Landscape of Affliction

The story of Joseph is one we all know. He was the highly favored son of his father. His brothers hated him so much that they sold him into slavery. He was arrested in Egypt and thrown into jail for years for a crime he didn’t commit. And eventually, he rose in power to become the second greatest ruler of the land.

During the many years of separation from his family, Joseph married and had two sons whom he named Ephraim and Manasseh. Do you happen to know the meaning of these two names?

Manasseh means “forgetting” and Ephraim means “fruitful.” Why did Joseph choose those names, and why is any of this significant today?  

Two baby boys, Luke Ian and Silas Varghese, were recently born into our family. Their parents had the crucial task of choosing the right names for their children – both couples chose meaningful monikers with familial significance so that the boys would carry their family legacy through those names.

In the same way, Joseph chose meaningful names for both of his sons. The reason is given in Genesis 41:51-52:

And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh, for God, said he, has made me to forget all my toil and all my father’s house. And the name of the second called he Ephraim, for God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.|Genesis 41:51-52

Let’s start with his older son, Manasseh. His name means

“God has made me forget.”

What did Joseph forget?

The trouble that he had endured, and the harsh treatment in his father’s house. Joseph didn’t linger over all the terrible things his brothers did to him, neither did he obsess over the sorrows he had endured as a slave in Egypt. Whenever these painful thoughts came into his mind, he reminded himself, “Manasseh—the Lord has made me to forget all my toil and all my father’s house.” Not only did Joseph choose not to focus on his difficulties, he chose not to remember what he was missing out on back home in Canaan. 

Having a good memory is a blessing, but there are some things that we should be quick to forget. When we linger on the difficult things that have happened to us in the past, there’s a good chance that those hurts and heartbreaks can cause us to become deeply resentful.  

Joseph knew that the only way to delight in the present and be able to face the future was by forgetting the past. He allowed the Lord to help him forget.  

Manasseh—the Lord has made me forget.

Joseph’s second son was Ephraim. His name means

“God has caused me to be fruitful
in the land of my affliction.” 

How did God make Joseph fruitful in the land of Egypt?  

We see that the favor of God followed Joseph even when he was in the worst of circumstances! He was placed in charge over the servants in Potiphar’s house, he was placed in charge over the prisoners when he was thrown in prison and he was eventually put in charge over the whole land of Egypt – second only to Pharaoh. Whether a slave, a prisoner or a ruler – Joseph was faithful and hardworking in the role where God had placed him. He understood that it was God who had placed him there in HIS wisdom.  

There’s a lesson here: it’s when we’re going through suffering that we are the most fruitful. We may not see it right away, but it is true just the same:

suffering produces fruitfulness
to the glory of God.

Are you going through some affliction right now—physical affliction in a hospital, emotional affliction, perhaps even spiritual affliction? It’s only natural that you would wonder why God has allowed you to suffer.

Think of how Joseph suffered! His own brothers hated him. They were so jealous of him that they considered killing him, but ended up doing the kinder thing and SELLING HIM AS A SLAVE. Joseph was a faithful slave in the household of Potiphar in Egypt, then arrested for a crime he didn’t commit and was banished to prison.

Through the years Joseph must have been wondering what God was doing with him. He must have thought about the dreams he had as a boy – a promise from God that he was to become a great ruler. Those dreams would probably have seemed like very distant memories.  

Can you imagine if a single one of the things that happened to Joseph happened to one of us? Your brothers throwing you in a hole and you overhearing them debate over whether they should kill you or not? Your siblings selling you? Your boss throwing you in jail unfairly? The guy you helped in jail forgetting all about you after his release? Any single one of these occurrences in our lives would probably scar most of us for life and drive us towards bitterness.  

We never see Joseph dwelling on the past, on the terrible circumstances he was forced into. He trusted God. And so must we when we go through fiery trials.  

God’s people do go through suffering; it’s a part of  life.

We have the option to respond to suffering in one of several ways. We can resist it and become bitter, we can give in and become weak and defeated or we can accept it by faith and let the Lord use it to make us fruitful. That’s what Joseph did—Ephraim: “God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

I don’t know what suffering you are experiencing right now, but I do know this:

God can make it a fruitful experience if you will accept it by faith and surrender to Him.

We are here for a purpose. We are meant to bear fruit for the Lord. Sometimes the way God makes us grow is by allowing us to pass through suffering. He wants us to bear the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, and peace, long suffering, gentleness, self-control. He wants us to bear fruit for His glory.

Don’t be distressed —surrender to the Lord, let Him do a work in your life, and the fruit will come…

even in the landscape of your affliction.

Wasn’t this true of Joseph? Because of his suffering in the land of Egypt, he was able to save not only the Egyptians but even his own family. They would have starved to death had it not been for Joseph. Did his brothers deserve to be taken care of? Not from the human point of view—not after all the horrific things they had done to Joseph. But Joseph had forgotten those things—he did not hold it against his brothers. Manasseh—God has caused me to forget; Ephraim—God has caused me to be fruitful. What a beautiful picture those two names paint!

Joseph chose to always glorify God – no matter his situation. When he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph made sure to give God credit for what he had done. When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, they were afraid; but Joseph said, “Be not grieved or angry with yourselves that you sold me…for God did send me before you to preserve your lives” (Genesis 50). What a perspective! 

He always gave the glory to God, and knew that it was HE who made him fruitful.  

We may have a hard time seeing how any good can come out of the struggles and trials we’re going through today, but the Lord sees it all. Our times are still in His hands.

If you are stumbling through a trial in your own life today, know that God can use your story. He can pick up all the broken pieces and create a masterpiece out of the mess your life seems to be to you right now.  

He is willing to help you
forget what should be forgotten.
He is willing that you should be fruitful
even in this trial.  

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