Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Adoption of Joseph's Sons. - Gen 48:1, Gen 48:2. After these events, i.e., not long after Jacob's arrangements for his burial, it was told to Joseph (ויּאמר "one said," cf. Gen 48:2) that his father was taken ill; whereupon Joseph went to him with his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, who were then 18 or 20 years old. On his arrival being announced to Jacob, Israel made himself strong (collected his strength), and sat up on his bed. The change of names is as significant here as in Gen 45:27-28. Jacob, enfeebled with age, gathered up his strength for a work, which he was about to perform as Israel, the bearer of the grace of the promise.
Referring to the promise which the Almighty God had given him at Bethel (Gen 35:10. cf. Gen 38:13.), Israel said to Joseph (Gen 48:5): "And now thy two sons, which were born to thee in the land of Egypt, until (before) I came to thee into Egypt...let them be mine; Ephraim and Manasseh, like Reuben and Simeon (my first and second born), let them be mine." The promise which Jacob had received empowered the patriarch to adopt the sons of Joseph in the place of children. Since the Almighty God had promised him the increase of his seed into a multitude of peoples, and Canaan as an eternal possession to that seed, he could so incorporate into the number of his descendants the two sons of Joseph who were born in Egypt before his arrival, and therefore outside the range of his house, that they should receive an equal share in the promised inheritance with his own eldest sons. But this privilege was to be restricted to the two first-born sons of Joseph. "Thy descendants," he proceeds in Gen 48:6, "which thou hast begotten since them, shall be thine; by the name of their brethren shall they be called in their inheritance;" i.e., they shall not form tribes of their own with a separate inheritance, but shall be reckoned as belonging to Ephraim and Manasseh, and receive their possessions among these tribes, and in their inheritance. These other sons of Joseph are not mentioned anywhere; but their descendants are at any rate included in the families of Ephraim and Manasseh mentioned in Num 26:28-37; 1 Chron 7:14-29. By this adoption of his two eldest sons, Joseph was placed in the position of the first-born, so far as the inheritance was concerned (Ch1 5:2). Joseph's mother, who had died so early, was also honoured thereby. And this explains the allusion made by Jacob in Gen 48:7 to his beloved Rachel, the wife of his affections, and to her death-how she died by his side (עלי), on his return from Padan (for Padan-Aram, the only place in which it is so called, cf. Gen 25:20), without living to see her first-born exalted to the position of a saviour to the whole house of Israel.
The Blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh. - Gen 48:8. Jacob now for the first time caught sight of Joseph's sons, who had come with him, and inquired who they were; for "the eyes of Israel were heavy (dim) with age, so that he could not see well" (Gen 48:10). The feeble old man, too, may not have seen the youths for some years, so that he did not recognise them again. On Joseph's answering, "My sons whom God hath given he mere," he replied, "Bring them to me then (קחם־נא), that I may bless them;" and he kissed and embraced them, when Joseph had brought them near, expressing his joy, that whereas he never expected to see Joseph's face again, God had permitted him to see his seed. ראה for ראות, like עשׂו (Gen 31:28). עלּל: to decide; here, to judge, to think.
Joseph then, in order to prepare his sons for the reception of the blessing, brought them from between the knees of Israel, who was sitting with the youths between his knees and embracing them, and having prostrated himself with his face to the earth, he came up to his father again, with Ephraim the younger on his right hand, and Manasseh the elder on the left, so that Ephraim stood at Jacob's right hand, and Manasseh at his left.
The patriarch then stretched out his right hand and laid it upon Ephraim's head, and placed his left upon the head of Manasseh (crossing his arms therefore), to bless Joseph in his sons. "Guiding his hands wittingly;" i.e., he placed his hands in this manner intentionally. Laying on the hand, which is mentioned here for the first time in the Scriptures, was a symbolical sign, by which the person acting transferred to another a spiritual good, a supersensual power or gift; it occurs elsewhere in connection with dedication to an office (Num 27:18, Num 27:23; Deu 34:9; Mat 19:13; Act 6:6; Act 8:17, etc.), with the sacrifices, and with the cures performed by Christ and the apostles. By the imposition of hands, Jacob transferred to Joseph in his sons the blessing which he implored for them from his own and his father's God: "The God (Ha-Elohim) before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God (Ha-Elohim) who hath fed me (led and provided for me with a shepherd's faithfulness, Psa 23:1; Psa 28:9) from my existence up to this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads." This triple reference to God, in which the Angel who is placed on an equality with Ha-Elohim cannot possibly be a created angel, but must be the "Angel of God," i.e., God manifested in the form of the Angel of Jehovah, or the "Angel of His face" (Isa 43:9), contains a foreshadowing of the Trinity, though only God and the Angel are distinguished, not three persons of the divine nature. The God before whom Abraham and Isaac walked, had proved Himself to Jacob to be "the God which fed" and "the Angel which redeemed," i.e., according to the more fully developed revelation of the New Testament, ὁ Θεός and ὁ λόγος, Shepherd and Redeemer. By the singular יברך (bless, benedicat) the triple mention of God is resolved into the unity of the divine nature. Non dicit (Jakob) benedicant, pluraliter, nec repetit sed conjungit in uno opere benedicendi tres personas, Deum Patrem, Deum pastorem et Angelum. Sunt igitur hi tres unus Deus et unus benedictor. Idem opus facit Angelus quod pastor et Deus Patrum (Luther). "Let my name be named on them, and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac," i.e., not, "they shall bear my name and my fathers'," "dicantur filii mei et patrum meorum, licet ex te nati sint" (Rosenm.), which would only be another way of acknowledging his adoption of them, "nota adoptionis" (Calvin); for as the simple mention of adoption is unsuitable to such a blessing, so the words appended, "and according to the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac," are still less suitable as a periphrasis for adoption. The thought is rather: the true nature of the patriarchs shall be discerned and acknowledged in Ephraim and Manasseh; in them shall those blessings of grace and salvation be renewed, which Jacob and his fathers Isaac and Abraham received from God. The name expressed the nature, and "being called" is equivalent to "being, and being recognised by what one is." The salvation promised to the patriarchs related primarily to the multiplication into a great nation, and the possession of Canaan. Hence Jacob proceeds: "and let them increase into a multitude in the midst of the land." דּגה: ἁπ λεγ, "to increase," from which the name דּג, a fish, is derived, on account of the remarkable rapidity with which they multiply.
When Joseph observed his father placing his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, the younger son, he laid hold of it to put it upon Manasseh's head, telling his father at the same time that he was the first-born; but Jacob replied, "I know, my son, I know: he also (Manasseh) will become a nation, and will become great, yet (ואוּלם as in Gen 28:19) his younger brother will become greater than he, and his seed will become the fulness of nations." This blessing began to be fulfilled from the time of the Judges, when the tribe of Ephraim so increased in extent and power, that it took the lead of the northern tribes and became the head of the ten tribes, and its name acquired equal importance with the name Israel, whereas under Moses, Manasseh had numbered 20,000 more than Ephraim (Num 26:34 and Num 26:37). As a result of the promises received from God, the blessing was not merely a pious wish, but the actual bestowal of a blessing of prophetic significance and force. - In Gen 48:20 the writer sums up the entire act of blessing in the words of the patriarch: "In thee (i.e., Joseph) will Israel (as a nation) bless, saying: God make thee as Ephraim and Manasseh" (i.e., Joseph shall be so blessed in his two sons, that their blessing will become a standing form of benediction in Israel); "and thus he placed Ephraim before Manasseh," viz., in the position of his hands and the terms of the blessing. Lastly, (Gen 48:21) Israel expressed to Joseph his firm faith in the promise, that God would bring back his descendants after his death into the land of their fathers (Canaan), and assigned to him a double portion in the promised land, the conquest of which passed before his prophetic glance as already accomplished, in order to insure for the future the inheritance of the adopted sons of Joseph. "I give thee one ridge of land above thy brethren" (i.e., above what thy brethren receive, each as a single tribe), "which I take from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and bow" (i.e., by force of arms). As the perfect is used prophetically, transposing the future to the present as being already accomplished, so the words לקחתּי אשׁר must also be understood prophetically, as denoting that Jacob would wrest the land from the Amorites, not in his own person, but in that of his posterity.
(Note: There is no force in Kurtz's objection, that this gift did not apply to Joseph as the father of Ephraim and Manasseh, but to Joseph personally; for it rests upon the erroneous assumption, that Jacob separated Joseph from his sons by their adoption. But there is not a word to that effect in Gen 48:6, and the very opposite in Gen 48:15, viz., that Jacob blessed Joseph in Ephraim and Manasseh. Heim's conjecture, which Kurtz approves, that by the land given to Joseph we are to understand the high land of Gilead, which Jacob had conquered from the Amorites, needs no refutation, for it is purely imaginary.)
The words cannot refer to the purchase of the piece of ground at Shechem (Gen 33:19), for a purchase could not possibly be called a conquest by sword and bow; and still less to the crime committed by the sons of Jacob against the inhabitants of Shechem, when they plundered the town (Gen 34:25.), for Jacob could not possibly have attributed to himself a deed for which he had pronounced a curse upon Simeon and Levi (Gen 49:6-7), not to mention the fact, that the plundering of Shechem was not followed in this instance by the possession of the city, but by the removal of Jacob from the neighbourhood. "Moreover, any conquest of territory would have been entirely at variance with the character of the patriarchal history, which consisted in the renunciation of all reliance upon human power, and a believing, devoted trust in the God of the promises" (Delitzsch). The land, which the patriarchs desired to obtain in Canaan, they procured not by force of arms, but by legal purchase (cf. Gen 24 and Gen 33:19). It was to be very different in the future, when the iniquity of the Amorites was full (Gen 15:16). But Jacob called the inheritance, which Joseph was to have in excess of his brethren, שׁכם (lit., shoulder, or more properly nape, neck; here figuratively a ridge, or tract of land), as a play upon the word Shechem, because he regarded the piece of land purchased at Shechem as a pledge of the future possession of the whole land. In the piece purchased there, the bones of Joseph were buried, after the conquest of Canaan (Jos 24:32); and this was understood in future times, as though Jacob had presented the piece of ground to Joseph (vid., Joh 4:5).