“Now I am claiming as my own sons these two boys of yours, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born here in the land of Egypt before I arrived. They will be my sons, just as Reuben and Simeon are” (Genesis 48:5 NLT).
Jacob, who was called Israel, spoke a word of blessing over each of his twelve sons from his death bed. Yet to Joseph, he bestowed a double blessing, giving his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, equal standing to his own sons. And so, when the twelve tribes of Israel moved out of Egypt 400 years later, two of the tribes were called Ephraim and Manasseh.
But wait, the math doesn’t add up. Jacob already had twelve sons. If he adds two more, doesn’t that add up to fourteen? How are there twelve tribes?
Here’s how: First, there is no Israelite tribe named Joseph because he became two tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh. Second, the tribe of Levi was no longer included in the twelve after God claimed them as His own. God instructed Moses not to give them an inheritance in the Promised Land for the “Lord would be their inheritance” (Deut. 18:2). Levi would become the priestly tribe of Israel.
Therefore the math works as follows: 12 – 2 (Joseph & Levi) + 2 (Ephraim & Manasseh) = 12.
The last words of Jacob are explanatory and prophetic. They explain the origin of the twelve tribes of Israel, and they predict the coming of the Messiah to the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:8-12). Genesis is a book of beginnings. It describes the creation and the fall of humanity. It begins the story of God’s rescue through Jesus Christ, His Son.
PRAYER: Dear Father, we are amazed at Your plan of redemption for us. How from the beginning You set in motion Your plan to redeem us back from sin and death by giving Your only begotten Son, Jesus. We are in awe of You. Forgive us that we are often anxious about tomorrow. For You have all of our days from beginning to the end in Your plans. You have saved us. You will keep us. We are Yours. In Jesus’ name, amen.