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Remembering to Forget

(By Rachel Joyce)

Photo Credit: Grace Joyce

What do you need to remember to forget?

Life is not easy and most of us have some painful memories. But few of us have experienced the traumas Joseph endured:

  • Betrayed by his brothers who intended to kill him, but then decided to sell him as a slave so they could get rid of him and profit at the same time.

  • Forced to work as a slave in Egypt.

  • Slandered against and falsely imprisoned.

  • Left in prison and forgotten by those he had helped.

But God had not forgotten about Joseph and at just the right time, He brought Joseph out of prison and saw that he was elevated to the highest position in the land, second only to Pharaoh, himself. After his marriage, Joseph had two sons. Genesis 41:51-52 records:

Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father's house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (ESV)

Manasseh’s name literally means “causing to forget” (Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions). When I was younger, I couldn’t understand it; every time Joseph would have spoken his son’s name, he would be saying that he was forgetting, but wouldn’t the very act of saying that cause him to remember?

That was before I understood the Hebrew concept of remembering and forgetting. When you have time, look back through your Old Testament at the different instances when it says that God remembered. Each time you’ll see that the “remembering” preceded action.

God “remembered” Noah and made a wind blow to dry up the floodwaters so there would be dry ground for the ark to land (Gen. 8:1). When He was destroying the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, God “remembered” Abraham and sent the angels to rescue Lot (Gen. 19:28-29). God “remembered” Rachel and opened her womb (Gen. 30:22). When the Israelites groaned in their slavery in Egypt, God “remembered” His covenant with Abraham and raised up Moses to rescue them (Exo 2:23-3:10). After Hannah had wept and prayed for years, God “remembered” her and gave her a son (1 Sam. 1:7-19).

So, when Joseph named his son “causing to forget,” I believe he was expressing his commitment to letting go of all the suffering he had endured. He deliberately chose not to act on it. He was not allowing it to impact his actions or behavior.

Far too often, people err in one of two extremes. Sometimes individuals focus so much on the pain and difficulty they’ve endured that they cannot seem to get past it. Their thoughts and hearts are consumed by it and their behavior reflects that. They seem stuck in that victim mentality and their actions are reactive, tinged by the hurt. But others would rather bury the past. Instead of facing or dealing with their sorrow and pain, they pretend it isn’t there and try to ignore the past. But their actions invariably betray that despite their refusing to talk about it or work through it, the hurt is still there, impacting them and affecting how they behave.

When we bring our suffering to God and allow Him to comfort us, when we work through it all in His presence (and sometimes with the help of a good counselor), we are able to get to that place of healing where the hurts of the past have no power over us any more. The memory might still hurt, but it no longer influences how we respond and react in life.

And this, I believe, is exactly the point Joseph had reached when he named his son Manasseh. He had worked through the pain of his past. He had “forgotten” it, not because it was completely out of his remembrance, but because it had completely lost any power to impact his actions. And because of this, he was able to be fruitful in the land in which he had suffered affliction. The meaning of his second son’s name, Ephraim, is “double fruit” (Strong’s Concordance).

If we are going to know fruitfulness, we too need to work through the hardships of our past so they no longer have a hold on us.

The apostle Paul, who was raised in the Hebrew tradition, was familiar with the Old Testament concept of remembering and forgetting. And he wrote about his own “Manasseh.”

“I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Php. 3:13-14 NLT).

Paul’s behavior was marked, not by his past, but by God’s forgiveness and power.

I don’t know what you’ve endured in the past, but I do know that God can help each of us to experience our own Manasseh and Ephraim. We can allow Him to work in our hearts and to heal us from the hardships of the past so that we are free to bring forth much fruit for His glory.


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