Israel did not bless his grandsons in this way simply because they were "nice boys." Rather, he had come to understand the substance of the promises God had given him, his father Isaac, and his grandfather Abraham. Accordingly, he blessed the boys, as Hebrews 11:21 states, "by faith." His conviction that those promises were sure led him to bless his grandsons as he did.
It is important to understand the first part of the blessing. Israel granted none of his own sons the birthright blessing. That went to Joseph's sons instead. That is why he goes out of his way to inform Joseph, "Your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt . . . are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine" (verse 5). As part of the blessing itself, he makes his wishes clear; the brothers are to bear the name of Israel: "Let my name be named upon them" (verse 16). This is important: Ephraim and Manasseh were born in Egypt (Genesis 41:50-52). Jacob wants to establish legally that they were not Egyptians, but were of the family of Abraham and therefore part of the structure of promises given by God to the patriarchs.
With that important legality out of the way, Jacob continues to bless his grandsons. He blesses Manasseh, the firstborn, with greatness; he blesses Ephraim, the younger boy, by saying that he would be still greater, not only a people but a multitude of nations (Genesis 48:16, 19).
Much to the consternation of Joseph, Jacob crosses his hands, placing his right hand on the head of the younger boy, Ephraim, and his left hand on the head of the older boy, Manasseh (verse 14). This was unusual, as the right hand, signifying the greater blessing, generally was placed on the head of the older son. Jacob refuses to realign his hands, telling the concerned Joseph that his actions were no mistake. He had "guid[ed] his hands knowingly" (verse 14) when he placed them on the boys' heads. Jacob knowingly bestows the greater blessing on the younger son, Ephraim, reserving a lesser blessing for Manasseh, the firstborn.
Searching for Israel (Part Two): Blessings in Faith
Genesis contains two significant prophecies about the name of the Israelite peoples. In the first, Genesis 21:12, God tells Abraham to send Ishmael and his mother away, "for in Isaac your seed shall be called." Paul repeats this twice in the New Testament (Romans 9:7; Hebrews 11:18). On the surface this seems to mean that God would consider Isaac's progeny to be the true sons of Abraham, and this is true. But it means so much more! It also means that Israel would call itself by the name "Isaac" in later times.
The second prophecy concerns Jacob's blessing on the sons of Joseph. In his prayer he asks God to "bless the lads; let my name be named upon them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac" (Genesis 48:16). This confirms God's words to Abraham, only this time it is specifically directed toward the birthright tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. The descendants of Joseph would bear the names of the patriarchs, particularly Isaac.
Amos, written less than a half century before Israel fell, uses the name "Isaac" twice to refer to Israel:
The high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste. . . . Now therefore, hear the word of the LORD: You say, "Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not spout against the house of Isaac." (Amos 7:9, 16)
Israel may have already been calling itself "the house of Isaac" or "the sons of Isaac" even before their overthrow and captivity.
After Assyria fell, ancient records tell of a new people living around the shores of the Caspian Sea. These people were variously known as Sakai, Sacae, Sagetae, Sakki, Scyths, Scythians, Scuths, Scuits, Scolotoi, and Scots. In his book The Tribes, Yair Davidy writes:
SACCAE was the contemporary Middle Eastern term for Scyth and the name is believed to be a derivative of 'Isaac'. The appellation 'Saxe' or 'Saxon' is a further development of the same name. (p. 128)
Sharon Turner, author of History of the Anglo-Saxons, agrees, "Saka-Suna or the Sons of Sakai abbreviated into Saksun, which is the same sound as Saxon, seems a reasonable etymology of the word 'Saxon'" (p. 87). It takes no great leap of reason to conclude that "Saxons" is a corrupted form of "Isaac's sons."
Where do we find the Anglo-Saxon peoples living in these last days? In the very same place the Bible tells us Israel would be: northwestern Europe and its colonies!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jacob laid his hands on his grandsons' heads to confer God's blessing upon them. David considered God's hand upon him as a blessing and comfort. Jesus blessed little children by laying His hands on them.
Martin G. Collins
Basic Doctrines: The Laying On of Hands
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Genesis 48:16:
1 Samuel 11:7-8
2 Samuel 7:11-16
2 Kings 16:1-6