After Joseph became a ruler in Egypt, he married and had two sons. Their names represent two aspects of his Egyptian experience:
- Manasseh (מְנַשֶּׁה) means “causing to forget.” Joseph explained the name: “God…hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house” (Genesis 41:51). He was no longer plagued with the memory of his hard labor as a slave nor with homesickness for his original home in Canaan. Manasseh’s birth made him feel content in his new home.
- Ephraim (אֶפְרַיִם) means “very fruitful.” (It is a plural noun probably based on the word parah (פָרָה), “to bear fruit.”) Joseph explained, “God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Genesis 41:52).
Shortly before the death of Joseph’s father, Jacob, Joseph took his sons to visit him. At that time, Jacob adopted Ephraim and Manasseh as his own:
Thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.Genesis 48:5
As a result, when Moses later led Jacob’s descendants back to the land of Canaan, they each identified themselves as a descendant of one of Jacob’s sons except for the descendants of Joseph, who were known as either descendants of Ephraim or of Manasseh. (See, for example, Numbers 1 and Numbers 26.)
Jacob blessed the two boys, crossing his hands and placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head even though Manasseh was the older brother. (Joseph protested, but Jacob said that he did it intentionally.) In that blessing, he said, “God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh” (Genesis 48:20), a prayer Jews still offer over their children to this day. (See Shmuel Kogan, “Why do we bless our sons to ‘be like Ephraim and Manasseh’?” on chabad.org.)
Many years later, as Lehi and his family left the city of Jerusalem, he obtained a sacred record containing sacred writings and genealogy. He learned from this record “that he was a descendant of Joseph” (1 Nephi 5:14). Amulek later clarifies that Lehi “was a descendant of Manasseh, who was the son of Joseph” (Alma 10:3).
Additionally, according to Joseph F. Smith, Ishmael, who accompanied Lehi’s family and whose daughters married Lehi’s sons, was of the tribe of Ephraim (“Questions and Answers – The Stick of Ephraim,” Improvement Era, Vol. 8, No. 10, August 1905, pp. 781-782, as displayed on bookofmormoncentral.org). So the people described in the Book of Mormon—the Nephites and the Lamanites—were descendants of both Ephraim and Manasseh. They inherited the promise of those names: to forget their former troubles and to prosper in their new home.
Today, I will remember Manasseh and Ephraim. I will strive to let go of any negative experiences in my past and to focus on the tasks of the day, with confidence that God will help me to be “very fruitful.”