Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48)
Before dying, Jacob laid hands upon Joseph's sons to bless them with the birthright, similar to the manner his father had done to him when he was young. At the same time, Jacob adopted the boys as his own sons, and thus they were to actually be considered full sons of Israel and full brothers of the others. Joseph thought that Jacob was making a mistake by placing his right hand on the younger of the two boys. But this was quite deliberaterequiring Jacob to actually cross his arms to bless them as he did.
God was using this situation to indicate that He had special plans for the descendants of the sons of Joseph, and that Ephraim would indeed be greater in wealth and power than his older brother, Manasseh. As the chapter begins, they were mentioned in order of age, "Manasseh and Ephraim" (verse 1). But a point is later made of a switch in name order. Jacob "blessed them that day, saying, 'By you Israel will bless, saying, "May God make you as [note the order] Ephraim and Manasseh!"' And thus he set Ephraim before Manasseh" (verses 18-20).
Furthermore, we see clarified here that the national birthright blessing of a nation and company of nations given in Genesis 35:11 did not refer to the tribes of Israel generally. Instead, Manasseh was to become the great single nation and Ephraim the company of nations. Indeed, as incredible as it sounds, Manasseh is today the United States of Americathe greatest single nation the world has ever seen. And Ephraim comprises the prophesied "company of nations"the related Commonwealth nations of Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and a small segment of South Africa and other former British colonies. Prior to America's national greatness, Britain ruled over the largest empire in the history of the world. (To learn the amazing story of how this came to be, request or download our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.) We will see more details of the tremendous blessings that were to come upon the family of Joseph in our next reading, Genesis 49.
Supplemental Reading: "Joseph's two national identities" and "Blessings for Joseph's descendants," The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy, pp. 10-11.