Believe it or not we are going to wrap up Genesis this week. Probably because this post alone takes up seven chapters.
Genesis 41-47 is the story of Joseph and his brothers. Let’s see if I can give a summary. Joseph the almost youngest brother of the twelve annoyed his brothers to no end, because he was dad’s favorite and thought a little too much of himself. So his brothers took his swanky coat dad gave him and threw him in a well. Instead of leaving him for dead, Reuben convinced them to sell him to some traders passing through. Joseph ends up in Egypt as the slave of Potiphar, a high ranking Egyptian. Potiphar’s wife has him thrown in jail when he rejects her, but eventually Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s #1 when he interprets his dreams. This is where the story really starts to concern us.
Pharaoh’s dreams meant that Egypt would have seven years of abundance followed by seven years of severe famine. Joseph was put in charge of planning for this and stored grain for the seven years of famine so they could survive. Jacob, the dad, sends his sons to Egypt to get grain when the famine hits, but they all think that Joseph is either dead or a slave. They don’t recognize him when they get there. Through a series of events Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers. Eventually everybody moves to Egypt and the backdrop for the Exodus is set.
Food is the backdrop for this entire soap opera concerning the patriarchal family. Feast and famine are both on the horizon. This points to a fact about our existence that we have become all too detached from. We are dependent on nature and nature is anything but reliable. Sure the seasons always come and go. Winter inevitably turns to spring, but the harvest is inherently unstable. Farmers know this from experience. Late freezes, too much rain, too little rain, wind, hail and anything else mother nature can come up with might ruin crops.
In this story, Pharaoh gets a heads up through his dream about the coming abundance and the following famine. It never works out this nice in reality. But Joseph’s solution is what humanity has practiced since the dawn of agriculture.
[The food from the good years] shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine. Genesis 41:36
This was FDR’s basic farm policy in the New Deal. The government would buy crops up during fat years to stabilize the market and then let out some of those reserves during the lean years. This is a policy that makes sense and attempts to mitigate the instability of food production. Without digressing into American Farm policy, I will just say this is not how we do things anymore.
The lesson we can learn from this is that nature is not our friend. Creation is good to be sure, but it is hard work to get food from the dirt and the weather is not always our friend.
In 47:13-26, Joseph finds that he is able to leverage the huge food disparity to widen the power gap between the rich and the poor. By the end, those who depended on the government monopoly have surrendered all their land and livestock, and are living as tenant farmers on the pharaoh’s land.
thanks carl. there’s so much in this story that i didn’t feel i had time to tackle right now. your point is extremely important though. i’m just trying to finally make it out of Genesis.