The seven years of plenty that prevailed in the land of Egypt came to an end; and the seven years of famine began to come, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in every country, but throughout the land of Egypt there was bread. 55 When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, ‘Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do.’ And since the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Moreover, all the world came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine became severe throughout the world
Joseph sold the grain that was in the storehouses to the Egyptians, which doesn’t sound very charitable. Fortunately for them the storehouses were chock full of grain, but where had it come from? Well, it turns out that Joseph, wielding his power as Pharaoh’s right hand man, had appropriated it from those very same, now-starving, Egyptians in the first place (41:34).
Joseph took their grain and then, when they were in great need, he sold it back to them! We’re used to seeing Joseph as the victim of others but it appears that the dreamer has a steelier side. Along with Jesus, whilst we might appreciate the sleight of hand, as wily as that of any serpent, we might wonder what has happened to Joseph’s dove-like innocence.
Even the nicest of us, we are reminded, has a shadow side, but there are issues here beyond those of individual character. What do you do when you are in a position of responsibility and the demands are many but resources are few? Personally, I can afford to buy a hungry person a meal but I don’t have the money to feed a starving population.
Joseph had storehouses to build and a food supply system to maintain, and you don’t put all of that together without (someone else’s) money. Whether it should have been those who were starving who had to pay for it all – twice, once in kind and once in cash – is another matter.
In a world where millions starve today, and millions more go hungry, who do you think should have the authority to control food supplies? The government, the farmers, the consumers, the food sellers, or someone else? And whoever has that authority, how should they marry generosity and practicality for the benefit of all?
Provident God, Give me a spirit of generosity in responding to need and the wisdom to respond effectively. Amen
The Rev’d Trevor Jamison is Environmental Chaplain for Eco-Congregation Scotland