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. 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. 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.” And Joseph answered, “Give 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. He supplied them with food in exchange for all their livestock that year. And when that year was ended, they came to him the following year and said to him, “We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent. The herds of livestock are my lord’s. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land. Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.”
So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other. Only the land of the priests he did not buy, for the priests had a fixed allowance from Pharaoh and lived on the allowance that Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their land.
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. 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.” And they said, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.” So Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt, and it stands to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth; the land of the priests alone did not become Pharaoh’s. – Genesis 47:13-26 ESV
God had originally told Abraham, “through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 22:18 NLT). While that promise was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ through His message of salvation for all people, we see it partially fulfilled in the life of Joseph, Abraham’s great-grandson. As the seven-year famine took its toll on the surrounding lands, the people found themselves forced to come to Egypt for grain. During the preceding seven years, when the land was still fruitful, Joseph had set in place a program to store up as much grain as possible, in preparation for the coming famine.
During the seven years of abundance the land produced large, bountiful harvests. Joseph collected all the excess food in the land of Egypt during the seven years and stored it in the cities. In every city he put the food gathered from the fields around it. Joseph stored up a vast amount of grain, like the sand of the sea, until he stopped measuring it because it was impossible to measure. – Genesis 41:47-49 NLT
In time, the people found that they had exhausted all their money buying grain from Pharaoh’s storehouses, but the famine was far from over. So they resorted to exchanging their land and their freedom for food. Eventually, Joseph would provide seed to the people, but enforce a 20 percent tax on all food produced in the land. And when all was said and done, the people would actually thank Joseph for what he had done. “You have saved our lives! You are showing us favor, and we will be Pharaoh’s slaves” (Genesis 47:25 NLT).
There is no mention of Jacob and his family in these verses. They were living in the land of Goshen – “the best of all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:20 ESV). And it is important to remember that, because they were shepherds, Pharaoh had put them in charge of his own flocks and herds. He had told Joseph, “Let them settle in the land of Goshen, and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my livestock” (Genesis 47:6 ESV). So as the famine increased, the people were forced to trade in their livestock in exchange for grain. “So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for their horses, the livestock of their flocks and herds, and their donkeys. He got them through that year by giving them food in exchange for livestock.” (Genesis 47:17 NLT). The sons of Jacob found themselves extremely busy. They were the official shepherds of Pharaoh and he would have been paying them well to care for his growing menagerie of animals. So while it seems that Pharaoh is the one receiving all the benefits of Joseph’s famine-relief plan, his own family was being sustained and blessed at the same time. The opening lines of the book of Exodus tells us, “In time, Joseph and all of his brothers died, ending that entire generation. But their descendants, the Israelites, had many children and grandchildren. In fact, they multiplied so greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land” (Exodus 1:6-7 NLT). The very famine that had forced them to flee from Canaan had resulted in the extraordinary expansion of their numbers. As the people of Egypt were exhausting all their money and possessions buying grain from Pharaoh, the Israelites “were fruitful and multiplied greatly” (Genesis 47:27 ESV). They were being blessed by God.
All of this should make us stop and consider the ways of God. If we would have been alive during that day and part of the family of Jacob, it is likely that we would have doubted God’s goodness by questioning His allowance of the famine. We might have complained about having to be upended and relocated to a foreign land. We most likely would have found reason to gripe about how much work we were having to do because of all the livestock being put under our care. And we might have even felt a tinge of jealousy as we watched Pharaoh AND Joseph get inordinately wealthy as the people of the land suffered. But in doing so, we would have have missed the point. We would have failed to see the mysterious ways of God in the seeming difficulties of life.
The family of Jacob was being blessed by God – in the midst of a famine. They were expanding in numbers as the Egyptians were selling off all they had and offering themselves as slaves to Pharaoh. This was the sovereign hand of God at work. It was the will of God being worked out in real life as He fulfilled His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And through all the difficulties surrounding the famine, God was setting up the perfect scenario to bring about His plan to make of Abraham a great nation and to give him the land of Canaan as his possession. God’s ways are not our ways and they never will be, and that should always be food for thought.