Missio on Joseph: Names to Remember

I love names.  We see names all the time: book titles, street names, foreign cities, etc. Every word has such a rich meaning and the further you understand the name, the further you really know it – the essence of what it is and why it is that way.


Maybe one reason I love names is because naming is an Edenic practice.  God spoke the world into existence and gave each part of creation a name, including those He made in His image.  As His people, we have had the privilege to follow in His example by giving names throughout the world.  Each time I read the Bible lately, I see more and more how important names were to God’s people.  They didn’t just name their cat ‘Snowflake’ because they liked it; they gave names to the most significant earthly things in their lives – children and places.  They named places, and they named their children with a purpose – to remember.

Joseph’s story is an incredible illustration of the Lord’s faithfulness and a lifelong demonstration of how He uses everything for His good purposes.  After being sold into slavery by his own family, Joseph would have felt like he had lost everything, even his dignity as a person.  His new name was slave.  If we try to put ourselves in Joseph’s situation at this point in the story, we have to remember he did not see how it would all come together.  We can only imagine how hopeless he would have felt.  Yet, even while he couldn’t see the full picture, he trusted God and retained his faith.  He knew God was faithful, and God remained with him throughout his time of grief.  Later in the story, Joseph became ruler of Egypt and was given a new Egyptian name:  Zaphenath-paneah, which can be translated as, “God speaks and he lives.”  Of course Pharaoh didn’t know the half of it – he just knew that Joseph had interpreted his dreams.  But God had spoken and lived in the life of a slave, using each step to form part of Joseph’s story.  It is a beautiful testament to His faithfulness, one that is worth remembering with a name.

Joseph continued the naming tradition through his children.  He named his first Manasseh, roughly translated as “causing to forget his troubles,” to remember how God put Joseph’s troubles behind him, and Ephraim, meaning “fruitful” because God made him fruitful in the land of his grief.  The important thing to note is that these names came after key parts of the story were revealed.  They were used to remember how God had worked in their lives to increase their faith and to glorify Him.  If we knew how all the details of our lives would turn out, what good would our faith be in this life?  Even though the story is not yet revealed, I am called to do as Joseph did – trust God and have faith.

Like Joseph, God is using each of our stories for His good purpose.  Even though we may or may not be going through similar sorrows to Joseph, none of us know the full story of our lives.  John Piper was spot on when he said, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”  Right now, I’m not sure all the ways God is working in my life.  I can name a few ways I am growing or how I see God working in me, but I do not know how He is planning to use all the rabbit trails of my story to work for His glory.  Sure, I know my reasons for working in DC this year, but I’m not sure how God will use my experiences here for the future.  I’m sure Joseph had days in prison where he questioned whether God would use even that time, but God did.  Not only did God use that time, but He used it in completely unpredictable and extraordinary ways.  It’s incredibly encouraging to know that my day to day grind at the office printing, copying and researching is not a waste, but will be fruitful within God’s plan.

Looking back in my life I can think of certain times where I see how His plan has brought me thus far and how all the little details worked together.  His faithfulness with Joseph and His faithfulness in my life give me strength to have faith in the present.  Right now the name I have for where I am is “God has been faithful and remains faithful.  I don’t know the rest of my story, but I trust Him and will have faith.”  I know that one day I, and all His children, will be able to give names of how God worked in my life, like Joseph, and I will look back to see how God worked each part of the story for good.


Where do you feel the grind of the day?  Where do you need to see that even this is part of God’s plan?


Cara Brown interns in Washington, DC and is a member of the 2015-2016 Capital Fellows Program.


Images: FreeImages.com/Kristian Vazovsky

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