Like his father, Isaac, Jacob understood the power of God’s blessings and covenant. As he neared his own death he made plans to pass along God’s covenant to his own sons.
Jacob, though, was already seeing the blessing take shape. Where his grandfather, Abraham, had passed the promise to his one son of promise, Jacob had twelve sons. Though Isaac had blessed one son over the other and foreseen two separate nations, Jacob looked at his sons and saw the fathers of one nation.
But the book of Hebrews does not address the blessings and prophecies spoken by Jacob over his sons in Genesis 49. Instead we are pointed towards a special blessing given to two grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph.
When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, “Who are these?”
“They are the sons God has given me here,” Joseph said to his father.
Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.”
Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them.
Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”
Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground. 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. 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.
Then he blessed Joseph and said,
“May the God before whom my fathers
Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd
all my life to this day,
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
upon the earth.” (Genesis 48:8-16 NIV)
These two boys had grown up in the pagan land of Egypt. Egypt had its own gods that were worshiped, and Jehovah/Yahweh/the LORD was not one of them. They would have learned about the one true God through their father, Joseph. Yet the spiritual pressures on the children of so high a public official must have been intense. Not to mention that their mother was the daughter of the priest of one of these gods (see Genesis 41:45)
Jacob was an old man they did not know. Yes, he was their grandfather, but we don’t know how much Joseph shared about the family he had before Egypt. This man also served a God that was unknown outside of their own home. He was strange, different.
To these boys Jacob made an incredible offer, adoption as sons. “May the be called by my name” (Genesis 48:16). No longer would they only be the sons of an Egyptian official or the grandsons of the priest of On. Now they were sons of Israel, heirs of the promise and parties to the covenant of the one true God. “By faith” Jacob reached across all of the layers that should have separated him from the sons of Joseph: distance, age, culture, religion and language. He reached out and pulled them to himself, making him his own.
In the same way God adopts as His children. He reaches through all that should separate us from Him and makes us His own.
… those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. . . . you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:14-16 NIV)
Jacob, by faith, exemplified the love of God in the holy adoption of the sons of Joseph. From that point on they were sons of Jacob, each one the father of a tribe of Israel.