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Reading Gen. 49, two passages stand out: Jacob's blessing/prophecy over Judah and his equally long blessing/prophecy over Joseph. It strikes me that the blessing over Joseph is the stronger of the two. First, Judah:

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s sons shall bow down to you. 9 “Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? 10 “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. 11 “He ties his foal to the vine, And his donkey’s colt to the choice vine; He washes his garments in wine, And his robes in the blood of grapes. 12 “His eyes are dull from wine, And his teeth white from milk.

Now Joseph

“Joseph is a fruitful bough, A fruitful bough by a spring; Its branches run over a wall. 23 “The archers bitterly attacked him, And shot at him and harassed him; 24 But his bow remained firm, And his arms were agile, From the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), 25 From the God of your father who helps you, And by the Almighty who blesses you With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. 26 “The blessings of your father Have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; May they be on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers.

Although Jacob speaks of the scepter not departing from Judah, his blessing on Joseph seems even more promising. His enemies in war will not prevail, the ancestors have blessed him supremely, he is distinguished among his brothers, and his crown is to be blessed. There is no hint of criticism here of Joseph, as there is for Judah, whose eyes are "dull with wine." Is there an implication that God intended Joseph's tribe to have a brighter future than it eventually did? The question is intensified with reference to the blessing that Jacob gave to Joseph's two sons, who became the predominant northern tribes, in Gen. 48:20:

He blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will pronounce blessing, saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!’”

Were these blessings/prophecies on Joseph and his sons fulfilled? Why does it seem the Joseph tribes were prophetically blessed by Jacob more strongly than Judah's tribe?

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  • Beloved Any answer should keep in mind that Joseph was the son of the woman (wife) that Jacob loved most romantically! Joseph had a special place in Jacob's heart, so Joseph would receive a "double" inheritance, by the inclusion of two sons among the 12 tribes.
    – ray grant
    Aug 28, 2023 at 23:46

4 Answers 4

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I suggest that the blessings on Joseph were being fulfilled during the Judges era.

Firstly, glance over a map of the tribes, especially one showing the contours of the land, and see how central and dominant a place was being held by the lots of Ephraim and Manasseh. Including Benjamin, which was apparently close enough to the house of Joseph to be regarded as an honorary member.It was Shimei,a Benjamite of the family of Saul, who said to David "I have come this day, the first of all the house of Joseph, to meet my lord the king" (2 Samuel ch19 v20). Most of the ancient centres of Israel, like Bethel and Shechem and Mizpah and Shiloh are in that region. That is where most of the pre-Davidic history of Israel happens.

Then see how dominant Ephraim is, especially, in the stories of Judges. Or even before. Was it not Joshua, a member of the tribe of Ephraim, who brought them all into the land and divided up the land in the first place? They are first mentioned after Judah in Judges ch1. Ehud in ch3 belongs to Benjamin, and gathers an army by "sounding the trumpet in the hill-country of Ephraim" (v27). They are the first tribes named in the song of Deborah,ch5 v14.

Gideon belonged to Manasseh. He gathered an army by "sending messengers through the hill-country of Ephraim" (ch7 v24), though this not prevent Ephraim from grumbling afterwards that they had not been called in to help. Ahimelech, his son by a woman of Shechem, was based on Shechem in Ephraim (ch9). Tola originated from Issachar but lived in the country of Ephraim (ch10 v1). When Jephthah defeated the enemies on the other side of the Jordan, Ephraim were bitterly resentful that they had not been called in to help (ch12). I believe the pyschology behind this attitude is that they regarded themselves as the premier tribe of Israel with the right to take the lead in war, especially if there were good chances of winning booty.

In short,I would associate Jacob's blessing of Joseph with the supremacy which that house held before the time of David.

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  • +1 but... It may have gone beyond David's time. The initial foundation of the northern kingdom, centered on the Ephraimite Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:26) was actually blessed by God. In 1 Kings 11:29ff the prophet Ahijah declared the God was taking 10 tribes from Solomon and giving them to Jeroboam. Ahijah was from Shiloh, and some commentators see this is the moment referred to by "until Shiloh comes," for this was the point when the scepter departed from Judah ( 'his father's sons' no longer bowed to Judah's authority.) Jun 8, 2023 at 1:15
  • this discussion has prompted me to compose and answer to a related question. on the meaning of Shiloh. Jun 8, 2023 at 1:56
  • @Dan Fefferman Yes, I concur. They surely thought of themselves as the true Israel as long as that kingdom lasted. Jun 8, 2023 at 5:44
  • It would be interesting if we had more material from the northern perspective... but my point is that the Bible itself indicates that the Northern Kingdom was originally blessed by God (through the authority Shiloh/Ahijah).... and this was the moment when Judah's scepter departed from him -- except with regard to his own tribe. Jun 8, 2023 at 16:54
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The formal blessing of the birthright (usually the oldest son) had several functions:

  • The birthright blessing came with a double portion of inherited land (Gen 48:22, Deut 21:17)
  • The birthright also came with the acknowledgement that this (usually eldest) son would become the priest of the family
  • The birthright also came with the acknowledgement that is son would be the leader of the family
  • For some, this leader responsibility also came with the promise that he would be one of the progenitors of the promised Messiah.

In the case of Jacob's son, Reuben disqualified himself by his sin (Gen 49:4) and so the blessings of the birthright were dispersed among other sons:

  • the double portion of land went to Jacob - his two sons were counted as a tribe each. Thus the two half-tribes of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, were, in this sense more prosperous than Judah.
  • The priesthood went to Levi
  • The leadership and (later) the royal family went to Judah
  • Judah was also the progenitor of Christ

All this is contained within the birthright blessing that Jocob conferred immediately before he died as recorded in Gen 49. The prophecies contained in Gen 49 also foresee something of the location in Israel that these tribes would occupy.

  • In the case of Judah, the prophecy is about the royal Davidic line that would arise from Judah
  • In the case of Joseph, and his two sons who would found entire tribes of their own (Levi was not given any land so the two half-tribes became fully-fledged tribes) the language of the prophecy is about their considerable land holdings - Manasseh's allocation extended from the coast to the eastern border and held most the length of the Jordan river.

Thye birthright blessing's early primary function was to establish the line of inheritance before the father died to prevent fights about it afterward.

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Concerning the confines of the Old Testament/Judaism, it seems like Joseph is more blessed than Judah. We'll first examine the characters in the book of Genesis, then we shall examine the tribes of Judah and Joseph that show up in the nationalist history of Israel in the later sections of the Old Testament.

Let's examine the characters first:

  1. Judah is in debt to Tamar (Genesis 38:17-19), while the Pharaoh invests in Joseph (Genesis 41:41-45).
  2. Judah cannot see that the prostitute that he's laying with is in fact his daughter in law! While Joseph can see into the future with his dreams and his interpretations of other people's dreams.
  3. Joseph fulfills the idea that Israel shall be a blessing to the nations, by feeding the world with Egypt's rations (Genesis 41:57). Judah does not contribute to blessing the world in the Genesis narrative.

Jacob gives a personal blessing to Joseph's children in Genesis 48, unlike any other grand children. Jacob specifically says that Joseph and his children should carry on in the ways of his fathers Abraham and Isaac - Genesis 48:15-16. "Ephraim", Joseph's son in particular - his name in Hebrew means "fruitful". Guess what commandment God has said to almost every main character in Genesis? "Be fruitful." It seems like Joseph and his children are the proper inheritors of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Let's look at the tribes of Joseph: Ephraim and Manasseh

  1. Manasseh got two portions of land - one portion on the eastern side of the Jordan River alongside Reuben and Gad. Plus there is another portion on the western side of the Jordan River. Ephraim has one portion of land. So, Joseph really got 3 portions of land - when you include both tribes. No other tribe of Israel got this much land.

  2. Jeroboam was from the tribe of Ephraim and took away rulership from the tribe of Judah. This is the "Shiloh" part of Jacob's words to Judah. The prophet that tells Jeroboam about Judah's rulership ending is from Shiloh. Genesis 49:10 compared to 1 Kings 11:29.

  3. The two most powerful Prophets in the Old Testament (besides Moses) are Elijah and Elisha. The prophet Elijah was from Gilead (1 Kings 17:1), thus from the tribe of Manasseh (Numbers 32:39-40) and Elisha was also another northern prophet that was Elijah's successor. We do not know what tribe Elisha is from, but we do know that Elisha lives in Dothan (2 Kings 6:13). Dothan is a location associated with Joseph in Genesis 37:17. Strangely, the situation of Dothan is similar in both stories. A prophetic dreamer (Joseph/Elisha) is almost killed by someone (Joseph's brothers/King of Aram) while they are staying in the location of Dothan.

Elijah and Elisha do outstanding miracles that none of the southern prophets are capable of doing. The two of them are associated with the northern kingdom. And they are whom Jacob is possibly seeing in his blessing to Joseph in Genesis 49:22-26.

The Samaritan Israelites are the modern day descendants of Joseph's tribe. To this day, they are the only Jewish group to live in the land of Israel for thousands of years. They have not retained their prophetic/miraculous power, but they have retained the land of Israel, unlike the tribe of Judah. Even Palestinians respect the Samaritans and acknowledge their right to Shechem/Mount Gerizim.

The tribe of Judah on the other hand has not owned the land of Israel since Bar Kokhba. They have been in exile since 136 AD. Some religious Jews chose to go back in the recent century, while other religious Jews (the Satmar sect) refuse to come back to the Holy Land. Seems like they might be living up to the character of Judah in the sense that he is in debt and not in good financial standing, i.e. not being able to fully own the land.

Seems as though the Samaritan Israelites are like Joseph in the way that they can connect to the foreigner nations. Joseph peacefully connected to the Pharaoh and to Egyptian culture, while the Samaritans now peacefully connect with the Palestinian Muslims. The Samaritans have been the only group of Jews to stay in the promised land. Second Temple Jewish groups such as the Zealots, Essenes and Sadducees all got sucked away by Rome.

I know this has been a long post, but I must share one more thing that you might find interesting.

Throughout Genesis, siblings always compete as rival nations and they are both set up by God/their father. Jacob blesses the two tribes Judah and Joseph in Genesis 49 and sets them up as two nations, but this is not new.

  1. A) Abraham forms his own nation. B) Lot, the son of Abraham's dead brother Haran, also sets up nations: Lot's daughters give birth to "Moab" and "Ammon".
  2. A) Isaac forms his own nation. B) Isaac's half brother Ishmael will also set up his own nation under God, as according to Genesis 21:17-18.
  3. Both Jacob and Esau are given blessings by their father Isaac. Isaac blesses both of them. Jacob's blessing is in Genesis 27:27-29 & Esau's blessing is in Genesis 27:39-40.

Seems like Jacob is taking Isaac's example. It is tradition to produce two opposing nations.

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TL;DR: Some believe that Joseph's the birthright blessing included God's unconditional covenant with Abraham to make his descendants a great people. In particular, Ephraim's and Manasseh's descendants eventually became the people of the British Empire (a company of nations) and the United States (a great nation), and received the blessing of physical prosperity and power beginning in the mid 19th century.

For details, see my answer to prophecy - Is the USA mentioned in the Bible?.

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