The other day Joseph’s son accidentally ran into a stranger as he was running backwards to catch a ball. The stranger, clearly annoyed, yelled at him: “Hey you! What’s your name?” “I Forget” “No really! What’s your name?” “My name’s I forget” “You’re weird! How can you forget your own name?”
Of course I made this up, but couldn’t a conversation like this potentially happen if you apply names to your children that mean a lot to you but maybe not so much to your children? The names of the two brothers Ephraim and Manasseh represent his father Joseph’s life experience. And what a life experience he has had! A roller coaster of events one might say: from favorite son of his father Jacob back home to slave in a foreign country; from a no-name slave in Egypt to Potiphar’s Personal Attendant; from Potiphar’s Personal Attendant to a forgotten prisoner in an Egyptian dungeon; from a forgotten prisoner to the Prison Warden‘s Assistant Manager; from the Prison Warden’s Assistant Manager to Pharaoh’s Second in Command. That’s Joseph’s story, and so he named his kids “Forget” and “Fruitful” because God made him forget the past and made him fruitful in a foreign country. His own name was changed from Joseph to Zaphenath-paneah as if to make the transition into his new life complete. A different name, a different life, a different identity!
Well, not quite! Joseph’s past would catch up to him when a worldwide famine brought his brothers to his doorsteps – the same brothers who sold him to the Midianites as a slave to teach him a lesson. The lesson they tried to get across to Joseph: “You may be Dad’s favorite but you’re not better than we are!” As it turned out, they too had to learn a lesson or two. Lesson #1: You will be treated just the same way you’ve been treating others. Lesson#2: Lies will eventually catch up to you. More than two decades went by when a time of testing came for both parties: Would Joseph bear a grudge? Would his brothers finally get real? The story fortunately ends on a happy note: his brothers confessed the ugly details of what they have kept secret for so long and Joseph completely forgave them. As a result the family was reunited, a dead relationship rekindled and his family saved from starvation in a seven-year drought. Joseph lived up to his new name Zaphenath-paneah. Zaphenath-paneah means, “He who calls is life” or “God speaks life”, and Joseph certainly spoke life into a very bad situation.
The question on my mind today is: what kind of words do I speak over my bad situation? Do I assess it, call it “bad” and be overcome with grief or do I assess the situation and pray to God who might see some potential? When God speaks, life flourishes. That’s His very nature. We see the world around us as living proof. Connected with Him we can become His Life agents. We see someone struggling with addiction, and we speak life into the situation. We struggle with unemployment, our health, our finances, and we find that God is navigating us through very confusing times – if we dare to look up. Joseph put his trust in God when people meant to harm him, and we need to do the same. We need to stop obsessing and start confessing that we do not need to be in control. Even though it’s quite unsettling to let things go, at the same time I have to say it’s a huge relief for me. And the lesson in trust can be quite rewarding if we look into Joseph’s life. The same God Joseph believed in we believe in today. Your faith transforms into your very own life’s story, and you’ll encourage more people than you’ll ever know!
Isaiah 43:2; “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”