After this, Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 And it was told to Jacob, “Your son Joseph has come to you.” Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. 3 And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 4 and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ 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, as Reuben and Simeon are. 6 And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance. 7 As for me, when I came from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).”
8 When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” 9 Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. 11 And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” 12 Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. 13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. 14 And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). 15 And he blessed Joseph and said,
“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, 16the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” 
As parents, we want our children to have the best of everything. We want them to have the best possible education, the most acceptable friends and peer groups, the best opportunities to pick their path in life, the best possible jobs that suit their particular skills, and the best possible spouses of whom we wholeheartedly approve. Jacob/Israel, no doubt wanted the best for his twelve sons and unknown number of daughters (we know of only Dinah, the rape victim, but the texts suggest more unnamed daughters). Yet his oldest sons were a disappointment by any reasonable metric until they were drawn by Joseph their savior, who guided them into repentance and God-dependance. What our text this morning shows is a dramatically-changed Jacob/Israel as a parent and grandparent and a man of faith.
He was dying, but he was still alive. And while he was alive, he would act the patriarch and testify to the greatness of God and bestow blessings. What he did on his deathbed was the great triumph of his life. Like a runner who gains a second wind and sweeps past the competition to take the prize. This is the perseverance of a true child of God to the very end. Strikingly, this is the scene mentioned by the author of the Book of Hebrews as additional evidence of Jacob’s genuine faith: “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff” (Heb. 11:21).
Joseph also, as we will see, also has some counter-intuitive parenting to do in this scene. And the choices he makes are nothing like the ones you and would normally make. He sets a course for his sons that is the exact opposite of the one I mentioned above, proving that he too has been changed by his trials and tribulations to the point where nothing the world has to offer the second most powerful man in Egypt is of value to him. His sole concern for his family in this text is that of their inclusion in God’s covenant people.
Jacob/Israel’s faith-blessing happened when his son, Joseph, the Vizier of Egypt, heard his father was nearing the end of his earthly sojourn. “After this, Joseph was told, ‘Behold, your father is ill.’ So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 And it was told to Jacob, ‘Your son Joseph has come to you.’ Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed.” This is, by the way, the first time that illness is mentioned in the Bible. So far in Genesis, Moses has been careful to list many of the effects of the fall: estrangement from God and from one another, jealousy, murder, physical death, revenge, political oppression of the weak by the strong, idolatry. But only now, toward the end of Genesis, do we see physical illness as the linchpin condition of a story line. Such is the human condition in a world where heaven and earth are divorced by Adam’s sin. This is a stark reminder of both the Great Divorce and God’s covenant loyalty at work in it through faith, adoption, and inclusion.
Joseph, in expectation of receiving some form of patriarchal blessing, came to his father’s side in faith, bringing his two oldest sons. Joseph’s seeking a blessing for his children was an upside-down parental decision. It personally identified his boys with God’s covenant people. Identification with a clan of shepherds – considered repulsive to Egyptian culture – would cut them off from any prominent role in Egyptian society. This was NOT the kind of decision you or I would naturally make for our children. “I want my kids to be considered odd. I want them to be shunned as repulsive and disgusting. I want them to be ‘less than’ for the rest of their lives.” The only reason a parent would make that crucial, life-changing choice would be because he considered covenant membership among God’s people to be of far greater value than absolutely ANYTHING else that he could ever pass on to his children. “Joseph’s presence with his sons was a by-faith exercise in downward mobility.”
As his son and grandsons stood before the dying patriarch, Jacob/Israel recounted the foundational promise of the covenant and his patriarchal right to pronounce the blessing of inclusion among the people of the Promised Seed. “3 And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty [El Shaddai] appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 4 and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’”
Luz was the old name for Beth El (House of God; 28:19) where God appeared twice to Jacob/Israel. The first appearance came to Joseph as he fled his brother Esau’s wrath and headed toward upper Mesopotamia. It was then he received the night vision of the Promised Seed standing watch over him as he slept and saw the great staircase between heaven and earth with an army of angels ascending and descending. Heaven and earth were divorced, but the Promised Seed still oversaw both realms. Again, after a 20-year absence, Jacob/Israel came to Beth El, and that is the source for the promise he now recounts (35:1-15). Victor Hamilton writes:
One should note that many of the promises given at Luz are currently being realized while Jacob’s family is in Egypt. In Egypt they are fertile (or “fruitful,” pārá, 47:27; 48:4). In Egypt they are numerous (or “multiplying,” rāḇá, 47:27; 48:4). In Egypt they are acquiring land as an everlasting holding (ʾḥz, 47:27; 48:4). 
The monumental affirmations of the promise at Beth El Jacob received echoed the words of the promise made to Abraham and to his father Isaac, reflecting the creation commandment to be fruitful and multiply (1:28). As heir to those promises, Jacob/Israel had the right to decide to whom they would go with his blessing. This was a moment of immense spiritual power. Jacob’s covenant recollections were perfumed with faith that God would fulfill the promises through him. Being on the doorstep of death clarified for Jacob the profoundly important things – the covenant promises of El Shaddai.
Having set out his right to dispense covenant blessings, Jacob/Israel then informed his son of his intentions. “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, as Reuben and Simeon are.” Literally, the phrase reads, “Like Reuben and Simeon they will be to me.” In other words, these two sons of Joseph would be adopted as Jacob/Israel’s two firstborn sons. Ephraim and Manasseh would no longer be Jacob’s grandsons, but his own sons – sons number one and two.
1 Chronicles 5:1-2 described what had happened:
The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s couch, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel, so that he could not be enrolled as the oldest son; 2 though Judah became strong among his brothers and a chief came from him, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph)….
Jacob claimed Ephraim and Manasseh twice as “mine” (48:5). By now, Joseph had other children. What would happen to them? Jacob/Israel answered the question before Joseph could ask. “6 And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance.” Joseph’s other children would find their covenant blessing by being incorporated into the tribes of either Ephraim or Manasseh.
Perhaps it is Joseph’s likeness to his mother, Jacob’s beloved late wife, that causes him to speak of the long-ago, still-painful event related in verse 7. In the words of Donald Grey Barnhouse put it, “His mind was like an autumn when sun and shadows alternate across the valley. He had been out in the sun, and then came the clouds.” The old patriarch spoke with keen sadness, “7 As for me, when I came from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).”
Rachel was still the love of Jacob/Israel’s life. On first seeing her, he lifted a massage stone covering off the well so that she could water her father’s flocks. Some say love at first sight is a myth – not so for the young Jacob. He had enslaved himself to Laban for 14 years for the right to marry her. And those years of slavery seemed but days to him. Then, her untimely death cut her off her remaining years of childbearing and even prevented him from burying her in his family tomb at Machpelah. But now, her line would be extended even further in the tribes of Israel by the naming of her grandsons as direct tribal heirs of Israel’s infant nation.
The details of this interaction between Joseph, his sons, and Jacob/Israel here in verse 8-13 reflect specifics of a formal adoption process that begins with Jacob’s question, “Who are these?” It’s a prelude question to begin a formal proceeding.
As Hamilton observes:
That prelude includes formal recognition by Joseph that the young men are his sons. One thinks of the question at a baptism, “What name is given to this child?” or the question at a wedding, “Who giveth this woman to this man?”—neither of which is prompted by the ignorance of the clergyperson.
Jacob/Israel’s kisses and embraces were formal gestures in the adoption ceremony (v. 10). Finally, his removing both sons from his knees and bowing before God with his face to the earth would be the consummation of the ceremony. With the formal adoption concluded, Jacob was now free to give them their blessings as his firstborn sons. “13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him.”
“Joseph’s positioning of his sons made it convenient for his nearly blind father to place his right hand (the hand symbolic of action and power) on the head of the firstborn Manasseh and his left hand on Ephraim’s head. The immense importance that this had for Joseph is seen in the precision of the language, with the repeated use of ‘right’ and ‘left’ seven times in combination.” But to the surprise of Joseph and his sons, Israel crosses his hands to extend the firstborn blessing on Joseph’s second-born son, Ephraim.
Jacob may be losing his sight, but he is not losing his insight. For some undisclosed reason, Jacob ignores the law of primogeniture. Manasseh thus joins a long list of firstborns in Genesis who for one reason or other are passed by—Cain, Ishmael, Esau, Reuben, and Zerah. Moses records every subtle movement. “14 And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn).” Joseph must have been momentarily dumbfounded as the dying patriarch intoned a blessing with a three-fold reference to God that recalled God’s covenant loyalty love in dealing with his chosen people. The blessing was “out of order,” it was ignoring the boys’ ages!
The first half of the blessing is a testimony to how God extended his chesed to three generations of covenant members. Here is a father/grandfather speaking of his own father’s and grandfather’s walk with Elohim. But Israel does not speak of his walking with God, but of God’s shepherding him. The emphasis shifts from Jacob and anything he has done to God and everything God has done. God has walked before Jacob/Israel.
The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, 16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.
Elohim was with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel. And the “angel/messenger” (the “Angel of the Lord,” the Promised Seed) redeemed him. What a wonderfully theological blessing given in the name of the God who walks with, shepherds, and redeems his people. These newly-adopted sons had been mightily blessed!
CROSSED HANDS OF BLESSING (18-20)
But this blessing was not going according to Joseph’s expectations. He’s certain that his aging father’s poor eyesight and slow mind must have Jacob/Israel confused. He was displeased (v. 17). The text indicates Joseph took a strong grip of his father’s hands as he issued an abrupt command, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” Joseph’s reaction oozes exasperation. Jacob’s actions transgressed every possible tradition across all the cultures of the Fertile Crescent from the Nile to the Euphrates.
All Manasseh’s years had been lived with the privilege and expectation of the firstborn. As Manasseh’s father, Joseph had worked to instill firstborn character and a requisite sense of responsibility in his oldest boy. This was underserved humiliation. Had the old man crossed his hands because he was confused or was this just one last opportunity to be the heel-grabber he was born to be. It really didn’t matter; the deed was done. As his father Isaac had explained to Esau, once the blessing was given it couldn’t be undone (27:34-37). But Jacob/Israel was not duped or mistaken in his blessing the younger over the older with his right hand. 
Jacob did not want to change a word of his blessing because, just like the blessing he received from Isaac, it was ordained by God. Jacob/Israel was merely the messenger of the blessing, not the source. His crossed-handed blessing was an act of divine trust. St Author of Hebrews wrote of it, “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.”  It took an entire lifetime for Jacob/Israel to learn that he must only do the will of God. It took being enslaved and cheated by his uncle Laban, living in poverty, receiving miraculous provision from God, meeting the pre-incarnate Promised Seed and breaking his hip in the process of their Great Smackdown, losing his beloved wife, suffering the presumed death of his favorite son, enduring crippling famine, and trekking to Egypt to settle in a foreign land. All these miserable things God used to grow Jacob/Israel’s trust for this moment in time.
The trust-driven old patriarch would not let his right hand be budged:
19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.” 20 So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, ‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’ Thus, he put Ephraim before Manasseh.
The names of Joseph’s two sons would become a formula for invoking blessing in Israel’s nation. Both sons were greatly blessed. Manasseh would become a great people. Ephraim would become a multitude of nations. The difference is a comparative one. Both sons are blessed to carry on Jacob’s covenant line. In Egypt and at the exodus, Ephraim and Manasseh became large and influential tribes. At one time the name Ephraim was used as a synonym for the kingdom of Israel. Psalm 78 describes their tragic demise (2 Kings 17). In the long run both tribes would apostatize, and the tribe of Judah would take on the mantle of leadership, gaining the Davidic line culminating in the Promised Seed, Jesus.
Here in Jacob’s crossed hands of blessing, we see again (as we did in Jacob’s own story of blessing) that God’s grace is not captive to human privilege or heredity or human expectation or tradition or cultural norms or achievements. God alone has a perfectly free will to do sovereignly as he pleases. God cannot be tamed, cajoled, or bargained with. “The economy of grace operates on its own principles— humbling human wisdom and exalting the unlikely, so that the last are often the first, and the first last.”
This principle of bedrock theology appears repeatedly in Genesis. The older brother, Cain, had his offering rejected in favor of his younger brother’s humble, grace-begging offering. With the line of Seth, the even younger brother received the blessing of inclusion into the line of the coming Promised Seed (4:25 – 5:8). Isaac was chosen of Ishmael over Abraham’s wishes (17:18-19). Jacob/Israel was chosen over Esau (Ch. 27). Here, Ephraim is chosen to receive more descendants than Manasseh. The last are often first in God’s upside-down economy. He values the last, the lost, the least, the little, and the dead. So, the ageing apostle preached to his little congregation in Ephesus:
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 
Jacob/Israel’s crossed hands of blessing shows us that grace is typically quite surprising. If it were expected, then it could be earned. As Paul wrote to the Corinthian church:
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 
This is what makes the good news so scandalously wild and wonderful. It is promotion for the last, an anchor for the lost, honor for the least, strength for the little, and life abundant for the dead.
The crossed hands of blessing provide us essential wisdom. Over and over we set out our cherished desires before God’s right hand, and, like Joseph, are displeased not to receive what we believe to be the greater blessing. Does God not know what is oldest and dearest to us? Certainly, he knows it even more surely than Israel knew who was most important to Joseph. It is not because he has no regard for your wants and preferences and longings that he chooses to pour out blessings of a kind you would not prefer. He will give you all that Christ has merited. But you must be content to trust him for the timing and application of it.
We are called to trust into the merits of the perfectly-lived life and blood-shedding death of the resurrected and ascended Promised Seed both for salvation and for living in this sin-fractured world. Just as Jacob recoiled from trusting into his human wisdom and trusted into God’s word, so must we. Old Jacob/Israel, in the last hours of his life, trusted into the upside-downess of the free-will grace of the untamable Covenant Creator God. This is where he experienced the pleasure and praise of God recorded by St Author of Hebrews.
JOSEPH’S TRUST (21-22)
Yes, Joseph momentarily lost sight of God’s free will, not unlike you and I do much of the time. Still his trust was a remarkable display of God’s loyal care and sustenance of his people. By identifying his sons with the despised sheepherding people, Joseph sealed them off from a pagan social and political life. It was madness from the perspective of the Nile. But like his father Jacob, Joseph believed the word of promise— that God was building a great people for himself who would bear his name and one day return to the land of promise. Though Joseph apparently lived out his career as viceroy of Egypt, there is no record of any of his children attaining rank during the next four hundred years in Egypt. By faith, Joseph lived without currying the favor of Egypt. In this he was very much like the future Moses, who refused his royal Egyptian title and associated himself with the despised people of God and “the reproach of Christ.” (Heb. 11:24-26).
Seeing this, we understand something of the significance of Jacob’s gift to Joseph:
21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers. 22 Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.”
This gift of one mountain slope, in Hebrew, is literally Shechem. Jacob had purchased a plot of land from Hamor, the king of Shechem, for a hundred pieces of currency (33:19) and had never approved of the subsequent violence with which his sons had taken Shechem, though their violence (his sword) effectively doubled his right to ownership. Joseph accepted the plot in Shechem in faith. And when Joseph died, his bones were carried out first in the exodus, and after the conquest of Canaan, Joshua buried them in Shechem— which was in Ephraim, the land of the blessed son (Joshua 24:32).
St Author of Hebrews wrote that Jacob/Israel worshipped when he blessed Ephraim and Manasseh. But Moses writes nothing of this. Certainly, his trust on his deathbed was great. His cross-handed blessing represented amazing trust in God’s free will. While he did nothing that we would commonly call worship – there was no prayer or song – he intensely worshiped. This is because we worship when we, by faith, trust God for all of life and give ourselves to him (Romans 12:1, 2). By faith Jacob crossed his hands in worship and blessed his adopted sons as he surrendered his life and the future of his people to God’s word. And his trusting worship unleashed the wild grace of God to do his work in his people for generations to come. So, Paul writes:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. 
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 48:1–16.
 Boice, 3:1148.
 Hughes, 542. Kindle Edition.
 Hamilton, 2:628–629.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Ch 5:1–2.
 Donald Grey Barnhouse, Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1973), p. 223.
 Hamilton, 2:634.
 Hughes, 543-544. Kindle Edition.
 Hamilton, 2:636.
 Hughes, 544. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Heb 11:21.
 Hughes, 545. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 1:9–13.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 1:27–31.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 12:1–2.