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In Genesis 48:15-16, when Jacob prepares to bless Joseph (by blessing Joseph's sons, even as his hands are on their heads), the dying patriarch begins by describing God in a fascinating and edifying way:

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, 16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; ...

What is the meaning and purpose of this interesting, poetic preamble?

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Jacob gives two descriptions of God in Gen 48:15 and one in the next verse: (1) his fathers Abraham and Isaac walked before God; (2) God fed him all his life until the present; and (3) he is the Angel which redeemed him from all evil. All three descriptions are deeply significant.

To “walk before God” is one of three phrases used to describe faithfulness to and fellowship with God; it is first used in Gen 17:1 when God tells Abraham to “walk before me, and be thou perfect.” (See also 24:40.) Similarly, Enoch (5:22, 24) and Noah (6:9) walked with God; and and Seth (4:26), Abram (12:8, 13:4, 21:33), and Isaac (26:25) called on the name of the Lord.

The notion of God as he who feeds us is a less frequent or distinctive trope (when put in those terms), but can also be seen in the text: in times of famine, he more literally fed and saved Abraham (twice) and Isaac. But it was when Jacob first fed Esau the bowl of pottage, and then he fed Isaac with the savory meat, that God saw to it that Jacob himself was fed through the Holy Spirit. Thus God appeared to Jacob in the vision of the ladder, saying he was “with thee” (28:15); to this Jacob responded with a vow, one of the conditions of which was that God “will give me bread to eat” (28:20). Thereafter Jacob and clan were never hungry, as God refers to himself as “the God of Beth-el…where thou vowedst a vow” (31:13). Jacob was given ever-growing flocks until God’s providence led Joseph to a position from which he could “nourish” (45:11) the clan, which he did until Jacob’s death.

More modern translations notice that the word rendered “fed,” רָעָה or ra’ah, means “to pasture, tend, graze”, suggesting that God is being compared to a shepherd. The NASB translation is “The God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day”. This of course suggests many interesting and inspirational cross-references, not least of which would be “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (Ps 23:1)

As to the last description, God, or the Angel of the Lord, redeemed—saved or rescued—Jacob throughout his life, from the fury of Esau (twice), from the machinations of Laban, from the threat of revenge by the Canaanites in response to the slaughter of Shechem, and finally from the famine and enslavement by the Egyptians.

Finally, we must explain why Jacob added this elaborate tripartite bit of worship. The three descriptions, as we have seen, are deeply personal. It is especially interesting to combine the second and third description, noticing that the Angel of the Lord is called his shepherd, even as a later appearance of the Lord in human form calls himself “the good shepherd” (John 10:11); Henry points us to this verse: “And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim 4:18). Jacob is commenting on the blessings of a God who has walked with him, fed him, and saved him.

Thus, in the present context, he is calling on the Lord to bless his grandsons similarly, as he has been blessed—he knows his son has already been blessed as few men ever are. That this is the point of the descriptions is confirmed when he asks God to “let my name be named on them” (48:16).

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