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 (Manna 76: Commission)
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KC Tsai—Toronto, Canada

Zaphnath-Paaneah was the Egyptian name bestowed upon Joseph by Pharaoh (Gen 41:45). It means “the man who reveals mysterious matters,” for Joseph was able to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and to foretell future events. To Pharaoh, Joseph was a Hebrew man of unknown background; he was as mysterious as the mysterious matters he revealed. Nevertheless, the dreams that Joseph interpreted allowed Pharaoh to see God’s will and God’s determination to bring them to pass (Gen 41:32). For this reason, he was willing to put the lives of the Egyptians and his own life into Joseph’s hands, for Joseph was a man “in whom [was] the Spirit of God” (Gen 41:38).

Hebrew shepherds were an abomination to the Egyptians (Gen 46:34), and the Egyptians disdained eating together with them at the same table (Gen 43:32). When Joseph was brought before Pharaoh, he was not only a Hebrew, but a criminal, newly shaven; a stranger whom others would not trust easily. 

Yet Pharaoh was willing to believe him, and elevated him to the position of governor. As a result, the whole of Egypt was delivered from the famine. Most people would have attributed Egypt’s survival to Pharaoh’s wisdom—how he recognized Joseph’s extraordinary talents and promoted him to steer them through potential disaster. But Joseph, with his spiritual insight, was able to see the “sending” of God (Gen 45:5–8). 

Yes, God had sent him to go through the hatred and betrayal of his elder brothers, and into thirteen years of injustice and shame. But eventually, through his tenacity, Joseph was able to manifest the beautiful will of God.

When Joseph was sold to Egypt and became a servant in Potiphar’s house, the Bible records that God was with him (Gen 39:2). When he was tempted by his master’s wife, framed and imprisoned, the Scriptures continue to say that God was with him (Gen 39:21). It was God’s abidance that gave him the strength to remain strong and pure amidst the shame of slavery and the temptation to sin. God’s constant presence sustained him and prevented him from giving up on himself in the face of all these humiliations.

God was with Joseph, not just for a moment, but throughout his whole life. He walked with him through good times and bad times. 

Likewise, you only realize that God has been walking you through the difficult times when you pause to look back in time. That is when you see that you could not have made it through without God. Having God with you does not equate to having a smooth life. Rather, it is like a pilot flame that continues to burn red in the lamp during life’s dark times—a flame that will eventually light up a beautiful and vibrant life.

Forgiveness and compassion are important themes in the Bible. For example, the people of God rebelled against Him time and again, yet God would forgive and accept them as long as they were willing to return to Him. But His salvation grace was prepared not only for the elect, but also for the people of the world who are living in sin. The Lord Jesus repeatedly exhorted His followers with teachings of forgiveness and, eventually, He forgave those who crucified Him. He also said that if a person wishes to receive God’s forgiveness, he must first learn to have compassion and forgive others (Mt 18:33–35).

Nevertheless, Joseph’s willing forgiveness of his elder brothers was no ordinary feat. They had sold him to Egypt, where he was enslaved, imprisoned, and made to endure injustice and shame.

During the famine, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy grain. When they were brought before him, Joseph immediately recognized his brothers. However, they were unaware that he was the brother they had betrayed. It was then that Joseph remembered what he had dreamed in his youth, and was enlightened (Gen 42:6–9). Through these two dreams, God had foretold him of what was to happen. Long before Joseph had left home, God had already paved the way for him (Gen 45:5–8). He sent Joseph to be sold, framed, and imprisoned; to be forgotten by the butler; and finally to become the governor of Egypt, thus delivering his father’s household and continuing the bloodline of Abraham.

It was at this moment that Joseph saw clearly the beautiful will of God, that there was a purpose for everything that had happened in his life. This sudden understanding of God’s will empowered him, enabling him to unreservedly forgive his brothers. It was the moment of his Peniel (Hebrew: “the face of God,” or to see God face to face). His forgiveness did not come from human effort, nor was it out of compulsion. It was made possible only through the understanding of God’s perfect will. Joseph finally realized that all those humiliations and adversities were part of God’s unyielding love for him and his forefathers. By the end of Genesis, when his father passed away, Joseph even comforted his brothers when they were haunted by how they had wronged him in the past (Gen 50:15–21).

Therefore, it is only when you are willing to let go of your emotions and calmly seek the will of God in things that befall you that you can receive the peace and strength God has long prepared for you. This will be the moment of your personal Peniel. You will know why things happened as they did. And you will be victorious over the challenge of any misfortune.

When Pharaoh appointed Joseph as governor, he gave him an Egyptian name and fine Egyptian garments. He put a signet ring on his hand and a gold chain around his neck, and even gave him the daughter of an Egyptian priest to be his wife. He made Joseph, this lowly Hebrew slave, into an honorable Egyptian.

When his first son was born, Joseph named him Manasseh, meaning “causing to forget”: “For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house” (Gen 41:51). He then named his second son Ephraim, saying, “God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Gen 41:52). He thought he was ready to accept reality, forget his father’s household, and assume a new life as an Egyptian noble. He was even ready to establish an Egyptian family and to govern the land of Egypt, his new home.

This being so, why did he give his two sons Hebrew names? Perhaps he could never truly forget everything that was in his father’s house. Why? Because God was in his father’s household! This was the God who established a covenant with his great grandfather, his grandfather and his father. His father’s house was the root from which his connection with God stemmed. How could he possibly forget or give it up?

Eventually, Joseph brought his father and all his father’s household out of the famine and moved them to Egypt. When Jacob was on his deathbed, Joseph brought his two sons before their grandfather. Jacob blessed them, saying, “Behold, I am dying, but God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your fathers” (Gen 48:21). But how could Manasseh and Ephraim enjoy, or even appreciate, their grandfather’s blessing? They led the life of princes in Egypt. Their father was the second most powerful man in Egypt, and they lacked nothing. Their grandfather’s blessing meant that they would return to the land of their forefathers to lead a nomadic life dwelling in tents—what was so good about that?

But through God’s sending and the blessing of his father, Joseph saw what he truly wanted: he wanted to return! This desire, and his ability to see God’s beautiful plan, allowed him to let go of the grandeur of Egypt.

It is always very difficult to forgive a person who has mistreated you, or come to terms with past suffering. However, Joseph was willing to overlook his own afflictions for the wonderful will of God, and follow through to accept whatever would happen. Consequently, it was the sending of God that allowed Joseph to look beyond the splendor of his achievements in Egypt and toward the precious covenant God had established with his forefathers. He was willing to let go of Egypt, which God had placed in his hands, and requested for his bones to be returned to the land God had promised to his forefathers (Gen 50:2–25).

Hence, Joseph took an oath from the children of Israel, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” Even if he was unable to return during his remaining years, his bones would go back to the promised land after his death (Gen 50:24–25).

Hebrews 11 records: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…[And] without faith it is impossible to please Him” (vv. 1, 6). The author also describes the extraordinary acts of faith of the ancient saints. Joseph’s life of faith is summed up as follows: “By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones” (Heb 11:22). Joseph’s extraordinary act of faith was his desire to depart from Egypt and the instructions he gave concerning his bones. 

In Egypt, Joseph had everything, and he had the ability to take care of his relatives. The children of Israel established their homes in Egypt, and could thus lead a peaceful life and enjoy their work (Gen 47:27). However, Joseph knew that this was not the land given to them by God (Gen 50:24). They needed to return to the promised land. As for himself, his heart had taken off. He yearned for that promise.

Four hundred years later, Moses took Joseph’s bones out of Egypt (Ex 13:19). And after another forty years, when Joshua led the people to conquer Canaan, the Israelites buried Joseph’s bones in Shechem (Josh 24:32), the land which his father Jacob had given to him almost five hundred years before. This was the fulfillment of God’s promise to his forefathers: “[T]o you and your descendants I give all these lands” (Gen 26:3b; Gen 15:18).

When the meaning of his two dreams unfolded before him, Joseph experienced Peniel in his life—he saw the traces of God’s work. Hence, he was willing to entrust himself to the Lord and to continue to accept His sending. This commission did not end when he became the governor. Egypt was only the means through which Joseph realized the unbreakable tie between his father’s household and God.

Oh Zaphnath-Paaneah, what mystery have you revealed?

Return to your homeland! You desire a much better homeland in heaven (Heb 11:15–16). You have transcended the glory and prosperity of Egypt, to see the true promise of God, and by faith, you have received the promise before passing away (Heb 11:13).

Therefore God is not ashamed to be called [your] God…” (Heb 11:16b).

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Author: KC Tsai