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 had! A roller coaster of events: from favorite son 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 with him when a worldwide famine brought his brothers to his doorsteps – the same brothers who sold him 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 a lesson to learn.
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 truth they had kept hidden from their father Jacob 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 which loosely translated means: “God speaks life”, and Joseph certainly spoke life into a very bad situation! What kind of words do we speak over a hopeless mess? Do we pray to God who sees potential? When God speaks, life flourishes. That’s His very nature. We see the world around us as living proof. Connected with Him we become His life agents. 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.
The truth is, we do not need to be in control. Even though it’s quite unsettling to let things go, at the same time it’s a huge relief! We believe in the same God Joseph believed in, and our faith will transform into our very own life’s story and encourage more people than we’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.”