The Arcadian Press

Ephraim and Manasseh

A painting of a deserted city with people walking around.

Ephraim and Manasseh

By Lydia Davis

I stand beside my grandfather’s bed, Ephraim beside me. Our father, Joseph (whom the Egyptians call Zaphnath-Paaneah), stands behind us, a calloused hand on each of our shoulders. He has called us to Grandfather’s rooms. He is sick, and nigh unto death. So we have come with Abba to see him, to comfort him, and to say our farewells.

Father says that there is another thing that shall happen, but he has said no more.

I have mixed feelings about this meeting. Of course, I am sad, very sad, that my grandfather shall die soon, and sorry that he is sick and feeling poorly. I am also curious about this other thing which is to happen. What is it, and how shall it affect me?

But now Grandfather is sitting up; that is, he is trying to sit up. Ephraim and I jump to help him, one of us on either side of the bed. Grasping his forearms and shoulders, we gently pull him up into a sitting position, arranging his pillows to support him.

I am struck by how ill he has become. He has always been thin, but now, he’s so… so pale! I can follow his veins from his fingers to his elbow, where his sleeve covers the rest of his arm. I can even count his ribs through his robe.

Once we are done, we go back to stand by Abba. Grandfather clears his throat.

“God appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me,” he says. His voice sounds very frail. “And said unto me, ‘Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession.’ And now,” he pauses for a breath. “And now, thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh—”

Now that is odd—usually, people put my name first because of my being the first boy. Hmm… It was probably just a mistake, though…

“—which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt, before I came unto thee in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.”

Reuben is my favorite uncle, for I have heard how he was not inclined to sell my father to the Ishmaelites and Midianites, as Judah was. Simeon is Ephraim’s favorite, for they both love the sword (overly much, I say). Was it a coincidence that it was these two that Grandfather picked for reference?

Grandfather goes on for another minute, talking to Abba, and then, regaining some of his old humor, says, “Who are these?” Of course, he knows it is us, his grandsons, but at least he is joking again.

Abba, with the first real smile I have seen on his face since morning, answers, “They are my sons, whom God hath given me in this place.” Grandfather smiles too.

“Bring them, I pray thee, unto me, and I will bless them.” Since Grandfather’s eyes are dim with age, Abba brings us closer and shows us to him. Grandfather hugs and kisses us both. “I had not thought to see thy face and lo, God hath showed me also thy seed!”

At this, Abba, with tears in his eyes, gently pulls us out of the way so that Grandfather can see him better, and bows himself low to the earth in awe, reverence, gratefulness, and joy. I am not completely sure who he is bowing to. It seems to be to Grandfather, but from what I see of his face, it simply must be to God! I guess it is to both… Abba stands up and has us switch places. I am on his left and on Grandfather’s right, and the opposite for Ephraim. Again he brings us nearer to Grandfather. This time, he has us kneel.

Grandfather puts his hand on our heads, and immediately, I can almost feel him frowning and shaking his head. He crisscrosses his arms so that his left hand is now on me. I do not quite understand what this means, but Grandfather is speaking again.

“God, before whom my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads: and let my name be named on them, and the names of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth—”

Abba stops him suddenly. “Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn!” He puts his hand on top of Grandfather’s hand on my head. Ephraim and I exchange looks. This is odd. “Put thy right hand upon his head!” So saying, Abba tries to switch back Grandfather’s hands.

Oh, that’s what this is all about! Grandfather is giving Ephraim my blessing!? But… but why?

“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.”

What!? I jerk my head, but not so much that his hand falls off. I become so angry: angry at Grandfather for blessing us; at Abba for not trying harder to stop him; at Ephraim for… I don’t know!

But then the Spirit of God comes nearer, and I forget my anger just as quickly as it came.

Remember, the Spirit says. Remember that I am all you need. Be happy for your brother Ephraim, and rejoice with him who rejoices, and he will honor and exalt you, as will I. I am enough. If you remember this, I shall give the rest to you. Love your grandfather, for he has not long to live. Love your father, and honor him, and your reward shall be great in heaven and on earth. Love your brother, for how shall I, or anyone, know that you love Me, if you hate your brother? Remember, My son, remember.

We soon leave Grandfather and Abba, as our uncles have arrived to say their goodbyes and receive their blessings. As we walk back to our rooms, Ephraim pulls me aside.

“I… I’m sorry…” He actually sounds sincere.

I take a deep breath. “It’s fine. I… I’m happy for you. Actually, I’m sorry…” He doesn’t say anything, but his eyes ask me to go on, so I do. “I got really angry at you, and, I… almost started… hating you. Will you forgive me?” His eyes show relief, not hatred.

“Of… of course!” he says. “God almighty be praised!”

I smile. “Amen, brother!”

Ephraim smiles back and starts to walk away. I remember one more thing.

“And, Ephraim?”

He stops and turns back. “Yes?”

“I love you.” As I say so, I realize it’s true! I step toward him.

“I love you too, brother.” He starts walking back to me, and we meet in the middle. Overcome with emotion, we embrace each other tightly, weeping.

This is how Father’s servant, Akhim, finds us, giving us this message: Grandfather has died, and our parents wish to see us in his rooms once more. Ephraim goes into a state of shock upon hearing this. I take his shoulders firmly, but gently.

“We must go, Ephraim, and comfort our parents and uncles.”

This seems to wake him up, and he nods. “Let us go then.”

“…And he blessed them that day, saying, in thee shall Israel bless, saying, ‘God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’ And he said Ephraim before Manasseh…”

Genesis 48: 20

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