“By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21 ESV).
In blessing Joseph’s sons, Genesis 48:13-14 tells us that Jacob set aside the common practice of blessing the eldest son at his right hand in favor of Joseph’s younger son Ephraim. Of course, this was not the first time something like that had occurred, as Jacob himself was well aware.
Although God had given Joseph a gift that enabled him to discern the meaning of dreams and their interpretations, he failed to recognize the spiritual significance behind his father’s decision to bless his younger son Ephraim instead of his older son Manasseh….
“When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. Joseph said to him, ‘No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.’
But his father refused and said, ‘I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.’
He blessed them that day and said, ‘In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’ So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh” (Genesis 48:17-20 NIV).
Despite his father’s apparent mistake (at least from Joseph’s perspective), Jacob’s words eventually came to pass. According to one source, “This was fulfilled in Israel’s history. Both tribes were blessed, but Ephraim was greater as a tribe, even to the point where the name ‘Ephraim’ was used to refer to the whole northern nation of Israel.” (1)
However, there is another perspective to consider regarding Ephraim and Manasseh. You see, it is important to remember that this meeting between Jacob and Joseph took place while they were living in Egypt, the greatest nation on earth during that period. Joseph was also the second most powerful government official in Egypt at that time.
In light of this, Ephraim and Manasseh could have chosen to remain in Egypt and taken advantage of the benefits and social amenities that were available to them as sons of a high-ranking government official. Instead, they willingly chose to accept their grandfather’s adoption and join with their uncles to form what would become the nation of Israel. Therefore, we can say that each of Joseph’s sons also acted in faith, for they willingly gave up the privileges of Egypt to follow God’s destiny for their lives.
(1) Guzik, David, Genesis 48 – Jacob Blesses Joseph’s Sons https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/genesis-48/