Joseph Now In Charge Of Egypt!
Before we begin reading Genesis 42 I believe it is important to know some history of Egypt first which will help us to better understand why the famine occurred.
7 years of abundant crops and livestock had passed, and the great 7-year famine of Pharaoh’s dream had begun. Joseph was now in charge of Egypt…and this food program… and was 2nd in Command of the nation with only Pharaoh above him. Joseph was one of the most powerful men on earth at this time in history.
This famine of Genesis 41 was caused by low rainfall, a drought. This drought that apparently affected Northern Africa, where Egypt lay, also affected much of the Middle East.
Let’s talk a little about the geography because it helps to understand the overall situation of this section of the Torah, and explains why many things happened in the way they did.
First: the regional designations of Egypt are virtually backwards of what we would normally think. Egypt was spoken of as Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt; interestingly UPPER Egypt is to the south, and LOWER Egypt is to the north.
Further, this is because the Nile River flows from south to north…it flows from Upper Egypt to Lower Egypt. And, this helps to explain just why southern Egypt is called Upper.
Obviously, water flows downhill. As it turns out, the southern end of Egypt is a slightly higher elevation than the northern end; therefore, as anyone knows that a River flows from UP to DOWN, the southern end of River is called upper, and the northern end is called Lower.
The southern end of the Nile…Upper Egypt…is where the Nile begins and there are two enormous geographical basins where the rainfall occurs, and where the water from that rainfall naturally funnels towards the Nile to fill it. From one basin flows what is called the White Nile, and from the other the Blue Nile. Around the city of Khartoum the White Nile and Blue Nile come together to form the Great Nile River… that we typically just call the Nile River.
The Great Nile then flows UP (in our way of thinking), north, towards the Mediterranean Sea. As it approaches the Land of Goshen in Lower Egypt, it encounters what is called the Delta Region, and the River dissipates into a number of natural fingers that all eventually find their way to the Sea.
Even though the Delta Region (as is most of Lower Egypt) is a virtually rainless desert, due to the abundant waters of the Nile, and the marsh lands that are created by all those fingers spreading out in the Land of Goshen area allowing the water to flow across the lands much like the Florida Everglades, the area is fertile and great for growing crops and grazing animals.
The bottom line here is that the ONLY thing that makes Egypt inhabitable is the Nile. And, the only thing that creates the Nile is rainfall from these two great basins far to the south, in Upper Egypt.
Even though the Egyptians very early on began digging canals to channel water from the Nile to water crops, it was the annual rising and falling of the water levels of the Nile that determined feast or famine.
It is crucial that the Nile overflow its banks during the 3 summer months; an overflow caused by monsoon type rains that occurred far to the south, in the two southern river basins that formed the headwaters of the Nile. The overflow not only watered the land, but it brought silt, rich in nutrients necessary to grow crops all along the Nile.
But, it takes only a few inches of rainfall deficit in but one of the two great southern river basins to destroy the delicate balance and prevent sufficient water flow to cause the necessary downriver flooding.
So, it’s not that the Nile dried up in Joseph’s time, nor that people didn’t have sufficient water to drink; it’s simply that for a several year period, the Nile did NOT overflow, and the marshlands of the Delta receded, and therefore sufficient crops were not produced to feed the citizens of the Egypt.
To be clear: all food production did NOT cease. But, it was dramatically reduced and there was not enough to sustain the people.
Now, just so we understand the supernatural nature of this widespread famine: the weather systems that govern rainfall in southern Egypt, and those that govern rainfall in the Middle East are totally separate. That very low rainfall occurred for several years in southern Egypt during the same time there was a drought for several years in Canaan was a God thing; that does not normally occur.
One of the reasons that Egypt and the people of Canaan knew each other so well, and had since time immemorial established trade, was because usually when there was crop failure in Egypt due to low levels of the Nile, Egypt could count on going up to Canaan to buy extra food…and vice-versa.
But, this time it was different. Had God not given Pharaoh the prophetic dream, and then given him Joseph to interpret it, there would have been widespread death in both Egypt and Canaan because of low food supplies in both lands.
But, God warned Egypt, and Egypt prepared because it was ABLE to prepare. God FIRST gave them Supernatural abundance that they would have hefty surpluses for 7 straight years; Joseph planned and used this so they could build up enormous stores of grain for the coming 7 bad years.
Later, upon the onset of the drought, Egypt, partly from a sense of compassion but primarily from a sense of self-interest, made food available from its warehouses to people of other nations. This was not welfare. The price for those stored grains was VERY high.
We see from the upcoming story of Genesis 42 and 43 that several BAGS of silver was required to buy food from Egypt for the clan of Jacob; food would normally not have required a sum of money that would be spoken of in terms of “bagful’s” of silver.
Rather, Egypt was going to make a huge profit on its adept handling of this extended and extensive food crisis.
But, make no mistake, these high prices were not only for foreigners; Egyptian citizens also were required to purchase their food from Pharaoh…. or better, Joseph…a supplement to be sure, usually not their sole source of food.
But, for those who were poorer, and did not have access to other more commercially available food sources, this famine wound up costing hundreds of thousands of Egyptians… possibly a million or more…their liberty. For, as these lower-class Egyptians ran out of money to buy food, they had no choice but to sell themselves and their families into bond service to the Pharaoh in exchange for grain.
But, from their standpoint, it was this Semite foreigner…Joseph…who was to blame for this travesty and humiliation; because Joseph was the front man, the visible symbol, for the entire food program; getting both credit and blame.
This was not something Egypt would soon forget; after Joseph’s death, and a long period of social upheaval, the Egyptians would blame Joseph’s kin…the tribes of Israel… for their condition.
This would eventually lead to the Egyptians turning the tables on Israel; the peasant Egyptians would enslave the more well-to-do, and free, Israelites, beginning a cycle of persecution of the Hebrew people in foreign lands that we read of throughout the Bible, have witnessed ourselves in the last century, and will continue to witness until Messiah comes.
To Be Continued…