GENESIS - CHAPTER 48
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
48:1. “And it came to pass after these things, that one told Joseph, Behold, thy father is sick: and he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.”
If we have been correct in taking the preceding chapters to be the symbolic disclosure of the means by which God will bring both the remnant of Israel and the believing Gentiles through the Tribulation into the Millennium, then the “after these things” of this verse should take us to what will be after the Millennium.
Re 20:7-10 tells us, that following the Millennium, Satan, released from his thousand year imprisonment, will gather together the rebels of earth for his final attempt to overthrow God, and then will come the end of this present earth and heavens. It seems that the interval between the release of Satan and the end of the world will be again a time of persecution and trial for believers. It may be therefore, that Jacob’s sickness is intended to be the symbolic portrayal of that suffering.
Since Jacob took Joseph’s two sons to be his own, verse 5, Joseph’s taking Manasseh and Ephraim with him may be the typical announcement of the perpetuation of Jacob’s life through these two grandchildren. It becomes therefore, the assurance that though Israel the nation, like Jacob, will also become old and sick, yet her life will be perpetuated beyond the Millennium, beyond the persecution that will follow it, for she will continue for ever in the new earth, where there will be no sickness, no aging, no death.
Manasseh means causing to forget, and Ephraim, double ash-heap: I shall be doubly fruitful. In previous studies we have noted, that as his sons, they represent the perpetuation of Joseph’s life; and now, taken by Jacob to be his sons, they represent the perpetuation of his life also. In addition, however, they represent also the perpetuation of the life of Israel as a nation, and the same character attaches to the perpetuated life of all three: it will be in a forgetting of the past, and the enjoyment of fruitfulness following suffering.
But Israel’s history is also the symbolic prewritten history of the Church, and she, too, displays the symptoms of sickness and aging, but for her also there is the assurance of eternal perpetuation when the sufferings of earth will be forgotten in the enjoyment of eternal fruitfulness. And what is true of the Church corporately is true also of every member of that mystical body.
48:2. “And one told Jacob, and said, Behold, thy son Joseph cometh unto thee: and Israel strengthened himself, and sat upon the bed.”
It is Jacob who is addressed, but significantly it is Israel who strengthens himself. Jacob represents us as we are physically, but Israel represents us as we are spiritually. Physically we grow old and sick, but spiritually we are strengthened by the prospect of the coming of Him Whom Joseph represents, as it is written, “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Co 4:16). And what is true for the individual is true also for the Church, for the beleaguered Tribulation remnant, and for those who will suffer under the activity of Satan in the interval between the end of the Millennium and the beginning of the eternal state.
48:3. “And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me.”
The record of that appearance of God to Jacob is found in Ge 28:13. It was at the time of his flight from Esau. The spot which Jacob called Bethel house of God appears to have been in the vicinity of the city called Luz, which later also became known as Bethel. Now, old and sick, and near the end of his life, Jacob still clings to that promise, realizing that it would be in resurrection he would experience its fulfillment.
It is instructive that he called the place Luz rather than Bethel. Luz means perverse, a name far more in keeping with his character then than the name Bethel would have been. It serves to remind us that that covenant was one of grace, given to one who was perverse and unworthy, but this in turn reminds us that we who are the beneficiaries of a better covenant are equally perverse and unworthy.
God’s promises to Jacob were according to His own character, not Jacob’s, and it was on this knowledge that Jacob’s confidence rested. Our confidence rests on that same sure foundation.
Without having experienced fulfillment of the promises, Jacob could face death without a doubt that they would be fulfilled, and the evidence of his faith was his insistence that he be buried in Canaan. Whether he understood the spiritual implication of his actions, the fact remains that in his linking himself with those two sons who perpetuated Joseph’s life, we have a picture of a believer’s appropriation of the life of Christ through faith, for Joseph is a type of Christ, as his sons are a type of the eternal perpetuation of Christ’s life. Jacob’s adoption of Joseph’s sons therefore, becomes a clear picture of faith’s appropriation of eternal life, which is the life of Christ.
As we have noted, however, Jacob’s experience is but a miniature of the experience of the nation of Israel. A review of those experiences may help us to discern the picture more clearly. The famine that drove them down to Egypt and eventual reconciliation with Joseph, represents the Tribulation. The happy years in Goshen represent the Millennium, but in Jacob’s being old and sick, and near the end of his life, we are being shown that in the post-Millennial period the nation of Israel will also be old (she will have existed for over four thousand years, if we date the Exodus at c.1400 B.C.); she will be sick (experiencing persecution at the hand of man and Satan); and as far as earthly experience is concerned she will be “dying,” her long history will be near its end. But as Jacob’s hope lay beyond Goshen, so does Israel’s hope lie beyond the Millennium: her eternal blessedness will be in connection with a new heavens and a new earth, Re ch. 21. Jacob’s anticipation of future resurrection blessings was linked to his appropriation of the life of Joseph, symbolically shown in his adoption of Joseph’s two sons. But since Joseph and his sons represent Christ, the spiritual truth being declared is that Israel’s eternal blessedness will not be apart from her appropriation of Christ as Savior. And what is true of Israel is true of all men: apart from faith in Christ, man has no hope.
48:4. “And said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession.”
The fact that this promise was given to Jacob unconditionally tells us that it was according to God’s grace. This is not to imply, however, that God arbitrarily choose to bless Jacob apart from faith. It shouldn’t be forgotten that this promise was given to a man who had first had faith to appropriate the birthright that his brother Esau had despised. It is grace alone that has provided salvation, but that salvation must be accepted by faith through an act of the individual’s will, before its blessings become available. Believers are predestinated to be conformed to the image of Christ, Ro 8:29, but no one is predestinated to be a believer: a man becomes a believer by an act of his own free will, just as by a similar free-willed choice he may remain an unbeliever.
For Jacob, the fruitfulness, the multiplication, the increase that would make him a nation, and the possession of the land, were still unfulfilled promises, but he faced death with his confidence in God unshaken. He believed that all those promises would be fulfilled in resurrection, by the God of resurrection. It will be from the vantage point of the heavenly Jerusalem that he, with us, will look down and see all those promises fulfilled to his descendants on the Millennial earth. But even that will not exhaust the fullness of the Divine blessings: those blessings will continue in fuller and far more perfect measure in the new heavens and new earth.
48:5. “And now thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.”
Ephraim means double ash-heap: I shall be doubly fruitful; and Manasseh, causing to forget. His adoption of these two sons is Jacob’s confession that all his present blessing, as well as future expectations, were because of Joseph, for it was by means of his sufferings and eventual exaltation that the lives of Jacob’s family had been preserved. It was because of Joseph that they had become fruitful, Ge 47:27, and were able to forget the unfruitful years of their estrangement from him.
But the spiritual picture is of broader scope. Jacob’s experience is to Israel what the preliminary sketch is to the finished painting: the fuller measure of Israel’s blessings await the Millennium, and beyond the Millennium lies her full eternal blessing when a new heavens and a new earth will replace those which now exist.
We should note the deliberate reversal of the birth order: though Manasseh was the firstborn, he is mentioned after Ephraim. As we have noted in earlier studies, this declares the unacceptability of the natural man which the firstborn always represents. The natural must give place to the spiritual, represented by the secondborn.
It is emphasized that these sons had been born to Joseph in Egypt before Jacob came unto him in Egypt. Since Joseph represents Christ in rejection and suffering; and these two sons, Christ in resurrection, this statement becomes a prophecy: it wouldn’t be until after Christ’s death and resurrection that Israel the nation would come unto Him. The prophecy still awaits fulfillment, for though Christ has died and been raised again, it will take the “seven years of famine” (the Tribulation judgments) to bring the believing remnant of Israel unto Him.
“... as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.” Every line of this symbolic picture displays the unacceptability of the flesh. First, Jacob’s name had been changed to Israel. Then he had had to give place to Joseph; and now his first two sons must give place to the first two sons of Joseph (the rejection of Reuben and Simeon is clearly indicated in Ge 49:3-7). From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture sounds the warning, “Ye must be born again,” for “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”
As the firstborn, Reuben should have inherited a double portion upon his father’s death, but having forfeited that right through sin, that double portion was assured to Joseph through Jacob’s adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh. Joseph’s double portion points to the lordship of Christ in the realm of both the spiritual and the temporal, as it does also to His lordship over both Jew and Gentile.
48:6. “And thy issue which thou begettest after them, shall be thine, and shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance.”
This perpetuation of Jacob’s life in the two who were also the perpetuation of Joseph’s life, tells us that the life possessed by the believer is the life of Christ, as is declared in Ga 2:20, “... I live; and yet not I, but Christ liveth in me....” The life of Joseph (Christ crucified) continued in Ephraim and Manasseh (Christ resurrected), and those two had become also the continuation of Jacob’s life. That this is true of all believers, Jews as well as Gentiles, is annunciated in the fact that any other sons Joseph might have would be called “after the name of their brethren (Ephraim and Manasseh). In other words, future children of Joseph would be reckoned the same as those first two. The spiritual message isn’t hard to read. Those first two represent Christ in resurrection, and every believer bears the imprint of that image, “... because as He is, so are we in this world” (1 Jn 4:17), and when our course in this world is finished we shall stand in heaven perfectly “... conformed to the image of His Son” (Ro 8:29). And every believer is characterized by what is associated with the meanings of the names of these sons: a forgetting of the past, and a corresponding increase in spiritual fruitfulness.
48:7. “And as for me, when I came from Padan, meaning their ransom, Rachel a ewe died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to come to Ephrath ashiness: fruitfulness: and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath; the same is Bethlehem house of bread."
A full discussion of the significance of Rachel’s death will be found in the notes on Ge ch. 35. There we found that the events connected with her death speak of increasing fruitfulness and closer conformity to the image of Christ, resulting from the discipline and trial of suffering. Jacob at that time may have thought that God’s discipline was complete, that there could be no deeper sorrow than that caused by Rachel’s death. But the discipline wasn’t complete: he must experience also the bitter mourning for a Joseph presumed dead. Now, near the end of the journey, viewing his life in retrospect, he sees that all the trials, all the things that seemed to be “against me” were but the process by which God was working all things together for his ultimate good. At the time of Rachel’s death he had changed his son’s name to Benjamin son of the right hand, but he had to learn that it would be through Joseph (Christ crucified), not Benjamin (Christ reigning), that blessing would come. And he had lived to see some of that fruitfulness and blessing in an Egypt ruled by Joseph (type of Israel’s blessedness in a millennial earth ruled by Christ); but he realized also that that wasn’t the fullness of blessing promised by God - that blessing was to be in Canaan, not Egypt. That expectation, however, is itself the shadow of a still better hope: beyond the Millennium lie Israel’s eternal blessings.
48:8. “And Israel beheld Joseph’s sons, and said, Who are these?”
It is Israel, not Jacob, who sees the sons who are not only the sons of Joseph, but now also his. It is the new man alone who has the life of Christ (represented by Ephraim and Manasseh).
Whether Israel was totally blind is a moot point, though the context seems to imply partial, rather than total blindness, a condition more in keeping with the spiritual picture. Total blindness is very clearly a symbol of total spiritual blindness, the state of the unsaved. Partial blindness, on the other hand, portrays the earthly state of the believer: we see, but “through a glass, darkly.” It seems that Israel could discern the forms of the boys, but not well enough to distinguish the one from the other. Such is the state of every believer - at best we discern spiritual realities dimly here on earth. Full vision, however, will be ours in heaven. His question, “Who are these?” simply portrays the desire of the believer to know more of Him Whom Joseph’s sons represent.
48.9. “And Joseph said unto his father, They are my sons, whom God hath given me in this place. And he said, Bring them, I pray thee, unto me, and I will bless them.”
Since Ephraim and Manasseh represent the resurrection life of Christ, Joseph’s declaring them to be the sons given him “in this place (Egypt, type of the world),” reminds us that it was here “in this place (earth)” that God gave Christ what Joseph’s sons represent - resurrection life. It was here on earth that Christ revealed the resurrection power of God by coming out of the tomb and presenting Himself alive to the believers who had seen Him die.
Israel hadn’t seen Joseph die, but he believed that he had died (as indeed he had typically), nor have we actually seen the Lord die, but by faith we believe He did. Nor had Israel seen Joseph rise from the dead (as he did typically), but he acted as though he had. We haven’t seen Christ rise from the dead, but we believe He did, and act accordingly. We perceive these things by the eye of faith, but a faith that sees dimly in the darkness of earth, as Israel with physically dimmed eyes saw Joseph living in Ephraim and Manasseh.
“I will bless them.” There are many shades of meaning of the word “bless,” and here the meaning is not so much that Israel conferred a blessing upon them as that he simply declared that they were blessed. This is in harmony with the typical picture. We can confer no blessing on Christ, but we can acknowledge that He is blessed.
48:10. “Now the eyes of Israel were dim for age, so that he could not see. And he brought them near unto him; and he kissed them, and embraced them.”
In Israel’s kissing and embracing these two grandsons (type of Christ) whom he could see but dimly, if at all, we have a picture of the attitude of the believer towards Christ. By faith we see Him, but only dimly, yet our attitude is described by Peter, “Whom having not seen (with our natural eyes), ye love....” (1 Pe 1:8). This truth is no better expressed than in the words of the poet:
Only faintly now I see Him,
With the darkling veil between;
But a blessed day is coming,
When His glory shall be seen.
48:11. “And Israel said unto Joseph, I had not thought to see thy face: but, lo, God hath shewn me also thy seed.”
As we have seen, Ephraim and Manasseh represent Christ in resurrection. Israel’s joy at seeing these sons of the Joseph he had never expected to see again, foreshadows the joy of the disciples on the evening of that first day when the risen Lord appeared in their midst, “Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord” (Jn 20:20). The same joyful experience awaits us at the Rapture, as it awaits also the believing remnant at the Lord’s return to end the Tribulation and inaug-urate the kingdom.
48:12. And Joseph brought them out from between his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth.”
Here the type changes. Israel now represents God the Father, while Joseph and his two sons here represent the nation of Israel. In blessing them, Israel was conferring upon them the blessing of Abraham, to be enjoyed in resurrection. They were now to have the blessing transferred to them as the next links in the chain that would preserve the line of faith until the time came for the fulfillment of the promises. Since the less is blessed by the greater, Joseph, though lord of Egypt (in the present context, type of Israel ruling the millennial earth), bows before his father. So will the nation of Israel (the believing remnant) bow in grateful submission before God as they receive, not the promise, but the fulfillment of the promises in the Millennium.
48:13. “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 unto him.”
Joseph’s intention was that the blessing of the firstborn should be conferred on the firstborn, Manasseh, but such wasn’t God’s intention. As has been noted many times in the course of these studies, the firstborn represents the old nature which God rejects. A faint disclosure of the Divine intent is revealed in Ephraim’s being mentioned here before Manasseh.
48:14. “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.”
Israel’s eyes might be dim for age, so that he could not see, but physical sight counts for nothing in the spiritual realm. Guided by the Holy Spirit, Israel placed his right hand (the hand of strength and blessing) on the younger, the one who represents the new nature; for the flesh, represented by the firstborn, is condemned by God, and can inherit no blessing.
48:15. “And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before Whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day,”
48:16. “The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my father Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”
That Joseph’s sons are but the perpetuation of his own life is revealed in its being said that Israel blessed Joseph, though in fact he pronounced the blessing on Ephraim and Manasseh. Joseph and his sons combine to show us Christ suffering (Joseph), but resurrected (Ephraim and Manasseh). They present us also, however, with a picture of the believer, for in Joseph we see ourselves “crucified with Christ,” but in Ephraim and Manasseh we see ourselves living in Christ, forgetting the things that are behind, and being fruitful spiritually.
Connected with the blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh was God’s preservation of Jacob-Israel, and so is it with us: as God fed or shepherded Jacob all his life long, so has He fed or shepherded us, and as Jacob belonged to the line of faith that began with Abraham, and was continued in Isaac, so do we also belong to that same line of faith.
Israel’s referring to God as “the Angel which redeemed me from all evil” reminds us that in the Old Testament references to the Angel of the Lord we are to see not only Christ, but the Christ Who is God the Son. It is He Who has redeemed us from all evil.
Whatever other significance may belong to the words, “let my name be named on them, and the name of ... Abraham and Isaac,” one that certainly suggests itself is connected with the meanings of those names. Abraham means father of a great multitude; Isaac, he shall laugh; and Israel, the name given in place of Jacob, means he shall be prince of God: God’s fighter: may God strive (fight for him). Joseph, through these two sons, would become the father of a great multitude; the tears accompanying the long years of Israel’s estrangement from God will yet give place to millennial laughter; and the nation that has for so long displayed the Jacob nature to the nations, will yet stand among them as a prince of God. But since Joseph is also a type of Christ, this blessing becomes the pronouncement of the Father’s blessing upon the Son Whom Joseph portrays. Christ will yet be revealed as the “Father” of a great multitude; the suffering of earth will yet give place to laughter as He welcomes His redeemed into the Father’s house; and He Who willingly took the place of a servant will yet stand forth as the Prince of peace.
“... and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” Israel did grow into a multitude in Egypt (the world), but the full experience of that blessing will be in the Millennium.
48:17. “And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head.”
It is strange that the man who had displayed such integrity and faith, who had had such revelations from God, and who had experienced the fulfillment of those revelations, should have been unaware of the spiritual significance of Israel’s blessing the younger over the elder. It may be that God would remind us of the natural man’s inability to comprehend spiritual things; for in this present context, Ephraim and Manasseh, as sons, are the second generation (the spiritual), while Joseph, as their father, is the first generation (the natural).
48:18. “And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.”
Typically, this is the flesh speaking, for the flesh loves the things of the flesh, and will always seek to hinder the blessing of the new nature.
48:19. “And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.”
It was as Israel, not Jacob, that he answered Joseph’s protest, for Israel represents the new nature, as Jacob does the old. The contrast between the error and uncertainty of the flesh, and the assurance of the spirit, is disclosed in the twice repeated “I know it.” The spirit speaks with all the authority of God, for the believer’s spiritual life is the life of God.
“... he also shall become a people.” Since Manasseh represents the natural in contrast with the spiritual, he represents the nation of Israel as a physical entity made up of believers and unbelievers alike. As such, Israel has been increased, and will be still further increased in the Millennium.
... and shall be great.” This was partially fulfilled in the days of Solomon, but there will be a greater fulfillment in the Millennium when Israel will be the greatest of all the nations.
The superiority of the spiritual over the natural, however, is emphasized in its being said that “his younger brother shall be greater than he.” And while it was said that Manasseh “shall become a people,” it is significant that with regard to Ephraim it is said that “his seed shall become a multitude of nations.” That “seed” is Christ Who came of the line of faith which Ephraim represents. Spiritual Israel consists, not just of one, but of a multitude of nations - those that will go from the Tribulation into the millennial kingdom.
48:20. “And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh.”
Beyond the literal use of their names as a formula by which future generations would pronounce a blessing on others, lies a spiritual truth. There is blessing for everyone willing to follow the path marked out in the meaning of those names. There will be fruitfulness as we are willing to forget those things which are behind, and reach forth unto those things which are before, pressing “toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God” (Php 3:13-14).
48:21. “And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers.”
In its being said that it was Israel rather than Jacob who was about to die, we learn the truth that earthly experience ends not only for believers physically, but spiritually also. Earth is not to be the eternal scene of the believers new spiritual life. Heaven, not earth, is our home. This is emphasized in Israel’s declaration that God would bring Joseph and his descendants out of Egypt “unto the land of your fathers.” For Israel the nation, the Millennium will not be the end of her blessing: millennial blessedness will be followed by greater blessings connected with a new heavens and a new earth.
48:22. “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.”
In connection with that foretold return, Joseph was assured that he had been given a double portion in the land of Canaan, for by Jacob’s adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh, the meaning of Joseph’s name let him add, was given practical expression - he had become two tribes instead of one. In this we see the symbolic announcement of the truth that the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the King of Israel, is King also of the Gentile nations.
The Hebrew word translated portion, is Shekem, literally shoulder. It refers to the area in which the city of Shechem was located, where Joseph was buried, Jos 24:32. It is the same place that is called Sychar in Jn 4:5, where the story centers around the well that Jacob had dug there. In his being given this special portion of Shechem therefore, Joseph is made lord of strength and life, for Shechem shoulder is the Biblical symbol of strength, as the well is of life. (The well represents the Word, and it is the Word (Christ) that gives life).
The only other reference to Jacob’s acquisition of Shechem is when his sons slew the Shechemites to avenge the defilement of their sister Dinah, ch.34. This present reference to his having taken it “out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow” is generally believed to refer to a later conquest in which he recovered it from other Amorites who probably settled there after his departure from the place following his sons’ slaughter of the Shechemites.
There can be no doubt that there is spiritual significance connected with the mention of this unrecorded battle, in which Jacob, with his sword and bow, took Shechem from the Amorites. It may be in fact that God is giving us a glimpse of Calvary. Joseph, as his son, is but the perpetuation of Jacob the two are one, as it were for since Joseph is a type of Christ, so then also is Jacob. In the context of this verse, however, Joseph represents Christ in resurrection, while Jacob represents Him in His death. As it was Jacob who won Shechem that has now become the possession of Joseph, so was it Christ crucified Who won what is now the possession of Christ resurrected. But in addition to capturing Shechem, Jacob had also dug a well there. Shechem represents the place of strength and safety, and the well represents the Word. The believer, a joint heir with Christ, has been given “Shechem” (strength and safety), and he has been given also an unfailing well (the Word) from which to draw “water” for refreshment and cleansing.
The weapons used by Jacob to capture Shechem were “my sword and my bow.” I regret being unable to interpret the spiritual significance of the bow, but the sword is the Biblical symbol of the Word as a spiritual weapon. It was by His perfect obedience to the Word, His perfect fulfillment of all that had been written concerning Him, that the Lord vanquished the “Amorite” (Satan), and won “Shechem” - a “Shechem” that is now also ours as being one with Him.