Near the end of his life, Jacob told Joseph that Joseph’s sons would be as his own sons. Because of this, Jacob asked to bless them. Joseph brought Manasseh, his first born, and Ephraim, his second born, to Jacob. According to natural order, Jacob would’ve placed his right hand on Manasseh, thereby conferring the greater blessing. The right hand signified strength and a higher position.
Jacob, however, crossed his arms; he placed his right hand on Ephraim and his left on Manasseh. Joseph attempted to correct Jacob, “Not that way, my father! This one is the firstborn. Put your right hand on his head” (Gen. 48:18). Jacob’s eyesight was failing so it was natural to think he just didn’t see which boy was which.
Jacob’s physical sight was poor but his spiritual sight was perfect. When Joseph tried to correct him, Jacob explained he crossed his arms on purpose: Manasseh would become a great tribe but Ephraim would be greater.
Jacob putting Ephraim ahead of Manasseh caps off a pattern in Genesis: the firstborn is never heir, though by law he should be. The promises of Abraham went to Isaac, not Ishmael, though Ishmael was Abraham’s older son. Jacob was Isaac’s second born; Isaac’s blessing went to Jacob, leaving none for Esau. In the case of Esau and Jacob, Paul points out that the second son was selected as heir before either was born or had done anything good or bad (Rom. 9:11). This was true in every case mentioned.
The lives of the patriarchs, as with all lives that belong to the Lord, were shaped by divine reality. According to divine order, Christ is God’s heir (Heb. 1:2). But in the natural order, Adam was the first man and Christ the second (1 Cor. 15:47). Yet before Adam or Christ existed as humans, Christ was chosen to be heir. He was chosen before the fall, and even before the foundation of the world, just as the heirs in Genesis were chosen before the sons were born.
Just as Jesus was chosen to be heir before the foundation of the world, as Lamb of God He was slain before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). Adam fell from being a viable heir when he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3). God brought an end to this first man through the cross. In His place, the second man, Jesus, was raised to God’s right hand (Rom. 6:6; 1 Cor. 15:21-22; Col. 1:18). Jacob prophetically depicted the cross in the crossing of his arms and in transferring the inheritance to Joseph’s second son.
Paul says, “For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight” (Eph. 1:4). To come into Christ is to come into the One who was chosen before the foundation of the world. Once we are in Christ, we share in God’s choosing of Him. We are then chosen, not in ourselves, but in Him.
Because we share in the choosing of Christ, the scripture can call us, “God’s chosen ones, holy and loved” (Col. 3:12). What a precious fact to be chosen! To be included in that moment when God’s heart singled out One to call “Son,” “Beloved,” and “Heir.” Before the fall, before we did anything good or bad, God said of Christ, “On Him my favor rests,” and we have been brought into that!
In the natural, choosing an heir excludes other family from inheriting from the father. Spiritually, God’s choice of Christ means anyone in Christ becomes chosen in Him and shares His inheritance. What mercy that God’s choice of Christ doesn’t exclude but opens the door for many to be heirs of God (Rom. 8:17).