Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe. The land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished because of the famine. Joseph collected all the money to be 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. When the money from the land of Egypt and from the land of Canaan was spent, all the Egyptians came to Joseph, and said, ‘Give us food! Why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone.’ And Joseph answered, ‘Give me your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone.’ So they brought their livestock to Joseph; and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the herds, and the donkeys. That year he supplied them with food in exchange for all their livestock. When that year was ended, they came to him the following year, and said to him, ‘We cannot hide from my lord that our money is all spent; and the herds of cattle are my lord’s. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our lands. Shall we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land in exchange for food. We with our land will become slaves to Pharaoh; just give us seed, so that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become desolate.’
So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh. All the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe upon them; and the land became Pharaoh’s.
This story highlights the canniness of Joseph the royal administrator, right? Now read to the end of the section (v26). By exploiting the vulnerability of the people Pharaoh acquires all the money, land and the citizens as slaves in exchange for seed. In return, they produce crops, but tithe 20% to Pharaoh. He becomes the most powerful ruler in the region, presiding over one vast slave system. This is all Joseph’s doing!
The Joseph story paves the way for Exodus. Israel does not belong in Egypt but in the land that God promised. Israel is not to live by the whim of Pharaoh, but by the grace of Yahweh – the God of the “little people” and the liberator of slaves.
Two related themes, then: living by faith in the promises of God, and the issue of daily bread. In Genesis Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all veer between trusting God and taking matters into their own hands. Here, Joseph uses his access to Empire to secure a future for his family (v27) by making Pharoah rich. It’s a smart move – how could God not approve? But as Brueggemann comments, “Joseph’s shrewdness shows that entering the world of the empire brings dangers with it. The Egyptian empire offers food and therefore life. But it is never far from exploitation, oppression and slavery”.
Joseph will provide what the people need … at a price – their money and freedom. This is the way of Empire and the Market. It is compassionless.
That is why Jesus teaches us to ask God for daily bread. It comes with neither strings nor chains attached: we need; God loves. There is more than enough! The challenge for the Church today is to learn to trust God’s promises of a future and provision for all we need. We learn that from following Jesus. It’s the only way to resist the temptations of Empire and the Market; to sell our souls in exchange for the promise of a future.
Exodus God, Lead us from the land of scarcity. Deliver us from gnawing anxiety. Liberate us from the terror that our future depends on our own ingenuity.
Lead us from mere existence to Life. Teach us to trust you. Keep us from compromise. Make us faithfully bold.
May our lives resemble Jesus – individually and as churches. May we be the answer to the prayers of others. May we make a Jesus-shaped difference in our communities and our world, By your grace and by your Spirit. Amen.
Lawrence Moore is a Mission & Discipleship consultant and member of Worsley Rd URC in Salford.