Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Genesis 48:12-16 Jacob Blesses Ephraim and Manasseh

""Then Joseph removed them from Israel's knees and bowed down with his face to the ground.  And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right towards Israel's left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel's right hand, and brought them close to him."  (Genesis 48:12-13 NIV)

Joseph bows respectfully before his father and then brings his sons towards Israel to have him bless them.  He even arranges them so that the eldest son, Manasseh, will be positioned correctly to receive a firstborn's blessing.  [Actually, Joseph or one of his 11 brothers will be receiving this passing on of the firstborn's blessing soon when Israel gathers his sons to give them his final words.  However, it seems that Joseph expected some greater honor or blessing for Manasseh as the firstborn of his sons, so he carefully positions him so that there will be no confusion on the part of his aged and nearly blind father (v.10).  I wonder if somewhere in Joseph's mind he was also thinking back upon events in his own family's history, when his father deceitfully stole his twin brother Esau's blessing from his father Isaac?  There would be no mistakes this time.

However, the purposes of God are always accomplished in the end, despite our careful attempts at controlling our circumstances.  For Jacob has a different goal in mind:

"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." (Genesis 48:14 NIV)

Things are starting to get interesting here.  Why is Jacob doing this?  Knowing the years of turmoil which his own manipulations of his father's blessing brought upon himself and his family [for after Jacob fled to his uncle Laban's home from his brother Esau's wrath, he never saw his mother again, and was not reconciled with his brother until years afterwards, and that rather incompletely], why would Jacob 'mess' with the proper order of such blessings?!

Jacob continues:

"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,
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.' "
Genesis 48:15-16 NIV

It is worth noting that Jacob calls God his shepherd.(v.15)  This is appropriate, because the family keeps flocks and this presents a very visual image of the care and effort which God has taken in Jacob/Israel's own life.  In the culture of the ancient Near East, the image of the king as a shepherd caring for his people was well known.  Jacob will call upon this metaphor again when he is blessing his twelve sons in the next chapter of Genesis (49:24).

Israel then refers to God as 'the Angel'.  This can be a bit confusing.  Why call God an angel?  I think that I need to do a whole post on that subject, but just for now let's remember that Jacob has seen this angel-man-God before several times and has referred to him as God. [See Genesis 28:10-22, Genesis 32:22-30, Genesis 46:1-4, etc.]  Even in the poetic style of the above blessing, Jacob equates 'the God before whom my fathers Abraham  and Isaac walked' with 'the God who has been my shepherd all my life' with 'the Angel who has delivered me from all harm'.  These are all just different ways of describing the same God who has cared for Jacob/Israel all his life. 

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