October 23, 2017

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART IV: JOSEPH AND HIS BRETHREN (Gen. 37:1-50:26)

 

Topic #E: THE MIGRATION INTO EGYPT. (Gen. 46:1-47:27)                                                   

 

                                           Lesson IV.E.9: The Other Years of the Famine. (Gen. 47:13-27)

 


Genesis 47:13-27 (KJV)

 

13 And there was no bread in all the land; for the famine was very sore, so that the land of Egypt and all the land of Canaan fainted by reason of the famine.

14 And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, for the corn which they bought: and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh's house.

15 And when money failed in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came unto Joseph, and said, Give us bread: for why should we die in thy presence? for the money faileth.

16 And Joseph said, Give your cattle; and I will give you for your cattle, if money fail.

17 And they brought their cattle unto Joseph: and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for horses, and for the flocks, and for the cattle of the herds, and for the asses: and he fed them with bread for all their cattle for that year.

18 When that year was ended, they came unto him the second year, and said unto him, We will not hide it from my lord, how that our money is spent; my lord also hath our herds of cattle; there is not ought left in the sight of my lord, but our bodies, and our lands:

19 Wherefore shall we die before thine eyes, both we and our land? buy us and our land for bread, and we and our land will be servants unto Pharaoh: and give us seed, that we may live, and not die, that the land be not desolate.

20 And Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine prevailed over them: so the land became Pharaoh's.

21 And as for the people, he removed them to cities from one end of the borders of Egypt even to the other end thereof.

22 Only the land of the priests bought he not; for the priests had a portion assigned them of Pharaoh, and did eat their portion which Pharaoh gave them: wherefore they sold not their lands.

23 Then Joseph said unto the people, Behold, I have bought you this day and your land for Pharaoh: lo, here is seed for you, and ye shall sow the land.

24 And it shall come to pass in the increase, that ye shall give the fifth part unto Pharaoh, and four parts shall be your own, for seed of the field, and for your food, and for them of your households, and for food for your little ones.

25 And they said, Thou hast saved our lives: let us find grace in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh's servants.

26 And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt unto this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth part, except the land of the priests only, which became not Pharaoh's.

27 And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions therein, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly.

 

 

Introduction

 

This passage continues the basic Joseph story from 47:6.  It demonstrates the fulfillment of Jacob’s blessing on Pharaoh (47:10). 

 

The focus now turns to Joseph’s dealings with the Egyptians.  The famine having reached its height, the Egyptians realized that there was no hope apart from Joseph.  The famine brought them to the place where they were willing to submit to him, at all costs and on any terms.  They had come to the end of themselves.  Egypt was bankrupt and its condition hopeless.  There was no future except in Joseph.

 

Joseph is able to save Egypt and its neighbors from a severe famine and alleviate the desperate plight of the Egyptians.  God blesses Pharaoh because he has blessed the Israelites with the best of Egypt.

 

 

 

Commentary

 

13 And there was no bread in all the land; for the famine was very sore, so that the land of Egypt and all the land of Canaan fainted by reason of the famine.

 

Chapter 47:13-26, deals with Joseph’s relationship to the Egyptian populous rather than to his own family. The famine had continued to worsen, and with it the economic condition of the people. However, it is not until the famine had continued into the years beyond Jacob’s arrival in Egypt that conditions deteriorated to the situation portrayed here.  Something had to be done and it had to be done immediately, for we are told, “there was no bread in all the land”—this probably refers to the second year of the famine (45:6) when any little cache of provisions of individuals or families were exhausted and when the people had become universally dependent on the government.

 

The drought, which in “Egypt” would be the failure of the Nile River to flood the “land” at its regular time in the summer, continued to leave the people without a harvest.  Joseph’s grain storage plan proved to be invaluable.  But the grain was not handed out free of charge.  Food must be purchased with whatever property was available. Coins or printed currency were not known in Joseph’s time, so the money (14) brought in by the people was probably precious metals (silver, gold) and jewels.  When these were gone, cattle (16) were turned in to the government, then privately owned land, and finally the people became serfs in exchange for “bread” (19).

 

Joseph made one statement which indicated that the Israelites were under divine orders to remain in Egypt until God led them out (50:24-25{2]).  It is possible, of course, that Joseph was only expressing a personal view, but there is every indication that the long sojourn in Egypt was the way God had ordained that Israel should be molded into a great nation (46:3){3].

 

14 And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt,

and in the land of Canaan, for the corn which they bought: and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh's house.

 

We are coming now to something for which Joseph has been criticized.  People say he took advantage of people in poverty when he sold them “corn.”  In other words, he closed on the mortgages and bought the land.  I feel that this is an unfair criticism of “Joseph.”  To begin with, he is the agent of “Pharaoh.” None of this is for himself; he is making no effort to enrich himself.  He was not crooked in any sense of the word.  He did not gain personally because of the famine.

 

An illustration of this is the scarcity of and demand for uranium during wartime in our own country.  When some men found that they had uranium in their properties—especially in Arizona—they were paid handsome sums for their land.  Were they taking advantage of the government?  I don’t think so.  The law of supply and demand was in operation.

 

It seems to me that this same principle was in operation “in the land of Egypt.”  “Joseph” sold “corn” for “money,” and later for cattle, and land, and he brought the proceeds to “Pharaoh”; he is thereby enabling the people to live by furnishing them food.  I think that Joseph stayed within the confines of the law of supply and demand.

 

The Marxist dream, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need," will come true, for Christ and not sinful man will administer the resources of the world.  The state will be supreme in Christ.  The world's wealth will be dispensed by the throne for the blessing and benefit of all.

 

15 And when money failed in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came unto Joseph, and said, Give us bread: for why should we die in thy presence? for the money faileth.

 

Joseph’s procedure was to provide the grain they needed but at a price that had to be paid each time.  The government’s bounty was never doled out to them.  The cost of the exchange, however, kept going up.  We should not be surprised at what happened next―“the money faileth.” People could no longer put their trust in “money,” for the simple reason that they did not have any.  The love of money, a root of all evil, was taken away from them.  All men, rich and poor alike, were reduced to the same level.  The economy of the land was in Pharaoh’s hands alone.

 

16 And Joseph said, Give your cattle; and I will give you for your cattle, if money fail.

 

Next, Joseph demanded the possessions of the Egyptians (47:15-17).  "And when money failed in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came unto Joseph, and said, Give us bread: for why should we die in thy presence? for the money faileth. And Joseph said, Give your cattle; and I will give you for your cattle, if money fail. And they brought their cattle unto Joseph.”  That made sense.  What use would it be to control and centralize the monetary system if people could barter with their other liquid assets?  The problem of the love of money would remain.  So Joseph concentrated the liquid assets of Egypt under the control of the throne.  The very wealthy might have been able to hold out longer than others but, eventually all gave in and the power of the throne was advanced for the good of all.

 

17 And they brought their cattle unto Joseph: and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for horses, and for the flocks, and for the cattle of the herds, and for the asses: and he fed them with bread for all their cattle for that year.

 

First they paid their money until that gave out, both in Egypt and in Canaan.  Then the Egyptians traded their stock for grain, while the Canaanites went elsewhere. 

 

Probably the officials simply registered them as security for the grain, and then returned them to their farms.  Pharaoh, however, could call for them whenever they were needed, since they now belonged to him.  The situation must have been handled with discretion, however, or he would have had a rebellion on his hands.

 

18 When that year was ended, they came unto him the second year{5], and said unto him, We will not hide it from my lord, how that our money is spent; my lord also hath our herds of cattle; there is not ought left in the sight of my lord, but our bodies, and our lands:

 

“there is not ought left in the sight of my lord, but our bodies, and our lands:”

Some translations have put “our carcasses, and our farmland” for a rather bland “Our bodies, and our lands.” But the Hebrew refers specifically to “a dead body” and is often used in quite negative contexts.  The Egyptians here are speaking sarcastically of their own miserable conditions: they have nothing left but their carcasses (“bodies”); they have been reduced to walking corpses.  The present translation uses “lands,” but “farmland,” is preferred because that term usually means “arable land”—it is the “soil” of the Garden story—but “soil” would be a little off in these sentences.  It cannot be rendered throughout simply as “land” because that would create confusion with the “land,” which is also used here several times to refer to Egypt as a country. The fact that the farmland referred to by the Egyptians is not yielding much produce suggests that in their eyes it is scarcely worth more than the “carcasses” with which it is awash with.

 

19 Wherefore shall we die before thine eyes, both we and our land? buy us and our land for bread, and we and our land will be servants unto Pharaoh: and give us seed, that we may live, and not die, that the land be not desolate.

 

“and we and our land will be servants unto Pharaoh”

The thought here is that the entire population would be reduced to a condition of virtual serfdom to Pharaoh. In all likelihood that was meant to be construed not as an act of ruthlessness by Joseph, but as an example of his administrative brilliance.  The subordination of the Egyptian peasantry to the central government, with the 20% tax on agriculture, was a known fact, and our story provides an explanation (however unhistorical) for its origins.

 

Finally they sold themselves and their land to Pharaoh.  It is interesting to note how the various agreements were reached.  The sale by money was consummated without discussion, since it was routine.  In response to an apparent request for a government handout, Joseph suggested the exchange of animals.  Finally the people themselves initiated the giving of themselves and their land.  Such a suggestion by Joseph would have been inappropriate.

 

and give us seed, that we may live, and not die, that the land be not desolate.”

The request for seed either indicated that they were still planting each year, hoping for a harvest, or probably that they were coming toward the close of the seven years. That is why the account was not given until now.

 

20 And Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine prevailed over them: so the land became Pharaoh's.

 

The Egyptians, indeed, were brought to an end of themselves, brought to the place where total and unquestioning trust had to be placed in Joseph.  Likewise, in a coming day, all sources of power will be concentrated in the capable and kindly hands of Jesus.  We would have cause to fear if the hands wielding such power were any other than the hands of a “Joseph” or Jesus, for those hands were completely dependable and could be trusted to the utmost.  Joseph wanted an end to divided loyalties and human rivalries, and the blessing of a benevolent, efficient, and centralized rule.  The flaw in Joseph's case lay in the fact that sooner or later he would die and lesser, more greedy hands would seize the reins, but when all such power is concentrated in the hands of Jesus it will be for the lasting good of mankind.

 

21 And as for the people, he removed them to cities from one end of the borders of Egypt even to the other end thereof.

 

Despite many English versions, it is problematic to interpret the phrase as “he removed them to cities,” for it would make no sense to move all the farmers into the “cities” if there are to be crops in the future, unless one imagines a temporary gathering of the rural population in the cities for the distribution of food.  But the original Hebrew can also have the sense of “according to”—that is, Joseph rounded up rural populations in groups according to his plan for the distribution of food around the principle cities and then he resettled them on new lands.  The purpose would be to sever them from their hereditary lands and locate them on other lands that they knew were theirs to till only by the grace of Pharaoh, to whom the land now belonged. 

 

Joseph took control of their persons.  He exercised his right to redistribute the population of the land so that the manpower resources of the land could be utilized in the future for the good of all.  No doubt he cleared out the slums and resettled people in the cities or on the land for their own immediate and future good.  The millennial reign will begin in a similar way.  Only a few people will be left after the judgments of the Tribulation era and after the judgment of the Valley of Jehoshaphat.  They will be appointed their places of residence by the Lord in keeping with His wisdom, love, and power.  What He originally planned for mankind when at Babel, He commanded and enforced; a distribution of the world's population will become a fact.

 

22 Only the land of the priests bought he not; for the priests had a portion assigned them of Pharaoh, and did eat their portion which Pharaoh gave them: wherefore they sold not their lands.

 

“Only the land of the priests bought he not;”

The fact that the “priests” did not give up their “land” was not due to the fact that Joseph, who had married into their group, used his influence in their favor, but because of their entrenched power.  Herodotus attests to the fact that temple “lands” in Egypt were not a royal possession.  The priests did, however, receive an allowance from “Pharaoh’s” granaries. 

 

“for the priests had a portion assigned them of Pharaoh, and did eat their portion which Pharaoh gave them:”

It is a significant point that Joseph DID NOT give preferential treatment to the Egyptian priests.  It was more than a sign of religious support; the concession is probably due to the powerful lobby that the priests have with Pharaoh.

 

And there is another point that needs to be made: What a golden opportunity Pharaoh threw away to smash the tremendous power of the priesthood throughout Egypt.  Joseph's power was limited because Pharaoh’s nerve failed, or perhaps because Pharaoh’s heart inclined toward the sacerdotalism{4] of the land.

 

But in a coming day the Lord will not be limited by a weak throne.  With all the power of Deity behind Him He will smash the power of false religion.  No longer will dark, satanic creeds hold authority over human souls.  Temples, raised at incalculable cost and dedicated to the propagation of error will vanish from the earth.  A magnificent temple will be built in Jerusalem to direct the thoughts of all mankind to God upon His throne.

 

23 Then Joseph said unto the people, Behold, I have bought you this day and your land for Pharaoh: lo, here is seed for you, and ye shall sow the land.

 

Joseph now enunciated the basic law for the new age that had dawned in Egypt.  The basic principle was first of all explained (47:23-25).  It was worded very simply (47:23-24).

 

Joseph knows that the famine will be ended the next year; so he tells the people to sow their seed. “Then Joseph said unto the people, Behold, I have bought you this day and your land for Pharaoh: lo, here is seed for you, and ye shall sow the land. And it shall come to pass in the increase, that ye shall give the fifth part unto Pharaoh, and four parts shall be your own, for seed of the field, and for your food, and for them of your households, and for food for your little ones.” Concentration of power in the throne was intended to be a means of blessing, not a means of oppression.  It meant that the resources of Egypt could be managed for the good of all.

 

24 And it shall come to pass in the increase, that ye shall give the fifth part unto Pharaoh, and four parts shall be your own, for seed of the field, and for your food, and for them of your households, and for food for your little ones.

 

By the time the famine ended and farming could begin again, Pharaoh possessed all the money in Egypt (14) and owned all the people (19) and all their property (19-20), except the land of the priests (22); and the farmers had to pay a fifth of the harvest to Pharaoh as an annual tax (24). [The same was true “in the seven plenteous years” (41:34).]  Not only had Joseph saved the nation from starvation, but also he had set up an economic system that enabled Pharaoh to control everything. 

 

During the years of plenty Joseph had been empowered by Pharaoh to tax the land owners a “fifth” of their produce against the years of need.  Now he made that tax permanent in the land in order to finance the centralized administration.  It was a wise move as well as a demonstration of Joseph’s goodness.  He was under no obligation to give the people anything.  He could have simply reduced the people to serfdom, but instead he dealt with them bountifully out of the goodness of his heart.

 

The giving of twenty percent to Pharaoh was not an exorbitant tax for the times.  In Babylon seed grain interest rates ran as high as forty percent, whereas in the Elephantine Jewish military colony of the fifth century b.c. they even went to sixty percent.  So, this tax designed by Joseph is not out of line with what was common in that day in the ancient Near East.  It was lower than the average of 33.3%.

 

25 And they said, Thou hast saved our lives: let us find grace in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh's servants.

 

The principle was welcomed very sincerely. “And they said, Thou hast saved our lives: let us find grace in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh's servants.” This is how the millennial age will begin.  A grateful people, saved by the Lord Himself, glad to be the Lord’s bondsmen, their future assured and their happiness guaranteed, will be conscious that grace reins on earth at last.

 

Life is NOT prosperous for the Egyptians, but at least they are alive, and for this they are grateful to Joseph.  Their words, “you have saved our lives,” confirm that the “save lives” of 45:5 includes Egyptians. Already God is fulfilling His promise to Abraham that nations will be blessed through Him.  The Egyptians are blessed by Joseph’s presence.  They do not die.  They survived a catastrophe, thanks to Joseph.

 

The Egyptians admitted to Joseph, “Thou hast saved our lives.”  What multitudes will gratefully say to Jesus at the last day, “THOU HAST SAVED OUR SOULS” from certain destruction, and Thou did it during the time of our greatest distress and greatest danger!  The Egyptians parted with all their property, and even their liberty, in order to save their lives—can it then be too much for us to consider everything we have to be as lost, and part with it all, at His command, and for His sake, for He will both save our souls and give us a hundred fold, even here, in this present world.  Surely if Christ has saved us, we will be willing to become His devoted “servants.”

 

The people ceased to be proprietors of their own farms, but they were not slaves with no interest in the land, but tenants blessed with low rent—a fair enough exchange for having their lives preserved.  But actually, they would be much better off when working on land belonging to the state under definite conditions, than they would be when suffering from the actions of small feudal rulers, who were a great force in Egypt. I’ll explain.  Joseph is an Old Testament figure; therefore, we should view this situation through the eyes of those who lived in Joseph’s era.  Leviticus 25:14-43 shows that Joseph’s actions were regarded as a great act of charity by buying the land of the destitute and to take them on as employees (“slaves”).  Indeed such “slavery” under a good employer was regarded by some as preferable to the risks of freedom (self-employment), and when offered freedom, some slaves refused to take it (Exodus 21:5-6; Deuteronomy 15:16-17).  Slavery in Old Testament times was very different from the harsh exploitation that was involved in the Atlantic slave trade of recent centuries.  Old Testament slavery at its best meant a job for life with a benevolent employer.  Certainly this is how the Egyptians viewed Joseph’s actions, for they declare “Thou hast saved our lives . . . we will be Pharaoh's servants” (47:25).

 

26 And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt unto this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth part, except the land of the priests only, which became not Pharaoh's.

 

The basic principle, having been explained, was then established.  “And Joseph made it a law,” we read.  The principle was made a precept.  Thus God’s grace and His government’s were wedded and a new age began.

 

The “fifth part” is the same as twenty percent.  This is much less than the fifty percent or more that sharecroppers often pay, and it is a lower tax than many citizens in civilized countries pay today.

 

27 And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions therein, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly.

 

And what were the people of Israel doing while all this was going on?  Multiplying!  (See Exodus 1:7.) and living safely and prosperously in Goshen (1:28). [Jacob’s family did not have to sell their possessions to receive provisions.]  By the time Moses led the nation out of Egypt, the Jews numbered at least two million people{1].  God had promised that He would make them a great nation, and He kept His promise.

 

 

Final Thoughts

 

Pharaoh was a pagan ruler who worshipped a multitude of false gods, and yet the Lord worked in his heart and used him to care for Jacob and his family (Proverbs 21:1).  Too many Christian believers today think that God can use only His own people in places of authority, but He can work His will even through unbelieving leaders like Pharaoh, Cyrus (Ezra 1:1; Isaiah 44:28), Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 25:9; 27:6), and Augustus Caesar (Luke 2:1).

 

 

Scripture Reference and Special Notes

 

[1} at the time of the Exodus, there were 600,000 adult Males E and the nations (Exodus 12:37).  So when you had women and children, the total population would be two million or more.

[2} “And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.”(Gen. 50:24-25)

[3} And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation:” (Gen. 46:3)

[4} Sacerdotalism is the belief that propitiatory sacrifices for sin require the intervention of a priest. That is, it is the belief that a special, segregated order of men, called the Levitical Priesthood are the only ones who can commune directly with God or the gods. This system of priesthood is exemplified by the Aaronic priests in the Old Testament and by today’s Catholics. Protestant denominations reject sacerdotalism.  They hold that the New Testament presents only one atoning sacrifice, the Body of Christ offered once for all on the cross by Christ himself, who is both the sinless offering and the sinless priest.

[5} The “second year” was not the second year of the famine, but the year after they had given up their cattle.

 

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