12 Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground. 13 And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them close to him. 14 But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn.
15 Then he blessed Joseph and said,
“May the God before whom my fathers
Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully,
the God who has been my shepherd
all my life to this day,
16 the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
—may he bless these boys.
May they be called by my name
and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they increase greatly
on the earth.”
17 When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”
19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” 20 He blessed them that day and said,
“In your] name will Israel pronounce this blessing:
‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’”
So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.
Jacob’s own experience was more or less repeated in the lives of his two grandsons (Genesis 25:23). What is interesting is that Jacob, now old and barely able to see, essentially performed a prophetic action in which “he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh” (20). From God’s perspective he got the blessing spot on. Historically speaking this was fulfilled. The tribe of Ephraim became the major tribe in the northern kingdom, after the division following Solomon’s reign.
‘Since Jacob was almost blind, Joseph positioned his sons so that the elder, Manasseh, would be closest to Jacob’s right hand…But Jacob would not allow it; guided by God, he had deliberately given Ephraim the status of “eldest son.” In doing so, he repeated the pattern we have seen earlier in the book of Genesis in which the younger brother gets the blessing that belonged “by right” to his elder brother.
Why did God establish this pattern? He did so to demonstrate that His choices are not based on natural descent, or on anyone’s “rights” or “merits”; rather His choices are based on grace alone. God sovereignty chooses who He wants to inherit His blessings. Therefore, should any one of us seem for a period to be especially blessed or favoured by God, we must always remember that it has come about not by our own doing, but rather by God’s grace (1 Corinthians 15:10).’ Tom Hale: ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.199
Earlier in Genesis we have seen Seth chosen over Cain, Shem over Japheth, Isaac over Ishmael, and Jacob over Esau. So the pattern continues. God moves in mysterious ways. He knows what He is doing even when we don’t. He’s in charge and we are not.
PRAYER: Lord God, help us to bow in wonder before your sovereignty, and trust your ways.
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counsellor?
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11: 33-36)