Saturday, May 6, 2017

Asenath


Women of Israel's Heroic Age
Asenath

Asenath: "Wife of Joseph"

Key Scripture: Genesis 41:45, 50; 46:20

Her Name Means: An Egyptian name implying, “one who belongs to Neit the heathen goddess of wisdom, of Sais.”

Her Character: She was high-born, beautiful and cultivated.

Her Strengths: Evidenced through her two sons--indicate that she was a woman who understood and taught her children to make and honor covenants with God.

Pre-Story: Asenath must have had considerable reservations about her future husband. He had been accused of rape and thrown into gaol. Moreover, he was a foreigner whose people were nomadic herders – not the sort of man she might have hoped to marry. Through her marriage with Joseph she became the fore-mother of two important Israelite tribes. Asenath was a daughter of a priest of the sun-god Ra.

"Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt.” 45 Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife. And Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt." Genesis 37:44-45.

Her Story: The story is set during the Middle Kingdom, somewhere between 2030BC to 1640BC.

When this story begins, Joseph, son of Jacob, was in a dangerous situation. He had been sold into slavery by his brothers and taken to Egypt. He had been falsely accused of adultery and thrown into prison, where he was left to rot. His future was bleak. He was in a foreign country, without contacts, friends or influence. 

Joseph was innately sensitive to the minds of other people, and this made him good at interpreting dreams. This Joseph did when he was in prison, so successfully that people began to talk about him and seek out his advice. Eventually his skill was mentioned in high places. His gift for interpreting dreams stands him in good stead, and he is released so that he can interpret a frightening dream the Pharaoh has had.

He was brought before Pharaoh in the hope that he might be able to interpret a rather obscure and worrying dream that was plaguing Pharaoh’s mind. He was able to interpret the dream so successfully that Pharaoh entrusted him with much more than merely interpreting an occasional dream. His former troubles forgotten, Joseph was taken into Pharaoh’s service, where he became increasingly trusted with running the country.

Pharaoh is so impressed by Joseph’s shrewd intelligence that he employs him to re-organize grain supplies for Egypt. Joseph is so successful that, among other favors, Pharaoh arranges that Joseph marry a high-born Egyptian woman called Asenath.

Because of Joseph's high position, the Pharaoh thought it was important that Joseph be seen as ‘one of us.' Asenath was brought up in the super-respectable atmosphere of a priest’s household and was probably literate and well-educated. She was socially aware and wise enough to agree to an advantageous if somewhat unexpected marriage.

Joseph "went out over all the land of Egypt" overseeing the effort to save food in the storehouses for the seven years of famine that would follow the seven years of plenty.

It was during those seven years of plenty that Asenath gave birth to two sons whom Joseph named Manassah and Ephraim. Manassah, whose name means "forgetting" was the firstborn son, while Ephraim, whose name means "fruitful" was the younger brother.

Joseph and Asenath's two sons will be essential to the Israelites’ later history. Ephraim and Manasseh were the grandchildren of Jacob (Israel) and were elevated by him into positions of land-owning status, becoming two of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Together these two sons inherited the promises of the Abrahamic covenant from their grandfather Jacob. Genesis 48 says that when Joseph heard that his father, Jacob was dying that he took his two sons to him to be blessed. Jacob then placed one of his hands upon Manassah's head and the other one upon Ephraim's head and began to give them both the blessings of the covenant.

In his old age Jacob had lost his sight, so when Joseph saw that he had placed his right hand upon Ephraim's head he tried to correct Jacob and move it to Manassah's head, since he was the eldest son. Yet, "... his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he [Manessah] also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations." (Genesis 48:19). Ephraim was given the blessing of carrying the birthright and in the latter-days it is the children from the tribe of Ephraim who have the privilege to first carry the message of the Restoration of the gospel to the world and to lead the gathering of the ten scattered tribes.

Her Place in God's Divine Plan: It was through her and Joseph's lineage that the Abrahamic covenant had to be passed on in order for God to keep his promise to Abraham.

Lesson We Can Learn from Her Legacy:
Asenath is a beautiful reminder that whether we are born into the gospel or we are converted later in our lives, we each have the same privilege before God. God is no respecter of persons; and no matter your past--even if you happen to be the daughter of a pagan priest---he can build great and marvelous things through you. How fitting it is then that the mother of that tribe would be a convert herself.

Genealogy:
Spouse: Joseph
Children: Ephraim (Son) · Manasseh (Son)
Parents: Potipherah (Father)

*In some ways Asenth is the forgotten matriarch. We often talk about the faith of Sarah, the strength of Rebekah, or the patience of Rachel and acknowledge their important role in establishing the house of Israel. Yet somehow Asenath is always forgotten. Perhaps it is because we know so little about her, or perhaps it is because she doesn't fit the stereotypical "matriarch."


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