“You’ve saved our lives. If you wish, we will be Pharaoh’s slaves.” – Genesis 47:25
The story of Joseph is truly a remarkable one. He’s sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned, only to become the second most powerful man in Egypt. It is also a moving story of forgiveness and God’s redemptive purposes, despite the actions of evil men.
And then there is the rest of the story.
Joseph’s family survives a 7 year famine, and so does Egypt. But Genesis 47 would not have us see Joseph as a benevolent savior, and we would be outraged if the Red Cross or the Salvation Army followed Joseph’s blueprint for hunger relief.
Instead, Joseph comes across looking like a greedy opportunist:
- Egypt sells grain to desperate people facing starvation – this is not a relief effort. Egypt has cornered the market on grain, so can sell it for whatever price they want.
- When the money dries up, Egypt accepts livestock for payment, further diminishing private property.
- As the famine persists, Egyptians are forced to purchase grain with their land. Egypt gives them seed to plant after the famine, and Pharaoh would get 1/5th of whatever they grew on his lands. That’s a high taxation rate in any society.
The result of Joseph’s policies: The Israelites were tax exempt and kept their lands. Egyptians were now serfs, and Pharaoh was Lord of the Manor. Hardly what we would call a just society.
While the Joseph story is inspiring, there is a lesson we often miss. Genesis 47 is an ancient example of how powerful governments can seek more power during times of crisis.