Lessons from the History of the 12 Tribes of Israel Genesis 48
Dr. Jerry A. Collins: Joseph’s Sons Gain Prominence
Out of Jacob’s long career, the writer of Hebrews selected this incident in this chapter as Jacob’s greatest act of faith
Jacob Blesses Ephraim and Manasseh
Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh. (Genesis 48:13-22).
Verse 13— Joseph, upon hearing his father was ill brought him his two sons to bless (vv. 10-12). Normally the blessing is passed from first-born to first-born but in this case Joseph does not ask a blessing upon himself, instead Jacob will bless both of his sons; a sign he has received the double blessing of the first born.
Arranging Manasseh and Ephraim in the normal order for Jacob’s blessing, by their age, Joseph then brought them forward to his father. Joseph brought the sons in this order so that Manasseh would receive the first blessing. Jacob is called Israel. After Jacob’s struggle with the Lord at Peniel, the Lord gave Jacob a new name: Israel. And God gave the reason: Because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome (Genesis 32:28). Later, God appeared to Jacob/Israel again in Bethel, reaffirmed the name change, and gave him the same covenant that Abraham had received (Genesis 35:9-12).
PT—As Jacob, he was crafty in his own strength and ingenuity. As Israel, his self-sufficiency proved insufficient. The nation is consequently referred to as Jacob or Israel, depending upon which character dominates.
the Lord said to her, "Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older (Esau) shall serve the younger (Jacob)" (Genesis 25:23).
By this symbolic act, a person transferred a spiritual power or position to another. This rite was part of the ceremony of dedicating a person or group either to a responsibility or to some type of office and role (Numbers 27:18, 23; Deuteronomy 34:9). This was the fourth consecutive generation of Abraham’s descendants in which the normal pattern of the firstborn assuming prominence over the second born was reversed: Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over Reuben, and Ephraim over Manasseh.
PT—Why would God reverse the blessing? It’s the way God is. God defies convention. He is consistent, but not predictable. He is consistent with His character and so his decisions are not predictable. God is not a robot to be programmed. God often surprises us. We can’t assume what He will do or how He will act. We can trust Him before he acts because we know his character never changes. Walking with God is an adventure that requires faith in Him and His plan.
An Application—We cannot know what God is up to in the details of life. His plan is only discernable after the fact—when we can look back to discover His handiwork, and marvel at the fusion of our daily circumstances with God’s sovereign work in our lives to fulfill His plan.
Verse 16—This does not mean that Jacob viewed his God as a mere angel, but it does suggest that he was aware of an angelic presence sent by God to protect him.
PT—These remarkable descriptions reveal Jacob’s faith—one that had matured through the years and that had learned to trust the Lord in the difficulties of life. Clearly, God had been engaged in Jacobs life.
the descendants of Joseph by their families: Manasseh and Ephraim
What happened to the 12 tribes of Israel?
Walk into any synagogue, look around, and you will see people that are from all twelve tribes. Some are under the delusion that since there was a southern kingdom of Judah and northern kingdom of Israel, sometimes referred to as the Kingdom of Ephraim, there are only two tribes since the Assyrian Exile. As though ten tribes fell off the face of the earth, when, in fact, there were members of all twelve in both kingdoms.
At the time of the disruption of the United Kingdom in 930 B.C., Israelites from all the northern tribes joined their brethren in the south and continued their identity as part of the kingdom of Judah. 1 and 2 Chronicles make it clear that the tribes in the north continued their existence as part of Judah after 930 B.C.
· After the kingdom split many of the Levites migrated south to Judah. 2 Chronicles 11:14, 16: For the Levites left their suburban lands and their possession, and came to Judah and Jerusalem; for Jeroboam and his sons had cast them off from executing the priest’s office unto the LORD; …. And after them, out of all the tribes of Israel, such as set their hearts to seek the LORD God of Israel came to Jerusalem, to sacrifice unto the LORD God of their fathers. These verses provide irrefutable proof that many individuals out of “all the tribes of Israel” rejected Jeroboam’s idolatry and joined the southern kingdom.
· During the reign of King Asa, the third king of the southern kingdom, others followed the Levites from Ephraim and Manasseh and returned south. H(2 Chr. 15:9).
Thus, it is evident that the southern kingdom of Judah absorbed many from the northern kingdom through the years. Scripture teaches that Israelites continued to live there after the captivity of 721 B.C. Again, Chronicles helps us in this regard.
· At King Hezekiah’s invitation, the 13th king of the southern kingdom, all Israel was invited to Judah after the Assyrian destruction of the northern kingdom in 722 BC. Now Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to the Lord God of Israel (2 Chronicles 30:1).
· Even later, in 622 B.C., godlier Israelites came to Jerusalem to help repair the Temple (2 Chr. 34:9), and later to celebrate the Passover (2 Chr. 35:17–18).
PT—If the northern tribes had become lost, how could these representatives have joined in worship in Jerusalem one hundred years after the Assyrian destruction? Judah rapidly increased after the fall of the northern kingdom as a result of the many refugees mentioned in 2 Chr. 11:14–16. The ten tribes, therefore, were never lost because they were never completely deported! Their kingdom was destroyed, but most of them stayed, with some around Samaria intermingling with new immigrants to form the Samaritans (2 Kings 17:24–41).
In the New Testament there were all the tribes in the Kingdom of Israel. It clearly indicates that in the first century “Jews” still maintained their tribal identities—some of whom were members of those supposedly lost tribes.
· Consider, for example, the aged Anna who beheld the baby Jesus in the Temple. Luke 2:36 states that she was of the tribe of Asher.
· When Paul spoke of his Jewish brethren, he spoke of a common promise and a common hope: Unto which promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God day and night, hope to come (Acts 26:7).
· James addressed his epistle to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad (James 1:1). He made no distinction between Judah and the ten tribes. All Jews were part of a common body, the only difference being that some were in the land of Israel and some in the Diaspora. Evidently, members of all the tribes existed both inside and outside the Promised Land.
The Bible uses the term “Jew” 174 times and the term “Israel” 75 times, clearly applying them to the same body of people. Paul referred to himself as both a “Jew” (Acts 22:3) and an “Israelite” (Rom. 11:1), and he never distinguished between Jews and Israel.
Verse 17—The Ephraimites would take the lead among the ten northern tribes and flourished to the extent that the Jews used the name Ephraim equally with the name Israel.
expressed the full confidence of faith in conferring the blessing contrary to human expectations. God’s plan had to be initiated by faith. Joseph must not connive to get his way. Since Joseph did not intervene, he accepted this blessing by faith.
· The Hebrew phrase translated a multitude (group) of nations appears only here in the Old Testament and probably means a company of peoples, namely, numerous.
Verse 20— The reference to Israel applies to the nation in the future from Jacob’s viewpoint.
· Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh—Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh also carried prophetic significance and force. Under the inspiration of God, Jacob deliberately gave Ephraim the privileged first-born blessing and predicted his preeminence.
Verse 21—The bones of Joseph, which the Children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, were buried in Shechem in a parcel of land Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor, father of Shechem, for a hundred pieces of silver (Joshua 24:32).
Because the double portion meant that the first son received twice the share allotted to any other son, Jacob promises Joseph one piece of land more than his brothers.
Jacob is one of the few men we read about who started spiritually weak and got better with age. There are some like Joseph and Daniel, who started well and are steady as a rock their whole lives. Many start well and finish poorly, like Saul and Solomon. There are only a few, like Jacob, who start poorly and end well. Jacob went from a deceptive liar, to a man of God, to a patriarch, who obeyed God and led his family in purity and worship. He ended his life with a godly sense of justice and righteousness. Jacob had matured in faith through a lifetime of experiences in which God had shepherded and delivered him.
An Application—Learn from the mistakes, the sins, the foolishness of your youth. Conform yourself to the Word of God and become a man/woman. Then as your flock ages and increases, shepherd them in the direction of purity as a patriarch/matriarch.
Implications for the 12 Tribes
· That the 12 tribes could know for certain that the promise will find its fulfillment in the land of Canaan.
· That God’s ways may not be according to the usual workings of mankind and will require faith to go forward in the direction God is working.
· That there would be differing capacities of favor and blessing for each of the tribes as they work out the will of God while experiencing the outworking’s of the promise.
· That believers who have matured in the faith through a lifetime of experiences shepherded by God, no matter how difficult the maturing process may have been, can discern with confidence the purpose and plan of God for them and for the future.
PT—The maturing of the faith of Jacob would be instructive as to the value God places on a mature faith. The mature believer is familiar with God’s ways, knows God’s plan, and can prepare for life with a certain expectation. Spiritual maturity is that process of full comprehensive development into the image of Jesus Christ which is reached through continual growth. That process is one in which Jacob had been engaged all of these years, the fruit of which culminated in Genesis 48.
An Application—The ultimate perspective is to see life from God’s point of view. This is one of the great lessons from Joseph’s famous comment to his brothers We might call it 50/20 vision. It’s better than 20/20 vision. It’s not just seeing what is there but seeing what is there from God’s point of view. Genesis 50:20 is the most significant thing Joseph said.