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.”
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,[c] from one end of Egypt to the other. 22 However, he did not buy the land of the priests, because they received a regular allotment from Pharaoh and had food enough from the allotment Pharaoh gave them. That is why they did not sell their land.
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.
Jesus taught in Matthew 5:2: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The poor in spirit are the spiritually bankrupt. They know their bankrupt condition and they are not afraid to admit it. So they find the door to the Kingdom opened to them. I thought about these words of Jesus when I read Genesis 47:18. Similarly the people admitted their abject poverty to Joseph, but also their willingness to be his slaves; to be his in entirety. He could have them ‘lock, stock and barrel’ as it were. These were the same people who experienced the salvation Joseph made possible (25).
‘They were willing to serve their saviour…We shall never know the real blessedness of living, its peace and joy and strength, till we have utterly surrendered to Christ’s supremacy.’ F.B.Meyer.
Tom Hale again helps us with potential difficulties in this chapter:
‘Joseph’s actions sound cruel to our modern ears, but in ancient times such actions were considered proper – and still are in many parts of the world. Joseph was not “exploiting” the people; he was giving them the means to survive. He gave them seed to plant, and allowed them to keep four-fifths of all the produce for themselves. Yes, the people had lost their ownership of the land, but they now had both food and security. And they were grateful’ ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.198. (In a footnote Hale underlines the generosity of Joseph’s policy saying, ‘Today in many parts of the world, tenant farmers get to keep only half the produce for themselves.’)
‘See how we depend upon God’s providence. All our wealth would not keep us from starving, if rain were withheld for two or three years. See how much we are at God’s mercy, and let us keep ourselves always in his love. Also see how much we smart by our own want of care. If all the Egyptians had laid up corn for themselves in the seven years of plenty, they had not been in these straits; but they regarded not the warning. Silver and gold would not feed them: they must have corn. All that a man hath will he give for his life. We cannot judge this matter by modern rules. It is plain that the Egyptians regarded Joseph as a public benefactor. The whole is consistent with Joseph’s character, acting between Pharaoh and his subjects, in the fear of God. The Egyptians confessed concerning Joseph, Thou hast saved our lives. What multitudes will gratefully say to Jesus, at the last day, Thou hast saved our souls from the most tremendous destruction, and in the season of uttermost distress! The Egyptians parted with all their property, and even their liberty, for the saving of their lives: can it then be too much for us to count all but loss, and part with all, at His command, and for His sake, who will both save our souls, and give us an hundredfold, even here, in this present world? Surely if saved by Christ, we shall be willing to become his servants.’ Matthew Henry.
PRAYER: ‘Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free. Force me to render up my sword And I shall conqueror be. I sink in life’s alarms When by myself I stand; imprison me within thine arms, And strong shall be my hand.’ George Matheson