Genesis 47:28-31, “And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the length of Jacob’s life was 147 years. When the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, ‘Now if I have found favor in your sight, please put your hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me.
Please do not bury me in Egypt, but let me lie with my fathers; you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.’ And Joseph said, ‘I will do as you have said.’ Then Jacob said, ‘Swear to me.’ And Joseph swore to him. So Israel bowed himself on the head of the bed.”
It’s amazing to consider, but Jacob has “lived in the land of Egypt” an astounding “seventeen years” - almost as much time as he’d spent in Haran serving in the home of his father-in-law Laban. Jacob is now 147 years old and is sensing his time coming to an end… Jacob knows he’s going to die soon, and yet there are a few loose ends he still needs to take care of.
With this in mind, Jacob calls his son Joseph to himself and makes him swear “not to bury him in Egypt,” but to take his body back to Canaan so that he might “lie with his fathers.” Though Jacob has lived in Egypt for 17 years, Egypt had never become his home. Jacob’s heart has always remained in the Promised Land - which is why he wants to be buried there.
Genesis 48:1, “Now it came to pass after these things that Joseph was told, ‘Indeed your father is sick’; and he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.”
Following the earlier exchange it doesn’t take long for Jacob’s health to deteriorate. Joseph receives word that his “father was sick” leading him to come immediately with “his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim.” Joseph is now 56 years old and his sons are in their early 20’s.
Before we continue it should be pointed out that in recounting the lives of the great men and women of faith in the Old Testament, the author of Hebrews makes this one and only comment about the life of Jacob. He writes in Hebrews 11:21, “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.”
How interesting that the one moment in Jacob’s life memorialized for all time was not the dream he'd received in Bethel nor the time he wrestled with Jesus in Jabbok, but this intimate scene at the end of his life when he blesses the two sons of Joseph! It’s amazing, but this chapter records the pinnacle of Jacob’s faith… It’s his greatest moment!
Genesis 48:2-4, “And Jacob was told, ‘Look, your son Joseph is coming to you’; and Israel strengthened himself and sat up on the bed. Then Jacob said to Joseph: ‘God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a multitude of people, and give this land to your descendants as an everlasting possession.’”
Jacob begins by recounting to Joseph his very first encounter with God back in Luz (Bethel) and the promises he’d been given. This old man “leaning on the top of his staff” nearly blind from his old age looks beyond the glories of Egypt back to “the land of Canaan.”
Though it’s evident Jacob had failed to live up to his calling on more occasions than not, he took solace in the knowledge that God’s promises remained sure. He says, “God Almighty appeared to him and blessed him” even when he fundamentally didn’t deserve it.
Furthermore, God had promised to make Jacob’s life “fruitful” and to eventually multiply his descendants - additionally promising “to give that land to his descendant as an everlasting possession.” Jacob’s point is simple… If God’s former promises have proven good, His future ones were a sure thing! Though in Egypt - a return to the land would happen.
Genesis 48:5-7, “And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine. Your offspring whom you beget after them shall be yours; they will be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance.
But as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died beside me in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath; and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).”
Jacob is doing something that is not only a first, but will have profound implications moving forward. This phrase that Joseph’s “two sons Ephraim and Manasseh are mine as Reuben and Simeon” is Jacob supplanting the natural order of the birthright. Ephraim and Manasseh, though legally Joseph’s sons, would now become Jacob’s legal heirs.
And yet, the implications of this went even deeper… In our examination of Joseph being given the “coat of many colors” by his father, we noted how this was likely evidence of Joseph being designated the legal firstborn. Though the firstborn was Reuben, because he was born through Leah and not Jacob’s love Rachel, Joseph had received this right instead.
In this scene not only are Ephraim and Manasseh being given part of Jacob’s blessing and inheritance, but he’s actually making these two the first and second born of all his sons.
Genesis 48:8-11, “Then Israel saw Joseph’s sons, and said, ‘Who are these?’ And Joseph said to his father, ‘They are my sons, whom God has given me in this place.’ And he said, ‘Please bring them to me, and I will bless them.’ Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. Then Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. And Israel said to Joseph, ‘I had not thought to see your face; but in fact, God has also shown me your offspring!’”
This question to Joseph from a blind Jacob asking “who are these” in reference to Ephraim and Manasseh indicate he was unaware Joseph had brought his sons with him. At any rate, now knowing the boys are in his presence, Jacob wants to formally bless them.
Genesis 48:12-14, “So Joseph brought them from beside his knees, and he bowed down with his face to the earth. And Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh with his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. Then Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands knowingly, for Manasseh was the firstborn.”
I admit this is a rather weird scene… Joseph presents the boys in such a way where Jacob would naturally reach for Manasseh (Joseph’s firstborn) with his right hand and Ephraim with his left. Note: The greater blessing typically came from the right as opposed to the left hence the saying “the son of my right hand” or literally “the son of my strength.”
And yet, as Jacob goes to pronounce the blessing, he crosses his arms blessing Ephraim the with his right hand and Manasseh with this left. In doing this Jacob ends up giving the blessing of the firstborn to Joseph’s younger son Ephraim - not the older Manasseh.
Genesis 48:15-16, “And he blessed Joseph, and said: ‘God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has fed me all my life long to this day, the Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; let my name be named upon them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.’”
WOW! What a blessing! Notice Jacob acknowledges two amazing things God has done for him throughout his life. First, he says, “God has fed me all my life long.” In the Hebrew the word “fed” can be translated as “shepherded.” God had been a shepherd to Jacob.
Secondly, Jacob says, “The Angel has redeemed me!” As a clear reference to his showdown with the Angel of the Lord in Jabbok where Jesus came and wrestled with him, you should note this is the first mention of the word “redeem” in the Scriptures.
In it’s most simplistic form the word “redeem” means “to buy back” or “to restore on another's behalf.” It’s fundamentally an act that one person does for another. Once we get to the Law this word spoke of several different transactions - one where an individual was freed from slavery, one where land was restored back to its rightful owner, or one when a younger brother would marry a deceased brother’s widow for the purposes of providing an heir (this person would become known as the kinsman-redeemer).
In saying God had “redeemed” him in addition to shepherding him, Jacob is acknowledging that this Angel had not only wrestled with him, but had been wrestling for him as well!
What makes this amazing to me is both Jacob’s redemption and the fact God had shepherded him are placed in the context of his journey through this life. Always know, while God wants to redeem you from the clutches of hell so that you can spend an eternity in heaven, the work of redemption has a more specific implication for your life today!
Genesis 48:17-19, “Now when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him; so he took hold of his father’s hand to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, ‘Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.’
But his father refused and said, ‘I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.’
While Joseph assumes his blind father has made a mistake by blessing the younger over the older, the reality is that Jacob knew exactly what he was doing. As a matter of fact, back in verse 14 we’re told Jacob was “guiding his hands knowingly.” The reality is that Jacob intentionally wanted to give the blessing of the firstborn to Ephraim and not Manasseh.
Genesis 48:20-22, “So Jacob blessed them that day, saying, ‘By you Israel will bless, saying, ‘May God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh!’ And thus he set Ephraim before Manasseh. Then Israel said to Joseph, ‘Behold, I am dying, but God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your fathers. Moreover I have given to you one portion above your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow.’”
This statement Jacob makes to Joseph is radicle. By giving his two sons equal portion, with Ephraim receiving the blessing of the firstborn, Jacob is giving Joseph “one portion above his brothers!” Because of his faithfulness, Joseph receives a double portion through his sons.
Genesis 49:1-2, “And Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days: Gather together and hear, you sons of Jacob, and listen to Israel your father.”
Following the blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh, Jacob calls his remaining eleven sons together for the specific purposes of providing some final exhortations before his death. While these words have prophetic implications, sadly many take the passage out of context.
The key to understanding these prophetic utterances concerning the future descendants of each of his sons (which will comprise of the Twelve Tribes of Israel) is the context Jacob himself provides before he even begins. He says, “Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days.” This word “last” literally means “hindermost.”
Though many scholars take Jacob’s words and specifically apply them to what we know concerning each Tribe as recorded during the Old Testament histories, the reality is that a more apt interpretation to the things Jacob is going to say will find its ultimate fulfillment occurring during the future Millennial Reign of Christ at the end of the age.
Because this is obviously still yet to occur at a later date, it becomes difficult to extrapolate a clear application from the literal meaning of what Jacob is communicating to each of his sons. With this in mind, aside from the practical aspects and application of his words to each, we’re going to avoid getting into the prophetic nuances. Jacob begins with Reuben…
Genesis 49:3-4, “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power. Unstable as water, you shall not excel, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it - he went up to my couch.”
Though Reuben was Jacob’s technical firstborn possessing several natural leadership traits, the reality is that he had a serious character flaw. Based upon the fact that Reuben had an affair with Bilhah while his father had been grieving over the death of Rachel (Genesis 35:22), Jacob tells him he was “unstable as water” and would therefore “not excel.”
Sadly, Reuben ends up trading away the blessing of being the firstborn for a moment of passion and pleasure. Though we’re given no indication Jacob had ever called Reuben to account for his sin until this point in time, the reality is no sin is ever committed in secret.
Genesis 49:5-7, “Simeon and Levi are brothers; instruments of cruelty are in their dwelling place. Let not my soul enter their council; let not my honor be united to their assembly; for in their anger they slew a man, and in their self-will they hamstrung an ox. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.”
Following Reuben, Jacob next addresses Simeon and Levi. In referencing their actions when they slew the residents of Shechem following the rape of their sister Dinah, Jacob calls them “instruments of cruelty.” Because of their “anger and wrath” neither of them would receive a portion of the inheritance instead being “divided in Jacob and scattered in Israel.”
On a side note this is a great example of the importance of keeping things in the context of the prophecy possessing a “last days” fulfillment. Though the Tribe of Simeon would never possess an inheritance in the land, the Tribe of Levi (as the priestly tribe) would possess cities of refuge throughout Israel. Ironically, Jacob’s prophecy has no mention of the priests.
If you consider the fact there will not be a need for the Levitical Priesthood during the Millennial Reign because Jesus as our High Priest will be physically ruling from Jerusalem, the more literal application of Jacob’s prophecies for Levi make since still yet future.
Genesis 49:8-12, “Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s children shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; and as a lion, who shall rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people. Binding his donkey to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.”
As you look over the life of Judah you can’t help but notice he doesn’t have a very good track record. Not only was he the one who brazenly suggest selling his brother Joseph into slavery back in Genesis 37, but Judah eventually marries a Canaanite, mistreats his daughter-in-law Tamar, and knowingly slept with a prostitute all recorded for us in Genesis 38.
And yet, following these experiences it’s clear something had changed in Judah. We first noticed this change in the way he convinces Jacob to entrust Benjamin’s to his care, only to later see it fully manifest when he’s willing to exchange his life for the life of his brother.
Over time Jacob had come to recognize and embrace a leadership quality within Judah. As they entered the land of Egypt, Jacob has Judah lead the family into Goshen. As such we understand Judah would eventually become the kingly tribe of Israel when a young shepherd boy by the name of David would ascended to the throne.
In seeing this future destiny of Judah’s descendants, Jacob ultimately sees the arrival of a future King he calls “Shiloh” which means “He whose right it is.” Of all of his sons Jacob is saying the future Messiah (the long awaited Savior of God’s people) would descend through the family lineage of Judah. Note: Both May and Joseph were of the Tribe of Judah.
Jacob continues by saying “to Him shall be the obedience of the people” or more literally “to Him shall be the gathering of the people.” In Revelation 5:5 Jesus will be referred to as being “the Lion of the Tribe of Judah” who will usher in the final restoration of all of Israel.
Genesis 49:13-18, “Zebulun shall dwell by the haven of the sea; he shall become a haven for ships, and his border shall adjoin Sidon. Issachar is a strong donkey, lying down between two burdens; he saw that rest was good, and that the land was pleasant; he bowed his shoulder to bear a burden, and became a band of slaves.
Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent by the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider shall fall backward. I have waited for your salvation, O Lord!”
Following his prophecy concerning Dan, Jacob makes a most incredible and dramatic declaration. He cries out, “I have waited for your salvation, O Lord!” In the original language we have another first in Scripture. This word “salvation” is the Hebrew word “Yēshuw’ah”.
Though Jacob, as he’s nearing his death, appears to be calling out for God’s salvation something else may be occurring. You see this Hebrew word “Yēshuw’ah” will later become the name “Joshua” which when translated though the Greek into Latin is literally “Jesus.” Could it be that Jacob isn’t calling out for salvation, but the One who saves - Jesus?
Genesis 49:19-27, “Gad, a troop shall tramp upon him, but he shall triumph at last. Bread from Asher shall be rich, and he shall yield royal dainties. Naphtali is a deer let loose; he uses beautiful words. Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; his branches run over the wall. The archers have bitterly grieved him, shot at him and hated him. But his bow remained in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob…
From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel, by the God of your father who will help you, and by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father have excelled the blessings of my ancestors, up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. They shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers. Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.”
In this beautiful blessing of Joseph Jacob says that he “is fruitful” because while “the archers have bitterly grieved him, shot at him and hated him, his bow remained in strength” because “the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob!” Joseph’s life yielded fruit because he endured trial via the strength of God.
It’s amazing that in his blessing of Joseph Jacob uses five distinct titles for God: “The Might God of Jacob”, “The Shepherd”, “The Stone of Israel”, “The God of your father”, and “The Almighty”. Clearly by the end of his life the “God of Abraham and Isaac” had become the God of Jacob. This man had come to know God for himself possessing a personal relationship.
Genesis 49:28-33, “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father spoke to them. And he blessed them; he blessed each one according to his own blessing. Then he charged them and said to them: ‘I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite as a possession for a burial place.
There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife, there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave that is there were purchased from the sons of Heth.’ And when Jacob had finished commanding his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.”
Though Jacob had already made Joseph promise to take his body back to Canaan to be buried in the cave of Machpelah along with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and his wife Leah (for more on the significance of this detail I’d like to refer you to an earlier study in Genesis 29:1-35), he repeats these wishes to all of his sons.
This phrase Jacob “breathed his last” literally implies he “let go of” or “gave up the ghost.” At the ripe old age of 147 Jacob has finally finished his race. And yet, please don’t mistake his physical passing as death. No! While his body may have died Jacob remained very much alive! We’re told specifically he, like those before him, “was gathered to his people.”
As we close I want to return for a minute to the New Testament commentary on Jacob’s life. Of everything this man did the one thing memorialized by the Holy Spirit was his adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh into his family and their subsequent blessing. Once again in Hebrews 11:21 we’re told, “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.”
What makes this so interesting is the fact that up until this moment it had been specifically forbidden for the descendants of Abraham to marry outside the family. And yet, not only had Joseph taken a Gentile bride which was taboo, but he conceived children by her! Allowing such a thing to occur, yet alone blessing it would have been unthinkable until Genesis 48.
In seeking to understand why Jacob would do such a thing you shouldn’t overlook the motivation behind Jacob diverging from the status quo by blessing “the sons of Jospeh” and making them his own. Jacob acted in faith - specifically his faith in the promised Savior.
Please imagine this old man leaning on his staff….