Finances. Relationships. Work. Vehicles. Faucets. Rifts of every description, from a breakup to a church split. By this point in our lives, most of us are resigned to the fact that things don’t always run smoothly. In fact, “Things” are a lot like the pigs in Matthew 8; they’ve got a bad tendency to absorb every evil entity out there and go charging off a cliff with no regard to our opinions on the subject. “Things” are as unpredictable and prone to trouble as first-graders on a field trip. We’re prepared to admit that. We feel we’re strong enough to hang on when the storm winds blow. We’re psyched up enough to just accept it and get on with our lives. That’s good, right?
But God needs more from us than that.
Joseph, the son of Israel, kind of got off to a rocky start. By the time he was 17, he’d already lost his mom, his grandma’s nurse (likely a grandmother figure to him as well), and his grandpa. His brothers hated him, his dad was a little bit of a drama queen, and Joseph himself was spoiled and not too great in the way of PR. Slavery, false rumors, and jail time followed. Yeah. Not a very promising beginning. As we all know, Joseph succeeded in spite of all this, got himself a comfortable government job, and had a wife and a few kids. He got on with his life.
But there’s something telling in the way he named his children. The neat part about names in Old Testament genealogies is that they’re not just names, they’re diary entries. Their meanings reflect what was happening at the time of birth, or prophesy what the child would grow up to become. Manasseh, Joseph said, meant that God had caused him to “forget all my toil, and all my father’s house”. Joseph had let go of the past and gotten on with his life.
A few times now, things have happened that made me seriously question my love for the brethren, or made me wonder whether God even really gave a rip about me. I began to imagine I had some kind of GPS chip that made fiery darts home in on me like mosquitoes to cheap perfume. I did finally make it to my Manasseh – I accepted the past for what it was, and moved on. I rarely spoke of what happened. (Bonus: if you’re still posting vaguely hurt status updates or repinning quotes about backbiters and/or lousy exes, you have not reached your Manasseh.)
But by the time Joseph’s second child, Ephraim, was born, Joseph had decided that God had caused him “to be fruitful in the land of my affliction”. He hadn’t just moved on. He’d actually accepted God’s sovereignty and acknowledged that God hadn’t just helped him forget the past, He’d blessed Joseph through his past. By the time we get to Genesis 45 when he is reunited with his brothers, he is able to say, “So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God.”
Ephraim was a harder place for me to get to. Manasseh is where conventional logic stops: it’s that place of self-affirmation, “I survived, now let’s get on with life, stronger and better than ever”. Ephraim forced me to realize that God led me through those things on purpose to bless me.
Traditionally, Manasseh, as the firstborn, should’ve received the bigger blessing. It’s how we tend to feel about getting past the hurt. It takes a lot to get there, and we’re massively pleased with ourselves when we make it that far. But Grandpa Israel had spent his entire life manipulating people, wriggling his way into situations that served him well, falling apart when things inevitably went wrong. He’d lived with a limp for most of his life, a constant reminder that he wasn’t truly the one orchestrating his own life (Proverbs 16:9). By this stage of the game, he knew something Joseph had just begun to learn: that God’s sovereignty, by its very definition, trumps any courage or grit we’ll ever have. “Guiding his hands wittingly”, Israel switched the two boys and gave the greater blessing to Ephraim – the child who represented Joseph’s surrender.
To get to Manasseh, I have to decide that God brought me through this and I can get on with my life. To get to Ephraim, I have to realize that He put me into this for the purpose of glorifying Himself, and that He has blessed me all along.
How to Reach Ephraim
- Stop dwelling on how the past has hurt you. Stop venting about it. Cease the oft-revised “what I should’ve said to that jerk” shower showdowns with your imaginary foe. Quit rehashing all the ugly details in your head.
- Examine how God has used your past to bless you. Has He opened a door to speak to people you couldn’t relate to before? Have you grown closer to Him because of the trial? Have you learned to serve Him better?
- Hit the Book. Start in places like Psalm 37, Isaiah 26, Ecclesiastes 12, John 15. The Bible is full of hurts and frustrations and disappointments, but it never tells us to pretend they never happened. It teaches us how to deal with them.
- Ask the Holy Spirit for help. Don’t ever forget that you’ve got a personal Guide and Comforter. Ask Him, and be willing to do as He instructs.
- Be up for forgiveness. Joseph didn’t run back to his brothers in Canaan and be all like, “Hey, guys, no problem, just want you to know I forgive you even though you totally forgot it happened!” But when they came to him, his heart was already prepared to forgive. Job did not fully recover from his trials until he prayed for the very friends who criticized him.
I see in my generation a terrifying habit of nursing wounds; if we struggle just to “make peace” with disappointment, how will we ever stand fast in the face of persecution? Already in many countries of the world, Christianity carries a high price. Our brothers and sisters there don’t have a comfort zone; there isn’t a chance to catch your breath and say, “Whew, we made it through that one; ‘God hath made me forget all my toil'”. Very soon, we American Christians are going to have to make a lot of difficult choices that courage and grit are not going to be enough for, choices that will challenge everything we ever thought we knew about faith and liberty. Have you reached your Ephraim now? Can the Lord trust you to trust Him?