Joseph in Prison • Devotion #6: Names
Carole Combs | Women’s Ministry
Names – We all have them. Some are given to us by our parents, and some are given to us by our friends. Many parents have toiled over hundreds of names to choose that perfect name for their child. They want the name with the perfect meaning that fits their child. Often times they want to include a family name as well. I was born on Christmas Day. My mother told me that her choice of names for me was Holly, Joy, and Carol. I became my parents Christmas Carole (Mom added an “e” just to be different). The Urban dictionary defines my name as “song of happiness.”
Names have been important since the time of the creation of the world. In Genesis 1:20, we see that Adam is naming the animals and birds. God knew it was a good thing not to call everything an “it.” Recorded in the book of Genesis there was a son born to a husband and wife named Jacob and Rachel. They named him Joseph (Genesis 30:22-23). The Bible tells us that Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son. However, this brought Joseph many problems amongst his older siblings (Take the time to read Genesis chapter 37). Joseph ended up in Egypt. He was away from his family and sold into slavery by his brothers. God blessed Joseph and the Egyptian household that he was overseeing (Genesis chapter 39). The events in Joseph’s life turned quickly upside down as if his life had not already been like a roller coaster. Joseph ended up in prison (Genesis chapters 39-40). Two years later, Joseph was still in prison, but God was still protecting and using Joseph no matter what his outward circumstances were. The Pharaoh of Egypt had a disturbing dream that could not be interpreted by his subjects. However, the King’s cupbearer remembered a cellmate that he once shared a cell with named Joseph. Joseph had interpreted a dream for him. The Pharaoh was willing to give Joseph a shot at the interpretation of the dream. Joseph emphatically told the Pharaoh that his ability to interpret dreams was not in his own abilities, but it was God who worked through him. Joseph not only interpreted the dream but gave a detailed plan on what to do and how to live with the unfolding plan of the dream that was about to become a reality. The Pharaoh was very pleased with what he heard. He rhetorically asked those around him where he could find such a man to undergo the large task of preparing for the reality of the dream. The Pharaoh looked at Joseph and told him he was the man! Joseph would be over Pharaoh’s house and all Pharaoh’s people. The will of the people would be at Joseph’s command. The coronation began. The Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand. He clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He rode in the second chariot while servants cried out, “Bow the knee.” Joseph became the grand vizier or prime minister to govern all the people of Egypt. He was second only to Pharaoh himself.
A document from the Tomb of Rekhmire in the Late Bronze Age says that the vizier is the “grand steward of all Egypt. All activities of the state are under his control.” The Egyptian Empire at one time stretched from modern-day Syria in the north to modern-day Sudan in the south and from the region of Jordan in the east to Libya in the west. Pharaoh wanted to integrate this Hebrew into the Egyptian society. As part of the coronation, Pharaoh would change Joseph’s Hebrew name to an Egyptian name. He gave him a wife from the upper echelon of women, too. Title and prestige went along with Joseph’s job promotion. Not much has changed in society several centuries later.
Joseph’s new name was Zaphenath-paneah (Genesis 41:45). The meaning of his name has been problematic for translators and biblical historians. Many have attempted to decipher this Egyptian name. A significant Egyptian name with great meaning would be very important to precede the grand vizier. All who would hear it would know its meaning and its importance. The name Zaphenath-paneah is divided into two parts. It would be like our first name and our middle name. Egyptologists generally accept that the second name, paneah, means “life” or to provide life. Jerome, a theologian and historian (420 AD) believed the second name means “preserver of the world.” As we look at the entire name, it becomes more exciting. Egypt was about to experience seven years of abundance and seven years of famine. Joseph was to oversee and manage these very important fourteen years of history in Egypt. It was a matter of life and death. The Pharaoh did not worship the God of the Hebrew Joseph, but he surely recognized that there was a divine presence with him (Genesis 41:38). He named him Zaphenath, meaning “The one appointed by the God.” People may not know your God, but they should see something different about you, too. Joseph or Zaphenath-paneah, the one appointed by the God to provide life, saved the Egyptians as well as the Hebrew people from death (It is a wonderful story to read in detail in Genesis chapters 37-50).
The book of Genesis was written by Moses over a thousand years before Christ. Moses recorded an amazing prefigure of the life of Jesus in the story of Joseph. Jesus was the one appointed by God to provide life. Joseph foreshadowed the life of Jesus Christ. We all can live life in abundance, but there will come a day that we will come up short. We cannot in our own ability sustain or maintain our own lives.
Mankind was helpless, but God sent His one and only Son, His favorite, to provide you and me life. There must be a time in your life when you accept and trust in God’s Son for your life here and for all eternity. It will never be in your own merit or your own abundance. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
This Christmas Carole trusted in the name of Jesus at twelve years of age. When did you trust in the name of Jesus? If never, why not today?