Jacob Blesses His Family
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Describe Jacob’s (Israel’s) blessing of Joseph’s children.
2. Explain the importance of the heritage passed on from Jacob to his grandchildren.
3. Pass along a spiritual heritage by explaining to someone else his or her own walk with the Lord.
How to Say It
Paddan Aram. PAY-dan A-ram.
Pharaoh. FAIR-o or FAY-roe.
Shechem. SHEE-kem or SHEK-em.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Nov. 19—Bring Your Father (Genesis 45:16–20)
Tuesday, Nov. 20—God’s Reassurance (Genesis 46:1–4)
Wednesday, Nov. 21—The Reunion (Genesis 46:28–34)
Thursday, Nov. 22—A Blessing (Genesis 47:7–12)
Friday, Nov. 23—Joseph’s Promise (Genesis 47:27–31)
Saturday, Nov. 24—A Grandfather’s Blessing (Genesis 48:8–21)
Sunday, Nov. 25—The Greatness and Goodness of God (Psalm 145:1–13a)
Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”
Why Teach This Lesson?
One of the joys of life is that of sharing things with others. Parents know this. Thus they frequently share things with their children. The things they share range from bequests of small amounts of cash now and then all the way up to the transfers of large estates upon the parents’ death.
But how many of your learners really grasp the idea of sharing a spiritual inheritance or passing along a spiritual legacy? This should be of even greater joy than that of sharing material wealth. Sharing testimonies has long been a part of what believers do, but do your learners realize that their spiritual legacies include the entirety of their life examples?
All of us can adopt children in the faith (compare 1 Timothy 1:2). Today’s lesson will help everyone readjust their thinking about the importance of passing along a spiritual heritage to that next generation of church leaders.
A. Passing Along a Heritage
Erskine E. Scates, Sr. (1909–1979) was an outstanding church leader. During his various ministries, he planted or reopened churches in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. He also planted a Bible college and led in establishing several youth camps.
Many men and women entered the ministry or went to the mission field because of Scates’s influence. One of the key contributions he made was the heritage he passed on to his family. Erskine and his wife, Faith, had several sons. One led successful ministries in New Mexico and Arizona. Two more became career missionaries. Several grandchildren are also involved in ministry, both in the United States and Brazil.
That’s what you call leaving a heritage! But as Scates labored in ministry back in the 1930s and 1940s, do you suppose that he had any idea of the kind of heritage he was in the process of passing along?
B. Lesson Background
Joseph’s brothers followed his instructions concerning their move. They took the wagons Pharaoh gave them, returned to Canaan, and brought Jacob (their father) and the rest of the family to Egypt. All together, 70 souls ended up in the land of Egypt. These included Joseph and his children, who were already there (Genesis 46:27; Exodus 1:5).
It was a stirring moment when Jacob and Joseph met. They clung to one another and wept for a long time (Genesis 46:29-30). Some of the family even were privileged to meet Pharaoh. At that point Jacob (also known as Israel) was 130 years old (47:9); he lived another 17 years (47:28).
Jacob was nearly blind as he approached the time of his death (Genesis 47:29; 48:10). Like his father before him, Jacob sensed the urgency to settle his affairs (compare Genesis 27:1–4). A primary task was to bestow blessings on his sons and grandsons. This was an intentional ceremony, not a casual afterthought. Joseph, through his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim, received the double portion. Judah received the blessing that stated that the line of the Messiah would pass through his tribe (compare Genesis 49:9–12 with Hebrews 7:14; Revelation 5:5).
Our lesson today looks at the blessing given to Manasseh and Ephraim, Jacob’s grandsons. The year is about 1860 bc.
I. Unexpected Meeting (Genesis 48:11, 12)
A. Israel’s Astonishment (v. 11)
11. Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”
Let’s begin by making sure that we don’t get confused by names. Israel was the new name given to Jacob after he wrestled the mysterious man at Peniel (Genesis 32:24–30). Thus, Israel and Jacob are one and the same person.
The name Israel means “one who struggles with God”; this depicts the entire life of Jacob. Jacob’s original name meant something like “heel-grabber” or, figuratively, “manipulator.” Jacob’s new name, Israel, is a covenant name. The importance of this name is seen in the fact that the designations Israel and Israelite(s) appear more than 2,500 times in the Bible!
I never expected to see your face again is Israel’s admission of the despair in his life at the loss of Joseph years earlier. Israel had assumed that he would never see Joseph again. We are reminded of the depth of pain Israel felt when the brothers concocted the story that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. It had seemed like the end of the world for Israel (Genesis 37:33–35).
Perhaps a tremor goes through Israel’s body as he thinks of the approximately 22 years of pain he experienced because he believed Joseph to be dead. (It’s amazing that his other 11 sons were able to keep “their little secret” all those years!) All of that has now changed. Israel can have the joy of passing on a special heritage through his favored son.
The phrase God has allowed me to see your children too means that not only does Israel have the joy of seeing his son again, he also becomes acquainted with that son’s own offspring. The specific children in view here are Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim (Genesis 48:1, 5, not in today’s text).
This particular meeting probably is not the first time that Israel has seen these grandchildren. We may assume that he saw them with Joseph when Israel first arrived in Goshen (Genesis 46:28, 29).
What Do You Think?
What was a time in your life when the presence of children drew you closer to God?
B. Joseph’s Reverence (v. 12)
12. Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground.
Reuben is Israel’s firstborn. But because he committed a sexual sin, Israel is giving Reuben’s blessing rights to Joseph’s sons (Genesis 49:1–4; 1 Chronicles 5:1, 2). Those sons are Manasseh and Ephraim; they are the ones whom Joseph removed … from Israel’s knees.
What Do You Think?
What are some ways to show respect to parents today that may be different from how respect was shown in Bible times? What are some extremes to avoid?
Elsewhere in Genesis, bowing depicts a greeting to someone worthy of great honor (Genesis 24:52; 33:3; 42:6; 43:26). That is undoubtedly the case here as Joseph shows respect to his father, who is near death. Joseph lives in a world where respect is openly demonstrated. Joseph’s respect toward his father is not an act of worship, but of esteem.
II. Switched Blessing (Genesis 48:13–16)
A. Position of Children (v. 13)
13. And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them close to him.
The next stage of the ceremony is about to begin. Joseph positions his children in order to receive Israel’s blessing. Like his father Isaac before him, Israel in his old age is hardly able to see (Genesis 27:1; 48:10). Yet Israel is not depending on touch to determine which boy is which. Israel knows that Joseph will place the older boy under his right hand and the younger under his left. Joseph places the boys in their proper birth order before Israel so that Israel will give the primary blessing to the older son and the secondary blessing to the younger.
B. Position of Hands (v. 14)
14. But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn.
Now an amazing thing happens: when Israel stretches out his hands, he crosses his arms. In so doing, he chooses the younger over the firstborn. Israel does this intentionally; this is no accident. Israel undoubtedly remembers his own experience when he was on the receiving end of the blessing, especially since he received the better blessing through his own deception rather than by his father’s freewill choice. Israel knows exactly what he is doing, and no one will be able to deceive him.
What Do You Think?
Is it possible for Christian fathers and grandfathers to bless children today as Israel does here and in Genesis 49? Why, or why not?
Perhaps we see a little bit of Israel’s former shrewd nature come to the surface one last time. By crossing his arms, Israel may be reminding Joseph that he (Israel) is still the patriarch. Joseph has the highest status possible in Egypt next to Pharaoh. He is accustomed to telling people what to do. When Israel was about to visit Pharaoh, Joseph told him what to say. But the decision as to who will receive the major blessing belongs to Israel, not Joseph.
C. Request of Israel (vv. 15, 16)
15. Then he blessed Joseph and said,
“May the God before whom my fathers
Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd
all my life to this day,
As Joseph’s sons are being blessed, Joseph is blessed as well. An important aspect of the blessing is for Israel to recall those whom God led and cared for previously, namely his grandfather, Abraham, and his father, Isaac. These two walked in the way of the Lord. James even identifies Abraham as “God’s friend” (James 2:23; compare 2 Chronicles 20:7).
The phrase who has been my shepherd recognizes the fact that God has cared for Israel all of his life. God cared for him when he fled to Paddan Aram and when he left that place to return home. Had God not intervened, Laban, Israel’s uncle and father-in-law, may have killed him (Genesis 31:24, 29). God cared for Israel when he returned to Canaan. God cared for him in his encounter with his brother Esau. God cared for him and his family when Simeon and Levi massacred the men at Shechem (34:25; 35:5).
The last great testimony to that care was when Joseph sent for him to come to Egypt to live. Imagery of God’s care is very powerful in the Bible. See Psalm 23 and the picture of Jesus as the good shepherd in John 10:11–18.
16. “… the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
—may he bless these boys.
May they be called by my name
and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they increase greatly upon the earth.”
Putting verses 15 and 16 together, we see a threefold recognition of (1) God in covenant with Israel’s fathers, (2) God as Israel’s own shepherd, and (3) the Angel who had delivered him.
Many commentators believe that this angel was actually an appearance of God in human form rather being a created angel, as we may normally think. We read of visits by “the angel of the Lord” to various people in the Old Testament. At some point in the narrative the statement may switch from “angel of the Lord” to “Lord.” For example, compare Genesis 16:7–12 with 16:13; also compare 22:15 with 22:16. Thus the phrase angel of the Lord could be another way of saying Lord or God. In some cases, however, the angel of the Lord seems to be distinct from God (see 2 Samuel 24:16; Zechariah 1:11–13; Luke 1:11).
With the phrase bless these boys, Israel begins the blessing. The phrase who has delivered me introduces one of the powerful relationship pictures we have in the Old Testament: that of redemption or deliverance. The Hebrew word that is behind this idea occurs more than 100 times in the Old Testament, and its first usage is right here.
What Do You Think?
How can we use special occasions in the church to pass along blessings to the generation to follow—that is, to give solemn reminders of and encouragement in the Christian faith?
One direction that the concept of deliverance or redemption takes in the Old Testament is that of kinsman-redeemer. This is a person who rescues family members who fall into debt or slavery (Leviticus 25:25, 49). The most famous story in the Old Testament regarding a kinsman-redeemer is found in the book of Ruth. As kinsman-redeemer, Boaz takes on the responsibility of marrying Ruth and redeeming the family property.
Israel had no earthly kinsman-redeemer to rescue him from the fury of either his brother or his uncle. Israel recognizes that it was God who had taken on that role, protecting him until he could return again to Canaan. The same could be said about Joseph; indeed, Joseph himself said it (see Genesis 45:5, 8, 9; 50:20). Joseph has no earthly person who stands in for him in times of trouble, but he is delivered again and again by God.
Israel (Jacob) requests two blessings for the boys. The first is an issue of identity: May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac. When Moses encounters God hundreds of years later, God will be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 3:6, 15, 16; 4:5). This threefold identification with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is so important that it carries across hundreds and hundreds of years, right into the New Testament (Luke 20:37; Acts 3:13; 7:32).
The second requested blessing is for the boys to increase greatly upon the earth. The promise made to Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22:17; 26:4) is now being passed on to Joseph’s sons. Shortly after the exodus begins more than 400 years later, the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim will number together 72,700 (Numbers 1:32–34)—and that counts only males age 20 and older (Numbers 1:3). Blessings fulfilled!
Telling the Truth Voluntarily
James Frey got his proverbial “15 minutes of fame” on October 26, 2005, on The Oprah Winfrey Show. But his fame had turned to infamy by January 2006. His best-selling book A Million Little Pieces was purportedly the true story of his sensationally wretched life. He claimed to have led a thoroughly despicable existence as an alcoholic, drug addict, and criminal. One of his claims involved having a role in a train crash that killed two young women.
Oprah interviewed Frey on her show and recommended his book to her audience. Sales of the book skyrocketed. But then an investigative Web site poked many holes in his story. Soon Frey had to admit to the deception. The truth became clear.
Israel certainly had committed his share of deception in his life! But Israel’s acknowledgment near the end of his days was of a wholly different kind from that of Frey. The most important distinction is that Israel’s confession was self-initiated and voluntary while Frey’s admission was forced from him by an investigation.
Israel’s acknowledgment reminded Joseph of the real source of his strength and blessings: the God of their fathers. Israel recognized that it was God’s messenger who had redeemed him from the evil he had committed. God wants us all to have this attitude, an attitude of voluntary acknowledgment of the truth that our hope lies in him alone. And it would be a good idea to make this confession before we come anywhere close to reaching Israel’s age of 147! —C. R. B.
Visual for Lesson 13
How can we make the statement on this visual a daily reality? Ask your learners to list specific ways.
III. Attempted Correction (Genesis 48:17–19)
A. Joseph’s Displeasure (vv. 17, 18)
17, 18. When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”
The second half of verse 16 did not reveal any distinction, on the surface, between the blessings given to Manasseh (the older) and Ephraim (the younger). Yet Joseph knows the significance of the positioning of his father’s hands; the right hand is the hand of chief blessing.
Joseph is determined that his firstborn son will receive the special blessing from Israel. His attempt to move Israel’s hands indicates his concern. Joseph may assume that Israel has the same wish. When Israel crosses his arms (Genesis 48:14), Joseph perhaps thinks that this is just a blind man’s mistake.
Joseph undoubtedly is aware that as soon as the blessing is given, it cannot be altered. The finality of the blessing demonstrates how seriously people in Bible times take such pronouncements. In the incident when Israel (Jacob) received the blessing intended for Esau (by this time many decades in the past), no court papers were served, no lawyers were summoned, no one tried to figure out how to overturn the blessing on the grounds of “false pretenses” or “fraudulent conveyance.” The blessing of the patriarch is final; it is not changed even by the patriarch himself (compare Esther 1:19; 8:8; Daniel 6:8, 12).
B. Israel’s Refusal (v. 19)
19. But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.”
Using touch, a blind man still can tell the difference between a taller, older child and a shorter, younger one. Israel makes it clear that he knows what he is doing. He considers himself to be still in control. Israel will make this one final decision for the family, not Joseph.
What Do You Think?
What was a time in your life when “the customary” was set aside as the Lord led in a new and surprising direction? What was the end result?
So we have another instance of reversed blessing. Traditionally, the oldest son was to receive the greater honor. But Isaac was chosen over Ishmael, and Jacob over Esau. Now it’s Ephraim over Manasseh.
He too will become a people indicates that Manasseh still will have tribal status in the land when the Israelites take Canaan. This alone is a great blessing both to Manasseh and to Joseph. There will be no singular “tribe of Joseph” that receives land. But through his sons, Joseph actually will have the share of two tribes.
The words his descendants will become a group of nations is a figurative expression that establishes that Ephraim’s descendants will be of more significance than those of his brother. “He blessed them that day and said, ‘In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.” ’ So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh” (Genesis 48:20).
We see here a demonstration of the faith of the aged patriarch. He knows what God wants him to do, and he will do God’s will over the protests of even his favorite son. Shortly after the exodus begins hundreds of years later, the tribe of Ephraim will be about 25 percent larger than the tribe of Manasseh (Numbers 1:32, 34).
Shortly after blessing the children of Joseph, Israel gives blessing and benediction to the rest of his sons (Genesis 49). Jacob then breathes his last and his body is embalmed (50:2). His body is carried back to Canaan and placed in a cave (49:29–50:14).
Passing the Torch
The 2003 Tour de France was the centennial event of that famous bicycle race in and around France. Throughout the race, the focus was on Lance Armstrong, who ended up with his fifth consecutive victory. An hour-long celebration of the event’s history followed the race. Past winners rode by the cheering crowds.
A poignant moment occurred just before the parade began. An older man on an ancient bicycle was to ride at the head of the parade. By his side was a young boy on a small, modern bike. It was to symbolize the “passing of the torch” from a one generation of cyclists to another. One photograph shows the two riders as they are waiting for the signal to begin the parade. The older man is gently resting his hand on the child’s shoulder, as if to encourage him for what was ahead.
Today’s lesson allows us to witness part of a passing-of-the-torch ceremony (the rest is in Genesis 49). Sometimes a torch is passed intentionally and voluntarily; sometimes it is forcefully taken; sometimes the passing “just happens” without much thought as people drift through the natural cycle of life. The passing happens in families, in businesses, and in churches. Members of all generations must use godly wisdom as they play out this drama of changing roles. —C. R. B.
How important it is to leave a legacy! Israel (Jacob) had received a legacy from his father, who had received it in turn from his father. Then it was Israel’s turn to leave it to the following generation. Life goes on a generation at a time. Each generation builds upon (or destroys) what the previous generation leaves behind.
A legacy can be thought of as a kind of inheritance. Usually when we think of an inheritance, we think of cash and various physical assets. A much more important inheritance is a spiritual one. What kind of people will live in and lead the next generation? Very often, people follow the example of those who precede them, whether good or bad. So the example set is vitally important.
Church leaders have a great responsibility in this regard (see 1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7). We are responsible for the legacy we leave behind in life and teaching. Our legacy includes our sense of humility, the way we interact with others, and a holy lifestyle. We will be remembered longest for what we did, not what we said. The condemnation of those who set a bad example will be severe (Mark 9:42).
Thought to Remember
Find joy in passing along a godly legacy.
Our Father in Heaven, continually remind us that we are passing on a heritage, a legacy, a spiritual inheritance. Help us to remember that our lives are the examples of Christ that most people will see. In Jesus’ name, amen.
C. R. B. Charles R. Boatman
Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2007-2008. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing, 2007, S. 111