In Genesis 48, Jacob’s preferential treatment of Joseph is resumed. Jacob adopts Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh and this adoption has far-reaching consequences. First, it means Jacob is giving Joseph more than he is giving the other boys. But second, and perhaps most importantly, Jacob is ensuring that Joseph’s children will not be considered Egyptians, but Israelites. Whatever Joseph has, or will be able to accumulate in Egypt, will, theoretically, be lost. The only thing that counts is inheriting the promised blessing of God.
It’s not that Ephraim and Manasseh receive Joseph’s portion of the inheritance. They have their portion from Jacob. But Joseph doesn’t lose out entirely. He receives an additional inheritance of land in Shechem (compare Genesis 48:22 with Joshua 24:32). Genesis scholar Victor Hamilton observes: “For a second time, Jacob gives to Joseph an extra gift: one mountain slope. We know how the brothers reacted to the coat. We do not know how they reacted to the gift of real estate.”
The elevation of Ephraim will be seen later in the Old Testament story as the northern kingdom of Israel becomes known as “Ephraim.” Their fate comes to an ignominious end. Despite the faith and faithfulness of their forefather Joseph, they will be characterized by idolatry and disobedience.
The picture Jacob presents in verses 15 & 16 is a beautiful one. Abraham and Isaac walked before God, under His watchful care. Jacob, however, has walked behind the Lord, following him all the way and being tended to by His angel, who has appeared in the Genesis story at critical moments of danger and turmoil (cf. 16:7-11; 21:17; 22:11-18; 24:7,40; 31:11; 32:24-30). The image of Jacob following the leading of the Lord is not really one we have seen in his story, but it is how Jacob sees himself and is a reminder that no matter how we see (or don’t see) the faithfulness of others, they may well be following the leading of the Lord. We just can’t see His leading them. Even if they are not following His leading, God knows where they are and, in regards to His people, has His angel watching over them.