Through the good counsel which Joseph gave him, the king of Egypt not only retained his kingdom, but he increased his wealth in material things as well. The coffers of his kingdom overflowed with money from the Egyptians, but also from the Canaanites. In real estate his holdings were extended beyond what any man would have imagined a few years before Joseph interpreted his dreams.
In the wisdom which God gave him Joseph advised the king to store up the surplus food during the seven years of plenty. When the seven years of famine came, the king had a vast store of food to sell. He had not stocked up luxuries which only a few would buy, but he had what every man in Egypt needed for his very life. He had stored up the necessities of life, namely, bread, without which no man can live. And so Egyptians, and Canaanites as well, bought with money, cattle, land, and their own bodies what Pharaoh had to sell.
Pharaoh could have lost his kingdom, for a kingdom without people is not kingdom. And without bread there would be no people left to rule. In due time Pharaoh himself would starve to death had God not sent Joseph and given him to know the meaning of the dreams and what to advise Pharaoh. The famine was a dreadful one. Genesis 47:13 says that, “There was no bread in all the land; for the famine was very sore, so that the land of Egypt and all the land of Canaan fainted by reason of the famine.” The dreams of the king also pictured a very grievous famine. The seven thin, ill-favored kine ate up the seven fat kine, and you could not see any change in them. The seven withered, thin and wind-blasted ears of corn ate up the seven full, good ears of corn, but you would not know it by looking at them after they devoured these full, good ears.
But now Pharaoh’s subjects live and the coffers of his treasury are being filled to overflowing in spite of the famine. In times of depression, or even recession, the governments today, as a rule, have less income in taxes because of less employment and financial power of the people. Not so here in Egypt in this day of the shadows. The people spent their last pennies for bread. Then they came to Joseph and offered their cattle. When these were all Pharaoh’s, they agreed to sell their land and even their bodies. The people became poorer and poorer, and the king became richer and richer.
Now, that they sold their bodies does not mean that they became vulgar and immoral. In Genesis 47:19 it is explained for us. They agreed to be servants of Pharaoh and give him the strength and labor of their bodies. Seeing that they were now Pharaoh’s servants, he could and did remove them from their barren, useless land into cities where they could not only serve him but more easily be cared for as far as the need of bread is concerned.
In Genesis 47:22 it is pointed out that the one exception to all this was the priests of Pharaoh, which can mean the princes. But assume that the translation is correct, should we condemn Joseph for excluding them? For an answer we must go back to Genesis 41:40 where the king tells Joseph, “Thou shalt be over my house, and according to thy word shall all my people be ruled; only in the throne will I be greater than thou.” These priests were appointed by Pharaoh, and the decision to feed them without selling their cattle (which they did not even have) and land and bodies belonged to a decision of the throne where Pharaoh was greater than Joseph.
Without a doubt Joseph did not approve as a child of God. He had no desire to support idolatry and superstition, but he was as powerless to change all this as we are when our government taxes us for the murder of abortions, and declares tax-free institutions that serve and foster the antichrist and his kingdom. To withhold part of our income tax because we do not agree with these and other policies is not a case of serving God rather than man, but it is a case of not rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Rome promoted some very wicked programs. Yet Jesus told Peter to go and pay the taxes which Caesar demanded even of Himself, the Son of God in our flesh (Matthew 17:24-27).
And note that it is stated that, “The land of the priests bought he not.” The occasion to buy it never presented itself to him. They ate at the king’s table and did not need to come to Joseph to buy their food. What is more, the statement is negative. There is no positive statement that these priests were his friends, that he favored them and made an exception for them. What we read simply means that he complied with the king’s wishes because there was no way to withhold food from these false priests. They ate of the king’s portion, and Joseph could not in obedience to God refuse the king the amount of food he ordered. The priests were Pharaoh’s friends, and were favored by him, not by Joseph.
But the whole picture which is given us here is of a people driven by hunger, a people willing for the sake of life to give up what they could not eat. For them life was sweeter than land which they could not use, and money that could not satisfy that gnawing pain of hunger. Better, they reasoned, to live as servants than to die and lose all hope of getting a few material possessions later on after the famine had ended. Note also that they ask for seed with a view to the future.
The point to be noticed is that the people come to Joseph with the proposition that he give them bread in exchange for cattle, land, and their service. How different from the day in which we live, when men, also in the church, do all they can to keep all their luxuries, and sometimes even to add to them, by going to the deacons, or to the government for food stamps. How reluctant to give up any of their many luxuries and treasures they are for a relative who is in need, and how quick to contemplate expensive surgery or treatment if the deacons or the government will pay the bill, and they can continue to hold on to all their riches. Instead of using what God gave in the past, they think that the government and deacons owe them a living. They will go on strike, refuse to work while holding on to their jobs, and deny the employer the right to give it to another, and then apply for unemployment compensation! We had a man in our church years ago who changed jobs because he could make more money—even though he was getting paid far more than many in the congregation at his old job—and because of circumstances connected with the new job had to be out of work for one week. He came to the deacons for money for that week!
These lines are being written on the island of Jamaica where we are working and are surrounded by relatively poor people and people in abject poverty. There are people who think they have it bad because they look at those who have more luxuries than they. They may pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but they do not mean it, and their actions show this. But there are those whose emaciated bodies show that they do not get enough nourishing food. And these often we find more content than those who have the average amount of this earth’s goods in their corner of God’s creation. But it cannot be denied that there are here those who go to bed with empty stomachs, and whose best clothes we would have discarded long ago. Here too there is evidence of being driven by hunger to steal, to beg, to deal dishonestly to try to be sure of food tomorrow, and even to kill. Hunger is a painful experience. And we know so little of it because of our abundance and social programs—which in Joseph’s day were nonexistent—as well as our high standard of living in America. If men will steal and kill in our land to get luxuries and conveniences, to get baubles and riches, we ought to understand the force that drove the Egyptians to the desperation of selling every earthly possession that they had to retain life, as well as take away that painful cry for food that issues forth from their stomachs and was to be seen in their emaciated bodies. Hunger is a cry for life. It stems from a desire to live. It is a strong uncomfortable awareness of need. And it can be stilled and satisfied only by food.
Now I would not wish physical hunger and a famine of earthly bread upon anyone. But would to God that our people would hunger more for the Bread of Life! That there is a famine of the Word today every serious-minded, sincere child of God will concede in spite of all the “preaching” and means of getting the “preaching” out to the multitudes by printed page and spoken word. To find good, sound Biblical preaching that builds up the faith in Christ is hard to find. The “seven years” of doctrinal richness and prosperity when joy was to be found in discussing and seeking instruction in rich doctrinal issues are long past, and the years of famine of the Word have begun.
Well do I remember the days of my youth when the retired men on street corners or stores could be heard discussing such profound, significant truths as infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism, or sovereign, eternal, unchangeable election, double predestination, and the like. Lectures on Biblically orientated subjects were so well attended that, unless one came long before the lecture begun, one would find standing room only. But today, even for church members, the worldly entertainment of the TV set, the games and sports of the world, the pleasures of the flesh so fill the souls that they know no famine of the Word. They are too busy with fleshly, earthly life to realize the chief requirement of the soul. Church attendance becomes more and more spasmodic. Sermons must become shorter and shorter, and men will flock to the preacher who will shorten things for him. The sermons must become more and more shallow; and political and social matters rather than sin and salvation must be the subject matter of the sermon. A moral pep talk must replace a spiritual consideration of man’s true spiritual misery, his deliverance from it and how he may show gratitude to God for it.
A famine is a terrible experience. To be in the midst of a dire famine and not to feel hunger for bread is a worse tragedy. It means that one is insensible to the very necessities of his life. It means that he is either spiritually dead when he feels no hunger for the Bread of Life, or he is so drunken with the pleasures of this world that his soul cries for more worldly stimulants, rather than for food!
O that our people would be willing to give up their boats and trailers and latest model cars and luxurious homes when the need arises so that their children can have the spiritual food of the Christian school! O that they would first seek the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness with the assurance in their souls that with all that they need to seek that kingdom will be added to them! O that spiritual life meant more to them than earthly possessions! O that spiritual food for them and their children would mean more to them than earthly life itself! O that they would gladly be servants of God, and not only give their bodies but their souls to His service! O that they would buy the truth and sell it not for that which glitters but is not the gold of God’s kingdom! O that they by spiritual hunger would be driven to Christ and His cross and would be willing to lose all their earthly possessions, if need be, and would use them and spend them to provide the Bread of Life for themselves and God’s people on far-flung mission fields!
Driven by spiritual hunger, we are driven to Christ. Driven by natural hunger, and being devoid of God’s grace, we are driven to the antichrist. Count not the material cost. Count the terrible loss, if the Bread of Life is not your daily portion.