Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 2: Genesis, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1 And it came to pass after these things, that one told Joseph, Behold, thy father is sick: and he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.
1. Et fuit post haec dictum fuit ipsi Joseph, Ecce, pater tuus aegrotat: tunc accepit duos filios suos secum, Menasseh et Ephriam.
2 And one told Jacob, and said, Behold, thy son Joseph cometh unto thee: and Israel strengthened himself, and sat upon the bed.
2. Et nuntiavit ipsi Jahacob, et dixit, Ecce, filius tuus Joseph venit ad to. Et roboravit se Israel, et sedit super lectum.
3 And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me,
3. Et dixit Jahacob ipsi Joseph, Deus omnipotens apparuit mihi in Luz in terra Chenaan, et benedixit mihi.
4 And said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession.
4. Et dixit ad me, Ecce, ego crescere facio to, et multiplicabo to, et ponam to in coetum populorum, et dabo terram hanc semini tuo post to in haereditatem perpetuam.
5 And now 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.
5. Et nune duo filii tui, qui nati sunt tibi in terra Aegypti, antequam venirem ad to in Aegyptum, mei sunt Ephraim et Menasseh, sicut Reuben et Simhon erunt mei.
6 And thy issue, which thou begettest after them, shall be thine, and shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance.
6. Verum liberi tui, quos generabis post eos, tui erunt: secundum nomen fratrum suorum vocabuntur in haereditate sua.
7 And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to come unto Ephrath: and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath; the same is Bethlehem.
7. Porro me veniente e Padan, mortua est mihi Rachel in terra Chenaan in via, quum adhuc esset milliare terrae ad veniendum in Ephrath: et sepelivi eam in via Ephrath, ipsa est Bethlehem.
8 And Israel beheld Joseph’s sons, and said, Who are these?
8. Et vidit Israel filios Joseph, et dixit, Cujus sunt isti?
9 And Joseph said unto his father, They are my sons, whom God hath given me in this place. And he said, Bring them, I pray thee, unto me, and I will bless them.
9. Et dixit Joseph patri suo, Filii mei sunt quos dedit mihi Deus hic. Et dixit, Duc eos quaeso ad me, et benedicam eis.
10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim for age, so that he could not see. And he brought them near unto him; and he kissed them, and embraced them.
10. (Oculi enim Israel graves erant propter senectutem, nec poterat videre) et accedere fecit eos ad illum, et osculatus est eos, et amplexatus est eos.
11 And Israel said unto Joseph, I had not thought to see thy face: and, lo, God hath shewed me also thy seed.
11. Et dixit Israel ad Joseph, Videre faciem tuam non putabam, et ecce, videre fecit me Deus etiam semen tuum.
12 And Joseph brought them out from between his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth.
12. Eduxit itaque Joseph eos a genibus suis, et incurvavit se in faciem suam super terram.
13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near unto him.
13. Et tulit Joseph ambos ipsos, Ephriam ad dexteram suam, a sinistra Israel, et Menasseh ad sinistram suam, a dextra israel: accedere in quam fecit ad eum.
14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.
14. Et extendit Israel dexteram suam, et posuit super caput Ephraim, qui erat minor: et sinistram suam super caput Menasseh: consulto dirigens manus suas, quum Menasseh esset primogenitus.
15 And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day,
15. Et benedixit ipsi Joseph, et dixit, Deus, in cujus conspectu ambulaverunt patres mei Abraham et Ishac, Deus qui pascit me ab aetate mea usque ad diem hanc,
16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.
16. Angelus qui redemit me ab omni malo, benedicat pueris: et vocetur in eis nomen meum, et nomen patrum meorum Abraham et Ishac, et instar piscium sint in multitudinem in medio terrae.
17 And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head.
17. Vidit autem Joseph, quod poneret pater suus manum dexteram suam super caput Ephraim, et displicuit in oculis ejus, et sustentavit manum patris sui, ut removeret eam a capite Ephraim, super caput Menasseh.
18 And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.
18. Et dixit Joseph patri suo, Non sic, pater mi: quia iste est primogenitus, pone dexteram tuam super caput ejus.
19 And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he 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.
19. Verum renuit pater ejus, et dixit, Novi, fili mi, novi, etiam ipse erit in populum, et etiam ipse crescet: et tamen frater ejus minor crescet magis quam ipse, et semen ejus erit plenitudo Gentium.
20 And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh.
20. Et benedixit eis in die ipsa, dicendo, In to benedicet Israel, dicendo, Ponat to Deus sicut Ephriam et Menasseh: et posuit Ephraim ante Menasseh.
21 And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers.
21. Et dixit Israel ad Joseph, Ecce, ego morior: et erit Deus vobiscum, et redire faciet vos ad terram patrum vestorum.
22 Moreover I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.
22. Ego autem dedi tibi partem unam super fratres tuos, quam cepi e manu Emoraei gladio meo, et arcu meo.
1. After these things. Moses now passes to the last act of Jacob’s life, which, as we shall see, was especially worthy of remembrance. For, since he knew that he was invested by God with no common character, in being made the father of the fathers of the Church, he fulfilled, in the immediate prospect of death, the prophetic office, respecting the future state of the Church, which had been enjoined upon him. Private persons arrange their domestic affairs by their last wills; but very different was the method pursued by this holy man, with whom God had established his covenant, with this annexed condition, that the succession of grace should flow down to his posterity. But before I enter fully on the consideration of this subject, these two things are to be observed, to which Moses briefly alludes: first, that Joseph, being informed of his father’s sickness, immediately went to see him; and, secondly, that Jacob, having heard of his arrival, attempted to raise his feeble and trembling body, for the sake of doing him honor. Certainly, the reason why Joseph was so desirous of seeing his father, and so prompt to discharge all the other duties of filial piety, was, that he regarded it as a greater privilege to be a son of Jacob, than to preside over a hundred kingdoms. For, in bringing his sons with him, he acted as if he would emancipate them from the country in which they had been born, and restore them to their own stock. For they could not be reckoned among the progeny of Abraham, without rendering themselves detested by the Egyptians. Nevertheless, Joseph prefers that reproach for them, to every kind of wealth and glory, if they may but become one with the sacred body of the Church. His father, however, rising before him, pays him becoming honor, for the kindness received at his hand. Meanwhile, by so doing, he fulfils his part in the prediction, which before had inflamed his sons with rage; lest his constituting Ephraim and Manasseh the heads of two tribes, should seem grievous and offensive to his sons.
3. And Jacob said unto Joseph. The design of the holy man was to withdraw his son from the wealth and honors of Egypt, and to reunite him to the holy race, from which he had been, for a little while, separated. Moreover, he neither proudly boasts of his own excellence, nor of his present riches, nor of his power, for the sake of inducing his son to comply with his wishes; but simply sets before him the covenant of God. So also it is right, that the grace of adoption, as soon as it is offered to us, should, by filling our thoughts, extinguish our desire for everything splendid and costly in the world. This passage is, doubtless, remarkable. Joseph was possessed of the most exalted dignity; he foresees that the most excellent nobility would pass, through the memory of his name, to his posterity: he is able to leave them an ample patrimony: nor would it be difficult so to advance them in royal favor, that they might obtain rank among the nobles of the kingdom. Too many examples show how easy it is not only to be caught, but altogether fascinated, by such allurements. Yea, the greater part know, by their own experience, that, as soon as the least ray of hope beams upon us, from the world, we are torn away from the Lord, and alienated from the pursuit of the heavenly life. If a very few drops thus inebriate our flesh, how dangerous is it to drink from the full bowl? But to all the riches and honors of Egypt, Jacob opposes the vision in which God had adopted himself and his race, as his own people. Whenever, therefore, Satan shall try to entangle us with the allurements of the world, that he may draw us away from heaven, let us remember for what end we are called; in order that, in comparison with the inestimable treasure of eternal life, all that the flesh would otherwise prefer, may become loathsome. For, if holy Joseph formerly held an obscure vision in such esteem, that, for this sole object, forgetting Egypt, he gladly passed over to the despised flock of the Church; how shameful, at this day, is our folly, how vile our stupor, how detestable our ingratitude, if, at least, we are not equally affected, when our heavenly Father, having opened the gate of his kingdom, with unutterable sweetness invites us to himself? At the same time, however, we must observe, that holy Jacob does not obtrude vain imaginations, for the purpose of alluring his son; but places before him the sure promise of God, on which he may safely rely. Whence we are taught, that our faith is not rightly founded on anything except the sole word of God; and also, that this is a sufficiently firm support of faith, to prevent it from ever being shaken or overthrown by any devices whatever. Wherefore, whenever Satan attempts to draw us hither and thither by his enticements, let us learn to turn our minds to the word of God, and so firmly to rely upon its hidden blessings, that, with a lofty spirit, we may spurn those things which the flesh now sees and touches. Jacob says that God appeared to him in the land of Canaan, in order that Joseph, aspiring after that land, might become alienated in the affection of his heart from the kingdom of Egypt.
And blessed me. In this place the word blessed does not signify the present effect or manifestation of a happy life, in the way in which the Lord is sometimes said to bless his people, when he indeed declares, by the favor with which he follows them, that he openly makes them happy, because they are received under his protection. But Jacob regards himself as blessed, because he, having embraced the grace promised to him, does not doubt of its effect. And, therefore, I take what immediately follows; namely, I will make thee fruitful, etc., as explanatory of what precedes. Now the Lord promised that he would cause an assembly of nations to descend from him: because thirteen tribes, of which the whole body of the nation consisted, were, in a sense, so many nations. But since this was nothing more than a prelude to that greatness which should afterwards follow, when God, having scattered seed over the whole world, should gather together a church for himself, out of all nations; we may, while we recognize the accomplishment of the benediction under the old dispensation, yet allow that it refers to something greater. When therefore the people increased to so great a multitude, and thirteen populous tribes flowed from the twelve patriarchs, Jacob began already to grow to an assembly of nations. But from the time that the spiritual Israel was diffused through all quarters of the world, and various nations were congregated into one Church, this multiplication tended towards its completion. Wherefore, it is no wonder that holy Jacob should so highly estimate this most distinguished mark of divine favor, though, indeed, it was deeply hidden from carnal perception. But inasmuch as the Lord had held him long in suspense, profane men have said, that the old man was in his dotage. Few indeed are to be found, in this age, like Joseph, who disregarding the enjoyment of pleasures which are at hand, yield entire submission to the plain declaration of God’s word. But as Jacob, relying in confidence on invisible grace, had overcome every kind of temptation: so now his son, and the true heir of his faith, regards with reverence the oracles of the Lord; esteeming more highly the promise which he was persuaded had come down from heaven, though it was in the form of a dream, than all the riches of Egypt which he enjoyed.
For an everlasting possession. We have elsewhere shown the meaning of this expression: namely, that the Israelites should be perpetual heirs of the land until the coming of Christ, by which the world was renewed. The Hebrew word םלוע (olam) is by some taken merely for a long time, by others for eternity: but seeing that Christ prolongs, to the end of time, the grace which was previously shadowed forth to the patriarchs; the phrase, in my judgment, refers to eternity. For that portion of land was promised to the ancient people of God, until the renovation introduced by Christ: and now, ever since the Lord has assigned the whole world to his people, a fuller fruition of the inheritance belongs to us.
5. And now thy two sons. Jacob confers on his son the special privilege, that he, being one, should constitute two chiefs; that is, that his two sons should succeed to an equal right with their uncles, as if they had been heirs in the first degree. But what is this! that a decrepit old man assigns to his grandchildren, as a royal patrimony, a sixth part of the land in which he had entered as a stranger, and from which now again he is an exile! Who would not have said that he was dealing in fables? It is a common proverb, that no one can give what he has not. What, therefore, did it profit Joseph to be constituted, by an imaginary title, lord of that land, in which the donor of it was scarcely permitted to drink the very water he had dug for with great labour, and from which, at length, famine expelled him? But it hence appears with what firm faith the holy fathers relied upon the word of the Lord, seeing they chose rather to depend upon his lips, than to possess a fixed habitation in the land. Jacob is dying an exile in Egypt; and meanwhile, calls away the governor of Egypt from his dignity into exile, that he may be well and happy. Joseph, because he acknowledges his father as a prophet of God, who utters no inventions of his own, esteems as highly the dominion offered to him, which has never yet become apparent, as if it were already in his possession. Moreover, that Jacob commands the other sons of Joseph, (if there should be any,) to be reckoned in the families of these two brothers, is as if he directed them to be adopted by the two whom he adopts to himself.
7. And as for me, when I came from Padan. He mentions the death and burial of his wife Rachel, in order that the name of his mother might prove a stimulus to the mind of Joseph. For since all the sons of Jacob had sprung from Syria, it was not a little to the purpose, that they should be thoroughly acquainted with the history which we have before considered, namely, that their father, returning into the land of Canaan, by the command and under the protection of God, brought his wives with him. For if it was not grievous to women, to leave their father, and to journey into a distant land, their example ought to be no slight inducement to their sons to bid farewell to Egypt; and at the command of the same God, strenuously prepare themselves for taking possession of the land of Canaan.
8. And Israel beheld Joseph’s sons. I have no doubt that he had inquired concerning the youths, before he called them his heirs. But in the narration of Moses there is a hysteron proteron. And in the answer of Joseph we observe, what we have elsewhere alluded to, that the fruit of the womb is not born by chance, but is to be reckoned among the precious gifts of God. This confession indeed finds a ready utterance from the tongues of all; but there are few who heartily acknowledge that their seed has been given them by God. And hence a large proportion of man’s offspring becomes continually more and more degenerate: because the ingratitude of the world renders it unable to perceive the effect of the blessings of God. We must now briefly consider the design of Moses: which was to show that a solemn symbol was interposed, by which the adoption might be ratified. Jacob puts his hands upon his grandsons; for what end? Truly to prove that he gave them a place among his sons: and thus constitutes Joseph who was one, into two chiefs. For this was not his wish as a private person; according to the manner in which fathers and grandfathers are wont to pray for prosperity to their descendants: but a divine authority suggested it, as was afterwards proved by the event. Therefore he commands them to be brought near to him, that he might confer on them a new honor, as if he had been appointed the dispenser of it by the Lord; and Joseph, on the other hand, begins with adoration, giving thanks to God.
12. And Joseph brought them out. Moses explains more fully what he had touched upon in a single word. Joseph brings forth his sons from his own lap to his father’s knees, not only for the sake of honor, but that he may present them to receive a blessing from the prophet of God; for he was certainly persuaded, that holy Jacob did not desire to embrace his grandsons after the common manner of men; but inasmuch as he was the interpreter of God, he wished to impart to them the blessing deposited with himself. And although, in dividing the land of Canaan, he assigned them equal portions with his sons, yet the imposition of his hands had respect to something higher; namely, that they should be two of the patriarchs of the Church, and should hold an honorable preeminence in the spiritual kingdom of God.
14. And Israel stretched out his right hand. Seeing his eyes were dim with age, so that he could not, by looking, discern which was the elder, he yet intentionally placed his hands across. And therefore Moses says that he guided his hands wittingly, because he did not rashly put them forth, nor transfer them from one youth to the other for the sake of feeling them: but using judgment, he purposely directed his right hand to Ephraim who was the younger: but placed his left hand on the first-born. Whence we gather that the Holy Spirit was the director of this act, who irradiated the mind of the holy man, and caused him to see more correctly, than those who were the most clear-sighted, into the nature of this symbolical act. I shall avoid saying more, because we shall be able to inquire into it from other passages.
15. God before whom. Although Jacob knew that a dispensation of the grace of God was committed to him, in order that he might effectually bless his grandchildren; yet he arrogates nothing to himself, but suppliantly resorts to prayer, lest he should, in the least degree, detract from the glory of God. For as he was the legitimate administrator of the blessing, so it behaved him to acknowledge God as its sole Author. And hence a common rule is to be deduced for all the ministers and pastors of the Church. For though they are not only called witnesses of celestial grace, but are also entrusted with the dispensation of spiritual gifts; yet when they are compared with God, they are nothing; because he alone contains all things within himself. Wherefore let them learn willingly to keep their own place, lest they should obscure the name of God. And truly, since the Lord, by no means, appoints his ministers, with the intention of derogating from his own power; therefore, mortal man cannot, without sacrilege, desire to seem anything separate from God. In the words of Jacob we must note, first, that he invokes God, in whose sight his fathers Abraham and Isaac had walked: for since the blessing depended upon the covenant entered into with them, it was necessary that their faith should be an intervening link between them and their descendants. God had chosen them and their posterity for a people unto himself: but the promise was efficacious for this reason, because, being apprehended by faith, it had taken a lively root. And thus it came to pass, that they transmitted the light of succession to Jacob himself. We now see that he does not bring forward, in vain, or unseasonably, that faith of the fathers, without which he would not have been a legitimate successor of grace, by the covenant of God: not that Abraham and Isaac had acquired so great an honor for themselves, and their posterity; or were, in themselves, so excellent; but because the Lord seals and sanctions by faith, those benefits which he promises us, so that they shall not fail.
The God which fed me. Jacob now descends to his own feelings, and states that from his youth he had constantly experienced, in various ways, the divine favor towards him. He had before made the knowledge of God received through his word, and the faith of his fathers, the basis of the blessing he pronounces; he now adds another confirmation from experience itself; as if he would say, that he was not pronouncing a blessing which consisted in an empty sound of words, but one of which he had himself enjoyed the fruit, all his life long. Now though God causes his sun to shine indiscriminately on the good and evil, and feeds unbelievers as well as believers: yet because he affords, only to the latter, the peculiar sense of his paternal love in the use of his gifts, Jacob rightly uses this as a reason for the confirmation of his faith, that he had always been protected by the help of God. Unbelievers are fed, even to the full, by the liberality of God: but they gorge themselves, like swine, which, while acorns are falling for them from the trees, yet have their snouts fixed to the earth. But in God’s benefits this is the principal thing, that they are pledges or tokens of his paternal love towards us. Jacob, therefore, from the sense of piety, with which the children of God are endued, rightly adduces, as proof of the promised grace, whatever good things God had bestowed upon him; as if he would say, that he himself was a decisive example to show how truly and faithfully the Lord had engaged by covenant to be a father to the children of Abraham. Let us also learn hence, carefully to consider and meditate upon whatever benefits we receive from the hand of God, that they may prove so many supports for the confirmation of our faith. The best method of seeking God is to begin at his word; after this, (if I may so speak,) experimental knowledge is added. Now whereas, in this place, the singular gratitude of the holy man is conspicuous; yet this circumstance adds to his honor, that, while involved in manifold sufferings, by which he was almost borne down, he celebrates the continual goodness of God. For although, by the rare and wonderful power of God, he had been, in an extraordinary manner, delivered from many dangers; yet it was a mark of an exalted and courageous mind, to be able to surmount so many and so great obstacles, to fly on the wings of faith to the goodness of God, and instead of being overwhelmed by a mass of evils, to perceive the same goodness in the thickest darkness.
16. The Angel which redeemed me. He so joins the Angel to God as to make him his equal. Truly he offers him divine worship, and asks the same things from him as from God. If this be understood indifferently of any angel what ever, the sentence is absurd. Nay, rather, as Jacob himself sustains the name and character of God, in blessing his son, 191 he is superior, in this respect, to the angels. Wherefore it is necessary that Christ should be here meant, who does not bear in vain the title of Angel, because he had become the perpetual Mediator. And Paul testifies that he was the Leader and Guide of the journey of his ancient people. (1Co 10:4.) He had not yet indeed been sent by the Father, to approach more nearly to us by taking our flesh, but because he was always the bond of connection between God and man, and because God formally manifested himself in no other way than through him, he is properly called the Angel. To which may be added, that the faith of the fathers was always fixed on his future mission. He was therefore the Angel, because even then he poured forth his rays, that the saints might approach God, through him, as Mediator. For there was always so wide a distance between God and men, that, without a mediator; there could be no communication. Nevertheless though Christ appeared in the form of an angel, we must remember what the Apostle says to the Hebrews, (Heb 2:16,) that “he took not on him the nature of angels,” so as to become one of them, in the manner in which he truly became man; for even when angels put on human bodies, they did not, on that account, become men. Now since we are taught, in these words, that the peculiar office of Christ is to defend us and to deliver us from all evil, let us take heed not to bury this grace in impious oblivion: yea, seeing that now it is more clearly exhibited to us, than formerly to the saints under the law, since Christ openly declares that the faithful are committed to his care, that not one of them might perish, (Joh 17:12,) so much the more ought it to flourish in our hearts, both that it may be highly celebrated by us with suitable praise, and that it may stir us up to seek this guardianship of our best Protector. And this is exceedingly necessary for us; for if we reflect how many dangers surround us, that we scarcely pass a day without being delivered from a thousand deaths; whence does this arise, except from that care which is taken of us, by the Son of God, who has received us under his protection, from the hand of his Father.
And let my name be named on them. This is a mark of the adoption before mentioned: for he puts his name upon them, that they may obtain a place among the patriarchs. Indeed the Hebrew phrase signifies nothing else than to be reckoned among the family of Jacob. Thus the name of the husband is said to be called upon the wife, (Isa 4:1,) because the wife borrows the name from the head to which she is subject. So much the more ridiculous is the ignorance of the Papists, who would prove hence that the dead are to be invoked in prayers. Jacob, say they, desired after his death to be invoked by his posterity. What! that being prayed to, he might bring them succor; and not — according to the plain intention of the speaker — that Ephraim and Manasseh might be added to the society of the patriarchs, to constitute two tribes of the holy people! Moreover it is wonderful, that the Papists, leaving under this pretext framed for themselves innumerable patrons, should have passed over Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as unworthy of the office. But the Lord, by this brutish stupor, has avenged their impious profanation of his name. What Jacob adds in the next clause, namely, that they should grow into a multitude, 192 refers also to the same promise. The sum amounts to this, that the Lord would complete in them, what he had promised to the patriarchs.
17. And when Joseph saw. Because by crossing his arms, Jacob had so placed his hands as to put his left hand upon the head of the first-born, Joseph wished to correct this proceeding, as if it had been a mistake. He thought that the error arose from dimness of vision; but his father followed the Spirit of God as his secret guide, in order that he might transfer the title of honor, which nature had conferred upon the elder to the younger. For, as he did not rashly assume to himself the office of conveying the blessing; so was it not lawful for him to attempt anything according to his own will. And at length it was evident by the event, that whatever he had done had been dictated to him from heaven. Whereas Joseph took it amiss, that Manasseh, who by the right of nature was first, should be cast down to the second place, this feeling arose from faith and from holy reverence for the prophetic office. For he would easily have borne to see him make a mistake in the order of embracing the youths; if he had not known that his father; as a minister of divine grace, so far from acting a futile part, was but pronouncing on earth what God would ratify in heaven. Yet he errs in binding the grace of God to the accustomed order of nature: as if the Lord did not often purposely change the law of nature, to teach us that what he freely confers upon us, is entirely the result of his own will. If God were rendering to every one his due, a certain rule might properly be applied to the distribution of his favors; but since he owes no one anything, he is free to confer gifts at his own pleasure. More especially, lest any one should glory in the flesh, he designedly illustrates his own free mercy, in choosing those who had no worthiness of their own. What shall we say was the cause, why he raised Ephraim above his own brother, to whom, according to usage, he was inferior? If any one should suppose that Ephraim had some hidden seed of excellence, he not only vainly trifles, but impiously perverts the counsel of God. For since God derives from himself and from his own liberality, the cause, why he prefers one of the two to the other: he confers the honor upon the younger, for the purpose of showing that he is bound by no claims of human merit; but that he distributes his gifts freely, as it seems good unto him. And while this liberty of God is extended to every kind of good, it yet shines the most clearly in the first adoption, whereby he predestinates to himself, those whom he sees fit, out of the ruined mass. Wherefore, be it our part to leave to God his whole power untouched, and if at any time, our carnal sense rebels, let us know that none are more truly wise than they who are willing to account themselves blind, when contemplating the wonderful dealings of God, in order that they may trace the cause of any difference he makes, to himself alone. We have seen above, that the eyes of Jacob were dim: but in crossing his arms, with apparent negligence, in order to comply with God’s purpose of election, he is more clear-sighted than his son Joseph, who, according to the sense of the flesh, inquires with too much acuteness. They who insanely imagine that this judgment was formed from a view of their works, sufficiently declare, by this one thing, that they do not hold the first rudiments of faith. For either the adoption common both to Manasseh and to Ephraim, was a free gift, or a reward of debt. Concerning this second supposition all ambiguity is removed, by many passages of Scripture, in which the Lord makes known his goodness, in having freely loved and chosen his people. Now no one is so ignorant; as not to perceive that the first place is not assigned to one or the other, according to merit; but is given gratuitously, since it so pleases the Lord. With regard to the posture of the hands, the subtlety of certain persons, who conjecture that the mystery of the cross was included in it, is absurd; for the Lord intended nothing more than that the crossing of the right hand and the left should indicate a change in the accustomed order of nature.
19. He also shall become a people. Jacob does not dispute which of the youths shall be the more worthy; but only pronounces what God had decreed with himself, concerning each, and, what would take place after a long succession of time. He seeks, therefore, no causes elsewhere; but contents himself with this one statement, that Ephraim will be more greatly multiplied than Manasseh. And truly our dignity is hidden in the counsel of God alone, until, by his vocation, he makes it manifest what he wills to do with us. Meanwhile, sinful emulation is forbidden, when he commands Manasseh to be contented with his lot. They are therefore altogether insane, who hew out dry and perforated cisterns, in seeking causes of divine adoption; whereas, everywhere, the Scripture defines in one word, that they are called to salvation whom God has chosen, (Ro 8:29,) and that the primary source of election is his free good pleasure. The form of the benediction, which is shortly afterwards related, more fully confirms what I have alluded to, that the grace of God towards both is commended, in order that Manasseh, considering that more was given to him than he deserved, might not envy his brother. Moreover, this blessing pronounced on Ephraim and Manasseh is not to be taken in the same sense as the former, in which it is said, In thy seed shall all nations be blessed: but the simple meaning is, that the grace of God should be so conspicuous towards the two sons of Joseph, as to furnish the people of Israel with a form by which to express their good wishes.
21. And Israel said unto Joseph. Jacob repeats what he had said. And truly all his sons, and especially Joseph and his sons, required something more than one simple confirmation, in order that they might not fix their abode in Egypt, but might dwell, in their minds, in the land of Canaan. He mentions his own death, for the purpose of teaching them that the eternal truth of God by no means depended on the life of men: as if he had said, my life, seeing it is short and fading, passes away; but the promise of God, which has no limit, will flourish when I also am dead. No vision had appeared unto his sons, but God had ordained the holy old man as the intermediate sponsor of his covenant. He therefore sedulously fulfills the office enjoined upon him, taking timely precaution that their faith should not be shaken by his death. So when the Lord delivers his word to the world by mortal men, although they die, having finished their course of life according to the flesh; yet the voice of God is not extinguished with them, but quickens us even at the present day. Therefore Peter writes, that he will endeavor, that after his decease, the Church may be mindful of the doctrine committed unto him. (2Pe 1:15.)
Unto the land of your fathers. It is not without reason that he claims for himself and his fathers, the dominion over that land in which they had always wandered as strangers; for whereas it might seem that the promise of God had failed, he excites his sons to a good hope, and pronounces, with a courageous spirit, that land to be his own, in which, at length, he scarcely obtained a sepulcher, and that only by favor. Whence then was this great confidence, except that he would accustom his sons, by his example, to have faith in the word of God? Now this doctrine is also common to us; because we never rely with sufficient firmness on the word of God, so long as we are led by our own feelings. Nay, until our faith rises to lay hold on those things which are removed afar off, we know not what it is to set our seal to the word of God.
22. I have given to thee one portion. In order to increase the confidence of his son Joseph, Jacob here assigns him a portion beyondhis proper lot. Some expound the passage otherwise; as if he called him a double heir in his two sons, thus honoring him with one portion more than the rest. But there is no doubt that he means a certain territory. And John, (Joh 4:5,) removes all controversy; for, speaking of the field adjoining Sychar, which before was called Shechem, says, it was that which Jacob gave to his son Joseph. And, in the last chapter of Joshua, (Jos 24:32,) it is said to have come into the possession of the sons of Joseph. But in the word םכש (shechem,) which among the Hebrews signifies a part, allusion is made to the proper name of the place. But here a question arises; how can he say that he had obtained the field by his sword and by his bow, which he had purchased with money, as is stated before, (Ge 33:19,) and is again recorded in the above mentioned chapter of Joshua? Seeing, however, that only a small portion of the field, where he might pitch his tents, was bought, I do not doubt that here he comprised a much greater space. For we may easily calculate, from the price, how small a portion of land he possessed, before the destruction of the city. He gives, therefore, now to his son Joseph, not only the place of his tent, which had cost a hundred pieces of silver, but the field which had been the common of the city of Sychar. But it remains to inquire how he may be said to have obtained it by his sword, whereas the inhabitants had been wickedly and cruelly slain by Simon and Levi. How then could it be acquired by the right of conquest, from those against whom war had been unjustly brought; or rather, against whom, without any war, the most cruel perfidy had been practiced? Jerome resorts to allegory, saying that the field was obtained by money, which is called strength, or justice. Others suppose a prolepsis, as if Jacob was speaking of a future acquisition of the land: a meaning which, though I do not reject, seems yet somewhat forced. I rather incline to this interpretation: first, that he wished to testify that he had taken nothing by means of his two sons Simon and Levi; who, having raged like robbers, were not lawful conquerors, and had never obtained a single foot of land, after the perpetration of the slaughter. For, so far were they from gaining anything, that they compelled their father to fly; nor would escape have been possible, unless they had been delivered by miracle. When, however, Jacob strips them of their empty title, he transfers this right of victory to himself, as being divinely granted to him. For though he always held their wickedness in abhorrence, and will show his detestation of it in the next chapter Ge 49:1; yet, because they had armed his whole household, they fought as under his auspices. Gladly would he have preserved the citizens of Shechem, a design which he was not able to accomplish; yet he appropriates to himself the land left empty and deserted by their destruction, because, for his sake, God had spared the murderers. 193
In denedicendo filio. It appears that thought the singular number is used, yet reference is made to the two grandsons of Jacob. — Ed.
וגדי, (yedegu,) Ainsworth translates the passage, “let them increase like fish into a multitude.” The Hebrew word for fish is from the above root, because of their prolific property; and consequently the use of such a term naturally suggests the notion of an extraordinary increase. Thus the Chaldee paraphrase adds, “like the fishes of the sea.” Hence, in the time of Moses there were 85,200 men of war descended from Joseph, a greater number than from any other of Jacob’s sons. See Ainsworth. — Ed
Perhaps this interpretation of a confessedly obscure passage, will be deemed rather ingenious than solid. It is supposed by many, that Jacob refers to some transaction of which no record is preserved. He may, like Abraham, on some occasion, have armed his household to recover from the hands of the Amorites the field of Sheehem, which he had previously purchased. But the whole must be left in hopeless obscurity. Ainsworth thinks that Jacob is speaking proleptically, and representing the future conduct of his children under Joshua, whose sword and bow he here calls his own. But this seems far-fetched. The Chaldee interpretation, that the sword and bow are figuratively used for prayer and supplication, is still more improbable. — Ed.