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The Sons of Joseph: Ephraim's Blessing and More Clues About the Gentiles
The post in which Joseph’s messiahship came under investigation revealed this man’s journey required much sacrifice but also analyzed some of the blessings he received. Thus far the blessings discussed focused on his ascent to power over the great Egyptian Empire of his day. His power allowed him to save the Gentiles living within the territorial boundaries of Egypt and those who resided outside its boundaries, within the latter included the House of Israel. Having brought Jacob and his house down into Egypt to abide with him warranted more blessings for Joseph’s house and future generations. Recall that his sojourn forced him to reside among a people with different customs than that of his father’s people, not to mention the lack of Hebrew women whom Joseph could marry. Yet the scriptures recounting Joseph’s boyhood do not seem to give any details about any women, from whom Jacob’s sons could choose, in the surrounding regions. This presents an interesting situation, for this scarcity perhaps served as one of the reasons for the Lord bringing Joseph down into Egypt.
Asenath: Mother of Ephraim and Manasseh
The woman whom Joseph married descended from the most venerable priestly class in all of Egypt. Asenath, daughter of the high priest at Heliopolis, according to Josephus, portrayed noble qualities and was considered a pure woman.1 Furthermore, Hugh Nibely provides profound insights concerning Heliopolis, the city in which Asenath's family resided, stating that this city is “On of the Bible” and considered “the most sacred, the most ancient, the most enduring shrine in the whole ancient world.”2 Worship in this city centered on the light of the sun, a form of worship that perhaps alludes to the worship of the Son of God. All this is to impress upon the mind of the reader of the righteous qualities Asenath possessed; it is from this woman Joseph had two sons: Ephraim and Manasseh. Note well that Asenath falls under the category of a Gentile in accordance with the definition in prior blog posts, and therefore any children Joseph had with this woman placed them outside the confines of the covenant lineage of Israel.
Bringing Joseph’s sons into the covenant required the presiding patriarch, Jacob, to perform an adoption ceremony that would graft both Ephraim and Manasseh into the House of Israel so that they would be numbered among his brothers. Yet their grafting into the House of Israel did not just occur because Joseph himself was Israelite; rather, adding his sons came by way of accomplishing his mission both unto the Gentiles and the House of Israel. Recall Joseph had to not only teach the truths conveyed to him by the Lord but also had to administered justice and blessings throughout Egypt as a righteous king would do. Had Joseph failed to accomplish the task before him, both Egypt and the House of Israel would have perished during the great famine that overtook the region. Astonishing as Joseph’s deed were in saving others, what he personally gained from doing so provides a lesson for all to ponder upon. True, Joseph’s failure would have resulted in the loss of Egypt and his father’s house, but his wife and sons would not have remained his in the eternities.
Grafting in Joseph’s Sons
Joseph’s example serves to demonstrate the fortitude necessary for keeping the commandments of the Lord in administering priesthood blessing to nations and peoples. Because he performed the salvific role conferred upon him, he received an exceptional blessing under the hand of Jacob.
And now, of thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee in Egypt, behold they are mine, and the God of my fathers shall bless them; even as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be blessed, for they are mine; wherefore, they shall be called by my name. Therefore, they were called Israel. 3
Joseph’s personification of righteousness warranted Jacob performing this adoption in which both the former’s two son became numbered among the House of Israel. This numbering ensured that Ephraim and Manasseh would no longer reside outside the covenant but, at that point, had a claim to the blessings Jacob’s other children enjoyed. Also, these two sons served as Joseph’s representatives in the numbering of the House of Israel and certified that their father would receive a double portion of the inheritance in accordance with the blessings of the birthright heir.
Entering into covenants with the Lord requires the disciple to accept and perform certain obligations before the Lord can bless him. To think that by entering into the covenant by mere words, without performing the requisite actions associated with it, reveals either the lack of understanding of the follower or his sheer folly. The saga of Joseph demonstrates the blessings that await those who persist in keeping the commandments of the Lord. Should they fail, the reader need only review the sad account of what befell King David in the 132th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Analyzing The Patriarchal Blessings
Returning to Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh, some analysis concerning the patriarchal blessings administered to these lads requires further remarks. Jacob’s blessing upon these two benefited not solely the children receiving such but also by adding these offspring to his own household, Jacob too gained an increase in the number of children. This served to fulfill certain promises given the patriarch, and his fathers before him, connected with the Abrahamic Covenant. Furthermore, the patriarchal blessings pronounced offers more insights about Jacob procuring an increased inheritance, especially when considering that which Jacob gave Ephraim. Yet Ephraim was the second born son of Joseph. When Joseph presented the lads for their blessings, he ensured that Manasseh’s position would place him under the right hand of Jacob for receiving the birthright blessing.4 Jacob’s dimmed vision required Joseph to position his children. But Jacob crossed his arms as he moved to lay his hands upon the children, placing his right hand on Ephraim and his left on Manasseh; this sorely displeased Joseph once he realized what was happening. Jacob, however, assured Joseph that placing his right hand on Ephraim was in accordance with the will of the Lord.
I know it, my son, I know it: he [Manasseh] also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations. 5
To understand this blessing in perhaps greater detail necessitates inspecting some key Hebrew terms inherent in this verse.
The first term needing attention refers to that which Jacob connects with Manasseh and his future offspring: עַם (ʿam). This term’s connotation implies the meaning of a people but not just any people, for inherent in its meaning denotes a people formed and unified by their lineal descent from a common ancestor. A people so formed place a premium on blood ties and small communal relations. This further insinuates that relationships outside the primary kinship do not align with the definition linked with this term. Thus, the term came to be equated with the word tribe, hence the tribes of Israel.6 Examining this term sheds light on Manasseh’s future generations becoming a great people who will remain confined to the limits of the primary kinship and maintain their identity as Israelites in a manner inarguably orchestrated by the Lord. The same, however, cannot be said concerning Ephraim.
Jacob’s blessing depicts Ephraim and his future offspring eclipsing those of Manasseh in quantity. This son’s posterity will not remain confined to the primary kinship inherent in the Hebrew word עַם (ʿam); rather, the Hebrew presents different verbiage altogether, suggesting Ephraim will go beyond the familial boundaries set by the House of Israel. Consider closely the Hebrew given concerning Ephraim’s future sons and daughters: וְזַרְעוֹ יִהְיֶה מְלֹֽא־הַגּוֹיִֽם. The verb יִהְיֶה (yihyeh) tells the reader that his descendants will become something other than what is imputed to him early on in Israel’s history. Indeed, these will become מְלֹֽא־הַגּוֹיִֽם (mᵊlō' ha-goyim), meaning the “Fullness of the Gentiles.”7 Scrutinizing this phrase further implies that these descendants must be living among the Gentiles in order to become the “Fullness of the Gentiles.” And this further alludes to Ephraim’s exile occurring before that of the Jews. Investigating the scriptures concerning Ephraim’s eviction from his initial land of inheritance provides more clues about their eventual assimilation among the Gentile nations.
Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews, 2.6.3-4
Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon: Pt.1 (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2004), 15 cf. Genesis 41:45 KJV.
Genesis 48:5 JST
Genesis 48:13 JST
Genesis 48:19 JST
James Strong, The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001) s.v. “עַם”
Ibid., s.v. “מְלֹֽא.” Upon reviewing the term, its most literal sense means “fullness.”