By Faith Jacob Blessed His Two Sons

Throughout the book of Genesis is the story of two. The first few chapters are about the first two people, Adam and Eve. And the chapter that follows is about the first two brothers, Cain and Abel. Then come the chapters about Noah and the ark and the animals who entered it two by two. There are the chapters about the two sons of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac. There are the chapters about the two sons of Isaac, Esau and Jacob. And then there is the one chapter about the two sons of Joseph.

And in this one chapter, the two sons of Joseph do not say much, in fact, they do not say anything. And in this one chapter, the two sons of Joseph do not do much, in fact, they do not do anything. And it is because this one chapter is not really all about them. This one chapter is really all about their grandfather. Their grandfather was Jacob.

By Faith Jacob Blessed His Two Sons

Jacob had twelve sons – Reuben and Simeon and Levi and Judah; Dan and Naphtali and Gad and Asher; Issachar and Zebulun; Joseph and Benjamin. And Joseph had two sons – Manasseh and Ephraim. In Genesis 49, Jacob will bless each of his twelve sons. But in Genesis 48, Jacob will bless only Joseph’s two sons. Now Jacob had other grandsons (cf. Genesis 46:8-25). But there is no chapter about Jacob blessing any of them. Why, out of all his grandsons does Jacob single out these two boys? At 147 years old, is Jacob still being Jacob? Meaning, he loved Joseph more therefore, he loved Joseph’s sons more?

Throughout Genesis 48 the word behold appears four times. It is used as an attention grabbing word. The first time it occurs is right there in Genesis 48:1. “Behold, your father is ill,” which by the way, is the first reference in the Bible of illness. And this attention grabbing word occurs again in Genesis 48:4 and lastly in Genesis 48:21. But it is Genesis 48:11 that I think is most helpful. “And Israel said to Joseph, ‘I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.’” I think the reason for blessing these two grandsons has to do with Joseph. When Jacob heard that Joseph was still alive and that God had accomplished his will and his plan and his purpose despite what Jacob did not believe or was led to believe, his soul revived and he exclaimed, “It is abundant!” (Genesis 45:28). But when he finally saw Joseph’s face and then learned that there were two more faces to behold, he knew that God had done abundantly more.

I called this sermon, By Faith Jacob Blessed His Two Sons, because of Genesis 48:5. “And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine.” Jacob was making them a part of the inheritance that is only for his sons. The word bless is the most frequent word in the chapter. And the title given to Genesis 48 is Jacob blesses Ephraim and Manasseh. So I thought to call it, Jacob Blessed His Two Sons. But there is more. There is more to this chapter than simply blessing these two grandsons or treating them as sons.

There is Hebrews 11:21. “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.” Is this not incredible?! The writer of Hebrews is referring to Genesis 48! Jacob lived to be 147 years old, that is roughly 53,655 days. And out of all those days, the writer of Hebrews “selects this as Jacob’s outstanding act of faith.”[1] One Bible teacher called Genesis 48, the singular triumph of Jacob’s life.[2] All because of how Jacob blessed his two grandsons. And how did Jacob bless his two grandsons? Listen again to Hebrews 11:21. “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph.”

And so, I want to know two things. What does by faith mean? Jacob blessed these two grandsons by faith, meaning, we should be able to see this in Genesis 48. And what was the blessing?

What Does By Faith Mean?

Jacob is ill. Joseph is told that his father is ill and so he goes to see him, but brings Manasseh and Ephraim with him. Jacob is told that Joseph has arrived and, in that moment, for this moment he musters every bit of possible strength (Genesis 48:1-2). I think that this is rather important. He does not muster every bit of strength to simply sit up in bed. No; he mustered every bit of strength and sat up in bed to do just one thing. It was to speak. Listen to verse three and notice the first two words out of his mouth. “God Almighty” or in Hebrew, El Shaddai. On his lips because it is on his mind is the God who makes things happen by his power and might.

Just quickly note this. The name God Almighty is rather unique to the life of Jacob. God uses it when speaking to Abraham one time (Genesis 17:1), but all the other occurrences are in the life of Jacob (cf. 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3). And the first it is used in the life of Jacob is when Jacob’s dad blessed him (28:3). And it is the name that Jacob called upon as Jacob prayed for the safety of his sons. But this is so good, when Jacob uses it here, he is actually quoting the Bible. Jacob is quoting Genesis 35:9-15. This is all that I want us to see; Jacob is on his deathbed and he musters all his strength to quote God’s Word. So, what does by faith mean? It has something to do with knowing who God is and it has something to do with knowing God’s Word.

Who Are These?

And as the chapter keeps moving, Jacob is also thinking about the day when his wife Rachel died, which is also recorded in Genesis 35. So, Genesis 35 is near and dear to Jacob in this moment. But I want us to see Genesis 48:8-10. When Jacob finally sees that two other people are with Joseph he asks, “Who are these?” And Joseph tells him, “These are my sons.” Jacob then shares his desire to bless these two sons. It is then we are told that Jacob cannot see. He is about to bless two boys and he cannot see. Part of this is to bring back to our minds Genesis 27 when Isaac was old and he could not see. In that chapter he sought to bless two sons one of whom was Jacob. There and by deception, Jacob sought the blessing of the firstborn and got it.

This is all purposeful. Jacob hugs and kisses his grandsons. Joseph then takes Ephraim in his right hand and positions him in front of Jacob’s left hand. He takes Manasseh in his left hand and positions him in front of Jacob’s right hand. It is all to ensure that each boy gets the proper blessing. From the right hand of Jacob will come the blessing for the firstborn and from the left hand of Jacob will come the other blessing for the younger. But at just the right moment Jacob crisscrossed his hands, placed them on the top of each boy’s head and listen to verse fifteen, “blessed Joseph and said…” Is that not intriguing? The heart of this chapter is Genesis 48:15-16; Jacob blessing Joseph. And it will lead to our second question, what was the blessing?

But look at Genesis 48:17. Joseph discovers what is happening and is actually angry. His blind father is giving the blessings to the wrong boys. Ephraim is getting the blessing of the firstborn! And so, he seeks to reverse the hands, bu Jacob stops him. “Not this way, Dad!” And I love Jacob’s response. “I know, my son, I know” (48:19). Jacob was blind, but knew exactly what he was doing. How? The blessing for each boy was to be great and to be a great people, but that Ephraim would be a greater people. Regardless, whenever the people of Israel would give out blessings it would be said, “Oh, that God would make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!” (cf. Genesis 48:17-20).

What Was the Blessing?

But what was the blessing? This is actually seen in Genesis 48:15-16, the heart of this chapter. And note that it is peculiar how this is worded, for again, this chapter is about a grandfather blessing his two grandsons. But notice, again, verse fifteen. “And he blessed Joseph and said.”  Even though the blessing was for these two grandsons, as long as Jacob has those hands on those two heads he is blessing these boys, Jacob was also blessing Joseph. How? This is the most wonder-filled thing I have to say. Jacob blessed Joseph by praying for his two sons. Genesis 48:15-16 is actually a prayer! It is a grandfather’s prayer for his grandsons! And this blesses a father!

In his prayer, he calls upon the God with whom his fathers walked. Walking with God or walking before God is only used of four people in Genesis. Here it includes Abraham and Isaac, but is also used of Enoch and Noah (5:22; 6:9). In his prayer, he calls upon the God who has been “my shepherd.” What does this sound like? It sounds like Psalm 23. And Jesus in the New Testament is called the good shepherd (John 10). And he calls God the shepherd who has shepherd him all life long to this very moment. And what is this moment? It is the finish. Jacob is dying. This is the valley of the shadow of death. In his prayer, he calls upon the angel who redeemed him from all evil. Note the word redeemed or rescued.

Contextually, Jacob is equating this angel with God. I think he has in mind Genesis 32 when he wrestled with God. His Uncle Laban had just hunted him down to kill him and was stopped by God. Then when Jacob kept moving he was stopped by the angels of God. Then he heard his brother was coming to meet him with 400 men, the perfect size for an army. And that evening God wrestled with him. But note that word redeemed. It means to purchase. It is the same word used in the book of Ruth. But there is a beautiful picture had in this word. This redeemer or rescuer was usually the nearest male relative whose responsibility was to bail someone out of if he fell into debt or slavery. It is the same word in Job 19:25-27. “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!”

And what is Jacob praying for his grandsons? He asks, “bless the boys.” Bless them with knowing the God you can walk with; the God who will shepherd you all the way; the God who redeems lives! He is praying this for his grandsons! This was the blessing for Joseph and Manasseh and Ephraim.

How Are You Finishing?

And it comes back to a question we asked in Genesis 46 and again in Genesis 47 and again, now, here. How are you finishing? This was Jacob’s one singular moment of triumph. How did he finish?

1) The Word of God was holding his view on God.

2) And his view affected his praying.

This is what I have been gaining in turning thirty-eight years old. Finishing and how to finish! The Word of God is to be holding my view on God and this view is to be deepening my praying.

[1] Derek Kidner, Genesis, page 224.

[2] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 547.


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