Gen 47:13 Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine. Gen 47:14 And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, in exchange for the grain that they bought. And Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh's house. Gen 47:15 And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, "Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone." Gen 47:16 And Joseph answered, "Give your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone."… Gen 47:23 Then Joseph said to the people, "Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. Gen 47:24 And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones." Gen 47:25 And they said, "You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh."
This text has been a source of puzzlement for a lot of commentators. This might be especially difficult for westerners who are used to some measure of democratic rule. For some it would seem Joseph becomes more of a tyrant than the benevolent ruler that he has seemed to be up to this point in Genesis. Some have wrongly concluded that absolute power corrupts absolutely and such is the case with Joseph.
One problem with this view is that the text is written in a way that seems to praise Joseph’s actions, not condemn them. How then are we to understand Joseph forcing the people into slavery to Pharaoh? In this chapter we read that after he had all the people’s money, he tells them to sell their animals and possessions for food as the famine raged on and when these ran out he forces them to sell their land and eventually themselves for food.
Some, more liberal commentators, have compared Joseph to dictators like Stalin and Hitler. But their problem is that they are reading this as if it is merely history and not about the One for whom history is all about, the Lord Jesus Christ. This isn’t a commentary on human forms of government but about Jesus of whom Joseph is a type. We have already seen in Genesis how Joseph came unto his own and his own did not receive him. He was betrayed by his brothers and suffered at the hands of the Egyptians and by being faithful in sufferings he is exalted to the right hand of the ruler of the Land. It isn’t hard to see where all this is going.
Joseph, through his wisdom, has provided food in a world that is destitute of it. We might say that he has provided life where there is only death. And only by coming to him can any find the food they need. This is what Jesus did when he came to earth and lived and died for us. This is why he called himself the bread of life and the living water and the way, the truth and the life, etc.
So the text is all about Jesus establishing his rule by securing a people for God’s own possession, 1Pe 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1Pe 2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Notice how Peter goes on to describe us as a people who were not God’s or not under his rule but now are in vs. 10. Joseph illustrates how the Lord is calling a people out of this world by revealing that they are living under the death penalty of sin and their only hope is to come to the Bread of Life.
But we are also seeing that to be part of this kingdom you must die to self and become a slave to the Lord. The rich, young ruler balked at this when Jesus said to sell all he had and follow Christ. You see, the reason some are offended at what Joseph did is two-fold.
First, they don’t see themselves as starving; they don’t realize how destitute they are as sinners and that Christ is their only hope. They think they are alive but are really living apart from God and thus they are dead men walking even though they might have much in this life. It is interesting to me that some would be more offended at what Joseph did than the ones who sold themselves to Joseph. The difference is that these people knew they were dead unless they did what Joseph said to do. They didn’t complain about the price because who can put a price on life? Notice their attitude when Joseph relates his demands, Gen 47:24 And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones." Gen 47:25 And they said, "You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh."
We read a very similar demand of Christ in Mar 8:34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Mar 8:35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. Mar 8:36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Also in Mat 10:38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Mat 10:39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Jesus said that those who are forgiven much, love much. The problem many who live in modern days have is the concept of being ruled by someone else. We think that it is our God-given right to live for ourselves and that we are owed everything we need in our pursuit of happiness. But most people throughout human history have been under the rule of others and dependent on them. And personal freedom might be nice but life is all about being under the rule of Christ and left to ourselves we are doomed. These Egyptians knew that and were perfectly happy to sell themselves in order to have life because they knew they were needy and Joseph was the only one who could meet that need.
This brings us to the second reason some today stumble at this text. We think God owes us salvation without submitting to his lordship. But we are the sheep of his pasture, he owns us by creative right. The problem this world has is that it lives on God’s earth and breathes his air but live as if their lives are their own and not the One who made them. When God saves us we come back into a right relationship with him recognizing that he is God and we are not and we give ourselves willingly and joyfully back to him in exchange for eternal life. He now owns us not only by creative right but also by redemption.
This text is a wonderful look at the Kingdom of God that Jesus is securing for the Father and one day he will give the kingdom back to the Father; after he has saved all those to whom the Father has given him. 1Co 15:28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.