We don’t know exactly how many years there were between the two boys, but we do know that Joseph and his wife had to come up with two baby names within seven years. And it must have been quite a discussion.
After all, her name was Asenath, which meant “belonging to the goddess Neith”, and she probably wanted her boys to also have names acknowledging one of the many gods of Egypt. Deity-related names, as well as deity worship, ran in her family. Her dad, the priest of On, had been named Poti-Pherah, “he whom the Ra (the sun god) gave.”
But her husband had other ideas when it came to naming their two sons.
And to Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, whom Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Pherah priest of On, bore to him. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: “For God has made me forget all my toil and all my fathers house.” And the name of the second he called Ephraim: “For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
(Genesis 41:50-52 ESV)
Joseph wanted the boys to have meaningful names as well. But rather than exalt some inert deity’s fame, every time he called their names he wanted to instead call to remembrance the living God’s favor. And so he named them Forgetful and Fruitful.
There was a lot to forget. A lot to let go of. Enough past to fuel bitterness well into the future. It had been over 13 years since he had been defrocked and deported. Back then he was the favored child. He was the apple of his father’s eye and he wore the clothes to prove it. And back then he was living in the land promised to his great-great-grandfather by the God who had revealed Himself through visitations and visions. Back then life was going pretty well.
But his older brothers despised his favored status and so, when the opportunity afforded itself, they got rid of him. They shredded his coat. They sold his freedom. And they severed his family ties.
So Joseph grew up in Egypt. He came of age in a foreign land with foreign gods. His special status removed. His servitude compelled. But though taken out of the land of God’s promise, He never left the hand of God’s promise. And, after some seventeen years, Joseph ended up ruling in Egypt.
Despite the loss suffered in Canaan, despite the difficulties growing up as a slave in Egypt, God’s favor remained on this child of promise. Joseph could forget what might have been as he took measure of what was. As he daily determined to acknowledge God’s faithful provision and the unmerited riches that were his, even in the land of his affliction. And every time he hugged his boys in the morning and put them to bed at night, Joseph would be reminded of the joy and contentment that came from being forgetful and fruitful.
And I’m thinking that mine is not to dwell on what might have been, or on what I think should be, but to recognize the ever-present hand of God’s undeserved favor through all life’s circumstance. To know that, just as Joseph had been promised great things by God in a vision, I too am a child in possession of great promises delivered through His Spirit. And that I should avoid the temptation to waver concerning the promise of God. Instead, mine is to, by faith, give glory to God, fully convinced that He is able to do what He has promised (Rom. 4:20-21). Mine is to remember that, though it might not be the same physical and material blessings that Joseph knew, I too have known God’s great provision in the land of my affliction. And so, I too can worship the God who can make me forgetful even as He has caused me to be fruitful.
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
(Psalm 30:5b ESV)
Because of grace. For His glory.