Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, saying, "God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father's household."
Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou. Sudden elevations are often the precursors of sudden falls. It was not so with Joseph. He filled satisfactorily his position, retaining it to the end of life. He made himself indispensable to Pharaoh and to the country. He was a man of decision. Seeing what had to be done, he hesitated not in commencing it. Going from the presence of Pharaoh, he passed throughout the land, arranging for granaries and appointing officers to grapple with the seven years of famine which were imminent. Doubtless he felt the weight of responsibility resting upon him, and would have many restless nights in calculating how by means of the money then in the treasury and by forced loans to meet the expenditure for granaries, grain, and official salaries. He superintended everything. By method he mastered detail.
I. CONSIDER THE POLICY OF THIS EGYPTIAN PRIME MINISTER. Many things we admire in Joseph, but we must not be blind to the fact that he thought more of binding the people to the throne than of benefiting the people themselves. He was the first statesman of that day. His policy determined in great measure what should be the standard of internal prosperity, and what position the country should hold in the eyes of other nations. He sought to make Pharaoh's rule absolute. He gave no benefit without payment, no supplies without sacrifice. He took all the money first (Genesis 47:14), then the cattle (ibid. ver. 16), then the lands and their persons (ibid. ver. 23). He thus reduced the people of Egypt to the position of slaves. He made all the land crown lands. Thus the monarch was pleased, and the priests, being exempt, were flattered. It is possible that in this Joseph laid the foundation of that system of mismanagement, which has made the most flourishing spot in the world the basest of kingdoms. He seems also to have striven to give some sort of preeminence to his brethren, and to advance them. Exempt from the burdens pressing on others, they gained power, and would have become eventually the dominant race in Egypt, but that another Pharaoh arose who knew not Joseph, i.e. who, although he knew of his having lived and served the nation, yet recognized not his policy. The state to which Joseph reduced the Egyptians was that to which afterwards his own descendants were reduced. Thus our plans are overthrown. Time tries success, and by removing dimness from our vision enables us to test it better.
II. CONSIDER THE PRIVATE LIFE OF THIS EGYPTIAN PRIME MINISTER, He was soon led to conform to the spirit and practice of an ungodly nation. He used a divining cup (Genesis 44:15, 16), took his meals apart (Genesis 43:32), recognizing and sustaining class distinctions. He learned the mode of speech common among the Egyptians, swore by the life of Pharaoh (Genesis 42:15), and was affianced to an idolatress, probably a priestess (Genesis 41:45). He made no effort to return to his own land, or to the pastoral life of his fathers. It was in his power also for nine years to have sent to make search for his father, who was sorrowing for him as dead, but he sent not. Not until trouble, by an apparent chance, drove his brethren to him did he appear to think of them, or of home and Jacob. When they came he was very slow to make known himself, as though he feared it might compromise him in the eyes of the Egyptians to be known to have relatives who were shepherds, an occupation which was abominable to the Egyptians (Genesis 46:34). When he revealed himself to them, it was without the knowledge or presence of the Egyptians. He removed his brethren also to a distant part of Egypt: that they might not constantly, by their presence, remind him and others of his origin. We fancy that Joseph had weaknesses and imperfections such as other men had. He had dwelt in Egypt and caught its spirit. In the names he gave to his children there seems some indication of regret at his forgetfulness and wonder at his fruitfulness. Amid views that might depress there is some brightness. His forgiveness of his brethren was noble. His affection for his father returned. His faith in God was pure at last. Dying, he "gave commandment concerning his bones." He showed that though outwardly an Egyptian, he was inwardly an Israelite. - H.
Joseph called his first-born son Manasseh, because God had made him to forget all his toil. He did not mean that the remembrance of his toil was obliterated from his mind. His mention of it when he gave a name to his son was a proof that in one sense he still remembered it. It was his duty to remember it. How could he have retained just impressions of the Divine goodness if he had forgotten the evils from which he was delivered I If we must forget none of God's benefits, we must forget none of those evils from which we have been relieved by His gracious providence. But Joseph, in another sense, forgot his misery. He remembered it as waters that pass away, and leave no trace behind. There is a bitter remembrance of our affliction and misery, and of the wormwood and the gall of our affliction. This is banished by Divine providence when it saves us from all distresses; but it gives place to pleasant remembrance of them, in a contrast to that happiness by which they are succeeded.
Manasseh: for God, said he, hath made me forget. I.
GOD'S KINDNESS TO JOSEPH.
1. A blessed oblivion.
2. A rich fruitfulness (ver. 52).
II. JOSEPH'S GRATEFUL MEMORIAL OF GOD'S KINDNESS.
His attitude towards God and his own family was disclosed in the names which he gave to his children. In giving names which had a meaning at all, and not merely a taking sound, he showed that he understood, as well he might, that every human life has a significance and expresses some principle or fact. And in giving names which recorded his acknowledgment of God's goodness, he showed that prosperity had as little influence as adversity to move him from His allegiance to the God of his fathers. His first son he called Manasseh, "Making to forget," "for God," said he, "hath made me forget all my toil and all my father's house" — not as if he were now so abundantly satisfied in Egypt that the thought of his father's house was blotted from his mind, but only that in this child the keen longings he had felt for kindred and home were somewhat alleviated. He again found an object for his strong family affection. The void in his heart he had so long felt was filled by the little babe. A new home was begun around him. But this new affection would not weaken, though it would alter the character of his love for his father and brethren. The birth of this child would really be a new tie to the land from which he had been stolen. For, however ready men are to spend their own life in foreign service, you see them wishing that their children should spend their days among the scenes with which their own childhood was familiar. In the naming of his second son Ephraim he recognizes that God hag made him fruitful in the most unlikely way. He does not leave it to us to interpret his life, but records what he himself saw in it. It has been said: "To get at the truth of any history is good; but a man's own history — when he reads that truly,... and knows what he is about and has been about, it is a Bible to him." And now that Joseph, from the height he had reached, could look back on the way by which he had been led to it, he cordially approved of all that God had done. There was no resentment, no murmuring. He would often find himself looking back and thinking, Had I found my brothers where I thought they were, had the pit not been on the caravan-road, had the merchants not come up so opportunely, had I not been sold at all or to some other master, had I not been imprisoned, or had I been put in another ward — had any one of the many slender links in the chain of my career been absent, how different might my present state have been. How plainly I now see that all those sad mishaps that crushed my hopes and tortured my spirit were steps in the only conceivable path to my present position. Many a man has added his signature to this acknowledgment of Joseph's, and confessed a Providence guiding his life and working out good for him through injuries and sorrows, as well as through honours, marriages, births. As in the heat of summer it is difficult to recall the sensation of winter's bitter cold, so the fruitless and barren periods of a man's life are sometimes quite obliterated from his memory. God has it in His power to raise a man higher above the level of ordinary happiness than ever he has sunk below it; and as winter and springtime, when the seed is sown, are stormy and bleak and gusty, so in human life seed-time is not bright as summer nor cheerful as autumn; and yet it is then, when all the earth lies bare and will yield us nothing, that the precious seed is sown; and when we confidently commit our labour or patience of to-day to God, the land of our affliction, now bare and desolate, will certainly wave for us, as it has waved for others, with rich produce whitened to the harvest. There is no doubt, then, that Joseph had learned to recognize the providence of God as a most important factor in his life. And the man who does so gains for his character all the strength and resolution that come with a capacity for waiting. He saw most legibly written oh his own life that God is never in a hurry. And for the resolute adherence to his seven years' policy such a belief was most necessary.
We too commonly look no farther than the instruments employed by Providence in conferring upon us the benefits which we enjoy, or in inflicting the evils we suffer. But Joseph saw that all his adversities and all his prosperity came from God. He was grateful to Pharaoh, but he was grateful chiefly to God, for the happy change in his condition. "God hath made me to forget all my toil, and all my father's house." It was God that brought him into Egypt. It was by Divine permission that he was for many years confined within the walls of a prison. It was God that brought him out of it, and advanced him to the dignity and power which he now possessed. All things are of God. If we do not refer the happy changes in our condition to His good providence, we lose the benefit and pleasure of them, and cannot be sensible to the duties which our Benefactor requires to testify our gratitude.
()He had formerly been like the heath in the desert, but now he was like a tree planted by the rivers of water, which brings forth abundance of fruit, and whose leaf does not wither. This happy change he ascribes to the Divine goodness. When changes and war are against us, we must be dumb, not opening our mouth, for it is God that does it. When changes are in our favour, our mouths ought to be opened to the praises of Him who turns the shadow of death into the morning, and makes the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose. Joseph was fruitful in comfort, in good works, in children. He had, indeed, at this time only two children, but might expect that a troop was coming; and although that hope was uncertain, he was thankful for what God had already given him. Perhaps it was by a Divine suggestion that the name Ephraim was given to Joseph's second son, rather than his first. Joseph, as far as we know, had no more children of his own body: but he was fruitful in his remote progeny, especially by Ephraim. "Joseph was a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well, whose branches run over the wall." Manasseh was great, but truly Ephraim was greater than he; for the horns of Joseph were like the horns of an unicorn, and they were the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they were the thousands of Manasseh. Where was it that Joseph became fruitful? Not in the land of his nativity, but in the land of his affliction. And all his afflictions wrought together under the all-wise providence of God to bring about his exaltation.
()Two sons were born to Joseph during the seven years of plenty. Manasseh: God made him forget his toil and his father's house. Neither absolutely. He remembered his toils in the very utterance of this sentence. And he tenderly and intensely remembered his father's house. But he is grateful to God, who builds him a home, with all its soothing joys, even in the land of his exile. His heart again responds to long untasted joys. "Fruitful in the land of my affliction." It is still, we perceive, the land of his affliction. By why does no message go from Joseph to his mourning father? For many reasons. First, he does not know the state of things at home. Secondly, he may not wish to open up the dark and bloody treachery of his brothers to his aged parent. But, thirdly, he bears in mind those early dreams of his childhood. All his subsequent experience has confirmed him in the belief that they will one day be fulfilled. But that fulfilment implies the submission, not only of his brothers, but of his father. This is too delicate a matter for him to interfere in. He will leave it entirely to the all. wise providence of his God to bring about that strange issue. Joseph, therefore, is true to his life-long character. He leaves all in the hand of God, and awaits in anxious, but silent hope the days when he will see his father and his brethren.
Old Testament Anecdotes."When in Amsterdam, Holland, last summer," says a traveller, "I was much interested in a visit we made to a place then famous for polishing diamonds. We saw the men engaged in the work. When a diamond is found it is rough and dark like a common pebble. It takes a long time to polish it, and it is very hard work. It is held by means of a piece of metal close to the surface of a large wheel, which is kept going round. Fine diamond dust is put on this wheel, nothing else being hard enough to polish the diamond. And this work is kept on for months and sometimes several years before it is finished. And if a diamond is intended for a king, then the greater time and trouble are spent upon it." Jesus calls His people His jewels. To fit them for beautifying His crown, they must be polished like diamonds, and He makes use of the troubles He sends to polish His jewels.
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