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The sons of Joseph

January 2014 | by Timothy Cross

I recently read through the chequered life of Joseph in the Old Testament and was struck by the fact that, when he lived in Egypt, he had two sons, namely Manasseh and Ephraim.

In the Bible, names are often highly significant. They are more akin to our nicknames than to our birth names. The name Manasseh means ‘making to forget’ and the name Ephraim means ‘to be fruitful’. A meditation on these two names yields spiritual dividends.

Manasseh

‘Joseph called the name of his first-born Manasseh, for, he said, God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house’.

Memory can be both a blessing and a bane. If you are like me, you will have memories of both happy and painful episodes from the past. It would be nice to be able to blot out our painful memories, but occasionally they seem to bubble up from nowhere and haunt us without asking.

Joseph had lived through some painful times. He was rejected by his brothers and sold into slavery. He was exiled to a foreign land and there unjustly thrown into prison. Now though, under the providence of God, he found himself in an exalted position.

He had been made the second most powerful person in Egypt, after Pharaoh himself. He was married and God gave him children. ‘He called the name of his first-born Manasseh, for, he said, God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house’.

We can apply this to the Christian’s promised future blessedness. The bliss of heaven will surely drown out all the sorrow we have experienced on earth. The joy of being in the nearer presence of God will surely put all of our earthly losses and crosses into perspective. They will be a non-issue.

Sustaining grace

We will have no difficulty in forgetting them, occupied and preoccupied with the service of God as we will be. ‘I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us’.

Yet has not the name ‘Manasseh — making to forget’ also got an earthly application? Sore trials are not necessarily permanent, as God is able to intervene. He is able to hear and answer the prayers of his children. ‘The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial’ (2 Peter 2:9).

Which Christian cannot look back and see the gracious, sustaining hand of God on their life? He withheld something from us to give us something better. He gave us his enabling, sustaining grace in a difficult time. He brought healing into our lives. He gave us a little token of his favour, which reassured us of his control and good and guiding hand.

God himself has affirmed, ‘Behold, I am the Lord the God of all flesh; is anything too hard for me?’ (Jeremiah 32:27). No difficulty is too great for omnipotence. No problem is beyond Almighty God’s solution. Joseph had his painful trials, but God brought him through them. Beyond a frowning providence, he hid a smiling face.

So Joseph could eventually testify, ‘God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house’. Such is our God. He can say, ‘I will restore to you the years … the locust has eaten’ (Joel 2:25).

Ephraim

‘The name of the second he called Ephraim. For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction’ (Genesis 41:52).

By this time, God had indeed caused Joseph to be fruitful. Gone were the days of slavery; gone the prison food. ‘Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in garments of fine linen, and put a gold chain on his neck; and he made him ride in his second chariot; and they cried before him, Bow the knee!’

God caused Joseph to prosper. So Joseph named his second son ‘Ephraim — fruitful’. We recall some words of the Lord Jesus Christ. He said to his disciples, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).

According to the Bible, true prosperity is spiritual, not material. True prosperity is not the accumulation of wealth and status, but knowing the presence of God in our lives — the God who is the fount of all blessing and ‘hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness in and of himself’ (Westminster Confession).

The abundant life results from a faith-union with the Christ who said, ‘I came that they might have life and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10). The Shorter Catechism famously begins: ‘What is the chief end of man?’ ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever’. 

True prosperity

True and eternal prosperity is fellowship with God our maker — nothing more, nothing less and nothing else. And fellowship with God is gained through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and his atoning death on the cross for our sins.

Jesus said, ‘This is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent’ (John 17:3).

True prosperity and fruitfulness cannot be divorced from knowing God through the Lord Jesus Christ — rejoicing in his salvation; trusting his fatherly care; being assured of his providential control of the universe in general and our lives in particular; and anticipating a glorious future — being with Christ for evermore, saved and safe, abounding in his goodness and grace.

So Joseph had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Joseph was a godly man. He saw the hand of God in his life. He knew from tested experience that God is well able to make us forget our sorrows. He knew also that God is able to make us truly abound. If Joseph knew that, how much more do we know it, living this side of Calvary and of the empty tomb as we do.

 

How good is the God we adore

Our faithful, unchangeable friend!

His love is as great as his power

And knows neither measure nor end!

’Tis Jesus, the first and the last

Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home.

We’ll praise him for all that is past

And trust him for all that’s to come.

 

Timothy Cross