Genesis 48-50 The Death Bed Scenes
In Jacob’s old age, he called Joseph to his bed in Genesis 47:29-31, and made Joseph promise to carry his body out of Egypt to be buried in Canaan (which was the Promised Land to be called Israel). Then later in Genesis 48:1-2, Joseph brought his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh to Jacob’s bed to be blessed. After this Jacob summoned his other 11 sons to come to his bed for a blessing and prophecy. When people with faith in God draw near to death, they often see life and the future with greater clarity. Jacob may have been in the strange foreign land of Egypt, but his faith in God’s promises put him in Hebrews 11:21’s hall of fame of faith as we read, “By faith Jacob, as he was dying blessed each of the sons of Joseph…” He believed God’s Word and based his blessings and prophecies on what God had promised.
Jacob Adopts Ephraim and Manasseh, 48:3-13
Jacob gave a short testimony here to explain where his information came from. God appeared to him at Bethel twice, and promised to give the land of Canaan to Jacob’s descendants. The first time was in Genesis 28 when Jacob left Canaan to go to Uncle Laban, and then again God spoke in Genesis 35 when Jacob returned. God’s promises gave Jacob the right to give the blessing and the assurance of the future in the Promised Land. Then, in Genesis 48:5, Jacob adopted Joseph’s two sons as his sons, saying “Like Reuben and Simeon they will be to me. Since Reuben and Simeon were his first-born sons, he was saying that Ephraim and Manasseh would become his first-born sons. Thus the grandsons displaced the sons as firstborn heirs. There was a two-fold reason given for this—first to give double honor to Joseph through his sons, but also as a consequence of Reuben and Simeon’s sins. 1 Chronicles 5:1-2 explains that Reuben’s birthright was given to the sons of Joseph because he defiled his father’s bed. In Genesis 48:7 Jacob recalls his beloved wife Rachel whom he loved. Now Rachel’s first-born son was Joseph who would become the heir of God’s promise. When Joseph brought his two sons to be blessed, he positioned the oldest Manasseh on Jacob’s right, but Jacob altered it in spite of Joseph’s objections. Jacob gave the blessing first to the youngest and then to the oldest. There was no merit to this choice other than God’s sovereign choice. Jacob was God’s instrument of blessing and prophecy, and once again God chose to honor the younger over the older. This was repeated throughout Genesis—God chose Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over Reuben, and now Ephraim over Manasseh. Ephraim’s descendants would be the larger and greater tribe when they settled in the Promised Land. Why would God delight in doing this reversal of the traditions of man? The blessings were God’s grace (free gift), and God’s grace cannot be regulated by privilege or tradition. God’s grace humbles human tradition so that as Jesus would say “the last shall be first and the first shall be last”. GOD’S GRACE MUST BE SURPRISING AND AMAZING. God gave Joseph an extra portion of the inheritance by promising his two sons each a portion of the land.
Consider Joseph’s faith in receiving the blessing from Jacob. Joseph was thereby agreeing that his sons’ descendants would leave Egypt and return to Canaan. Joseph was a rich and powerful man in Egypt with a huge inheritance to give his children, but he was subjecting his descendants to join the Hebrews in returning to Canaan. In Hebrews 11:22 we read, “By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders (to take his remains back to Canaan).”
Genesis 49—Inheritance Predictions for the Brothers
Jacob called all his sons together for a final farewell prophecy of “days to come”. He would give each of his sons a prophecy about the land allotments for their future descendants in the Promised Land, and prophecy about the nature of their future tribes. In Genesis 49 his 12 sons all gathered in groups around Jacob’s bed. Expectations were high that their father would bless them and predict a wonderful future, but some of his sons got more of an admonishment and a curse. The judgments for past indiscretions went to the oldest sons Reuben and Simeon, which opened the door to greatly bless Joseph’s sons and Judah the fourth son. Although the other sons got short cryptic prophecies, the primary focus and blessings went to Ephraim and Judah. If you read the rest of the Old Testament you will see that Ephraim and Judah became the largest and most powerful tribes in Israel. Judah also received an explosive eye opening Messianic prophecy that the future kingly line would be from Judah and the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah.
Reuben and Simeon Demoted and Levi Dispersed v. 3-7
After a short compliment about what his potential was, Reuben is disqualified because he slept with his father’s wife. Over 400 years later, Reuben’s tribe would not get land in Israel, but would settle outside Israel east of the Jordan River. Constantly invaded, they disappeared. Simeon and Levi, the second and third son were also disqualified from leadership because of their murder of the Shechemites (Gen.34). Their descendants would be scattered in Israel. Simeon settled in the land of Judah, and they were assimilated into Judah. Levi, as the priests, got no land inheritance.
The Blessings to Judah, the Messianic Tribe, v.8-12
I can only imagine what Judah was thinking while he listened to his father’s scathing curse upon his older brothers—“Would Dad drag up all my previous indiscretions too?” Instead, Judah was elevated to leadership status, and his tribe would establish the kingly line from which the Messiah would come. King David would begin that line of kings. Jacob predicted that all the brothers’ descendants would bow down to Judah and praise his descendants. They would be fierce warriors like ferocious lions. The “scepter” or king’s staff would always remain in Judah. “Until Shiloh comes” means until peace comes through the Messiah, who will reign forever. In v.11-12 Jacob uses images of abundance, prosperity, and extravagance to describe the future tribe of Judah.
Blessing Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, and Naphtali
In verses 13-21, Jacob gave cryptic prophecies concerning the next 6 sons. Zebulun would be blessed by prosperity fueled by international trade. Issachar would settle in a fertile land but choose to be serfs by not driving out the Canaanites. Dan would be known for its judge Samson. Gad would settle east of the Jordan River and be the victim of repeated foreign raids. Asher would be on the seacoast and enjoy prosperity, and his prophecy on Naphtali said his tribe would flourish.
The Fruitful Tribe of Joseph, v. 22-26
Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh received the longest blessing from Jacob. They would be very fruitful, meaning they would be the most numerous tribes. They would receive great blessings from God, and here Jacob used a list of divine names for God such as “Mighty one”, “the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel”, “the Almighty who blesses you”. He made it abundantly clear that Joseph’s descendants would be set apart from the other tribes by God’s blessings.
The Death of Jacob and His Burial in Canaan, Genesis 49:28-50:14
After all his blessings and prophecies to his 12 sons, Jacob charged them to take his body to Canaan to be buried with his ancestors in the Cave of Machpelah. Jacob then passed away and was embalmed by the Egyptians as was their custom. After the days of mourning, Pharaoh gave them the command to go and bury their father as he had wished. Not only did all of Jacob’s large family go, but also a number of prominent Egyptians went with the funeral procession back to Canaan.
The Fear of Joseph’s Brothers and the Providence of God, Genesis 50:15-26
After Jacob was buried and everyone returned to Egypt, Joseph’s brothers worried that now that Jacob was gone, Joseph might finally seek revenge for what they had done to him. Therefore they sent him a note asking for forgiveness again, and stated that this was Jacob’s dying wish that they be forgiven. Joseph got emotional and wept because he greatly loved his brothers, and Joseph had a godly perspective about the whole situation. Joseph calmed the brothers by uttering one of the great professions of God’s providence ever given, “Do not be afraid, for only God can judge.” Joseph’s perspective was “you meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
In the New Testament Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God”. People usually do many things against their own conscience, but our gracious God somehow can bring good out of every circumstance in this world. Granted in the short run things can look very bad, but God has a long-range infinite plan that we can not even imagine. May we all live with the faith in God’s promises as Joseph did!