HOLDING ON TO THE PROMISE
Holy Spirit of God, Truth-Teller, Life-giving One. I come before You now to receive instruction and guidance from Your Word.
Read GENESIS 47:13–31
Joseph and the Famine
13 There was no food, however, in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine. 14 Joseph collected all the money that was to be found in Egypt and Canaan in payment for the grain they were buying, and he brought it to Pharaoh’s palace. 15 When the money of the people of Egypt and Canaan was gone, all Egypt came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? Our money is all gone.”
16 “Then bring your livestock,” said Joseph. “I will sell you food in exchange for your livestock, since your money is gone.” 17 So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and he gave them food in exchange for their horses, their sheep and goats, their cattle and donkeys. And he brought them through that year with food in exchange for all their livestock.
18 When that year was over, they came to him the following year and said, “We cannot hide from our lord the fact that since our money is gone and our livestock belongs to you, there is nothing left for our lord except our bodies and our land. 19 Why should we perish before your eyes—we and our land as well? Buy us and our land in exchange for food, and we with our land will be in bondage to Pharaoh. Give us seed so that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become desolate.”
20 So Joseph bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh. The Egyptians, one and all, sold their fields, because the famine was too severe for them. The land became Pharaoh’s, 21 and Joseph reduced the people to servitude,[a] from one end of Egypt to the other. 22 However, he did not buy the land of the priests, because they received a regular allotment from Pharaoh and had food enough from the allotment Pharaoh gave them. That is why they did not sell their land.
23 Joseph said to the people, “Now that I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh, here is seed for you so you can plant the ground. 24 But when the crop comes in, give a fifth of it to Pharaoh. The other four-fifths you may keep as seed for the fields and as food for yourselves and your households and your children.”
25 “You have saved our lives,” they said. “May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh.”
26 So Joseph established it as a law concerning land in Egypt—still in force today—that a fifth of the produce belongs to Pharaoh. It was only the land of the priests that did not become Pharaoh’s.
27 Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number.
28 Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. 29 When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.”
“I will do as you say,” he said.
31 “Swear to me,” he said. Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.[b]
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ’.1
Having focused exclusively on Joseph’s family, we now see the wider picture that demonstrates Joseph’s astute management in handling the crisis in Egypt (13–26). Contemporary readers may well react with a mixture of admiration and unease. Joseph has wisely stored grain against the day when the famine hit. As a result, he prevents mass starvation and saves many lives. However, his monopoly of the grain supply means he is able to drive a strong policy of centralization – the priests alone exempted – concentrating money and land in the hands of Pharaoh and then mortgaging people’s future by demanding a 20 percent levy on their harvests in perpetuity. Two factors put this in a different perspective. First, the forthcoming Mosaic Law will never envisage the impoverished being given free handouts. They will be expected to play their part in solving the problem, as the Jubilee law of Leviticus 25 illustrates. Second, set against the background of how other nations exploit such a situation, including their tax regimes, Joseph’s actions are merciful in the extreme.
The focus of the narrative then returns to Jacob’s family members (27–31) who stand in sharp contrast to the plight of the Egyptians. God has blessed them. ‘They have acquired property there’ (27) and their numbers have grown. Consequently, it would be easy to stay in Egypt. Why bother with the promise of Canaan when life is so good in Egypt? Jacob, however, knows he’d never belong to Egypt. So, he makes Joseph swear that he wouldn’t be buried there but would eventually be transported back to the land of promise. When that happens, what a powerful demonstration it will be that God indeed keeps His Word. What a lesson in refusing to be distracted in our discipleship.
How far can we still meaningfully sing, ‘This world is not my home, I am just a-passing through’?2 Or have we settled here?
Gracious Lord, my heart’s desire is to seek Your kingdom above everything else. Empower me to put You first in my life.
1 Phil 3:20 2 Jim Reeves, 1923–64