Asenath

Study in Genesis 41:45-54 and 47:11

Michael Hardt

Shadows Of The Church

In Asenath, we find a fresh Old Testament picture of the church, distinct from the one given by Eve and others considered in previous articles.

The timing

The point in time at which Asenath appears on the scene is highly interesting, for a number of reasons. Before her name is mentioned, we read that Joseph is called out of prison to interpret Pharaoh's dream. Overwhelmed with Joseph's interpretation, Pharaoh can only say: `Shall we find one as this, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?' (Gen. 41:38). He decides to give Joseph the highest place next to himself (vv. 39,40). In short. Asenath is given to Joseph (1) after the time of his suffering and (2) subsequent to his exaltation. Likewise, the church was formed after Christ had suffered and had been exalted (Eph. 4:8).

But how about Joseph's family, and his brethren who had sold him? When Asenath was given to Joseph, they knew nothing about his exaltation. As far as they were concerned, he was still a slave, sold to the Gentiles. Again, this illustrates beautifully that the Lord received His bride when He was still rejected by His earthly people.

Also note the words Pharaoh addressed to Joseph: 'See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt' (v. 41). Are they not echoed in a wonderful way in Paul's words in Ephesians 1 where he states that God, in a display of greatest power, raised Christ from among the dead, 'and he set him down at his right hand in the heavenlies, above every principality, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name named, not only in this age, but also in that to come; and has put all things under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the assembly' (Eph. 1:20-22). Asenath is the wife given to Joseph in his exaltation.

Joseph's path to Egypt where he obtained his wife was a path Of suffering; but no suffering whatsoever was involved for Asenath. For her, the association with Joseph meant joy and glory only. Likewise, the church has no share in the sufferings that led to her association with Christ. It is true that the church shares Christ's rejection but the sufferings on the cross where He secured His bride were His alone (Eph. 5:25 and Mt. 13:46).

Just visualise for a moment how Joseph was made to ride in the second chariot, 'and they cried before him, Bow the knee!' This is the appropriate motto. 'Bow the knee' is the universally suitable command today, in the time after Christ suffered, the time when the church has been given to Him. The resistance of many to follow that command will not stop them, ultimately, from bowing their knee to Him (Phil. 2:9,10).

The name

The change of Joseph's name indicates that he assumed a special and distinct character at this stage in his life: 'And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphnath-paaneah, and gave him as wife Asenath the daughter of Potipherah the priest in On' (v. 45). The two alternative interpretations of this name are particularly relevant to the Lord's character during the time of the church. The Hebrew interpretation - 'revealer of secrets' - presents Him as the One who has told us the secrets nobody ever knew before the time of the church. Just think of the secrets of the Father's love and of His name that have been revealed and declared to us (Jn. 17:6, 26). The Christian age is the time during which the mystery of Christ and the church is made known (Eph. 5:32; Rom. 16:25; Col. 1:26,27). The mystery of God's will has now been declared to be the objective to 'head up all things in the Christ' (Eph. 1:9,10).

Following the Egyptian interpretation of the name - Zaphnath-paaneah - the message is no less compelling. 'Saviour of the world' is the title under which the Lord Jesus is presented to the world in the gospel today. It is no longer merely, 'Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins' (Mt. 1:21) but the Saviour of the whole world[1] (1 John 4:14 and John 4:42). 

During the church period (that is, from Pentecost to the time Of the rapture), the Lord no longer takes the character of 'Jehovah' or the 'Almighty' but that of the Saviour Of the world and the Revealer of Secrets.

Asenath

Asenath herself is presented as 'the daughter of Potipherah the priest in On' (v. 45). This is in great contrast with Rebecca where Abraham had insisted that only one of his family would be suitable as a bride for Isaac. Whereas Rebecca illustrates the fact that the church is the one 'called-out' ('ecclesia') from her surrounding in order to travel and to meet Isaac at the end of her journey, Asenath illustrates a different truth. Asenath is the Gentile, the stranger to the promises of Israel. She gives a picture of the church as the bride that has come from among the Gentile nations and not from Israel exclusively.

Further, Pharaoh 'gave him as wife' Asenath. It is true that the Lord laboured and suffered in order to obtain His bride. But it is also true that the church was given to Him by the Father. So the Lord prayed: 'Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me' and 'Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am' (John 17:6,26). It is attractive to think of the church as composed of those who have been given to the Lord - as a gift - by God, His Father.

The next verse (v.46) mentions that 'Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh'. Some have taken the timing of this remark (after the mention of Asenath) to illustrate the fact that the church was already in the Lord's mind and in God's mind before He commenced His public ministry (at age 30), and before He gave Himself for her on the cross. Whether or not this is directly intended in the type before us, we leave to the consideration of our readers - but the fact is certainly true.

The time of plenty and the time of famine

We already noted that Asenath was presented to Joseph after His suffering. consequent upon his exaltation, and during the time when he still was a stranger to his brethren. Verse 47 brings out another highly interesting detail with regard to timing: 'And in the seven years of plenty the land brought forth by handfuls'. The time of the church corresponds to the 'years of plenty' in which men and women are blessed as nobody has ever been blessed before (Eph. 1:3). Outside the church age, no believer has ever been entitled to claim that he Or she was 'chosen before the foundation of the world', or 'made acceptable in the beloved'. Not even the greatest men of God, not even Adam innocent, could have claimed to be linked with Christ, or to have Christ as head, or to possess any of the many blessings that belong to Christians only. Having said this, the question remains whether we enjoy these riches or whether we live as beggars - in the time of plenty.

It was during this time of plenty that Asenath bore two sons; and it is stated explicitly that this occurred 'before the year of famine came' (v.50). The order of events is perfectly suited to illustrate that the church and the time of her fruitfulness belong into the 'years of plenty' before the time of tribulation (Mt. 24:21; Rev. 3:10; Rev. 6-19).

The names of the two sons (v. 51,52) convey something of what the church means to the Lord Jesus. Manasseh means 'to make forget' which illustrates the fact that, during the church dispensation, the Lord has set Israel aside as if He had no relationship with them as the chosen earthly nation. He will only re-establish this relationship and lead them to repentance after He has taken the church to be with Him. So it is that only Joseph's relationship with Asenath is described before he leads his brethren to repentance.

Ephraim means 'double fruitfulness' which speaks of the double part the sons of Joseph will have due to his birthright (as first born). This double fruitfulness illustrates prosperity of the current family, the church, awaiting the restoration of the family of Israel.

The land

The final point to be made in this article about Asenath is a negative one in the sense that it draws instruction from what is not said about her.

Prompted by the years of famine, Joseph's brothers come to Egypt and, finally, are restored when they confess their sin. SO they move, together with their father, to Egypt and receive the best portion of the land: 'And Joseph placed his father and his brethren, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land Of Raemses, as Pharaoh had commanded. And Joseph nourished his father, and his brethren, and all his father's household, with bread, according to their families.' (Gen. 47:11). No mention is made of Asenath here. Why?

The solution is simple. While Joseph's brothers (and father) are a picture of the nation of Israel receiving rich earthly blessing under the reign of the true Joseph, no such portion is given to Asenath, that is, to the church. She enjoys a better lot - united with Joseph who is head over all things. During the millennium, Israel will enjoy blessings on earth, in the land that had been promised to their ancestors (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in particular). The role of the church during this time is illustrated most remarkably in the figure of the heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation 21 - which no doubt merits a separate study. Suffice it to say here, that the church is not the earthly nation under the reign of the king but the heavenly wife of the One who wants her to share His exaltation. Let us not trade in our high calling and privilege for a lower one (for example, by getting involved in attempts to improve society, to make the earth a better place, etc.). This would only demonstrate that we do not really appreciate our close link and relationship with the true Joseph, Who is the revealer of secrets to us and the Saviour of the world offering salvation to all who believe.

Michael Hardt

From Truth & Testimony 2002

[1] This is the universal aspect of His work, not universalism. In Him salvation is offered to the whole world, but it is only those who believe on Him who are saved (Rom.3:22).