Jacob passes on a great legacy to Joseph’s sons. He blesses them not only with a physical inheritance, a promise for the future land, but also with a spiritual legacy. His prayer evokes not only his ancestors who walked in God’s ways, but how God has been with him, Jacob, during his life.
Jacob celebrates that Abraham and Isaac “walked before” God (Genesis 48:15; cf. God’s command to Abram in Genesis 17:1), and God had been Jacob’s shepherd all his life (Genesis 48:15; cf. Genesis 49:24). Like sheep oblivious to some ways that their shepherd protected them, Jacob had not always been aware of God’s watchful care; for example, he had long thought Joseph dead yet God had been working in Joseph and would ultimately preserve the entire family through him. Such an illustration was natural for a shepherd such as Jacob (cf. Genesis 46:34).
God was not only a shepherd but was identified with the “angel” who redeemed Jacob from evil (Genesis 48:16). Sometimes God’s angel seems to be identified with him, whether by acting on his behalf or by being a manifestation of God in angelic form (Genesis 16:11, 13; Genesis 22:11-12, 15-18; Genesis 31:11-13; cf. Genesis 32:24, 30). The angel of God had been with Jacob, protecting him from Laban (Genesis 31:5, 7, 11), and also protecting him from Esau (Genesis 32:24-30). He recalls the protection of God who shepherded him, the angel who redeemed him, as an expression of trust in the God on whom he calls to bless also his continued line in Joseph.
We also have a heritage from previous generations of those who served God. Like us, they were imperfect, but we should be conscious of carrying on God’s important work in our own generation. Someday, we too will pass on, if the Lord tarries; may it be said of us that we “served God’s purpose” in our own generation (Acts 13:36). And may we have a vision to pass the torch on to the next generation, since God’s work is not meant to stop with us (cf. e.g., Exodus 10:2; Exodus 12:26-27; Deuteronomy 6:7; Deuteronomy 11:19; Deuteronomy 32:46; Psalms 71:18; Psalms 78:4, 6; Psalms 102:18; contrast a possible failure of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20:19).