Technically, there is no tribe of Joseph. Instead, Joseph received a “double blessing,” and his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, each became his own tribe (Genesis 48; Joshua 14:4; Ezekiel 47:13). The Bible does, on occasion, refer to a “tribe of Joseph” (Numbers 13:11; 36:5; Revelation 7:8). However, in the contexts, the “tribe of Joseph” seems to be referring to either the tribe of Ephraim or Manasseh, or to the “house of Joseph,” which included Ephraim and Manasseh.
When Jacob directed a prophecy toward each of his sons, he gave Joseph one of the longest: “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall. With bitterness archers attacked him; they shot at him with hostility. But his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below, blessings of the breast and womb. Your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills. Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers” (Genesis 49:22–26). As with all Jacob’s prophecies to his sons, the one to the tribe/house of Joseph contains lessons for all of us.
Joseph, the “prince among his brothers” was the second to the youngest of the twelve. Joseph’s life, the history of his conflict with his brothers, his captivity, and the subsequent victory God brought about through his trials are well documented in Genesis, chapters 37–51. Jacob begins his prophecy by comparing Joseph to a fruitful vine, or young tree. God had made him fruitful in the land of his affliction (Genesis 41:52). Joseph’s two sons were as branches of a vine running over the wall. Then Jacob proceeds to remind the other brothers of their ill treatment of Joseph. They are among the “archers” who attacked Joseph with bitterness and hostility, along with Potiphar’s wife, whose false accusations sent him to prison for two years (Genesis 39; 41:1).
But through all these troubles, Joseph’s strength is compared to a bow that remained steady. That is, his faith did not fail, but he stood his ground and emerged a conqueror. His arms remained strong and limber, a metaphor for his wisdom, courage, and patience. In short, Joseph maintained both his integrity and his comfort through all his trials, bearing all his burdens with an invincible resolution, and did not sink under the weight of them.
The source of this strength was the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, who was always present to strengthen him. Joseph reminds us that all our strength for resisting temptations and bearing up under afflictions comes from God. His grace is sufficient, and His strength is perfected in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
From his afflictions, and by the power of God, Joseph fed and supported God’s people—the nation of Israel as it existed at that time in Jacob and his family—during the famine that devastated the land. Joseph could be seen as a type of Christ, who was also shot at and hated, but who bore up under His sufferings (Isaiah 50:7–9) and became the Good Shepherd and the Rock and Redeemer of His people.
Joseph’s sufferings also symbolize and foreshadow the church in general, as well as individual believers. The true church of Christ has always been persecuted by Satan, beginning with the extensive persecution of the first century under the Romans. But even in times of relative peace for the church, the enemy still shoots his arrows against the saints, but God protects and strengthens us and will bring us safely home by His power.
Jacob ends the prophecy for the tribe of Joseph with a series of blessings. He prophesies blessings of the heavens above, the deep below, and the breast and womb, all referring to the temporal blessings of fruitfulness and bounty that was the future for the tribe of Joseph.
Years later, Moses gave these same promises of bountiful blessings to the tribe of Joseph (Deuteronomy 33:13–16), reiterating that Joseph was a “prince among his brothers.” Jewish history tells us that the territory of the tribe of Joseph was one of the most valuable parts of the country, and the house of Joseph became the most dominant group in the kingdom of Israel. Joseph reminds us that all blessings, both temporal and spiritual, come from God. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). May we all be as steadfast and strong as Joseph, bearing up under affliction and reaping the reward of God’s eternal blessings.
In Gen.48:1-11 we find the answer to the question “Why is there no tribe of Joseph?” in the lists of the 12 tribes of Israel even though Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob. As Israel draws near death we find Joseph taking his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to their grandfather. Jacob recounts the covenant promise that God has given him and then proceeds to adopt Joseph’s two sons. This is giving a double portion to Joseph, the next to youngest of Israel’s sons, instead of giving it to the eldest son, Reuben, as the custom of the day would require. And even in this giving of the blessing to Manasseh and Ephraim, we will see in verse 13-20 that Israel blesses Ephraim, the younger son of Joseph, with the larger blessing.
This prophetic moment points to the tribe of Ephraim becoming the dominant tribe in Israel after Judah. In fact, the northern ten tribes are referred to in Scripture as either Israel or Ephraim and the southern kingdom is referred to as Judah.
Some might also point out that when you count the tribe of Levi you end up with 13 tribes in Israel instead of 12. Technically this is true but the Levites did not receive any territory, only cities scattered throughout Israel; their inheritance was the Lord. But here is the biblical curve ball: Rev. 7:4-8 lists the 12 tribes as “every tribe of the sons of Israel” and it includes Manasseh, but not Ephraim or Dan, and includes Levi and the tribe of Joseph! This is the last listing of the 12 tribes in the Bible. This discussion of the 12 tribes is a bit deep and technical and is a rabbit I will decline to chase right now.
Other than being able to answer correctly when you play Bible Trivia, of what spiritual value is this passage?
2) Supporting ancient texts confirm this kind of adoption process thus showing the Scriptures to be accurate and trustworthy.
3) We see the faithful Son, Joseph, receiving the double blessing. Joseph as a type of Christ points us to Jesus who had no physical descendants on this earth (contra Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code infamy), but whose spiritual offspring are too numerous to count as He received his Father’s blessing for accomplishing all he had been sent to do.
4) We see Jacob/Israel keeping the faith to the very end and passing on the covenant to his children’s children; oh what an example for us all to follow! May the Lord bless us with faithful children and grandchildren who will keep the Faith and serve the Lord till He comes again.