Portion Vayechi: Genesis 47:28 – 50:26
Genesis 48:17-20

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 passed his blessing on to his grandchildren according to God’s purpose. He reached the age of 147, of which he spent the last seventeen years in Egypt, beside Josef, his beloved son whom he thought lost and found again. Before his death, Jacob was anxious that the Egyptians, who worshipped idols, would turn his grave into a center of their cult. That’s why he made Joseph take an oath and promise to take his coffin to a burial place in the land of Canaan. Joseph swore to do so.

When Jacob falls ill, Joseph hurries to take his two sons to his father for Jacob’s blessing to proceed from his mouth. Jacob declares that Manasseh and Ephraim will be his. They will be to him like his own sons, though they are in fact his grandchildren. He kisses and embraces them and then blesses them, with his right hand on Ephraim, the younger of the two sons, saying:

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.” (Genesis 48:16) and

“In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’”

In verses 17-18 Joseph interferes in something that seems unacceptable to him. He fears Jacob is confused and got the older and the younger son mixed up, putting his right hand on Ephraim’s, not on Manasseh’s head, as was custom. He tries to “fix” the problem. Did Jacob make a mistake?

But Jacob knew, of course, that Joseph would place his sons in front of his father the right, customary way. That is why he crossed his arms, in order to carry out God’s choice of action. He also speaks his intention so that there can be no confusion. Yes, Manasseh will be a people as well, but the younger will be greater than the older. No, he explains, I didn’t make a mistake, I did what I did intentionally. Joseph was certainly worried because he knew what had happened between Jacob and his brother Esau, fearing that this painful incident between his father and uncle might repeat itself with his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh. He also knew that Esau fell short of a blessing and Jacob received the blessing of the firstborn instead. Jacob reassures him: Manasseh, too, will receive a blessing!

Then he proceeds to bless the two sons the way and order God has purposed.

New covenant

The lesson is clear and Paul expounds it further in Romans 9:11-15

11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23) 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”(Malachi 1:2-3) 14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! (Job 8:3) 15 For he says to Moses,“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Exodus 33:19)

It was God’s will to choose Ephraim over Manasseh. We encounter this pattern several times. God chose Isaac over Ismael, Jacob over Esau, Ephraim over Manasseh.
God’s will is what determines, as He says in His Word: He is a Jew who is circumcised in his heart and it is not enough to be born to a Jewish mother. In the same way, we do not automatically gain salvation because we are Jewish. For Jew and Gentile alike, salvation comes only through faith in Yeshua, inviting Him into our hearts as our Lord and confessing Him with our mouths. God does not “consider .. appearance or … height” (I Samuel 16:7). He looks at the heart.

This teaches us human beings that God’s plan is going to set into action, due to His sovereignty and wisdom and not because of our knowledge and ability. This leads us human beings to look up to Him and to ask Him for guidance and the working out of His will, instead of trusting in our own abilities.