Ministry Resources

Joseph Receives the Double Portion

Author: Dr. Craig Keener

As noted earlier, Jacob gives Joseph the double portion allotted to the firstborn son. Because the double portion meant that the first son received twice the share allotted to any other son, Jacob promises Joseph one piece of land more than his brothers (Genesis 48:22).

Jacob declares that he had taken this land by his sword and bow. This description does not apply to most of Jacob’s sojourn in Canaan, most of which was peaceful. Unless he prophesies the future conquest (cf. Genesis 15:16), it apparently applies only to his sons’ unruly conquest of the town of Shechem (Genesis 34:25-29). Families were viewed as a unit, and this was an action by the family of which Jacob was head and progenitor.

Although Jacob actually disapproved of his sons’ sack of Shechem and initially hurried from that region (Genesis 34:30; Genesis 35:1-5; Genesis 49:5-7), this conquered town was in fact part of the future promised land. Jacob had legally bought land there (Genesis 33:19) and dedicated it to God (Genesis 33:20); moreover, he eventually came to view the area as safe even for his sons (Genesis 37:12-14). Even when Joseph disappears after being sent there, his disappearance is (wrongly) attributed to a beast rather than to a vengeful neighbor (Genesis 37:20, 33). The term sometimes translated “portion,” “ridge,” and so forth in Genesis 48:22 can also be translated “Shechem.”

That Shechem ultimately lies in the territory of Ephraim (Joshua 20:7; Joshua 21:21; 1 Kings 12:25; 1 Chronicles 6:67; cf. nearby Manasseh in Joshua 17:7), one of Joseph’s sons (Joshua 17:7), confirms the likelihood of that meaning or at least that wordplay here. Shechem went not to descendants of the sons who pillaged it (especially Simeon and Levi) but instead to descendants of Joseph, who was likely too young to have participated in that action (Genesis 30:21-25; Genesis 31:41; 37:2; cf. Genesis 29:20, 27).

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