This section of Genesis largely goes over Joseph’s time in Egypt. Chapter 38 is the recount of Judah, his wife, sons and daughter in law. 39 to 47 are then the majority of Joseph’s time in Egypt, starting with Potiphar in chapter 39 and going from there.
There was one thing in this section that particularly jumped out at me.
In chapter 47, after the famine becomes more severe and the people of Egypt and the surrounding areas start to come to Joseph for the food he had collected over the 7 years leading up to the famine.
Something I think we often don’t realise is just how much forward planning went into this, there wasn’t just 7 years worth of food stored up, there was provision to maintain the food store in the event of future famines.
Let’s look at it, Genesis 47:13-15:
13 There was no food, however, in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine. 14 Joseph collected all the money that was to be found in Egypt and Canaan in payment for the grain they were buying, and he brought it to Pharaoh’s palace. 15 When the money of the people of Egypt and Canaan was gone, all Egypt came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? Our money is used up.”
So, Joseph not only required the outsiders to pay for grain as shown when his brothers come to buy food over the previous chapters, but Egyptians are made to pay as well. What happens after they can no longer afford to pay though as in verse 15? Lets go on to verses 16 and 17:
16 “Then bring your livestock,” said Joseph. “I will sell you food in exchange for your livestock, since your money is gone.” 17 So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and he gave them food in exchange for their horses, their sheep and goats, their cattle and donkeys. And he brought them through that year with food in exchange for all their livestock.
So, Joseph got them through another year of the famine by requiring livestock as payment. He did not handout the grain for free. In verse 18 is where it starts to get really interesting:
18 When that year was over, they came to him the following year and said, “We cannot hide from our lord the fact that since our money is gone and our livestock belongs to you, there is nothing left for our lord except our bodies and our land. 19 Why should we perish before your eyes—we and our land as well? Buy us and our land in exchange for food, and we with our land will be in bondage to Pharaoh. Give us seed so that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become desolate.”
In verse 18 and continued in 19, we see the Egyptian people becoming desperate for food, and with nothing left but their land and themselves, the exchange them both for food and, did you notice that last bit? For seed, an indication that they want the grain not just for food production now, so that the land may not become desolate.
20 So Joseph bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh. The Egyptians, one and all, sold their fields, because the famine was too severe for them. The land became Pharaoh’s, 21 and Joseph reduced the people to servitude, from one end of Egypt to the other.
We are nearing the end of the famine here, and this is where the plan now comes into effect in verse 23:
23 Joseph said to the people, “Now that I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh, here is seed for you so you can plant the ground. 24 But when the crop comes in, give a fifth of it to Pharaoh. The other four-fifths you may keep as seed for the fields and as food for yourselves and your households and your children.”
25 “You have saved our lives,” they said. “May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh.”
26 So Joseph established it as a law concerning land in Egypt—still in force today—that a fifth of the produce belongs to Pharaoh. It was only the land of the priests that did not become Pharaoh’s.
So, in effect, God through Joseph ensured that Egypt would never starve, as long as the land remained the property of Pharaoh and the laws remained intact. The people allowed to maintain and plant the fields and keep four fifths of the grain for replanting and food, but one fifth had to go to Pharaoh. There is no direct mention of it, but this much grain would ensure that in any time of famine for Egypt, there would always be grain for food and seed to replant the fields.
I skipped over verse 22, but it in effect explains the end of verse 26. The priests did not need to sell their land to Pharaoh as Pharaoh provided them with a regular allotment which was sufficient for their needs.