Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
The seven years of plenty that occurred in the land of Egypt came to an end, and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do.”
So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth. – Genesis 41:50-57 ESV
During the seven years of plenty, Joseph kept busy. He was responsible for preparing the kingdom for the seven years of famine and drought that were coming. And so, “he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it” (Genesis 41:48 ESV). But Joseph also found time to start a family. His Egyptian wife gave birth to two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. In keeping with his faith in Yahweh, Joseph gives the boys Hebrew names. Manasseh means “he who brings about forgetfulness” and seems to be an expression of Joseph’s gratitude to God for allowing him to experience joy despite all that had happened early on in his life. The name of the second-born son, Ephraim, means “to bear fruit” and is Joseph’s way of expressing thanks to God for His blessings even in a “land of affliction.”
Joseph knew full well that God’s hand was on him. He did not take his incredible rise to prominence and power lightly. He most certainly did not give himself credit for it. His newfound wealth, growing family and trusted position as Pharaoh’s right-hand man was due to the grace and goodness of God. And Joseph was grateful. This is an important characteristic of Joseph and one his ancestors would find difficult to emulate. In fact, years later, when they were preparing to enter the promised land, Moses would warn them:
For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. – Deuteronomy 8:12-14 NLT
In every generation, the people of God always run the risk of forgetting the very One who makes their lives possible. As we experience His blessings and enjoy His good graces, we can easily take our eyes off of Him and turn our focus on the material and more tangible expressions of His goodness to us. It would be completely understandable to us if Joseph had taken some of the credit for his rapid rise to prominence and power. He could have allowed his material blessings to dilute and diminish his spiritual awareness of God’s activity in his life. But he didn’t. He continued to do the job for which God had prepared him and so divinely positioned him. So when the seven years of plenty came to an end, “And when the people cried out to Pharaoh for food, he told them, ‘Go to Joseph, and do whatever he tells you’” (Genesis 41:55 NLT). Joseph was prepared. He had done exactly what God had informed him to do. The storehouses were full of grain. The resources were there to provide for the people of Egypt. But this is where the story takes a more dramatic and expansive turn. The famine was not limited to the land of Egypt. Moses tells us, “Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth” (Genesis 41:57 ESV). This was a widespread, global disaster that was impacting far more than the people of Egypt. But it was the land of Egypt, where Joseph was the second-highest ruler, that had been blessed with the resources to weather the looming agricultural and humanitarian crisis.
It is interesting to note that Joseph gave his two sons names that spoke of forgetfulness and fruitfulness. To a certain degree, Joseph was trying to forget all that had happened in the earlier years of his life. He seems to have made no effort to contact his family, because he most likely felt unwanted and unloved by them. After all, his brothers had sold him into slavery and his father had made no effort to find him. Joseph had no idea that his brothers had deceived his father, telling him that he had been killed by a wild animal. All Joseph knew was that he had been betrayed and abandoned, something he longed to forget. But God had made him fruitful and successful. God had blessed him and given him favor with Pharaoh. But little did Joseph know that the fruitfulness and faithfulness of God in his life had a much greater purpose than he could have imagined. The very ones he was trying to forget would be the ones God would use him to save. The very fruit of his life, Ephraim and Manasseh, would become part of the future nation of Israel that would one day leave Egypt and occupy the land of Canaan. In fact, later on in the book of Genesis, Moses records Jacob’s adoption of Joseph’s two sons, making them his own.
“Now I am claiming as my own sons these two boys of yours, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born here in the land of Egypt before I arrived. They will be my sons, just as Reuben and Simeon are.” – Genesis 48:5 NLT
Jacob would go on to bless these two boys:
“May the God before whom my grandfather Abraham and my father, Isaac, walked—the God who has been my shepherd all my life, to this very day, the Angel who has redeemed me from all harm—may he bless these boys. May they preserve my name and the names of Abraham and Isaac. And may their descendants multiply greatly throughout the earth.” – Genesis 48:15-16 NLT
There was far more going on in all of this than Joseph’s rags to riches story. God was blessing Joseph so that he might be a blessing. God was positioning Joseph that he would be His instrument to bring about salvation for many. God was using Joseph to fulfill His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This was about far more than Joseph. It was about the will of God and His providential control over kings and commoners, seasons and sovereigns, nature and weather, prisons and palaces, and the schemes and dreams of men. God was in control. He was sovereign over all.