacob’s ancestors had absolutely nothing to do with the signal honor Jacob was in the process of bestowing upon the first-born of Rachel. “All these deeper points of view seem hidden to those who are critically minded.”(F3)

Verses 8-11

“And Israel beheld Joseph’s sons, and said, Who are these? And Joseph said unto his father, They are my sons, whom God hath given me here. Bring them, he said, unto me, and I will bless them. Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. And he brought them near unto him; and he kissed them, and embraced them. And Israel said unto Joseph, I had not thought to see thy face: and, lo, God hath let me see thy seed also.”

It is simply outrageous that any commentator could seriously allege a “contradiction” in this passage, because “in Genesis 48:11 Jacob can see, whereas in Genesis 48:8; Genesis 48:10, he is blind!”(F4) Such is the wisdom (?) of the critical scholars. This writer has a wonderful friend, Fletcher W. Dailey, Sr., who has been totally blind for thirty years, but he recently made a trip to England with his son. When he returned, he told me all he had “seen” in the British Isles — the Scott Memorial at Edinburgh, the Stonehenge, the Tower of London, even the Crown Jewels, and Holyrood Castle. Of course, blind men, even the totally blind, can “see.” We consider it absolutely incredible that any man claiming to be an intellectual is not aware of this common usage of the term “see.” As we have pointed out so often in this commentary, the Bible frequently uses words in more than one sense.

In Genesis 48:11, Jacob remarked that God had “let him see” the seed of Joseph, but the interpretation that makes that mean that Jacob had not seen Joseph’s sons previously and that therefore this whole episode took place as soon as Jacob came to Egypt, is just as ridiculous as the one just cited by the same author.(F5) On the occasion of a family reunion in this writer’s own family, with the grandchildren playing around him, our father said: “I praise God that he has permitted me to see, not only my children, but my children’s children!” Did that mean that he had never seen any of them before that occasion? Of course not. It was, for him, an oft repeated recognition of the blessing of God; and, without any doubt at all, that is what it was in the words of Jacob here.

These are only two of hundreds of examples that might be cited in the works of partitionists.

Verses 12-14

“And Joseph brought them out from between his knees; and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. 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 to him. 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.”

“From between his knees” The reference is to Jacob’s knees, but the expression “between his knees” is a mistranslation, making it seem that small boys were meant. Whitelaw tells us that the literal words here are “near his knees.”(F6) The usual ceremony of adoption about to begin required the child or children adopted to be indeed between the knees of the one adopting them, but in the instance of these grown men, it was evidently varied to the extent that they were “near his knees,” most probably in a kneeling position, especially in view of Joseph himself prostrating himself before his father a moment later. The young men had most surely taken such a kneeling posture, for it would have been difficult for Jacob from his bed to embrace them and kiss them had they not done so.

“Joseph bowed himself with his face to the earth” In this, Joseph took his place as a subordinate to Jacob in the economy of God. Jacob, in a sense, had indeed bowed himself before Joseph in the matter of receiving provisions for his family at Joseph’s hand, but, as regarded the Redemptive Purpose of God in his guidance of the Chosen People, it was the other way around. Joseph bowed himself before Jacob. We cannot agree with Morris who conjectured from this event that “the dream of Joseph which saw his parents along with his brothers bowing before him” might not really have been inspired.(F7)

On the matter of Jacob’s crossing his hands in order to put his right hand on the head of the grandson on Jacob’s left, and in the opposite manner for the other, the old patriarch knew what he was doing; and thus he consciously went contrary to what were the obvious desires of Joseph.

This is the first example in the Bible of the laying on of hands in the act of blessing or the conveyance of a gift.(F8) Afterward, it was extensively employed: (1) in the dedication of priests (Deuteronomy 29:9); (2) in the ordination of Christian servants (Acts 6:6); (3) by the Saviour and his apostles in the performance of miracles (Matthew 19:13); (4) in the giving of the Holy Spirit (Acts 17 and Acts 18), etc.


Willis gives the following characteristics of the type of blessing Jacob was here bestowing upon the sons of Joseph:(F9)

It was a very formal, solemn, and serious affair.

If the one conveying it was empowered by God to do so, it carried with it the power to achieve what was promised.

When the blessing was uttered, it was irrevocable.

The patriarch always asked the identity of the one who would receive the blessing.

Those to be blessed were invited to come forward.

The recipient(s) was(were) embraced and kissed.

The right hand of the patriarch rested on the head of the one to receive the greater blessing.

This sheds further light on the reason for Jacob’s asking the identity of Joseph’s sons; it was a part of the formal procedure and did not mean that Jacob had never seen them before.

Verses 15-16

“And he blessed Joseph, and said, The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God who hath fed me all my life long unto this day, the angel who hath 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.”

At this point Jacob began blessing, but in these two verses he had not yet come to the part of it that made any distinction between the sons of Joseph.

“He blessed Joseph” Actually, Joseph was being blessed in the persons of his sons, as indicated by “bless the lads” in Genesis 48:16.

One of the great things of significance in these verses is the triple designation of God, who is extolled as, “Deum Patrem, Deum Pastorem, and Angelum.”(F10) This means God of My Fathers, Shepherd God, and Angel of Jehovah. There are many names of God in the Bible; and, as always, the name chosen signified not some special “source” but some special significance. Habakkuk 1:12 also uses three names for God in a single verse! The Angel mentioned here is the Angel of Jehovah, identified with God Himself in the prophecies. Looking back over his life, Jacob was conscious of the guiding hand of God.

Verses 17-19

“And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said unto his father, Not so my father; for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head. And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it; he also shall become a people, and he shall be great: howbeit, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.”

Only the prophetic gift of God could have enabled Jacob to declare what was said here. Indeed it came to pass. Ephraim’s house led the rebellion against Rehoboam following the death of Solomon, and also took the leading part upon numerous occasions in the history of Israel. So completely was the Northern Israel identified with Ephraim, that the whole nation came to be called, in time, Ephraim, that name being used for Israel dozens of time in the prophecy of Hosea.

Joseph was paying strict attention to what was going on, and after the blessing was in the very act of bestowal, but before the part which would discriminate between Manasseh and Ephraim had been uttered, Joseph interrupted the procedure, fully in time to have changed what was being done if Jacob had allowed it. However, the old Patriarch fully and consciously knew exactly what he was doing; and without further interruption from Joseph he concluded it.

“His younger brother shall be greater” It was not the gift of nature that determined the passing of God’s blessing to one person or to another, but the sovereign purpose of Almighty God. Again and again, a similar thing had happened in the lives of the patriarchs. Isaac the younger had been chosen over Ishmael, Jacob the younger had been chosen over Esau, Joseph the younger had been chosen over Reuben; and now once more, Ephraim the younger had been chosen instead of Manasseh. It shall ever be thus in the kingdom of God, for Jesus said, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first” (Matthew 19:30).

Verses 20-22

“And he blessed them that day, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh; and he set Ephraim before Manasseh. And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die, but God will be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers. 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 blessing was concluded; and it may be inferred that Joseph accepted it as coming from God, and as not being due to any unwillingness on his father’s part to honor Joseph’s personal wishes in the matter.

The concluding statement of the chapter to the effect that Joseph would receive “one portion” above his brethren is a disputed text and is somewhat ambiguous in meaning. The word rendered portion also means mountain or mountain slope, shoulder, or Shechem. Jacob does not appear from any other Biblical passages to have been a warrior; hence, the statement that he had won it with his sword and bow is surprising. Of course, this could easily be a glimpse into some event spoken of nowhere else in the Scripture. All things considered, it seems best to regard this as a prophecy that children of Joseph would inherit the area around Shechem at a point in time centuries later when the inheritance would be divided among the sons of Jacob. “The words are a prophetic utterance pointing forward to the conquest of Canaan; and Jacob here ascribes to himself what would be done by his posterity in wresting the area from the Amorites.”(F11) Many scholars have pointed out here that the prophetic tense is used in which the past is used for the future, indicating the CERTAINTY of what was prophesied.

We pause before leaving this chapter to think upon the vast significance of it. By Jacob’s legal adoption of the two sons of Joseph who would inherit on a parity with the other sons of Jacob, he assured Joseph of the double portion. He gave Rachel three of the Twelve Patriarchs instead of only two. He set up the situation in which Levi could be separated for the work of the Lord and still retain the number twelve, considered by the Hebrews a sacred number, as the total number of the Patriarchs, the head of the Twelve Tribes of the Old Israel.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Genesis 48". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/genesis-48.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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