As our patriarch Jacob prepared to depart from this world, he summoned his son, Joseph, the vice king of Egypt, and his two children Ephraim and Manasseh for final blessings. Jacob then exclaimed to Joseph:
“And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine. Your offspring whom you beget after them, shall be yours; they will be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance.” (Genesis 48:5-6)
Basically, Jacob “kidnapped” Ephraim and Manasseh, and left Joseph with the children that will be born thereafter. Which makes us ask, why? What is so special and unique about Joseph’s children in contrast to the children of Levi and Benjamin? Secondly, why did Jacob superfluously mention the time-frame of their birth, emphasizing that it was before he’d come to Egypt? Finally, being that Jacob was a prophet, he probably knew that Joseph won’t have any other children from that point on (as it is evident from the future census’ in the book of Numbers and elsewhere); what, then, was the point of engaging Joseph in the status of his irrelevant ‘future children?’
Before we address these questions, perhaps let’s observe the nature of counterculture movements. (I think that is redundant, for a movement that is not counterculture is not really a movement, it is another fraction of society.)
The pattern is almost always identical. There’s a guy that comes up with a revolutionary idea, he is instantaneously rejected by everyone besides for a small group of people that are drawn to his personality or who can identify with his message. The followers’ passion for the movement allows them to abandon their families and communities; to accept shun and mockery, and sometimes even torture and death. They then raise their children and students with the teachings of the leader, and eventually the children, too, will pass it on.
The second generation, however, is very different than their precursors. They don’t have to leave their families, for their families are in this community. They are not persecuted nor shunned, for in their circles they are just like everyone else. Basically, for the second generation it is not counterculture, it is common society. Consequently, the vigor, passion, excitement and fervor that fueled the founding of the movement dies down and dries up.
Jacob lived in pagan Canaan, but believed in One God. He raised twelve children by the Word of that God; and taught them that the norms of society as they know it, are immoral. His children saw idolatry wherever they went; whether it was in the pasture with fellow shepherds or in the market selling goods, their cousins from all five sides were devout worshipers of the pagan gods. They lived in constant strife with all that surrounded them. Their children, in contrast, grew up in Jacob’s extended home. They joined their fathers in the field and had many cousins with whom to study the teachings of their grandfather. They didn’t know much of Canaanite culture.
At the same time, Joseph was raising Ephraim and Manasseh in Egypt, the leader of the pagan world. Their grandfather, Potiphe-Ra, was a priest in the Temple of the Egyptian sun god Ra; and the palaces in which they were raised housed more idols than people. Idolatry and Egypt were inseparable and even synonyms, yet Joseph taught them of the One God and related to them the lessons that he’d learned from his father.
Ephraim and Manasseh are a story of two lonely brothers who lived indifferent to the entire world and culture that surrounded them, by the teachings of a prophet they’ve never met. Thus the words of Jacob:
…your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine…
However, once Jacob was in Egypt with his whole clan, rejecting Egyptian gods was no big deal. To emphasize this point Jacob elaborated:
Your offspring whom you beget after them, shall be yours…
We can visualize a young Ephraim standing on a palatial balcony overlooking the capital city, battling with himself to reject all his eyes saw. We feel the same as we walk in the streets of the twenty-first century and try to resist the overwhelming seductions of common culture. What keeps me strong, is when i let my conscience hear Jacob tell me: “your sons who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt… they shall be mine…”