The next seven years will be a period of great prosperity throughout the land of Egypt. But afterward there will be seven years of famine so great that all the prosperity will be forgotten … Two sons were born to Joseph and his wife, Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On. Joseph named his older son Manasseh, for he said, “God has made me forget all my troubles and everyone in my father’s family.” Joseph named his second son Ephraim, for he said, “God has made me fruitful in this land of my grief.”—Genesis 41:29-52, NLT
After years of slavery and imprisonment, Joseph, the involuntary immigrant, rose to preeminance in the most powerful country on earth. Everything happened on the basis of the godly service he always lent to the people around him and on the grace of God that accompanied him in the most difficult years of his life. No one should imagine that it was easy. Joseph referred to his family as the source of “all my troubles” and to Egypt as “the land of my grief.”
The story behind the rejoicing at the birth of his sons included his faithfulness to God and God’s enduring presence with him. When Pharaoh, King of Egypt, threw two of his disgraced officials into prison, Joseph prophetically interpreted their dreams. One of them, restored later to his position before Pharaoh, remembered Joseph’s service when the king had terrifying dreams that none of his counselors could explain to him.
Joseph interpreted the dreams, predicting 7 years of prosperity followed by 7 years of famine. Seeing Joseph’s intelligence and spirituality, Pharaoh named him administrator of all Egypt and gave him a wife from a prominent Egyptian family. No story of immigrant success in history can equal that of Joseph. Take time to read the whole story in Genesis 37-50.
For now, note the irony in the use of the word “forget.” Joseph said that the difficult years for the Egyptians would make them forget their former prosperity. In his case, the passage ends with the birth of his two children, one of whose names connoted his forgetting of his difficult years and the other memorializing the fruitfulness God had given him in the land of his affliction. In other words, his fortunes proceeded exactly the opposite of what Egypt would experience. Although Egypt started with prosperity, lean years would come. Joseph began with woes and ended with wealth.
Jesus said it perfectly, that in the Kingdom of God “those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last” (Matthew 20:16, NLT). If in your life as an immigrant the “lean cows” are in control while others prosper, trust in the Lord. God can give you fruitful years in your new land that will make you forget your afflictions.
Dr. Joseph Castleberry is President of Northwest University in Kirkland Washington. He is the author of Your Deepest Dream: Discovering God’s Vision for Your Life and The Kingdom Net: Learning to Network Like Jesus. Follow him on Twitter at @DrCastleberry and at http://www.facebook.com/Joseph.Castleberry.