Israel is nearing the end of his life. When Joseph finds out that Israel is sick, he takes the two sons he has had in Egypt, Manasseh and Ephraim, to go and see Israel.
In Genesis 28, Isaac blessed Israel (then Jacob) before he fled Esau. In Genesis 35, while in Luz, God blesses Israel. This blessing, essentially the same but given in varying forms to Abraham, Isaac and Israel, is now given to Joseph and his sons. In this chapter, it reads in verses 15 and 16:
“God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has fed me all my life long to this day, the Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads;
Let my name be named upon them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;
and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”
Before the blessing is rendered, and as Joseph brings his sons, the eldest Manasseh and the younger Ephraim, to Israel for the blessing, he does so in a way that would have had Israel put his right hand on the elder Manasseh’s head. This would have meant that Manasseh would receive the greatest portion of the blessing as the eldest son. Instead, Israel places his right hand on Ephraim’s head. What is the relevance of this seemingly insignificant detail?
Israel purposefully gave the greater blessing to the younger Ephraim by way of prophecy, saying in verse 19 of Manasseh first, then of Ephraim, “He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.”
As students of the book of Genesis, we would be ashamed to miss the parallel of Israel himself as Jacob effectively reversing the birth order from Esau by tricking their father Isaac when they were young. Israel now has grown in faith and no longer is prone to the sneaky mischief of his youth and God has blessed him well enough to bless his grandsons in a foretelling of their stature. Indeed, there is a godly truth to be taken from both Jacob and Easu’s story as well as Ephraim and Manasseh’s: God often looks for the least likely places to give His blessings. It is not always the biggest, brightest and best that receive the lion’s share; rather it is the unassuming righteous and humble that often receive the best from God.
“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6