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Ephraim and Rachel







Vayechi – Genesis 47:28 – 50:26


Vayechi is from the first verse of our portion (Gen 47:28). Vayechi is translated ‘and Jacob lived’ but literally it’s just ‘and lived’. It’s an ironic way to start the portion. Starting with the mention of Jacob’s life we find ourselves immediately focusing on the narrative that surrounds his very death.


To begin, Jacob calls for Joseph, has him promise to bury him ‘with my fathers’ and then, upon hearing of Jacob’s illness, Joseph attends him a second time with Ephraim and Manasseh. At this point, the infamous blessing and reversal of their birth order occurs. Following Joseph and his boys’ meeting with Jacob we read of Jacob’s famous blessings for the tribes of Israel where all the brothers gather before him. Then we have the death of Joseph and the conclusion of Genesis.


He Lived


The beginning is peculiar. It starts with ‘and Jacob lived in Egypt.’ If you go back just 1 verse, it begins with ‘now Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt’. Both are basically saying the same thing but it uses the 2 names of Jacob. In each case the description of his time in Egypt is also different. Jacob ‘lived’ and Israel ‘dwelt’ is different in the Hebrew as it is in the English from my Bible.


The two verses reflect Biblical parallelism which is a form of Hebrew poetry. The two descriptions however reflect two different realities. Jacob ‘lived’ in Egypt because he was re-united with his son.


In the years without Joseph Jacob had lived as if he were dead;


Genesis 37:35 (NKJV)


35 And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, “For I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.


When he learnt that Joseph was alive he ‘revived’;


Genesis 45:27 (NKJV)


27 But when they told him all the words which Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived.

So, Jacob lived a good 17 years in Egypt where Joseph was.


This contrasts to ‘Israel’ who ‘dwelt’. Israel is the name given to Jacob by God and reflects a higher level of spirituality and commitment to God. In a sense, Jacob reflects the flesh and Israel reflects the spiritual. Israel though, separated from the land of Israel, did not truly live but simply dwelt and awaited the day when Israel would return to the Promised Land.


Manasseh and Ephraim


When alone with Joseph, Jacob asks him to swear to not bury him in the land of Egypt. Joseph swears and following this he hears that ‘indeed your father is sick’ and he later returns to Jacob with his two sons.


We’re all familiar with this scene. Jacob switches the birth order of Ephraim and Manasseh and when he blesses them he adopts them.


Jacob sits up and recounts a little about his story first. He recounts God appearing to him in Luz and the blessing YHWH gave him where He would make Jacob ‘fruitful’ and that He would multiply him and make of him a ‘multitude of people’. Saying this, Jacob then says;


Genesis 48:5 (NKJV)


5 And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.

The language Jacob uses corresponds to ancient adoption language. Jacob in this meeting takes the boys and adopts them legally as his own sons.


His actions pose the questions of why? And why the reversal of the boy’s birth order?

Well, it’s interesting that Ephraim and Manasseh’s names are ‘fruitfulness’ and ‘forgetfulness’ respectively. Whilst the switch of their birth order is a puzzle, there may be a hint as to why in the meaning of their names. There’s also a hint in Jacob’s speech to Joseph. When Jacob first speaks, he mentions God’s promises to him but then ends mentioning Rachel who died near Ephrath and who was buried on the way. The promise to be fruitful is connected to the death of Rachel.


Coincidentally, Ephraim’s name is ‘fruitful’. Fruitfulness is the Hebrew word ‘parah’ and forms the root word for Ephraim’s name. The same root word is found in ‘Ephrath’ where Rachel was buried. ‘Ephrath’, her burial location, means fruitfulness. It’s also noteworthy that God promised Jacob to be ‘parah’, ‘fruitful’.


The linguistic connection between Ephraim, Ephrath and the promise to be ‘fruitful’ all stands out in the Hebrew. It’s as if Jacob said ‘my beloved wife died and was buried near ‘fruitfulness’. Your son, ‘fruitful’, shall be mine, as YHWH promised I would be ‘fruitful’’.


It shouldn’t be a surprise then to see Ephraim, the fruitful one, chosen as a fulfilment of God’s promise to be fruitful, and the one to continue the line of Rachel, who Jacob desired to be fruitful with, and who he buried at a place called ‘fruitful’.


One commentary I have describes the connection;


It may be that we should see some connection between Jacob’s appropriation of Joseph’s children as his own and his recall of his wife’s death. Had Rachel lived longer, she would have given birth to other children. In taking Joseph’s two children, Jacob increases (posthumously) Rachel’s offspring to four. If that is the case, then Rachel’s prayer at the birth of Joseph (“May Yahweh add another son for me,” 30:24b) has been answered with Benjamin, and again with Ephraim and Manasseh.[1]


Ephraim is both fulfilment of God’s promise to be fruitful, and he’s also a fulfilment of Jacob’s desire to continue the line of his loved bride, Rachel.


I often feel for Jacob’s other wives, but yet I find his love for Rachel to be something truly special. There is no doubt; Rachel is the wife Jacob goes to the grave longing for.

The scene is quite touching, especially when scrutinised. He laments the loss of Rachel. Verse 10 of 48 also says that he kissed Ephraim and Manasseh and embraced them. This is an exception in the Bible. Normally, there is an embrace which is then ended with the kiss. That Jacob kisses his grandsons and then embraces them scholars say indicates Jacob’s intent to embrace them longer than a simple greeting.


Jacob is no longer the same Jacob we’ve read of throughout the Scripture. Here is an old man, reminiscing on old love and embracing his grandchildren whom he loves dearly.


The Blessing


The blessing Jacob gives the two boys are wonderful. He says ‘let my name be named upon them, and the name of my father’s Abraham and Isaac and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth’.


It appears that, despite the reversal of birthright, that Manasseh also has his role to play in becoming a fruitful and great people. When Joseph protests at Jacob switching his hands (placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head) he says that Manasseh too will become great.

Ending the blessing for the boys Jacob famously ends saying;


Genesis 48:20 (NKJV)


20 … “By you Israel will bless, saying, ‘May God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh!’ ” And thus he set Ephraim before Manasseh.

As we know, these details regarding Ephraim and Manasseh are deeply prophetic. Ephraim becomes the tribe synonymous with the northern Kingdom of Israel after the split. Prophetically, God yearns for his son Ephraim and his restoration.


Jeremiah 31:18–20 (NKJV)


18 “I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself:

‘You have chastised me, and I was chastised,

Like an untrained bull;

Restore me, and I will return,

For You are the Lord my God.

19 Surely, after my turning, I repented;

And after I was instructed, I struck myself on the thigh;

I was ashamed, yes, even humiliated,

Because I bore the reproach of my youth.’

20 Is Ephraim My dear son?

Is he a pleasant child?

For though I spoke against him,

I earnestly remember him still;

Therefore My heart yearns for him;

I will surely have mercy on him, says the Lord.


The concept here also speaks prophetically because it teaches us the concept of adoption. It’s an interesting thought because I think we are all children of God. Here though we see that God can take anyone and make them part of His family. In doing so, they inherit the names of the fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Just like Ephraim and Manesseh who would go on multiply in seed, even by adoption if need be.


Ephraim not only represents the northern Kingdom which will one day return from exile. Ephraim, having multiplied prophetically becomes the fullness of the nations and represents the adopted ones into God’s kingdom. When Israel returns, it will be one Israel, it will be adopted and natural born children.


Ephraim’s brother is called Manasseh. He too will become great and is clearly and intimately connected to Ephraim. Manasseh’s name is forgetfulness. The brothers then represent the ‘forgotten ones’. And when the day comes and when the exile ceases, we forgotten ones from amongst the nations will return to the land of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Then, as the sages say, our mother Rachel will be comforted. That Manasseh’s name if ‘forgetfulness’ speaks to Israel’s lost identity whilst out in the exile.


Rachel and Ephraim


In a beautiful connection we simply have to note that the focus of Jeremiah 31 is on both Rachel and Ephraim. Jeremiah 31 is on the lament of Ephraim and the yearning of God, but YHHW explicitly speaks to Rachel stating ‘refrain your voice from weeping...your children shall come back to their own border...’


Note that God says ‘your children’ to Rachel and that He is referring to Ephraim.

Jacob may have adopted Ephraim as a father, prophetically speaking; but Ephraim also becomes a child of Rachel.


Read Jeremiah 31:15-21 and see the connection in full.

Jeremiah 31:15–21 (NKJV)


Mercy on Ephraim


15 Thus says the Lord:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,

Lamentation and bitter weeping,

Rachel weeping for her children,

Refusing to be comforted for her children,

Because they are no more.”

16 Thus says the Lord:

“Refrain your voice from weeping,

And your eyes from tears;

For your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord,

And they shall come back from the land of the enemy.

17 There is hope in your future, says the Lord,

That your children shall come back to their own border.

18 “I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself:

‘You have chastised me, and I was chastised,

Like an untrained bull;

Restore me, and I will return,

For You are the Lord my God.

19 Surely, after my turning, I repented;

And after I was instructed, I struck myself on the thigh;

I was ashamed, yes, even humiliated,

Because I bore the reproach of my youth.’

20 Is Ephraim My dear son?

Is he a pleasant child?

For though I spoke against him,

I earnestly remember him still;

Therefore My heart yearns for him;

I will surely have mercy on him, says the Lord.

21 “Set up signposts,

Make landmarks;

Set your heart toward the highway,

The way in which you went.

Turn back, O virgin of Israel,

Turn back to these your cities.

The imagery is beautiful.


The Blessing of the Tribes


Following this we have the blessing of the 12 tribes.


There’s just a couple of things I will point out about this focusing on Reuben, Simeon and Levi. Unfortunately we can’t go through every blessing for analysis.


First, due to the actions of Reuben, Simeon and Levi the right of firstborn was lost to them. The Bible teaches us that is was split between Judah and Joseph. After the failing of the elder 3, Judah was next in line and Jacob’s blessings confirm this. He says the sceptre will never depart from Judah meaning the kinship of Israes. He says a lawgiver will never cease to be with him and says the obedience of the people is his. Judah is king.


But. The birthright (aka firstborn blessing) belongs to Joseph. This is confirmed in 1 Chronicles 5:1-2 and so the blessings giving to Joseph confirm this.


The Rebuke


The sages have an issue with the blessings and its an interesting one. They point out the end of the blessings which says;


Genesis 49:28 (NKJV)

28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father spoke to them. And he blessed them; he blessed each one according to his own blessing.


The issue being, that Israel ‘blessed’ all of the 12 tribes. The sages rightly say this contrasts the words spoken to Reuben, Simeon and Levi.


Their blessings might start ok, saying that Reuben is ‘the beginning of my strength’ and that Levi and Simeon are ‘brothers’. But in both cases it goes south pretty quickly and Jacob rebukes both of them. The sages ask how are these referred to as blessings when upon inspection they appear to not be?


The answer?


God rebukes the ones that he loves;


Hebrews 12:5–7 (NKJV)


5 … you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,

Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;

6 For whom the Lord loves He chastens,

And scourges every son whom He receives.”


7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?


In Chassidic thought, (and this is true anyway) they also say there are hidden blessings and revealed blessings. They say there are blessings and rebukes.


The sages point out that the sum total of the two words ‘blessing’ and ‘rebuke’ = the number 666. That’s not saying the two combined are evil or anything like that. 6 is also the number of man and in this case is referring to things revealed (i.e. flesh). The sages point out that in verse 28 that it repeats the word for blessing 3 times. The word for bless in Hebrew, times by 3 happen to also equal 666. The teaching they say is that it’s all really a blessing, even when it appears like a rebuke it’s meant for good.


Interestingly enough, the hidden nature of the blessing for Reuben, Levi and Simeon is seen in the interesting tid bit that their names when added together numerically = 777 (which is all a number we would see as positive).


Yet another fascinating tid bit exists in that the breastplate of the high priest contains the names of the 12 tribes. It is 3 columns and 4 rows. The names on top of the 3 rows (from very old traditions), holding all the other tribes which sit beneath, is Reuben, Simeon and Levi.

Allow me one last bit of gematria before you stone me. The word for ‘exile’ is numerically the same as ‘rebuke’.


God’s rebuke to Israel includes exile yet this too can be understood as a blessing. I would suggest the blessing is in the multiplication of Ephraim. The method God used may hurt, but when Ephraim returns to his land it will be with large numbers. The rebuke will become the blessing.


What does this mean for Reuben, Levi and Simeon prophetically speaking? I’m not sure to be honest but they remain loved and blessed and when the exile ends, it too will end for them.


The True Hidden Blessing.


When blessing Ephraim and Manasseh Jacob says ‘God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your fathers’. At the conclusion of our portion, Joseph says;


Genesis 50:24 (NKJV)


24 And Joseph said to his brethren, “I am dying; but God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

He uses a very interesting phrase when he says ‘God will surely visit you’. Surely visit you is ‘pakad yifkad’ in the Hebrew.


Pakad isa word which means ‘to number, visit, look after’ etc. Yifkad is the verbal form of the word ‘pakad’ (i.e. it has the same meaning as pakad).


We have spoken about pakad at length in the past. It is also translated as the word for ‘census’ and is used frequently in the book of numbers for the censuses that occurred.

That Joseph is saying this here alludes to the fact that God, when He returns the people to Israel, will account for every last one of them. When the Father returns Ephraim they will all be accounted for.

There’s a further couple of connections I can make here. You might think they’re a bit tenuous but let’s see.


First, go back to Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh. After declaring to Jacob that he was going to adopt them, Jacob then asks who the boys are with Joseph. He says ‘who are these’, in the Hebrew it’s ‘mi eleh?’


The sages run rampant with the word ‘eleh’ in the book of Exodus. When Israel declares the Golden Calf to be God they say ‘this’...’eleh’...’is your god’. After the incident, and the subsequent building of the tabernacle, the Torah says ‘(eleh) these are the accounts of the tabernacle’.


Exodus 38:21 (NKJV)


21 This is the inventory of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the Testimony, which was counted according to the commandment of Moses, for the service of the Levites, by the hand of Ithamar, son of Aaron the priest.


The sages say that the Golden Calf was declared with ‘eleh’ and that this was reversed by the declaration ‘eleh’, this is the inventory of the tabernacle. They also note that the materials they would have otherwise used for paganism were instead contributed to the tabernacle.

What’s my point?


‘Eleh’, in rabbinic thought at least, becomes synonymous with the turning away from paganism and with the true worship of God. Because of Exodus 38:21 ‘eleh’ is also connected with the Temple. Therefore, when someone says the phrase ‘mi eleh’ in the Old Testament, it’s actually quite the loaded question.


When Esau encounters Jacob on his return to Israel he ‘looks up’ and says ‘mi eleh?’ (Genesis 33:5). This is speaking beyond the physical. The phrase that Esau ‘looks up’ always alludes to a spiritual encounter in the Bible. Here, Esau is seeing the return of the Tabernacle of God to its land.


Given the symbolism we know of Ephraim, with him being the exiled and the lost northern kingdom, that he is the fullness of the nations, I’m not surprised to see him enquired about in the same prophetic terms.


So ‘Mi eleh?’ This alludes to the prophetic turning away from paganism,and the return of Israel, the true Tabernacle of God to its own land. It alludes to the time when God will ‘account’ for and ‘remember’ all of his people (pakad).


The Messiah.


I’ve shared this at length elsewhere but here I’ll mention it again.


None of this happens without the sacrifice of Yeshua. For reasons beyond our scope right now, His sacrifice is what allows the redemption and adoption of all humanity.

Joseph says ‘pakad yifkad’, God will surely visit you.


As mentioned, pakad is a term which also means ‘census’ and something which is ‘counted’. In the times of Jesus, there was a place outside the city walls by the main highway going into Jerusalem. It was on the Mt of Olives where the Romans executed criminals, but it was also the site where the census happened and where the people of Israel went to be numbered. There’s an altar there called the ‘miphkad’ altar. ‘Miphkad’ is just another variation of ‘pakad’ and it was here that all the sacrifices which needed to occur for the Temple service outside the city happened. It just so happens to be the place where the Messiah was crucified.

Joseph probably knew not the depth of his words when he said ‘God will surely visit you’. Because God did when He was ‘counted’ for our sins on that mountain in Jerusalem. Jesus is the hidden blessing who bore our rebuke and the one by whom our exile will end.

The sages say when the day comes that He will walk in with the exiles, the sons of Ephraim. When that day comes, Rachel will be comforted.


Everytime the question is asked ‘mi eleh’ the answer is also deeply prophetic. In both cases, where Jacob was asked by Esau, and where he himself asked Joseph, the response is deeply prophetic. In both cases we can (prophetically at least) put the answer right in the mouth of the Messiah when the true Father will ask His son ‘mi eleh’ in the end of days.


So, ‘Mi Eleh’?


The Messiah will answer ‘these are the children whom God has graciously given your servant’ (Gen 48:9), ‘they are my sons who God has given me in this place’ (Gen 48:9).

And the Father will answer, ending the exile, ‘please bring them to me’.

And that’s what our Messiah will do.


Be Blessed,


Jason HRM.

[1] Hamilton, V. P. (1995). The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18–50 (p. 630). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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