Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Significance of Joseph’s Two Sons - Genesis 41:50-52

Now before the year of the famine came, two sons were born to Joseph, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore to him.  And Joseph named the first-born Manassah, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”  And he named the second Ephraim, “For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

Joseph is ruling Egypt.  The grain is being stored.  And somewhere during those first seven years of abundance, two sons were born to Joseph and his Egyptian wife, Asenath.  The first thing I note from the text is that God provided what Joseph needed before he was to face the challenge or the hard-times ahead.  God has a marvelous way of doing that.  Those of us who are parents may understand this better.  How many times have things happened in our lives that cause us sadness or distress?  It seems that the only thing that can give us comfort is the sight of your young children.  Being with them takes away, perhaps only momentarily, the grief that we otherwise would be engulfed by.  In fact, it is not only our ‘young’ children.  Many a dying man and woman has called for their grown children to come be by their bedside just one more time before they pass into eternity.  God knows what Joseph will have need of to carry out the tasks He has set aside for him.  And He provided all that was necessary.  God does that for us as well.

And what does Joseph name these two boys?  The first he calls ‘Manassah’ which translated means ‘causing to forget’.  His first-born son, besides being a joy to him now as he went about his work, also helped Joseph forget all his trouble and his father’s household.  Sometimes it is most appropriate that we forget our past to the best of our abilities.  Sometimes it is not always possible.  Those who suffered greatly during the persecutions of the two world wars, or those were eyewitnesses as their family members fell victim to genocide in developing countries in more recent decades, are just two examples.  There are many more.  And some that each of us can provide from our own experiences, I am sure.

Forgetting our troubles is good.  The question becomes what do we replace those memories with?  Was Joseph moving towards a new life engrained in the heathen religions of Egypt because of his new wife and extended family?  Would he also forget as the text suggests “his father’s household”?  Yes, his brothers did him wrong.  But his father loved him.  It was in that household that he learned to love and serve God.  Try to forget your troubles but do not always rush to forget that part of your past that God intended as an opportunity for Him to develop a relationship with you, even in difficult circumstances – be it home or work or elsewhere.  It is those memories that often bring us back to Him later in life.

And remembering our roots is often engrained in our very nature.  I was born in Greece and came to Canada as a five year old.  Although I became very North American in many ways, much to the chagrin of my European family, I have been back to see my homeland three times, with my wife and children.  Though I have traveled extensively in the world, but have only gone back to my homeland on average once every two decades.  That is “un-ac-ceptable” as my youngest granddaughter would say.  With my father’s death just over four years ago, I have felt the urge to visit my roots once again and plans have been made to go in just a few months.  I have reconnected with relatives by phone and look forward to our reunion.  That’s how we were created wanting to go back to our ‘roots’ both physical (the land of our birth) and spiritual (seeking God in Whose image we were created).

Joseph will make a valiant effort to forget his father’s ‘household’ but he will fail in that as we watch the story unfold.

Joseph calls his second son Ephraim, which translated means ‘a double ash-heap’ or ‘I shall be doubly fruitful’.  Surely Joseph was to be doubly blessed in the years ahead, but what about the alternative meaning of Ephraim, that of ‘double ash-heap’?  It is not clear as to the exact meaning of that interpretation, but I do not believe it is far from the other meaning.  It is likely in reference to a larger pile of ashes at one’s death and burial from the abundance that one had enjoyed in life.  Indeed, Ephraim the second son, was going to help Joseph remember how fruitful he really was in the land that originally afflicted him as a slave and servant.

Have you been able to find your “Ephraim” in your ‘land of affliction’?  You need to.  You need to look around and see what God has blessed you with tangibly, socially, but most importantly, emotionally and spiritually and claim those blessings as your Ephraim.  With that knowledge, and with God as your source of life, you can go on and carry out all that He wants you to accomplish in the days ahead – even if it just means ‘holding on and trusting Him’.

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