Nagging Questions

What an unusual association! Pharaoh and the son of Jacob walked about the Land of Egypt like gods. The one embodied the sun, the other provided the grain; at least this was how the common folk understood it. Pharaoh could not have been happier with his mysterious friend who probed into his deepest secrets and drew up a plan that would not only save Egypt, but enrich the crown. Such a man demanded recognition. He, therefore, arranged a marriage for him; he would give him Asenath, the daughter of the High Priest of On, that grand and ancient city where the sun was worshipped (Gen. 41:45). Joseph simply could not have done better, at least in the eyes of the Egyptians. This meant that Joseph entered into the ranks of Egyptian nobility by marriage, for the High Priests of Egypt were of proud and ancient lineage.

As usual, we are not privy to what Joseph thought about this arrangement, for like the wise, he keeps his thoughts to himself. The old man Jacob, however, would certainly have received a jolt at this news! Joseph his favorite, and the daughter of a pagan priest? Ah, but this dear father belonged to the shadows of the past. And his brothers? They were now but ghosts that lived below his consciousness that rose up only on occasion to haunt his dreams. So much had changed since then. He was no longer the Hebrew lad who ran errands for his father; he was now the Lord of all Egypt. Joseph embraces Asenath, and so embraces Egypt, his new home. Out of the embrace come his two sons. The one he called Manasseh, a name based on the root word “to forget,” for “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The other he called Ephraim, meaning “to be fruitful,” for “God has made me fruitful in the land of my misfortunes” (Gen. 41:50-52).

The past, however, is not so easily dealt with. In the naming of his boys Joseph lets his innermost thoughts slip out for a second time. Only the most casual of readers would miss the obvious fact that Joseph did not and could not forget the past, no matter how hard he might have tried. In fact, the names reveal his deep hurt from loss and longing to be reconciled. On the outside he was whole; the wounds healed. However, something was not resolved in his inner depths. Now Joseph was spiritually astute; he was no stranger to the inner chambers of the heart. Long hours in silent thought and suffering brought him spiritual depth and enlightenment. Yet he was not completely cognizant of a dark shadow within lurking in an unexplored corner which was occasionally stirred by a thought or a word, invoking involuntary feelings. He had not yet reached his highest level of spiritual maturity; he was still holding on to something that he would not, could not, let go─hurts from his remote past.

Indeed, at this point neither the first-time reader nor Joseph himself knows what will become of Joseph. Will the great grandson of Abraham, who conversed with El Shaddai, and called the friend of Elohim, succeed in forgetting the past and be totally assimilated into Egypt, which is to say, the world? Will he, can he, forget the dreams and encounters of his youth? What is Joseph now? A Hebrew driven by a strange God who makes outlandish, even crazy promises to naive souls in youth, only to disappear from the scene for years, yes … even decades? Or is he Joseph of Egypt, Osiris the provider, wedded to Asenath, daughter and incarnation of Egyptian and its spirituality?

4 Responses to “Nagging Questions”

  1. I suppose that because we know the end of the story we rarely if ever consider the uncertainty that existed in Joseph’s mind about his future. He must have had his doubts and maybe even mixed feelings about what his brothers had done to him. Yet over time he came to forgive because of what the Lord had done for him and how he prospered. When his brothers showed up he tested them to see if they had changed. I wonder what he would have done if they had not?

    • I believe that you are right to ask these sorts of questions of the text (i.e. what if). For we as readers have a sort of divine view of things in, as you say, we know how it will work out. But our stories are not finished yet, and to the degree that this biblical story references our stories, we do have to ask the ‘what if” questions. Thank you agabus7!

      • As I have grown in the Lord over the years, I have many unresolved questions about why and how come but I keep trusting the Lord has His reasons for all that He allows. He does not have to share those reasons. A bit frustrating but we press on. By the way, this is Anthony Cavaliere who you taught OT at SOE.

  2. Anthony! It is a pleasure to hear from you! Yes, that is my experience as well – that God is not in the habit of explaining himself when He gives commands, guides, or generally when we are in the dark (which is all the time for me!). All we can do is trust. I wish I could say that it gets easier the older I get, but I am not so sure.

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