The Fruitfulness of Forgetting
The story of Joseph is familiar to all of us—how he was hated by his brothers, sold into Egypt as a slave, arrested for a crime he did not commit, and then exalted to become the second ruler of the land. During his years of separation from his family, Joseph married and his wife gave birth to two sons, whom he named Ephraim and Manasseh. Have you ever looked into the meaning of those two names? Manasseh means “forgetting” and Ephraim means “fruitful.” Why did Joseph choose those names, and what do those names mean to us today?
The naming of children can be a joyful or a difficult task. Often the relatives want to perpetuate some family name and this only creates more problems. When Joseph was in Egypt, the second ruler of the land, two sons were born to him and his wife, and he named them Ephraim and Manasseh. The reason for these names is given in Genesis 41:25-51: “And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh, for God, saith he, hath made me to forget all my toil and all my father’s house. And the name of the second called he Ephraim, for God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.” Ephraim means “fruitful” and Manasseh means “forgetting.”
There are some practical lessons for us in these two names. Let’s begin with Manasseh, which means “forgetting.” What did Joseph forget? The toil that he had endured, and the harsh treatment in his father’s house. Joseph did not mull over all the mean things his brothers did to him, nor did he think about the sorrows he had endured as a slave in Egypt. Whenever any of those painful thoughts came to his mind, he said to himself, “Manasseh—the Lord has made me to forget all my toil and all my father’s house.”
My friend, a good memory is a blessing; but there are some things we ought to forget. Even the great apostle Paul admonished us to forget those things which are behind—past failures, past burdens, past heartaches and defeats. How tragic it is when we harbor these hurts down within and let them poison us. Joseph knew that the only way to enjoy the present and be able to face the future is by forgetting the past. I wonder if you and I have learned that lesson.
To be sure, there are some things that must not be forgotten. Moses commanded the Israelites to remember all the ways in which the Lord God had led them. Jesus used the bread and the cup to admonish us to remember Him in His death and coming again. Yes, some things must never be forgotten—but many things are better off forgotten. Joseph named his first son Manasseh—the Lord has made me forget.
Joseph’s firstborn son was Manasseh—the Lord has made me to forget. His second son was Ephraim—“God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.” The name Ephraim means “fruitful,” and certainly God did make Joseph fruitful in the land of Egypt. But there is a spiritual lesson here: it is when we are going through affliction 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.
You may be going through some affliction right now—physical affliction in a hospital; emotional affliction; perhaps even spiritual affliction from the enemy. You wonder why God has permitted you to suffer. Think of how Joseph suffered! His own family misunderstood him and his brothers hated him. They wanted to kill him, but then they sold him as a slave. He slaved in Egypt and became the head steward in Potiphar’s house. Then he was arrested for a crime he did not commit and was sent to prison. All this time he was wondering if God’s promise would be fulfilled that he was to become a great ruler. Yes, God’s people do go through affliction; it is a normal part of life.
We can respond to affliction 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 hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.” I don’t know what affliction you are experiencing just now, my friend, but I do know this: God can make it a fruitful experience if you will accept it by faith and surrender to Him.
One of the responsibilities of a vinedresser is to prune the vine. He takes the sharp knife and cuts away the branches and the excess growth. If the branches could talk, they would cry out in pain and wonder why they had to suffer. But in the harvest season, when the rich fruit appears, the branches would give thanks that the gardener had pruned them. Jacob said of his son Joseph, “Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well” (Genesis 49:22). How did Joseph become a fruitful bough? He was pruned by the knife of affliction. Ephraim: “God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
There is fruit to come from our lives, and sometimes the only way God can make it grow is by putting us through affliction. He wants us to bear the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, and peace, longsuffering, gentleness, self-control. He wants us to bear fruit for His glory. Don’t rebel against His disciplines; don’t fret and fight—yield to the Lord, let Him have His way, and the fruit will come in your life, even in the land of your affliction.
Fruit is beautiful; fruit is nourishing; and fruit feeds people and helps them grow and stay healthy. You see, my friend, when God produces fruit in our lives, it is not so that we may eat it—but so that others may eat it. Joseph was a fruitful vine—but the vine does not eat the fruit; others come to take the fruit and enjoy it. You and I go through the land of affliction that we might be able to bear fruit for the sake of others.
Was this not true of Joseph? Because of his affliction in the land of Egypt, he was able to save not only Egypt, he was able to save not only the Egyptians but especially his own family. They would have starved had it not been for Joseph. He was a fruitful person, and his fruit helped to feed others. Did his brothers deserve to be fed? Not from the human point of view—not after all the mean 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. The two names go together.
Joseph always gave the glory to God. When he faced Pharaoh and interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph said, “It is not in me—God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, they were very much afraid; but Joseph said, “Be not grieved nor angry with yourselves that you sold me…for God did send me before you to preserve your lives.” He always gave the glory to God. It was God who made him fruitful.
My friend, if you know Jesus Christ as your own Savior and Lord, then you can experience these same blessings. He will help you to forget the past and not be bitter; and He will help you use the present—no matter how difficult it may be—to bear fruit for God. You can have Manasseh and Ephraim in your family—God has made me to forget, and God has made me fruitful. Once you have forgotten the past, and once you are making good use of the present, then you can face the future with confidence and not be afraid.
You and I may not see how any good can come out of our trials, but the Lord can see; and that is all that matters. All things are still working together for good to them who love God, who are called according to His purpose. Our times are still in His hands. He knows the way that we take, and He can make that way bring glory to His name.