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October 10, 2010

Joseph is one of my heroes. His story has always fascinated me, and I find it a great lesson in hope through hard times. He lost everything that he knew, and he was betrayed and slandered over and over. Yet through it all, even though He sometimes seemed distant, God trained and refined Joseph to become Zaphenath-Paneah, the powerful Governor of Egypt who saved thousands in the worst famine they had seen. This poem involved some research. I wanted to find the meaning of "Zaphenath-Paneah", and in the process, I also found the meaning of Potiphar's name. Since the book of Genesis was written in Hebrew, Zaphenath-Paneah is taken from the Hebrew approximation of how the Egyptian name is pronounced; thus, it's somewhat difficult to tell exactly what his Egyptian name was. That leads to several interpretations of Egyptian names that are close. I learned that it is likely that the "-ath" at the end of the first word was likely the word ankh, present in many Egyptian names, and meaning "life" (although there's more to it than that...it also involves immortality and other related concepts...its hieroglyph symbol is at the bottom of this page). Different experts have different meanings for the name, but several of them make sense, and I chose three, drawn from herehere and here. Except for the word "ankh", everything in italics in the poem involves the meaning of someone's name. (Joseph = "may he add", Jacob = "he grasps the heel", Potiphar = "one who belongs to Ra, the Egyptian sun god", Benjamin = "son of my right hand", Moses = "drawn from the water")

A dreamer of dreams
A boy with a promise of a bright future
Brothers bowing before him
Father and mother paying homage to their son

Joseph bar-Jacob.
May he add to the son of he who grasps the heel.

A young man hurled in a pit
Ripped from his parents
Sold and taken to a foreign land
A slave in the captain’s court.

Joseph, slave of Potiphar.
May he add to the one belonging to Ra.

Framed for a horrible crime
Thrown, innocent, into prison
Interpreting dreams for his fellows
Forgotten by the one released.

So much promise, dreaming, love
Such pain, betrayal, anguish
Forgotten for years
Wallowing in prison

Ankh slowed to a boring and endless crawl
God seemed silent and distant
Where was the hope of release?
Why such betrayal and slander?

Brought before the Pharaoh himself
New dreams to interpret
Seven years of plenty
And seven years of famine

And so Joseph, son of Jacob
Slave of Potiphar
Prisoner of Egypt
Received a new name.


“The god sees, and he lives.”
Through all of it, God watched
God trained His child through love,
Through pain, through trials.
God saw Joseph, and Joseph lived.

“A revealer of hidden things and an opener of things to come.”
A man who, with the help of God, could reveal the meanings of dreams
Who foresaw his ascent, an execution, a restoring to service,
Seven years of plenty and seven years of famine.

“One who furnishes the nourishment of life.”
Suddenly pardoned and made governor
Stored wheat to preserve Egypt through the famine
Nourished and saved millions of lives.
One who so recently yearned for greater ankh
Suddenly named as one who provided ankh


Brothers who lived with the guilt of selling their brother
For all they knew, he could be dead
But just to be sure, they had killed a goat
And smeared the blood on their brother’s coat
Bringing a fictional tale of woe to their heartbroken father

Famine in Canaan
Few crops and dwindling herds
News of a surplus of grain saved up in Egypt
And so ten brothers left their father’s house
Leaving the youngest behind
And traveled to buy grain
From the exalted Governor of Egypt:

Framed for spying on Egypt
Cringing in fear before the wrathful governor
Thinking the Egyptian governor could not understand,
They cried out in Hebrew
Regretting their treatment of their brother and father
And they wondered why the exalted Egyptian Zaphenath-Paneah ran out of the room in tears.

One thrown in prison while the rest were sent home
To bring their youngest brother
And prove their honesty

And so came Benjamin to Egypt
The imprisoned brother freed
And the son of Jacob’s right hand framed
For stealing a priceless golden cup.

Terrified brothers fell at the feet of Zaphenath-Paneah
In fulfillment of a dream, bowing at his feet
Begging to spare the life of their brother
And keep their father from dying of grief

And so the great Zaphenath-Paneah told all his servants to leave
The brothers wondered what was about to happen
When the interpreter, their only means of communication,
Walked out of the room.

And so for the first time, the great Zaphenath-Paneah spoke to them in Hebrew
And gave them news that filled them with wonder and fear
God heard, and Joseph was still alive.
God sent His child to reveal what was to come,
To preserve the lives of Egypt
And of his own family.

And so the children of Israel flourished and became a great nation
They lived in Egypt for 400 years
God saw them, and they lived
And God sent a new child, drawn from the water
To bring His children back to Canaan
And with them came the sarcophagus
Of Zaphenath-Paneah.


Ankh symbol courtesy of Wikipedia

All poetry © Steven Sauke. All Rights Reserved.