Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Authority of God: To Save Lives

The Biblical prophet-writer Zechariah and Jesus Himself expressed this principle to warn of the threat of a society's disintegration should its leader disappear or lose his competence:

"Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones" (Zechariah 13:7); and in predicting Peter's denial on the night hours before it occurred, "“This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’" (Matthew 26:31).

According to Romans 13:1, “there is no authority except that which God has established.” Man is born with an inclination to leadership as naturally as his need for food, sex, and shelter. And because this is a basic need, God provides for it. As man survives through the challenges of his environment and his imitations, he openly leaves behind a trail for others to follow. He has in effect become a leader. And because he believes that the opportunities that had brought him to a far stage of his survival cannot be explained without the context of the Divine—that life is a gift of favor from God—he then believes that his existence at that point has been elevated into leadership by the same Giver of life. Leadership, therefore, is a device of God that ensures the survival of a people and their graduation into the greater opportunities above basic subsistence. Joseph, the son of the Hebrew patriarch Jacob, applied this principle when he revealed himself to his unsuspecting brothers:

“And now do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Genesis 45:5-7).

Joseph first survived being thrown into a pit, then his Egyptian slavery. With his life, he defended his integrity in the face of temptation and never did he give an inch to compromise his reputation as one trusted of Potiphar (Genesis 39:4), even when it meant death. Fortunately, it must have been a process that Potiphar was compelled to comply with and Joseph landed in prison alive (verse 20) than being chopped into bits in a crime of passion! Through all the twists and turns of Joseph’s life, prison was the very critical for it was here where he would get his renown as one who interprets dreams, the key that would lead him from the prison dark to the heights of Egyptian political power. One day, the Egyptian pharaoh had a dream that distressed him greatly. His cupbearer, who was a former convict in the king’s prison, recounted to the king how his freedom was foretold by a Hebrew inmate through the interpretation of a dream (41:9-13). The great monarch wasted no time in summoning this foreign dream-master, heeding him, and placing him in charge of all Egypt regarding the matter of surviving the predicted famine.

The chain of survival in Joseph’s life headed towards leadership that saved many people, including his family, “by a great deliverance” (34:7). In the forty-seventh chapter of Genesis, we see how leadership serves survival as the people of the Nile and the Canaanite region turn to Joseph as the famine grew more intense. And as it did, the human will to live gets expressed through devotion to leadership. In the fourteenth and fifteenth verses, the people bought Egyptian grain until all their money ran out. In the sixteenth, they offered their livestock for food. In the year that followed, conditions remained harsh, and household subsistence deteriorated. The people offered their land for seed to plant and in this respect, gave their lives into the Pharaoh’s service (verse 21). On top of this, it can be seen that it was out of the people’s willingness and pleasure to offer themselves into the Pharaoh’s bondage (47:25):

“’You have saved our lives,’ they said, ‘May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh.’”

And who would not find great pleasure in offering themselves in the service of Egypt at that time? Joseph, in his great wisdom, had made an outstanding representation of the Egyptian crown during his years of service. Joseph’s God-given understanding not only possessed interpreting dreams, but a systematic insight to assess and implement measures to insulate the imperial economy from an impending calamity. This Hebrew acumen that impressed the pharaoh was displayed when Joseph offered his unsolicited recommendation to "…look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that they country may not be ruined by the famine” (41:33-36).

Alfredo Dagli Orti/The Art Archive/Corbis
The pharaoh did not need a committee to plan for the coming famine; as far as he was concerned, before him stood a Hebrew who had virtually volunteered himself by presenting a scheme that could save his kingdom. During the seven years of Egyptian prosperity, Joseph efficiently managed the stockpiling of food in preparation of the coming disaster. Had the pharaoh given this task to an all-Egyptian team, the entire country would have been subject under an austerity plan that could have famished a part of the Egyptian household even during a rich seven-year harvest period. As our Bible passage above shows, Joseph instead adopted a “one-fifth policy” in that a carefully measured fifth—not half, not even a third—of Egypt’s harvest during the coming seven years would go to storage for consumption in the time of famine. This allowed the entire empire a wide breadth of reserve for the people to celebrate with over the abundance of each of the seven years’ harvest. With the system that he maintained, he could have already been the most popular person in the kingdom from the pre-famine years; and his renown made the pharaoh look good. Later on, he would apply his “one-fifth policy” on the crop harvest of the empire during the famine period to further replenish the calamity stock that by then had continued to flood the Egyptian depots.

During the famine, it may appear that Joseph opportunistically devoured the peoples’ belongings and later their souls as they groaned and groveled at his feet for food. The forty-seventh chapter of Genesis attests that the entire region of Egypt and Canaan wasted under the brutal famine. Lives perished—plant, animal, human. And as much as Joseph wanted to provide food to everyone who came begging at the Egyptian gates, he had a responsibility to preserve his stock above dwindling. Selling grain was therefore the most effective measure to keep survival levels afloat. With the money that they profited out of the grain sales (47:14-15), Egypt boosted food import from trade partners. When money was all used up, the people traded their livestock, which was the most logical emergency commodity to traffic because animals die needlessly during a famine and it took the God-given and compassionate genius of Joseph take these live items and redistribute them back to the people as food. The last item to be offered was the peoples’ lands, and with it, their lives. Again, it was a wise trade that benefitted both the people and the Egyptian nation. Joseph held all the grain and seed; the people the manpower and the element of earth to nurture seed into crop. Why not indeed form a partnership by keeping the people alive from starvation while they till the land they have offered in exchange and apportion a fifth of every harvest to the Egyptian government? It was a policy that remained in effect several hundred years after Joseph had passed away (47:26), a remembrance and a gift left behind by the One True God as gratitude to a great nation that opened its leadership to His intervention to “save lives.”


  1. This suits where I miss, supplementing my average knowledge of the story.

  2. Glad to be a blessing, Eunice! You know, what's better is to devote a convenient period of time each day for prayer and reading the Scriptures.. Boy, you'll be surprised with the things God will reveal to you during that time! Though I'm not saying that it's the only time for God to speak to you, it's better to set such a schedule and make your life like a well worn path frequently traveled by you and God. And you know what time together does to a relationship, right? Closeness, greater intimacy. Jesus rulesz, Eunice. God bless!