Today’s reading is about the blessing of Jacob on his sons, therefore we are including the discussion of Gen 48 in with today’s reading.
God’s paragraph divisions for these three chapters, and my topic ideas, are:
Gen 48:1-22 p the blessing on Joseph’s sons
Gen 49:1-4 p Reuben’s blessing
Gen 49:5-7 p Simeon and Levi’s blessing
Gen 49:8-12 p Judah’s blessing
Gen 49:13 p Zebulun’s blessing
Gen 49:14-15 s Issachar’s blessing
Gen 49:16-17 s Dan’s blessing
Gen 49:18 s “I have waited for Your salvation, O YHVH!”
Gen 49:19 s Gad’s blessing
Gen 49:20 s Asher’s blessing
Gen 49:21 s Naphtali’s blessing
Gen 49:22-26 p Joseph’s blessing
Gen 49:27-50:26 p Benjamin’s blessing + death, burial of Jacob + death of Joseph
Scripture takes an inordinate amount of space concerning the placement of Jacob’s right and left hands on Ephraim’s and Manasseh’s heads in Gen 48. In fact, they are two repeating elements that surround the central axis of Jacob’s blessing in Gen 48:15-16. When a father gave his deathbed blessing, he placed his right hand on his firstborn’s head, and passed the responsibilities and privileges of the birthright and double portion inheritance to his firstborn son.
But just as Isaac was not the firstborn of Abraham, nor Jacob the firstborn of Isaac, nor Joseph the firstborn of Jacob, so Ephraim was not the firstborn of Joseph. If we think about it, we realize that neither was Abel or Seth the firstborn of Adam, nor Shem the firstborn of Noah. Scripture is drawing attention to the puzzle of the younger son receiving the firstborn son’s birthright and blessing by repeating it over and over again in the lives of the patriarchs. (A hint to solve the puzzle is found in Joh 1:12-13 and Mat 20:16).
Now why does Scripture record two separate sessions of blessing, one for Joseph’s sons, and one for Jacob’s sons? Jacob made Joseph’s two sons full heirs with his sons, so that they each had their own tribe counted among the twelve tribes of Israel. In this way, Jacob gave Joseph a double portion of the inheritance among his brothers. So that there are still twelve tribes of Israel, and not thirteen, Jacob put Simeon and Levi together, and dispersed them in Israel (Gen 49:5-7). As we will see, they will not receive their own unified territory of land as the others do.
But compare the two components of Abraham’s blessing, which are descendants and land, and note that the blessing of Joseph’s sons in Gen 48 highlights descendants, while the blessing of Jacob’s sons in Gen 49 highlights the land. There is no idle paragraph, word, or even letter, in Scripture! Scripture is drawing attention to the fact that the blessing was divided into two!
Furthermore, we find that when Jacob blesses his sons in Gen 49, he confers the leadership of the family to Judah, which was supposed to go to the firstborn son. We have already seen that he conferred the double portion of the inheritance to Joseph, which also was supposed to go to the firstborn son. Jacob, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, split the blessing of Abraham he had received, and that Isaac and Abraham had received, into two, among Judah and Joseph (or Ephraim, as Joseph’s anointed heir). Just tuck this bit of trivia in the back of your mind, because it will show up again as we go through the Old Testament.
For further study: At the beginning of the history of Abraham, we started a list of the times God had spoken to Abraham to confirm His promise and blessing to him. Add to that list, God’s confirmation to Isaac, His confirmation to Jacob, Isaac’s passing of that blessing on to his sons, and Jacob’s passing of that blessing on to his sons. How are the promises and blessings the same? Where and to whom do they differ? Is there among Jacob’s sons, any exclusions, as Ishmael and Esau were?
Also, in God’s paragraph divisions, there is a puzzle in today’s chapters. The chapter containing the blessing on Joseph’s sons ends in a strong paragraph division as we would expect. The blessing on Reuben ends in a strong division. The blessing on Simeon and Levi ends in a strong division. A pattern is being established. Then God breaks the pattern, by ending Issachar and the others with a weak division. Then the pattern breaks again, because there is no division of any kind after Benjamin’s blessing! This is intentional – what is the Scripture trying to say?
Finding Messiah: There is an obvious prophecy of Messiah in Judah’s blessing in today’s reading – He is Shiloh, to whom the scepter is to come! There is a more subtle prophecy of Messiah, in that Gen 47:28-50:26 forms a chiastic structure, with the central axis, the one paragraph in God’s paragraph divisions which does not have to do with a blessing on a son or grandson of Jacob:
“I have waited for Your salvation, O YHVH!” Gen 49:18
Salvation is in Hebrew, Strong’s H3444, yeshua, the name of our Savior and Lord! “I have waited for Yeshua, O YHVH!”
For further reading:
Torah study of Gen 47:28-50:36 (pdf; Restoration of Torah)
Ephraim and Judah: Israel Revealed (pdf; Batya Ruth Wootten) (Broken link, active January 26, 2011)