In the Present Tense

November 8, 2009

A Double Portion

Filed under: Bible study, Culture and the Bible — edoutlook @ 10:26 pm

It recently occurred to me that I had never fully responded to my friend Martin’s comment.

Ed, I have wondered but never understood the issues of Joseph’s sons being elevated to the status of their uncles–and the younger one of them getting the birthright!

The answer that I have is relatively simple, but I think, if not correct, at least logical.

The passage in question is Gen 48:5

“Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.”

In other words, Ephraim and Manasseh would be reckoned as sons of Jacob, on a par with Reuben and Simeon– not reckoned as grandsons.

Why was this?

The passage is followed by Jacob blessing Ephraim as firstborn, rather than Manasseh, who actually was born first. Joseph is puzzled. In my book Torn, this discussion follows.

Joseph asked, “Is it not the custom that the firstborn should be given preference?”

“That is man’s reckoning,” Israel agreed.

“Is there some other reckoning?”

“Whom has El Shaddai chosen?” Israel replied.

Joseph shook his head. “I do not follow. . .”

“Was Abraham firstborn?” Israel inquired.

“You told us as children, that Haran was born first.”

“So I did. Was my father Isaac firstborn?” Joseph seemed about to confirm that statement, when Israel interjected, “Or was Ishmael born first?”

Joseph’s eyes went wide. “And your brother Esau was born before you!”

“It is so,” Israel agreed. “But El Shaddai told my mother in a dream, before our birth, that I would receive His favor. Adonai Elohim does not reckon as we do.”

What does this have to do with Ephraim and Manasseh being reckoned as Jacob’s sons, rather than grandsons?

In Jacob’s time, when a man died, all his possessions would be divided by the number of sons he had, plus one. In Jacob’s case, with twelve sons, that would be thirteen equal portions. The firstborn received his own portion, plus the extra one. This was usually termed simply, a “double portion.”

You may remember this expression in the exchange between Elijah and Elisha in 2 Kings 2:9:

Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

Elisha was requesting the firtsborn’s portion–the double portion. And interestingly enough, only one prophet in all the Bible performed as many miracles as Elisha: Jesus, the ‘firstborn’ of creation (see. Col 1:15). Apparently Elisha did indeed receive the double ortion.

And, in Ephraim and Manasseh, so did Joseph. When Israel inherited the land, the ultimate bequest of Jacob, Ephraim and Manasseh both received allotments of land. When Ephraim and Mannasseh were elevated to the status of Jacob’s sons, it effectively mad Joseph the firstborn. That was the significance of Jacob’s actions.

In Torn, I have Jacob express it this way:

Israel said to Joseph, “I will soon die, but El Shaddai will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers. To you, as one who is over your brothers, I give you the double portion, the portion of the firstborn. Reuben may have been born before you were, but as El Shaddai made clear in your dreams, He chose you.”

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