November 28, 2016

Commentary on the Book of Genesis                                                                                                                                                  

 

 

Lesson IV.C.8: His Administration and His Family. (Gen. 41:47-57)

 

 

Genesis 47-57 (KJV)

47 And in the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth by handfuls.

48 And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities: the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he up in the same.

49 And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number.

50 And unto Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, which Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On bare unto him.

51 And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house.

52 And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.

53 And the seven years of plenteousness, that was in the land of Egypt, were ended.

54 And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.

55 And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do.

56 And the famine was over all the face of the earth: and Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt.

57 And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands.

 

 

Introduction

Over a period of thirteen years, God enabled Joseph to accomplish some wonderful things.  He brought blessing to Potipher’s house and to the people in the prison.  He overcame temptation, and because of that, he endured false accusation and great injustice.  Joseph was a man of faith who expected God to work everything out, and he was ready and obedient when the call came.  But there was one more achievement that in some ways was greatest of all.  He was enabled by God’s grace to wipe out the pains and bad memories of the past and make a new beginning.

 

Commentary

47 And in the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth by handfuls.

Joseph had been taken to Egypt when he was only seventeen (37:2).  He had been in Egypt for 13 years, and was still a young man of 30 years (46), when he became the second most powerful ruler in Egypt.

There is scant evidence that “handfuls” means “abundance,” as several modern versions have it.  If that is the case, “brought forth by handfuls” is better translated “brought forth abundantly” (RSV), making the likely reference here, then, not to small quantities (handfuls) but to the process of systematically gathering in the grain, as the next verse spells out. “Handfuls” may have been used by the author because it is what the hand gathers in as it closes.

48 And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities: the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he up in the same.

 

Joseph knew exactly what to do.  During the seven years of abundant harvest, he gathered all the grain beyond the people’s immediate needs and stored it in a number of Egypt’s cities.  He was planning ahead for easy distribution; it was a very practical thing for him to do.

49 And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number.

Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams makes it possible to save first and then manage through the crisis when it comes.  Joseph surely didn't have to be a genius to formulate a plan to handle what was to unfold over the periods of surplus and shortage.  Yet with hindsight one can say that likewise the world doesn't have to get into the economic messes it gets into from time to time.  One big factor that generates them is a combination of greed and stupidity; more specifically, greed makes people throw wisdom to the winds.  The years of prosperity could have made Egypt do that.  Joseph shows them how to stay cool and take the longer view. We might reckon it is not surprising that someone who lives by God's promises and by trust in God would have the kind of insight to see the wise basis on which to run the country's economic policies in years of plenty and in years of lack.  On the other hand, there will in time be a downside to the "big government" that Joseph suggests.  The actual factor that makes Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of implementing his economic policies is not so much the innovative nature of his proposals but the supernatural insight indicated by his ability to interpret dreams.  It leads Pharaoh to identify Joseph as the first person in Scripture in whom the Spirit of God is at work.  Wisdom is a gift of God's Spirit, to be desired in any ruler.

50 And unto Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, which Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On bare unto him.

Asenath had an important part in God’s plan to bring Joseph’s sons into glory, for it was during this time (“before the years of famine”) that Joseph’s two sons were born. Joseph, in this age, is gathering in an elect family and when it is complete it will be followed by the years of famine (There are 13 famines in the Bible.). Moreover, just as the famine of old was used to drive Joseph’s brethren to him, so the coming Tribulation will be used by God to drive the Jews to Jesus.

51 And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house.

He named his firstborn son “Manasseh” (“forgetting”; "God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.") as a testimony that God had erased from Joseph’s mind thoughts of sadness about his years of “toil, and all my father’s house.” As far as we know, after he came to power he made no inquiries concerning his family in Canaan.

How can it be true that God has made him forget all his trouble and all his father’s household if he is talking about it when his eldest son is born and if this son's name (which looks almost like a form of the word "forgets") is always going to be reminding him of it?  Later episodes in this story will also make clear that neither in a good sense nor in a bad since has he forgotten his father or what his brothers did to him.  But he did forget the pain and suffering that they caused.  He realized that God meant it for good (50:20).  Therefore, looking at the past from that perspective, he attained victory over his bad memories and bitterness.  He could have carried a grudge in his heart because of the way his brothers had treated him, but grudges are like weeds in a lovely garden or germs in a healthy body: they just don’t belong there. 

It’s a wonderful thing when we can come through times of trial with the kind of attitude Joseph had, burying past hurts and rejoicing in present blessings, being “forgetful” and “fruitful(52)” at the same time.  What a tragedy when people remember the painful things others have done to them and all their lives carry bitterness that robs them of peace and joy.  Just as Joseph laid aside his prison clothes and made a new beginning, so we frequently need to “take off” the old hurts and put on a new attitude of faith and love (Ephesians 4:20-32; Colossians 3:1-17).

52 And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.

Joseph named his second son “Ephraim” (“double fruitfulness”) as a witness to God’s provisions of mercy “in the land of my affliction.” The same point that was made in the previous verse emerges from his second son’s naming, since once again he refers to his "affliction."

For people listening to the story, the account of the two boys’ births will have a further significance.  Manasseh and Ephraim became two of the most significant Israelite clans, dominating the northern part of the country.  Once Israel split into two after Solomon's day, "Ephraim," indeed, often appears as the name of the northern of the two nations.  Yes, God made Joseph fruitful.  Ephraim’s own name could remind people of this because of its overlap with the word for "be fruitful."

For one of Jacob’s youngest sons to be the forefather of these two significant clans is typical of God's working in Genesis.  To put two and two together, the stories in Genesis 35 and 38 had implied that Reuben and Judah have ruled themselves out of seniority in the family by their sexual behavior, or rather misbehavior.  Joseph has not done so.  On the other hand, surprisingly the author of Genesis has no problem with Joseph’s wife being the daughter of a priest at the great city of Heliopolis, Sun City, where the sun god was the focus of worship.  Perhaps Egyptian religion was seen as less of a threat or temptation than Canaanite religion.

53 And the seven years of plenteousness, that was in the land of Egypt, were ended.

Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams proved accurate, and Egypt enjoyed seven years of bumper crops, a fifth of which were put into Pharaoh’s storage cities.  But the seven years of bountiful crops are over now, and the famine will begin.  At this time Joseph it is 37 years old.  Keep that in mind for the next chapter.

54 And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.

 

Now the seven-year drought had come.  The bountiful Nile failed to rise, failed to provide its life-giving mud, failed as Joseph said it would.  In Egypt the Nile failed, and when the Nile failed, Egypt died.  Year after year, for seven long years, the watchers along the Nile sent back the same gloomy report: “Another bad Nile.” Four thousand miles away to the south, in the secret springs where the Nile had its source, the torrential rains that fed the lakes and tributaries ceased.  Egypt and all the land round about faced famine. 

Thanks to Joseph, when "the seven years of dearth (famine)" came; Egypt was prepared with a large supply of food stored for the emergency.

55 And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do.

 

The seeming contradiction between the phrase “And when all the land of Egypt was famished” and the preceding statement that there was bread in Egypt, is clear.  There is food in storage that Joseph metes out to the populous at a price; however, there is none to be had from the wasted fields.

“Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph.” He knew how to delegate authority and let Joseph worry about the situation.

56 And the famine was over all the face of the earth: and Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt.

 

The drought reached beyond Egypt to Palestine and other neighboring countries.  Within Egypt itself, people were soon hungry and pleaded for food, which Joseph provided according to a plan already worked out. “Joseph opened all the storehouses and the people were permitted to purchase the stored grain and so had enough to eat.

57 And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands.

People from other countries heard of Egypt’s abundant supply of grain, and came in order “to by corn" (grain).  But visitors started coming from other nations to get food, and Joseph knew that one day his brothers would arrive and bow down before him. 

 

 

 

 

 

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