Friday, January 14, 2011

Manasseh and Ephraim

One of the things I regret since finishing my graduate degree is letting my Greek and Hebrew fall by the way side.  I keep intending to go buy some index cards to turn into flash cards for myself.  Plus, I want my son to learn Greek and Hebrew (and yes, I realize this will doom him to a life of oddity.  Then again, he is my son.  He's doomed no matter what I do.), and how can I teach him if I've forgotten my vocabulary?  Anyhow, one of the things I appreciate about Hebrew is it's simple approach to titles.  Hebrew has a relatively small vocabulary, and I think that is why ancient Hebrews tended to call things like they saw them.  Up to this point in Genesis we've seen this often.  Jacob sees the face of God as he wrestles with him, so he names the place of the event Peniel, "Face of God."  When Jacob and Rebekah's firstborn son came into this world hairy, they named Esau, or "hairy."  When Jacob had a vision of angels ascending and descending from the dwelling place of God, he called the place Bethel, "House of God."  I'm no expert on Native American language, but ancient Hebrew and their names remind me of Native Americans and their names, such as Sitting Bull or Red Cloud.  You name it as you see it.

Joseph names his sons Manasseh and Ephraim, and those names tell us something very important about how Joseph sees his life.  He has been rejected by his family.  He has been an outcast.  He has been a slave.  He has been falsely convicted of a crime and thrown in prison, but events have performed a full about-face.  Now he answers to no one but the Pharaoh himself.  He is married, to a powerful family on top of that.  His wife bears him two sons, just like Joseph's mother had two sons.  Life is good.  There is cause to be grateful, and so Joseph names his firstborn Manasseh, something like, "Making to forget."  God has given him a reason to put all his past behind him and find joy in the present.  For someone who has had a life like Joseph, that is no small thing.  His next son he calls "Fruitful."  Abundance has overflowed in the desert.  This is who Joseph discovers God to be, not a god who abandons him to misfortune and victimization, but a God who turns fasting into feast and sorrow into celebration.  God brings Joseph happiness, and considering the four generations of family sorry and dysfunction we've seen so far, I feel a sense of elation for Joseph.  I am happy for him.

Stopping point: Genesis 42

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