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A place to call home

By Scott Harrup

He looked into the face of his newborn son. The midwife had just wrapped the baby in soft linen and wiped away the last traces of blood. Every precaution had been taken during the birth, every comfort made available to the mother as she struggled through labor. The father, after all, was acting prime minister of the ancient world’s most powerful nation. Only the best would do for his family.

What do you name your son, the crowning joy of a life now blessed beyond your wildest dreams?

He held this baby, this joy, then met his wife’s gaze. Her pain was past and she smiled in anticipation of the ritual. In their culture a name served as a herald of a child’s character and destiny.

He paused. “We’ll call him ‘Forget,’” he announced.

Where was the promise in that name? What grand accomplishments or reputation could it inspire?

If she felt momentary shock, his wife hid it. She trusted him. And she knew the back-story to this particular drama.

Old homes

When Joseph named his eldest son “Manasseh,” derived from the Hebrew word for “forget” (Genesis 41:51), he had survived enough horror to make anyone cherish amnesia.

Yes, this was the same Joseph who would be the central character of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Technicolor Dreamcoat musical. This was the Joseph who acted with the power of Pharaoh at a key point in Egypt’s history. But growing up, Joseph’s life was a shambles.

A child of divorce? Worse. Joseph’s father, Jacob, juggled four marriages simultaneously. Joseph had the dubious distinction of being the only child of the favorite wife, Rachel. So, Dad and Mom adored him, and basically everyone else despised him.

Family reunions were a circus.

When Jacob decided to return to the traditional homestead, Grandpa Laban chased them down with murder in his eye. Divine intervention notwithstanding, you could cut the tension with a knife.

As they drew closer to home, Uncle Esau brought 400 men in a reception committee of questionable motivation. There was an unsettled feud between Jacob and Esau. The first time Joseph saw his uncle, he didn’t see much more than sandals. He was bowing in the dirt beside his mother in obeisance before a desert warrior.

Despite Jacob’s pacifistic protestations, you didn’t cross this family. Joseph’s elder half-sister, Dinah, was raped, so the brothers killed the rapist — as well as every other man in the sleepy burg of Shechem. The women and children were taken as loot.

A little brother finally came along for Joseph, but Rachel died in childbirth. So Jacob doted on Joseph more than ever, his only ally in a family of enemies.

Then there were the dreams. They were so clear, so compelling. They seemed to promise greater things. Joseph made the mistake of talking about them.

The coat of many colors sealed his fate. Part of him reveled in it as a badge of favor from the one person who loved him. But he couldn’t have missed the lethal stares it drew from the half-brothers who had notched their swords with Shechem’s warriors.

One fateful day, Jacob sent Joseph to check on the family herds in distant pastures. The brothers saw their chance. They came within a hair of killing him, then opted for some pocket change and sold him into slavery.

Forgetting was a powerful coping mechanism for Joseph. Forgetting gets a lot of people through every waking moment today. Maybe that’s your story. You crawl out of bed, kick-start your brain with a mug of coffee, then carefully delineate what you will allow yourself to ponder as you journey through your task-filled hours. Truth is, no one in this fallen world is free from personal “purgatory.” We all have a back-story. We’re all looking for homes, for safe havens where the past finally releases us from its talons.

New homes

The naming ritual repeated itself at the birth of Joseph and Anesath’s second son. This time the more benevolent moniker of Ephraim, or “Fruitful,” was chosen.

Joseph had certainly been fruitful, though not always to his own benefit. After Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard, purchased him at some unnamed slave market, Joseph quickly rose through the ranks of the military hero’s estate. Potiphar prospered as God guided Joseph’s managerial hand.

Potiphar’s wife, however, had different plans for Joseph. When he rebuffed her sexual advances she took the rejection rather personally. Within hours, Joseph was staring at the walls of a dungeon.

You would have thought it was the end. But “fruitful” continued to characterize Joseph’s life. More dreams followed, this time dreams that colored others’ sleep. Joseph’s God-given ability to interpret those dreams eventually gained him an audience with Pharaoh himself. That ruler’s dreams foretold impending famine. Suddenly Joseph was the logical choice to head up preparations to feed a nation.

Slave. Prisoner. Prime minister. Yes, Joseph had been fruitful. But even with Ephraim’s name there was a note of sorrow. “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (Genesis 41:52, NIV).

Joseph’s later years were a paradox. God radically transformed his life, taking him from the bottom to the very top of Egypt’s society. Joseph traded a dungeon for a palace. Divine favor so obviously rested in abundance on this man. But he would grow old and die in the country he continued to call “the land of my suffering.”

That’s the paradox of the Christian faith.

The quest for a home, for a spiritual haven, finds wonderful fulfillment whenever someone accepts Jesus Christ as Savior. The benefits of salvation stagger the mind. In Christ, you are totally established in your relationship to God (Romans 3:21,22). You are as much a son of God as Jesus himself (John 20:17). You belong to a family of brothers and sisters that transcends borders, social status, age, gender or any other barrier people impose on themselves (Galatians 3:28).

In Christ, your past can no longer maintain an iron grip. As one classic hymn proclaims, “He breaks the power of cancelled sin; He sets the prisoner free.” Sometimes that freedom comes in a burst of joy at an altar of prayer. Sometimes the process is longer as the believer grows in faith and relinquishes first one painful memory then another into God’s all-powerful grace.

But that freedom coexists with the continued pain of this planet. You live as a child of God in “the land of your suffering.” Youth gives way to age, health to illness, mental acuity to senility.

That is not the end of the story.

Eternal homes

This world is not our final home. Joseph knew that. He had his eyes on a wonderful future, one that is only visible to the redeemed spirit. We hear the life of that vision in Joseph’s final words.

“I am about to die,” Joseph said to his family at the age of 110. “But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised” (Genesis 50:24).

Then Joseph extracted an unusual promise from his grandchildren. “You must carry my bones up from this place” (v. 25).

Joseph was entitled to the pomp of a state funeral and entombment in a monument built to defy the ages. But the grandeur of Egypt’s pyramids held no appeal. Joseph had his eyes on the Promised Land. Genesis closes with the simple statement “So Joseph died … and after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt” (v. 26).

Manasseh … Forget … Ephraim … Fruitful. It is perhaps at the end of Joseph’s life that the meaning of his own name comes into view with the greatest force. Joseph … May He [God] add. With Joseph, there was always something new on the horizon. Challenge led to blessing, encountered more challenge, then burst into greater blessing. And death itself could only temporarily interrupt the addition of God’s favor.

Joseph’s bones did go to the Promised Land. Moses personally ensured their journey with the Israelites (Exodus 13:19). The final mention of Joseph’s remains creates an interesting footnote.

“And Joseph’s bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. This became the inheritance of Joseph’s descendants” (Joshua 24:32).

Joseph was laid to rest in the very setting of the bloodiest tragedy of his childhood. It was a setting now transformed by the promises of God.

That land holds greater promise for every Christian today. From the Old Testament prophecies of Ezekiel to the New Testament visions of John, Jerusalem and its surroundings stand out as Ground Zero for the eternal fulfillment of God’s greatest plans for His church.

In Christ you can find a true refuge in the land of your sorrow today. But one day you will awaken in a land of unending light and joy and fulfilled purpose. In the truest sense, in the eternal sense, you will be home.

Scott Harrup is associate editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

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