48 Some time later Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him. 2 When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed.
3 Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me 4 and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’
5 “Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine. 6 Any children born to you after them will be yours; in the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers. 7 As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem).
(Genesis 48:1-7 NIV)
In our last time together, Israel summoned his son Joseph and made him promise before God that he would bury Israel back in the land that God had promised his grandfather Abraham, his father Isaac, himself, and all their offspring.
In today’s passage, some time has passed since Joseph’s last visit. Joseph is notified that his father is ill, so he brings his two sons and goes to visit his father, possibly for the last time.
When Jacob heard that Joseph was coming, he rallied his strength and sat up in his bed. If Jacob wanted to simply see his son, he would not have had to sit up. But Jacob’s summoning of his strength to sit up in bed indicated that he had something to say to his son Joseph – something important to tell him before he died.
Jacob began by reminding Joseph of God’s visit to him back in Canaan, where God blessed him and promised him a permanent home in the land and a great blessing of offspring through future generations.
By telling Joseph this story, Jacob was reminding Joseph that while God had been good to him in Egypt, this was not his forever home. Canaan was to be Joseph’s children’s home and home for his brothers and all their offspring as well.
Verses 5 and 6 are somewhat tricky to understand. Jacob was not taking Joseph’s sons away from him; in fact, it was quite the opposite. By saying that Joseph’s two sons were his, Jacob was giving the birthright normally reserved for the firstborn son to Joseph. The birthright blessing was a double portion of blessing in every way, including material blessings.
In this case, the material blessings were equal portions of land when Jacob’s sons went back to Canaan to divide up the land among themselves. Ephraim and Manasseh would receive equal shares of land along with their uncles (Jacob’s other sons).
1 Chronicles 5:1-2 explain the switch of birthright from Reuben, Jacob’s oldest son, to Joseph’s sons:
The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (he was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s marriage bed, his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel; so he could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright, 2 and though Judah was the strongest of his brothers and a ruler came from him, the rights of the firstborn belonged to Joseph)—
(1 Chronicles 5:1-2 NIV)
Jacob goes on to say that if Joseph had any other children, they would not be included in this blessing. Only Ephraim and Manasseh would receive the birthright blessing.
Jacob finishes his thoughts by reminding Joseph of his beloved wife Rachel, and how she died after giving birth to his only full sibling, Benjamin. Jacob was recalling his love for his wife and Joseph’s mother – and her resting place near Bethlehem.
May we remember to count our days as precious, and pass along God’s promises and reminders of His blessings to those near and dear to us.