Torah Portion Vaychi
Genesis 47:28 - 50:26
1 Kings 2:1-12
This year we will be going through the Torah portion cycle with a short teachings under 30 minutes each. Included in this post are the Haftarah portion and the Echoes Through Scriptures from previous years.
In Vaychi, we will look at the ancient Near Eastern legal language of adoption and see why it is so significant in Jacob's usage in adopting Ephraim and Manasseh.
This is the twelfth portion in the Haftarah cycle where we will be discussing the death of king David and his final instructions to Solomon.
Recommended Reading list:
The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot by Michael Fishbane
- The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament by John Walton
- Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity by David DeSilva
Here we will be investigating the concept of Divine adoption of Israel, of the kings of Israel, of Yeshua, and of us as the sons of the living God.
- The Bible
Your Two Sons Are Mine!
Genesis 47:28 - 50:26
Adopting a child today can be a very expensive endeavor. Many couples who are unable to give birth must spend thousands of dollars in order to adopt an infant into their home, yet they are willing to pay the cost in order to have a child of their own to raise and love. While we certainly cannot discount the desire to love a child of their own, families in the ancient Near East often had a different motivation to adopt than we do today. Adoption also was not limited to infants and young children, as adults would often be adopted into a family. We have discovered many tablets which give us a window of insight into the ancient cultural practice of adoption which was practiced throughout the Near East. There is no word in the Hebrew Bible which directly translates into adoption and it may be that such a word did not exist in the ancient Hebrew vocabulary. However, comparative analysis of the terminology used in what have been recognized as adoption contracts from Babylonia, Nuzi, and other locations in the ancient Near East and the Bible enable us to determine when the Bible speaks in the language of adoption. One of the clearest usages of adoption language is in this Torah portion in Genesis 48.
Jacob is on his deathbed and asks that Joseph's two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, be brought to him. Jacob tells Joseph, "your two sons...are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are." Clearly, Jacob is claiming that Ephraim and Manasseh are to be considered his own sons as much as Reuben and Simeon (Jacob's firstborn and second-born sons), a clear claim to adoption. He then specifies that this means that these two adoptees are to stand with their new brothers in claim to the inheritance. The two sons are then brought to Jacob and placed upon his knees where they are hugged and embraced and then stood in front of Jacob. Joseph understands the importance of the right hand and so he places his eldest, Manasseh, on Jacob's right hand side and Ephraim on the left but in a plot twist, Jacob crosses his hands and places his right hand on the younger, Ephraim. Joseph realizes the error and tries to correct it but Jacob states that his hand placement is correct, Ephraim will be greater than Manasseh and will become a fullness of nations. Jacob then informs Joseph that he has been given one portion more than his brother, the right of the firstborn. That Joseph should receive the double portion of the inheritance should not come as a surprise since the special coat which Joseph received would have been recognized culturally as a symbol indicating firstborn status.
Mendelsohn notes that Jacob's usage of "your two sons...are mine" are almost identical to the Babylonian adoption formulas found in the Code of Hammurabi. Paragraph 170 of the Code of Hammurabi states:
When a seignior’s first wife bore him children and his female slave also bore him children, if the father during his lifetime has ever said “My children!” to the children whom the slave bore him, thus having counted them with the children of the first wife, after the father has gone to (his) fate, the children of the first wife and the children of the slave shall share equally in the goods of the paternal estate, with the first-born, the son of the first wife, receiving a preferential share.
While dealing with a different scenario, it is clear to see the parallels with the Genesis 48 narrative. Jacob states Manasseh and Ephraim are now his children and equates them to Reuben and Simeon, his first and second born sons. The inference is clear and is then explicitly stated afterwards that Joseph's two sons shall have equal share of the inheritance with the rest of Jacob's sons. The Code of Hammurabi is written in Akkadian, the international language of the day, and the most common way to say "adopt" is ana mārūtim leqŭ, literally to “take for son/daughtership", the very thing which Jacob did! Another indication that Jacob was adopting Joseph's sons is the fact that the two boys were placed upon Jacob's knees. In the ancient Near East, a woman would be said to "give birth on her husband's knees" which would signify the acknowledgment of the child as a legitimate heir. If the man received or placed someone else's child on his knees, this signified adoption.
Joseph had many sons and yet Jacob chose to adopt two of them. Why two instead of just one? Why not adopt of all of them? The cultural context allows us to understand that Jacob didn't adopt Ephraim and Manasseh because they were the only two children of Joseph's that he cared about, it is because the adoption had legal inheritance significance. Speiser notes that an adopted son legally cannot receive the privileged status and double portion of the inheritance if there is already a natural born heir. Joseph was Jacob's favorite son from his favorite wife, yet Joseph was not firstborn. Furthermore, because of Joseph's position in the Egyptian government, he would have been adopted by Pharaoh as a son and is no longer Jacob's son from a legal perspective. Thus, by Jacob adopting Ephraim and Manasseh, he was able to include Joseph's household back into the nation of Israel without upsetting Pharaoh and was able to legally double Joseph's household's inheritance by giving a single portion to two of his children. Another interesting aspect is that in doing this, Jacob places all 13 tribes (12 + Levi) in equal position. No tribe is granted a firstborn position since that firstborn position is split between two of the tribes. The placing of the right hand on the younger Ephraim's head is also a continuation of the theme in Genesis where the younger receives the birthright rather than the older, thus upsetting the social structure of the ancient Near Eastern world where firstborn received better treatment than subsequent children. Truly our God is a God of equity and justice!
Throughout the Bible, Israel is spoken of as the adopted son of YHWH. They became the adopted children of YHWH upon their being freed from Egypt. One of the methods for manumission, the release of a slave, in the ancient world was through adoption such as how Eleazer would have been released from Abraham's service to become the heir had Abraham not have birthed any children. So too, illegitimate children were legitimized through the practice of adoption. In Romans 8:14-15, Paul writes, "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” Truly through Messiah Yeshua, those of us who are not of physical descendancy from Israel become adopted alongside those who are of natural descent to become sons of the Living God and thus co-heirs with Messiah Yeshua. And if we are co-heirs, adopted into the family, we must understand that "act of adoption gives the adopted child the right to inherit property from the adopted parent(s) and the adopted child assumes the same rights and obligations as the begotten children." Let's ensure that we don't forget our sharing in the obligations, as Paul writes in Romans 8:17b, "[we are co-heirs with Messiah] if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
 Genesis 48:5, NASB.
 Gen 48:12.
 Some Bible versions translate as "multi-colored robe" while others as a "long robe". While the exact meaning of the Hebrew word is unclear, what is known from the culture is that special clothing was used as a status symbol and there are numerous records indicating inheritance being tied to a special outer garment given to a son. For more information, see my teaching The Hem and the Garment available at RootedinTorah.com and HebrewRootsTeachings.com.
 Mendelsohn, Isaac. "A Ugaritic Parallel to the Adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh," Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 9, No. 3 (1959), pp. 180-183. (This note is from page 180)
 James Bennett Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed. with Supplement. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 173. Emphasis mine. Also see laws 171, 185-193.
 Knobloch, Fredrick. "Adoption," Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 1:77.
 See parallel in Genesis 30:3.
 Tigay, Encyclopedia Judaica, 2:299.
 Speiser, E.A. "New Kirkuk Documents Relating to Family Laws," The Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Vol. 10 (1928-1929), pp 1-73. (quoted from page 10).
 See especially Jeremiah 3:19, Hosea 1:9-10, and Romans 9:4.
 Knobloch, "Adoption," 1:77.
 Speiser, "New Kirkuk Documents Relating to Family Laws," 7.
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