Blessed both the sons of Joseph - That is, Ephraim and Manasseh. See the account and the notes. Genesis 48:5, etc.
Worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff - This subject is particularly considered in the note, See Genesis 47:31; (note).
It appears, that at the time Joseph visited his father he was very weak, and generally confined to his couch, having at hand his staff; either that with which he usually supported his feeble body, or that which was the ensign of his office, as patriarch or chief of a very numerous family. The ancient chiefs, in all countries, had this staff or scepter continually at hand. See Homer throughout. It is said, Genesis 48:2, that when Joseph came to see his father Jacob, who was then in his last sickness, Israel strengthened himself, and sat upon the bed. Still I conceive he had his staff or scepter at hand; and while sitting upon the bed, with his feet on the floor, he supported himself with his staff. When Joseph sware to him that he should be carried up from Egypt, he bowed himself on his bed's head, still supporting himself with his staff, which probably with this last act he laid aside, gathered up his feet, and reclined wholly on his couch. It was therefore indifferent to say that he worshipped or bowed himself on his staff or on his bed's head. But as שחה shachah signifies, not only to bow, but also to worship, because acts of adoration were performed by bowing and prostration; and as מטה mittah, a bed, by the change of the vowel points becomes matteh, a staff, hence the Septuagint have translated the passage Και προσεκυνησεν Ισραηλ επι το ακρον της ῥαβδου αυτου· And Israel bowed or worshipped on the head of his staff. This reading the apostle follows here literatim.
Wretched must that cause be which is obliged to have recourse to what, at best, is an equivocal expression, to prove and support a favourite opinion. The Romanists allege this in favor of image worship. This is too contemptible to require confutation. To make it speak this language the Rheims version renders the verse thus: By faith Jacob dying, blessed every one of the sons of Joseph, and adored the top of his rod. A pretty object of adoration, indeed, for a dying patriarch! Here the preposition επι upon, answering to the Hebrew על al, is wholly suppressed, to make it favor the corrupt reading of the Vulgate. This preposition is found in the Hebrew text, in the Greek version of the Seventy, the printed Greek text of the New Testament, and in every MS. yet discovered of this epistle. It is also found in the Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic, and Coptic: in which languages the connection necessarily shows that it is not an idle particle: and by no mode of construction can the text be brought to support image worship, any more than it can to support transubstantiation.
And worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff - This is an exact quotation from the Septuagint in Genesis 47:31. The English version of that place is, “and Israel bowed himself upon the bed‘s head,” which is a proper translation, in the main, of the word מטּה miTTahThat word, however, with different vowel points - מטּה maTTehmeans a branch, a bough, a rod, a staff, and the translators of the Septuagint have so rendered it. The Masoretic points are of no authority, and either translation, therefore, would be proper. The word rendered “head” in Genesis 47:31 - “bed‘s head” - ראשׁ ro'shmeans properly head, but may there mean the top of anything, and there is no impropriety in applying it to the head or top of a staff. The word rendered in Genesis 47:31 as “bowed” - וישׁתחו wayishtachuw- implies properly the idea of “worshipping.” It is bowing, or prostration for the purpose of worship or homage.
Though the Septuagint and the apostle here have, therefore, given a somewhat different version from that commonly given of the Hebrew, and sustained by the Masoretic pointing, yet it cannot be demonstrated that the version is unauthorized, or that it is not a fair translation of the Hebrew. It has also the probabilities of the case in its favour. Jacob was tenderly affected in view of the goodness of God, and of the assurance that he would be conveyed from Egypt when he died, and buried in the land of his fathers. Deeply impressed with this, nothing was more natural than that the old man should lean reverently forward and incline his head upon the top of his staff, and adore the covenant faithfulness of his God. Such an image is much more natural and probable than that he should “bow upon his bed‘s head” - a phrase which at best is not very intelligible. If this be the true account, then the apostle does not refer here to what was done when he “blessed the sons of Joseph,” but to an act expressive of strong faith in God which had occurred just before. The meaning then is, “By faith when about to die he blessed the sons of Joseph; and by faith also he reverently bowed before God in the belief that when he died his remains would be conveyed to the promised land, and expressed his gratitude in an act of worship, leaning reverently on the top of his staff.” The order in which these things are mentioned is of no consequence, and thus the whole difficulty in the case vanishes. Both the acts here referred to were expressive of strong confidence in God.
As he felt death approaching, he sent for Joseph. Still holding fast the promise of God respecting the possession of Canaan, he said, “Bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt: but I will lie with my fathers, and thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying place.” Joseph promised to do so, but Jacob was not satisfied; he exacted a solemn oath to lay him beside his fathers in the cave of Machpelah. PP 234.1
Another important matter demanded attention; the sons of Joseph were to be formally instated among the children of Israel. Joseph, coming for a last interview with his father, brought with him Ephraim and Manasseh. These youths were connected, through their mother, with the highest order of the Egyptian priesthood; and the position of their father opened to them the avenues to wealth and distinction, should they choose to connect themselves with the Egyptians. It was Joseph's desire, however, that they should unite with their own people. He manifested his faith in the covenant promise, in behalf of his sons renouncing all the honors that the court of Egypt offered, for a place among the despised shepherd tribes, to whom had been entrusted the oracles of God. PP 234.2
Said Jacob, “Thy two sons, Ephraim, and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt, before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.” They were to be adopted as his own, and to become the heads of separate tribes. Thus one of the birthright privileges, which Reuben had forfeited, was to fall to Joseph—a double portion in Israel. PP 234.3Read in context »