Details given in Joseph’s birthright blessing—as stated by his father Jacob (Israel) and as confirmed by Moses—give us invaluable insights into the double portion of land his eldest son’s tribe received in the covenant land promised to Abraham and his seed. Each statement of the blessing and its related history also help explain why this double portion of land was granted to Manasseh’s posterity under the leadership of Joshua, who was of the tribe of Joseph’s second son Ephraim.
As a birthright blessing, Jacob’s blessing of Joseph in Genesis 49 exceeded the blessings he pronounced over his other sons, both individually and collectively. It also revealed unique elements (e.g., a well, the wall, and the utmost bound of the everlasting hills) that help guide us in our discovery and exploration of Joseph’s land, as spoken of plainly by Moses in Deuteronomy 33.
Genesis 49:22-26 – Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall: The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:) Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb: The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.
Deuteronomy 33:13-17 – … Blessed of the LORD be his [Joseph’s] land, for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that coucheth beneath, and for the precious fruits brought forth by the sun, and for the precious things put forth by the moon, and for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills, and for the precious things of the earth and fulness thereof, and for the good will of him that dwelt in the bush: let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the top of the head of him that was separated from his brethren. His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.
Moses stood in a unique place and time to confirm Jacob’s birthright of Joseph for several reasons: 1) God had called Moses to bring the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt and to lead them toward Abraham’s land of promise; 2) God inspired Moses to write the book of Genesis, which includes Jacob’s blessing of his son; and 3) God led Moses to bless the children of Israel at the end of his ministering to them, which included blessing Joseph in keeping with Jacob’s birthright blessing.
Elements in each statement of Joseph’s birthright quoted above were placed in their prophetic context by Jacob, saying the blessings he (Jacob) had received were above the blessings of his progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. It is my understanding that 1) Jacob was referring to blessings he had received from God by faith, and 2) that the blessings he received were to be found in land extending far beyond the land his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac were promised in the land of Canaan.
According to Joseph’s birthright, the blessings God held in store for Jacob unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills were then placed upon the head of Joseph and his sons. For it is written:
I Chronicles 5:1,2 – Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but forasmuch as he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright. For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler; but the birthright was Joseph’s)…
Identifying the precious land Moses described as Joseph’s land requires that we consider the scope of the birthright blessing initially placed upon Joseph’s head by Jacob. It also requires that we grasp the significance of Joseph’s posterity holding birthright standing in two areas: 1) in Jacob’s (Israel’s) household, and 2) in the covenant land the Lord gave to Abraham and Isaac, which extended from river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.
As discussed in the previous chapter, Jacob gave Joseph’s two eldest sons equal standing with their uncles and father in his household (the house of Israel) by adopting them. He also set Ephraim before Manasseh in his household, saying that the nations of Ephraim’s posterity would become greater in number compared to those of Manasseh, but that Manasseh would also be great and become a people.
Genesis 48:17-22 – And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head. And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations. And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh. And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers. Moreover I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.
Many years later, when the children of Israel first entered the land promised to Abraham, the Lord God of Israel called upon Joshua to allot the tribal lands of inheritance for at least two reasons. First, being of the tribe of Ephraim, Joshua represented the birthright in Jacob’s household. Second, Joshua returned a good report along with Caleb (of the tribe of Judah) after scouting out the Promised Land.
In opposition to the good report returned by Joshua and Caleb, Manasseh’s scout Gaddi along with the remainder of the other tribes’ scouts brought back an evil report. Thus as Ephraim’s scout, Joshua would lead the children of Israel into Abraham’s land while Manasseh’s scout would perish outside the land. Joshua nevertheless honored Manasseh as Joseph’s firstborn son by giving his posterity the double portion of land in Abraham’s covenant land featured in the last chapter.
This double portion of land Manasseh’s tribe received was an appropriate inheritance because it was consistent with Manasseh’s birthright as Joseph’s eldest son as well as his adoption by Jacob. Both standings made it possible for the tribe of Manasseh to receive a far greater portion of land compared to the land the other tribes of the house of Israel received on an individual basis.
Manasseh received his inheritance for more than a temporal blessing, however. As this study shows, his posterity received a double portion of land as a type and shadow of a spiritual blessing they were to receive for all the tribes of Israel, and ultimately for all the nations of the earth according to God’s covenant with Abraham. Said another way, Joseph’s birthright was meant to benefit all of Israel’s household (i.e., Jacob’s posterity) according to the blessings of his forefather’s birthright which had been placed on Joseph’s head.
Because Joseph’s birthright blessing was not meant just for him and his family, it served to direct his posterity to their calling and work as birthright holders—as those through whom the birthright of his forefathers would extend into future generations. In particular, it spoke in terms of the covenant blessings the Lord God of Israel held in store and yet holds in store for all the children of Israel.
The prophetic witnesses of Jacob and Moses expressed in their statements of Joseph’s birthright clearly indicate that at least part of Joseph’s land would be set apart or separate from the land inherited by the other tribes of the house of Israel in Abraham’s covenant land. Recall how Jacob spoke of a certain wall that Joseph, as a fruitful vine, would grow far beyond. Since Abraham’s covenant land was bounded by the river of Egypt or the Nile River, and the Euphrates River, these rivers were the wall (border) beyond which Joseph, as a fruitful bough, would grow.
Regarding Joseph’s posterity growing beyond the wall surrounding Abraham’s land, Moses prophesied that by his horns Joseph would push the people together to the ends of the earth, specifically those people springing from Joseph’s eldest sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
Deuteronomy 33:17 – His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.
According to Moses’ blessing, then, both of Joseph’s eldest sons would have remnants who would be relocated to the ends of the earth.
Joseph’s horns, mentioned by Moses, were first manifested, I believe, in Joshua of the tribe of Ephraim when he shepherded the children of Israel into the land promised to Abraham following Moses’ death. They were also manifested in Manasseh’s son Machir when he led his family to inherit the land once occupied by the giant named Og and the people of his kingdom. The daughters of Zelophehad, who boldly claimed their inheritance in the Promised Land, also come to mind.
While these appear to be notable examples of Joseph’s horns at work, they were but a partial fulfillment of the same. For Moses truly said the ten thousands of Ephraim and the thousands of Manasseh would be pushed to the ends of the earth by Joseph’s horns. As such, the work of Joshua, Machir, and others do not represent the full extent of Jacob’s and Moses’ blessings of Joseph.
After settling in Joseph’s land far from Abraham’s promised land, Lehi spoke to his two youngest sons about the fulfillment of God’s covenants. He explained how he and his family, as a remnant of Joseph, had in fact been brought through the wilderness to a precious land far beyond the border (wall or boundary) of Abraham’s covenant land.
II Nephi 2:1-6 – And now I speak unto you, Joseph, my last born: thou wast born in the wilderness of mine afflictions, yea, in the days of my greatest sorrow did thy mother bear thee; and may the Lord consecrate also unto thee this land, which is a most precious land, for thine inheritance and the inheritance of thy seed with thy brethren, for thy security forever, if it so be that ye shall keep the commandments of the Holy One of Israel. And now Joseph, my last born whom I have brought out of the wilderness of mine afflictions, may the Lord bless thee forever, for thy seed shall not utterly be destroyed; for behold, thou art the fruit of my loins and I am a descendant of Joseph which was carried captive into Egypt; and great were the covenants of the Lord which He made unto Joseph. Wherefore, Joseph truly saw our day…
As a descendant of Joseph by way of Manasseh, Lehi’s words confirm that Jacob’s and Moses’ blessings of Joseph and his posterity have endured through many generations. The title page of the Book of Mormon also confirms how these blessings should be expected to remain in effect unto the end of the age.
Title Page of the Book of Mormon – An account written by the hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi. Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites. Written to the Lamanites which are a remnant of the house of Israel, and also to Jew and Gentile. Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation. Written and sealed up and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed, to come forth by the gift and power of God, unto the interpretation thereof; Sealed by the hand of Moroni and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by the way of Gentile, the interpretation thereof by the gift of God—An abridgment taken from the book of Ether also, which is a record of the people of Jared, which were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people when they were building a tower to get to heaven—which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel how great things the Lord hath done for their fathers, and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever. And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting Himself unto all nations…
In summary, Joseph’s birthright blessing, as stated by Jacob and confirmed by Moses, are essential for understanding God’s purpose and plan for blessing Manasseh’s posterity with a double portion of land in Abraham’s covenant land. This double portion of land prefigured the full extent of land God intended for them as Joseph’s firstborn. Now, in these latter days, all Israel will come to look to Joseph’s offspring to discharge their birthright duties faithfully for the benefit of all people according to God’s covenant with Abraham.
The discussion in the next few chapters is on the well in Joseph’s precious land of promise at the ends of the earth. It was at this well and from this well that Manasseh’s remnant in Joseph’s land would begin anew to abound in the word and wisdom of the Lord. Before proceeding to this next topic, please read II Nephi 11:80-160 in the Book of Mormon. In these verses, Lehi’s son, Nephi, explains the unique calling the Lord God of Israel placed upon his family as a remnant of Joseph.
 Moses, a true Levite, had been called of the Lord God of Israel to bring the children of Israel into the covenant land the first time after their long stay in Egypt (from the days of Joseph to the time of Moses). To make this transition from life in Egypt to life in the holy land of promise in an orderly fashion, God gave Moses a unique set of laws by which the children of Israel were to conduct themselves (Exodus 21:1‑26). That first generation broke the law given to them through Moses. Consequently, the Lord delayed the entrance of all Israel into Abraham’s covenant land such that only two of the original generation would be permitted to enter the land (Deuteronomy 5:1-3). It would be Joshua of Ephraim, Moses’ minister (Exodus 24:13), who would be called upon to lead them. When the Lord brings them a second time into the land, He will bring them into the land under the new covenant spoken of in Ezekiel 37 (cf. Isaiah 11:1-16 & Jeremiah 31:1-40).
 As described in Jeremiah 30 and 31, the Lord God of Israel called Ephraim His firstborn when making His new covenant with the northern and southern kingdoms, i.e. Ephraim and Judah (see Jeremiah 31:9 with Jeremiah 31:31-34 & Hebrews 8:7-13). If modern-day England represents Ephraim’s descendants, it would be in keeping with the new covenant that the UK would be instrumental in establishing the modern country of Israel just as it was in the days of Joshua, when a son of Ephraim allotted Israel its covenant land in those earlier days.