Blessing The Boys (Genesis 48:8-20)

There is a pattern we’ve seen throughout Scripture:  the younger gets designated by God to be greater than the older brother.  

Our passage is yet another example.  Here Joseph’s youngest son Ephraim is going to be designated as greater than his older brother Manasseh.  The fun thing to note is that Jacob is the one doing it.  This is interesting to note because Jacob himself was the younger brother to his twin brother Esau and when they were in the womb God declared “the older will serve the younger.”  In other words, Esau the older will serve the younger Jacob.  Now an old man, Jacob is about to bless his two grandsons, and will make the younger brother greater than his older brother.  Jacob is going to put the younger Ephraim ahead of the older Manasseh.


First we see Joseph blessed by the boys.  Follow verses 8-11 with me.  

Jacob is nearly blind, he can’t recognize people anymore, and so he doesn’t know who has come in with Joseph.  Joseph tells him its his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.  Instantly Jacob’s face lights up with his grandsons in the room.  (And like like today, Joseph probably got brushed aside and didn’t matter anymore!)  

I have just a simple point here and it is how blessed Jacob was by these boys.  Look at verse 10 how it says he took the boys in his arms in a big hug and kissed them.  The affection was just pouring out of him.  The only thing that could bring more joy to Jacob than Joseph did was Joseph’s sons.  I can imagine Jacob holding both of them in his arms and finally looking back at Joseph when makes that very moving statement in verse 11, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”  Jacob doesn’t just feel blessed.  He feels blessed beyond anything he could’ve expected.  He’s soaked with gratitude towards God for how good his final 17 years have been.  There really is no better compensation for the absence of his beloved Rachel than to have Joseph and Joseph’s sons around him.  

APPLICATION:  God blesses beyond our expectations.  Mark 10receive 100 times as much at the restoration of all things…Romans 8 our present sufferings do not compare with the glory that will be revealed…no eye has seen and no ear has heard what God has prepared…when God wipes away every tear the point is that crying will be over because the eternal blessings he has prepared will be set before us and never again will God have to wipe any tears away….

APPLICATION:  Credit God and give Him thanks for your blessings.  That’s what Jacob is doing.  

APPLICATION:  don’t wait til your old age to begin treasuring the things in life that really matter.   


Next we see it is the boys who are blessed by Jacob. Follow along with me in verses 12-16, “….”

So Joseph sets the boys in the positions he expects them to be blessed and Jacob does the opposite:  he puts his right hand on the youngest son’s head rather than the oldest.  We’re going to talk about the significance of the criss-crossing arms of Jacob in the next point.  Right now, I want to focus on the actual blessing he gives in verses 15 and 16. 

You can divide the blessing into two halves:  the first half Jacob describes who his God is and the second half is the actual blessing he wants God to give these boys.  Lets look at both halves.  

First Jacob describes God.  Before invoking God to bless the boys Jacob first describes God.  There is a triplet here Jacob uses to glorify God:

  1. “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully”
  2. “The God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day”
  3. “The Angel who has delivered me from all harm”

I want to comment on each of those three but let me offer 2.5 immediate applications:

APPLICATION:  Know your God.  Jacob knows his God.  He knows who he is invoking.  Do we know our God?  “This is eternal life” Jesus said, “that they know you and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”  

APPLICATION to the APPLICATION:  Knowing God will lead to praising God.  This triplet is a praise of God.  Jacob’s praise of God is not generic.  It is specific to himself and his own relationship with God.  He knows God is God and he knows God is his God and he has the receipts.       

APPLICATION:  Praise comes before petition.  One thing we emphasize here is prayer and one thing about prayer we emphasize is praising God before asking of him.  Lets us prove we know who we are asking things of by first giving him the glory that is due Him.  

Back to the triplet.

First, Jacob says God is “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully.”  Jacob’s heritage is that of faithful devotion to the true and living God, the Most High Elohim.  His father and his father’s father have left him a legacy of walking with God.  It reminds me of when we studied the lineage in chapter 5 from Adam to Noah and we made the same point:  Noah had great men of God in his family tree and he inherited a rich legacy of calling on God.  Abraham and Isaac and Jacob all are in that same spiritual lineage, all men who would be described as the same way as Enoch who “walked faithfully with God” (5:24). 

APPLICATION:  Parents – let our children testify to our faithfulness!  Let us make them say about us that we walked with God.  The two best testimonies of our faithfulness that we can have are God himself and those in our home.  Here Jacob joins God in declaring the faithfulness of Abraham and Isaac (26:5).  

APPLICATION:  Our faith is seen in our faithfulness.  Our faith in God is seen in our walking with God.  They walked with God, they obeyed God, because they trusted God.  Their faith was seen in their actions.  Once that sinks in the book of James makes a lot more sense.  Turn to James 2:17-26 with me….  James is not the only one arguing for faith expressing itself through obedience.  First John 3:6 says, “No one who lives in Christ keeps on sinning.  No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”  The point is that the application is that true faith is seen in true faithfulness.

Second Jacob says “The God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day.”  Jacob’s mind turns from the faithfulness of his fathers to God’s faithfulness.  God’s faithfulness o himself.  He calls God “my Shepherd.”  How Psalm 23, isn’t it?  “The Lord is my shepherd.”  Jesus announced, “I am the good shepherd.”  (John 10:11) and Hebrews 13:20 calls him “the great shepherd of the sheep” and Peter declared him “The chief shepherd.” (1 Pet 5:4).  

Our God – our Jesus – is our shepherd.  A shepherd evokes loving care, attentive provision, patient guidance, and vigilant watching over.  “See the Sovereign LORD” Isaiah 40:11 says, “he tends his flock like a shepherd:  he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”  Or the iconic Psalm 23, “The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.  He guides me along the right paths….”

Third, Jacob calls God, “The Angel who has delivered me from all harm”  How unique that Jacob calls God “THE Angel.”  Is Jacob saying that God is an angel?  Like all the other angels?  C’mon man.  Of course not.  Jacob has always known that the ones going up and down the ladder were nothing like the One standing at the top of the ladder.  Jacob may be referring to the “angel of the LORD” we’ve seen several times throughout Genesis.  On close study we learned this was a reference to the 2nd person of the trinity, the preincarnate Jesus, the eternal Word before being made flesh (see “Hagar” sermon).  

But I think Jacob is referring to God as the Angel in the sense that God has saved him from all harm his whole life.  Angel means someone who is sent or dispatched.  All throughout the Bible angels are sent by God to do all sorts of things:  they could be giving a message like Gabriel did to Mary; they could be sent to minister to, like the angels did to Jesus after the wilderness temptation; they could be bringing judgment on the earth like we see all throughout Revelation; and they could be sent to protect someone, like when the angelic armies of the Lord surrounded the prophet Elisha.  Here’s the thing, Jacob was calling God his angel, the angel of all angels.  God didn’t send an angel to watch over him – God sent Himself to go personally watch over him.  Look again at what Jacob says:  he doesn’t say God was the angel who communicated with him, he doesn’t say God was the angel who fed him in the desert.  He says God was “the Angel who delivered him from all HARM.”  God was personally Jacob’s guardian angel.  Its a lot like David when he wrote Psalm 18.  Turn there with me and follow along in verses 6-19…  You see the same idea:  God personally came down to protect his man.  

Don’t let God being called an angel here slip you up. It’s the same way that Jesus was THE Prophet out of all prophets.  He was THE Priest of all priests.  He is THE King of all kings.  He is THE sacrifice of all sacrifices.  He is THE man of all men.  God is the angel of all angels.

So that’s Jacob’s description of God.  Then the blessing for the two boys is given.  Read verse 16, “…”

He says, “May THAT God bless these two boys.”  And there are two specifics to make a quick note of.

First, blessing refers to their adoption.  Notice Jacob says in verse 16, “May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac.”  They would now be identified as Jacob’s sons, part of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Second, blessing means “increase.”  “May they – Manasseh and Ephraim – may they increase greatly on the earth.”  It’s a reference to them having many descendents.  God likes blessing like this, and so do family members:

  • Beginning with chapter 12 God told Abraham, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you.” (12:2)
  • God blessed Ishmael, “As for Ishmael, I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers.” (17:20)
  • Isaac, God said, was the son whom He would establish His covenant.  That meant all the blessings for Abraham were Isaac’s also.    
  • When she left to marry Isaac, Rebekah’s family blessed her and said, “Our sister may you increase to thousands upon thousands.” (24:60)
  • God told Jacob all the blessings he promised him in 28:13-15)

Manasseh and Ephraim are receiving an incredible promotion and blessing here.  But there is one more aspect to cover:  The younger is made to be greater than the older.   


Here we pick back up the issue of Jacob’s criss-crossed arms.  While he’s giving these blessings his arms are criss-crossed.  READ 8-11…

So after the hugs and kisses Joseph removes the boys from Jacob’s knees.  Apparently they’re still young enough to sit on grandpa’s knees.  But Joseph then prepares his boys formally to be blessed.  He and his sons faced Jacob and Joseph put each son in their appropriate positions to be blessed.  Since Manasseh was the oldest, Joseph did not put him on his own right, but on his left.  That way, while they faced Jacob Manasseh would be on Jacob’s right and Jacob would put his right hand on Manasseh’s head for the blessing.  

This is important.  The right hand is very significant and symbolic.  The right hand of God refers to divine authority, power, and might.  Where is Jesus seated in heaven?  The “right hand of God.”  Psalm 118 drives it home, “The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things! The Lord’s right hand is lifted high.  The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”  Psalm 89:13 declares, “Your right hand is exalted!” When the person giving a blessing placed his right hand on someone that person was being placed first ahead of anyone else receiving blessing.

Then we see the significance here is that by putting his right hand on the younger brother he makes him greater than his older brother.  READ 17-20

So a blind Jacob criss crosses his arms and instead of putting his right hand on the oldest son he puts it on the younger Ephraim, and in doing so he was putting him ahead of his older brother Manasseh.  Joseph sees it, gets frustrated, and tries to correct his dad and say, “Dad, you blind old man, you got it wrong.  This one is the older one.”  

And Jacob calmly and confidently says, “Yes son.  I know.  I know.”  In other words, Jacob knew exactly what he was doing.  And he knew what he was doing because this was not just a grandpa wishing good things for his grandsons, but this was prophetic.  What he was doing was being done by the Spirit of God through him.  “No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21-22)

This is a unilateral decision of God.  This is not based on the merit of either of the boys.  In other words, Manasseh didn’t lose out because he didn’t keep his room clean, or because he lipped off to his mom, or because he got a bad grade, or because he snuck out one night with his dad’s royal chariot and crashed it.  It was by God’s sovereign choosing.  

Keep in mind too that just because his younger brother Ephraim was made ‘greater’ than him, Manasseh didn’t get short-changed.  God blessed him – really blessed him.  Like we saw several chapters ago, God’s blessing of one person doesn’t shortchange another.  IT’s not a zero-sum economy in God’s blessings.  Just because one person doesn’t get picked for some special blessing from God doesn’t mean God deprives them of blessings in other ways.

  • Ishmael was not the covenant son, but God made him into a great nation with many sons and 12 rulers would come from him.  
  • Leah wasn’t blessed with looks or with her husband’s love, but she was blessed by having the most sons, the most important historical sons, and being buried with her husband.
  • Esau was going to serve his younger brother Jacob, but he still accumulated great wealth and prosperity throughout his lifetime and his descendents grew into a nation.
  • Even though his younger brother will be greater than him, Manasseh will be very great nonetheless.  For instance:
    • Jacob asks God to bless both boys to be blessed, that they both increase greatly, and that they both are called by his name (16)
    • Jacob also declares that people will pronounce a blessing by invoking the names of both boys (20)
    • Furthermore, Manasseh will receive the largest allotment of land when the Israelites take possession of it later on (see maps).  Manasseh is also listed as one of the tribes from whom the 144,000 are selected while Ephraim is not.  

APPLICATION:  Never covet the blessings others have.  When your eyes are on what others have they’re not on what you actually do have. 

CONCLUSION:  Silent Reflection

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