This is the halfway point of the series. Let me just real quick, before we get into Genesis 41, catch you up to speed on what's happened in Joseph's life so far. Joseph is first mentioned in the Bible when he's 17 years old. He's the favored son of his father Jacob. He has ten older brothers and they dislike him. Their jealousy toward Joseph leads to envy which leads to hatred which leads to malice and ultimately they assault him and throw him in a pit. They then bring him up out of the pit and they sell him as a slave to be taken into the land of Egypt hundreds of miles away. There he finds himself in a totally foreign culture and he's sold as a slave and bought by a powerful man named Potiphar.
Potiphar's wife ultimately falsely accuses Joseph of a crime he didn't commit. Joseph now spends years in a prison. While in prison he ends up meeting the cupbearer, one of Pharaoh's staff members who Pharaoh got mad at and imprisoned. The cupbearer has a dream and it troubles him and Joseph interprets the dream and says that in three days he was going to be restored to his position. When this happens, Joseph asks the cupbearer to please remember him and tell Pharaoh of his wrongful imprisonment so that he can get out of prison.
Unfortunately, the cupbearer forgets about Joseph and he spends two more agonizing years in the prison until one day Pharaoh has some dreams that trouble him greatly and no one in Egypt can interpret the dreams. At that moment the cupbearer remembers Joseph and the cupbearer says to Pharaoh, “I think I know someone who can help.”
They bring Joseph out of the prison and he comes before Pharaoh who tells him his dreams. Joseph gives to him the interpretation. There was going to be three years of incredible plenty in the land of Egypt. They were going to have crops like they have never had. That's the good news. But the bad news is that the three years following that were going to be years of severe famine. The famine would be so bad that people wouldn't even remember the three good years.
Pharaoh is so amazed at the wisdom in Joseph and the fact that his God is working through him that Pharaoh on that day promotes Joseph from a prisoner to prime minister of Egypt. Pharaoh tells Joseph that no one in Egypt will lift a finger unless Joseph says so. In one day he becomes the most powerful man in Egypt, save Pharaoh himself.
I think the reason we can so connect with Joseph's story is because it's so much like ours. Our live may not be to the extremes of Joseph’s story, but the path is similar. Most every one of us could talk about a time in our life when we found ourselves in the pit. Then it seemed like bad went to worse and we went from the pit to a prison. Yet, God was faithful in our lives and ultimately we found ourselves in the palace. That's the story of Joseph.
Notice two things as the story of Joseph continues. First, notice that Joseph discovers a reason for his hurt. Genesis 41:46 says,
“Now, Joseph was 30 years old when he stood before Pharaoh.”
Joseph was 17 when he got thrown into the pit. He's 30 when he comes into the palace. That means for Joseph, his path from the pit to the prison to the palace took 13 agonizing years. It was 13 years of disappointment after disappointment after disappointment. It was 13 years of pain after pain after pain. It was 13 years of tears after tears after tears. Finally, he's promoted to prime minister. The verse goes on and says,
“Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt.”
All the land of Egypt isn't just talking about the geography of Egypt, the emphasis is on the power of Egypt. Egypt was the world power. It was the hierarchy of civilization. No civilization would match it until the Babylonians. Egypt was a powerhouse and Joseph was the second most powerful man in the land and in the world.
THE MANAGEMENT OF JOSEPH
Joseph is going to begin to see the reason for his 13 years of hurt, the reason for his 13 years in the pit and the prison, and it's going to center around how God used the pit and the prison to prepare him. Joseph is going to end up being the guy responsible to make sure that some of all the food that grows in Egypt during the seven years of plenty is stored away so that when the seven years of famine comes there will be plenty of food for all the Egyptians.
That is major task. Joseph is going to have to show some amazing leadership skills. He's going to have to display some amazing management skills. Where did Joseph learn these skills? Where was he able to hone these skills? It didn't happen when he was back in the land of Canaan as a teenager. He was his father's favorite child. He was spoiled rotten. He never had to lift a finger. He had everything given to him on a silver platter. He didn't learn anything about leadership and management skills from his dad.
Where did he learn it? After he gets thrown in the pit and sold into slavery he becomes a slave in Potiphar's house. Potiphar makes him the manager of his entire house and Joseph spends whatever time period it was in Potiphar's house managing his household, managing his estate, managing his servants and honing in these skills.
When he ends up falsely accused and wrongfully imprisoned, the jailer makes him the chief prisoner and he puts him in charge of the entire dungeon system. He's the one who manages the prison and the other prisoners. Through his time in the pit and the prison Joseph learns skills that would be needed for this incredible task he had before him.
Folks, listen, whenever you go through time of affliction and hurt in your life, whenever you go through pain, whenever you find yourself in the pit or in the prison, you can bank on this - God is teaching you something. God is preparing you for something in your future. And that's what happens to Joseph.
He begins to realize that God had a reason for all of his pain. God had a reason for his affliction. God had a reason for his path. In fact, notice not just his preparation. Notice his performance because it's outstanding. In verses 47 and 48 we read what he does during the seven years of plenty. He manages the entire country so that in every city there are storehouses and 1/5 of all the crops are set aside so that they'll be available when the famine comes. And as a result of Joseph's amazing performance, verse 49 says,
“Thus, Joseph stored up grain in great abundance like the sand of the sea until he stopped measuring it for it was beyond measure.”
Joseph's performance was outstanding. Everything he learned in Potiphar's house, in the prison, now helps him to be the second in command in Egypt and to prepare Egypt for a time of devastating famine.
THE MISSION OF JOSEPH
The famine hits and when the severe years of famine comes, there are no crops. According to the king's dream the seven years of famine would be so devastating no one would even remember the seven years of good. There are no crops at all. There is no food at all. This is a devastating time.
Had Joseph not been in place at the right time, Egypt would have been in a devastating situation because many people would have died of starvation. However, because of Joseph, there is plenty of food in Egypt. And Joseph opens up the storehouses and Egyptians are able to buy food and through the three most devastating years of famine in the history of Egypt, everyone survives and they survive because of Joseph. In fact, not only does Joseph's mission impact Egypt, it impacts all the lands around Egypt. Verse 57 says,
“The people of all the earth came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph because the famine was severe in all the earth.”
Not only is Joseph able to save all of Egypt from starvation, he is able to save all the people in the lands around Egypt. If you were able to come and have a conversation with Joseph, if you were able to sit down with him and say, “Joseph, the pit had to be horrible. The prison had to be horrible. But 13 years of that led you to this spot for this purpose to save tens of thousands of people from starvation. Joseph, was it worth it?” I don’t think Joseph would even have to think about it. He'd say, “Absolutely. It was worth it.”
God will never take you through pain without a purpose. God will never lead you into the pit without a purpose. He will never lead you into the prison times of your life without a purpose. He doesn't bring pain into your life just to watch you squirm. That is not the God we serve. He always has a purpose. He will use your pain. He will use your pit. He will use your prison to prepare you for a purpose that He has for you in life. That's what He does with Joseph. And after 13 agonizing years, Joseph is finally able to begin to see the reason for all of the hurt.
There's a second point I want to bring out. This is the one that really stuck with me. Have you ever had one of those moments when you've been reading and studying the Bible and maybe you're reading and studying a passage that you've read and studied many, many times before, but suddenly you learn something from that passage you never saw before? Have you ever had one of those moments? That's the beauty of the Bible. It's a living book. You can never consume all of its knowledge. I have read the story of Joseph dozens of times. I've taught on the story of Joseph. I knew this passage but one day when I was studying this very passage I noticed something that I never noticed prior. I remember where I was when it happened with this passage. I was about 30,000 miles up in the air on a Delta flight on my way to Florida to spend some time with my dad during my mom's knee surgery. I was studying this passage on the flight and I saw something I had never seen before and I could hardly contain myself.
This is when Joseph's going to discover a relief for his hurt and we are going to see it in the names he gives his kids. When he's promoted to prime minister he's also given an Egyptian wife. She bears him two sons. We are going to meet them in just a minute. But the importance is in their names.
Why do we choose the names we give our kids today? We do it differently than they did it back then. I Googled that question this week and here is what I found. Why do we give our kids the names we give them today? Reason number one is because we like the way it sounds. That's the reason. That's how we choose names today.
I got news for you. That's not how they did it back in Bible times. Have you read some of those names? There is no way some of them sounded good. You could hardly pronounce them. But in our day, we give our kids names based on what they sound like or, number two, because it's unique. We want to give our kid a name that no one else has which sometimes can be very disastrous. So we find these unique names. Or, number three, we might name them after somebody we knew. I think sometimes just the opposite may be true. You always liked this specific name for your future kid and then suddenly you met somebody with that name who was a real jerk which resulted in that name being taken off the short list.
In Bible times the names were based on meaning. The meanings of the names were important. The meanings told a story. Today that's really not all that important in our culture. If I were to ask you what the names of your children were, most of you would answer correctly. But If I were to say to you, “What do those names mean?” My guess is nearly 100% of men and the majority of women would have no clue.
Until this morning, if you would have asked me what the names of my kids meant I could not have told you. I looked it up this morning. Jonathan means “gift from God.” I would like to tell you that this is why we named him Jonathan but it had nothing to do it. My daughter’s name is Joy. Do you know what the name Joy means? It blew me away. Joy means joy. That's all it meant. We don't really go based on meanings today.
They did in Bible times and so what I did on that plane ride as I was going to Florida was to look at the meaning of the names Joseph gave his sons and I was blown away. Joseph's firstborn son he named Manasseh. Why does Joseph give his firstborn son the name Manasseh? Does he call him Manasseh because it was nice to say and sounded good? That wasn't the reason. Does he do it because it's unique? That's not the reason. Is it because he's named after somebody that Joseph knew? That's not the reason either. He gives his firstborn son this name for a specific reason.
Before I give you the meaning I want you to notice verse 49 because this is what I saw on that Delta flight that I had never seen prior. It was always there. It wasn’t like it was invisible earlier. I just never got it. Look at what it says,
“Now, before the year of famine came…”
Stop for a second. Let's get the timeline down. It takes 13 years for Joseph to go from the pit to the palace. He's 17 when he's thrown in the pit. He's 30 when he becomes prime minister. We are now right before the famine starts, which is 7 years later. He's about 37 years old by this time and by this time he's had two sons. Keep reading,
“Now, before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph.”
Somewhere between age 30 and 37 he has 2 sons. He names the firstborn son Manasseh. We read that today and we go, “Big deal.” But don't miss this phrase. Why does he name him Manasseh? Why didn't he name him Scott? Why does he name him Manasseh? The reason is right there in scripture. We don't have to guess, do we? It is right there.
“For Joseph said, God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”
When he says “all my trouble,” what is he talking about? He’s talking about those 13 years from the pit to the palace? When he says, “and all my father's household,” who is he talking about? He is talking about his brothers who threw him in the pit and sold him into slavery. Why does Joseph give him the name Manasseh? He says, “I name him Manasseh because God has caused me to forget all that happened from the pit to the palace which was caused by my brothers.”
What does the word Manasseh mean? The word Manasseh literally means “to forget.” That's why it says God has caused me to forget because it comes from a word that sounds like the Hebrew root word for forget. Isn't that a strange name to give your kid? “Hey, forgetful, time for dinner!” That's kind of a strange name. Names weren't given back then based on how they sounded. Names were given because of their meaning. His name literally means “to forget”. Joseph gave him that name because God had caused him to forget.
What's it mean that God caused him to forget? It doesn't mean that God took away the memories. We remember what happened to us. God doesn't just kind of wipe out that part of our brains so we can't remember. It doesn't mean that he didn't remember. Joseph would always remember the people who hurt him. Joseph would remember those brothers. He would remember Reuben and Simeon and the other eight. He would remember the look of hatred in their eyes and the laughter that came from their lips when they sold him into slavery.
Joseph would always remember Potiphar's wife who falsely accused him of a crime he didn't commit. Joseph would always remember Potiphar who wrongly imprisoned him. Joseph would always remember the cupbearer who forgot about him resulting in two more agonizing years in the prison. It doesn't mean he forgot the memory.
Joseph would always remember the places that caused pain in his life. Joseph would always remember what it was like to be in that pit. Joseph would always remember the fear. He would always remember the tears. Joseph would never be able to forget what it was like to be in that prison. He would never forget what it was like to wake up every morning in that dungeon. Joseph would always remember the rest of his life what that prison smelled like that. In fact, I venture to guess the aroma never really left his nostrils.
So what does it mean when he says, “God has caused me to forget all my troubles?” I think Joseph is saying, “While I remember all that happened to me those 13 years, God has removed the sting from the memory. I remember the pit. But the memory no longer hurts. I remember the prison. But the memory no longer hurts. God has removed the sting from the memory.”
You could put it this way. Joseph's wound had now become a scar. There's a big difference between the two, isn't there? You see, a wound bleeds. Scars don't. A wound still stings. Scars don't. A wound can still have the scab knocked off of it and you relive the pain again and there's more blood again and the healing process has to start over again. Scars don't do that. You know what scars do? They just serve as a reminder. When you see the scar on your body, you remember what happened that caused the scar. But the scar no longer hurts. The wound has turned into a scar.
Joseph, over 13 years after first being thrown in that pit, now sees his newborn baby boy and is able to say for the first time, “God has removed the sting from the memory.” I don't know about you but I am so glad we serve a God like that. I'm so glad that we serve a God who, though it may not be overnight, it may not be in a week, it may not be a month, it may not be in a year, it may not even be in a decade, we serve a God who one day can remove the sting from the memories.
I believe with all my heart that we'll each have our Manasseh moment. We will each have that day when we'll be able to say, “Though I remember, God has removed the sting.” Folks, listen, if that day doesn't happen to you on this earth, I can tell you this, it will happen the moment you enter heaven's gates, when God wipes away every tear from your eyes. By giving his firstborn son this name Joseph was offering praise to a God who removes the sting from the wounds.
Every time Joseph would see Manasseh, every time Joseph would call his name, every time Joseph would hear his lovely wife call his name, Joseph would smile and go, “Thank You, God. You are a God who has removed the sting from my memories.” Wow! What a God we serve. But it didn't end with Manasseh.
Joseph had a second son and this son's name has just as much meaning as the first son's name. The second son he names Ephraim. Why does he name him Ephraim? He doesn't name him Ephraim because it sounds nice, or because it’s unique, or because it reminds him of a great uncle somewhere. He names him Ephraim because the meaning has great significance to Joseph. Verse 52 says,
“Joseph named the second son Ephraim for Joseph said, God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
What was the land of Joseph's affliction? Egypt! Up until he became prime minister, everything that happened to him in Egypt was horrible. It was one affliction after another after another after another after another. Now he's able to say that God has made me fruitful even in the land of my affliction. The word Ephraim literally means “twice fruitful.”
After 13 years of pain, after 13 years of anguish, Joseph is now able to not just say, God has removed the sting from my memory, Joseph is now able to say that my God is such an incredible God that even out of my land of affliction He brought me blessing. Even out of my pain and trauma, He brought me fruit. Not just a little bit. He made me twice fruitful.
Not only does Joseph get to be an individual who saves tens of thousands of people from starvation, but Joseph gets to have a family. Joseph gets to have two sons. At this point in Joseph's life, these are his gems. These two sons would not exist had it not been for the land of his affliction. Had Joseph not been promoted to prime minister he never would have married that Egyptian wife. He never would have had Manasseh and Ephraim.
Joseph never would have got promoted to prime minister had he not been forgotten by the cupbearer in prison. And Joseph never would have been forgotten by the cupbearer in prison had Potiphar not wrongly imprisoned him. And Potiphar never would have wrongly imprisoned him if Potiphar's wife hadn't falsely accused him. And Potiphar's wife never would have falsely accused him had he not been a slave in Egypt. And Joseph never would have been a slave in Egypt had his brothers not, when he was 17 years old, threw him in the pit of betrayal.
For the first time Joseph could honestly say, “God, thank You for Egypt. Thank You for the pit. Thank You for the prison. Through my affliction, You have blessed me. Through my affliction, You have made me twice fruitful.” Every time Joseph looked at Ephraim, every time he called his name, every time he heard his wife call Ephraim for dinner, Joseph would smile and go, “Thank You, God. Thank You for my affliction because through my affliction you have made me fruitful.”
I think Ephraim is a beautiful illustration of a verse we read about in the New Testament in Romans 8:28. It's powerful. It says,
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good.”
How many is all? All means all and that's all that all means. Does all include the pit? Yes. Does all include the prison? Yes. God works all things together for good. Joseph is one of those guys who got to see that but even he didn’t get to see all of its impact. You know one thing Joseph didn't realize? When he would sit and watch his sons play and be reminded of God's blessing in his affliction, he didn't realize that 4,000 years later his story of being in the pit and in the prison would impact a pastor in Gaylord, Michigan.
We're never going to really know the full scope of Romans 8:28 until we get to heaven. There God is going to roll back the eternal curtain and we're going to look back at our life and we're going to see for the very first time how all the pain fit. We're going the see how God used it in ways that's going to blow our mind. And I believe it will be one of the greatest moments of worship when we see that and we go, “What an amazing God we serve.”