Genesis 47 – Economics, But Not Just Economics

Genesis 47 Bible with Justins Dark Chocolate Organic Peanut Butter Cups
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Today’s PassageGenesis 47

If I had to sum up today’s chapter in one word, it would be “economics.” But that’s not the best summary, which is why I will use more than one word. The chapter picks up where the previous one left off, with Jacob and Pharaoh working out a place where Jacob’s family can keep their flocks. Then, as the famine continues, the Egyptians have to give up more and more of their possessions in order to purchase food, eventually having to sell themselves to Pharaoh just to keep eating. Finally, as Jacob nears the end of his life, he makes sure that Joseph will have him buried in the plot that Abraham purchased in Canaan. See? Economics! I’ll admit it’s kind of a stretch on that last one, but like I said: more than one word.

So, first of all, we have Jacob finding a place for his family’s flocks. As five of his sons explain, “There is no pasture for your servants’ flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan” (4). Evidently, Egypt still has land suitable for grazing, specifically the land in Goshen. Where is Goshen? A picture is worth a thousand words, so: it’s right here.

Map of Egypt Nile Delta and Goshen
Shout-outs to the reference maps in the back of my dad’s Bible.

I can’t help think that Pharaoh reacts extremely well to the news that Jacob’s family keeps herds, given that such people are considered an “abomination” in Egypt. I see that Pharaoh owns livestock of his own, but presumably he has non-Egyptians shepherd them. He tells Joseph, “If you know any capable men among them, then put them in charge of my livestock” (6). I don’t know if Pharaoh doesn’t have that anti-shepherd bias, or if Joseph simply carries so much clout with him that he’ll show favor to the family in spite of their occupation. But in any event, the family’s meeting with Pharaoh goes well.

What doesn’t go so well is the food situation for the Egyptians. Joseph is selling the stockpiled food, but as the populace runs out of money, they start having to trade their other possessions: first livestock, then their land and their lives. All of Egypt ends up belonging to Pharaoh, except for its priests, who have enjoyed a direct allotment from Pharaoh throughout the famine. All the Egyptians have become indentured servants to their king, not technically owning the land they live on, and owing him a fifth of all their harvest once the land starts producing again.

As far as I can see, the upshot is twofold. First, Israel increases its herds. Second, Egypt concentrates virtually all its economic and political power in the hands of its ruler. I can’t help thinking this move on Joseph’s part, getting all of Egypt to trade their property and freedom in its entirety just to survive the famine, will turn out to be a bad play in the long term.

As the chapter concludes, Jacob can tell he’s nearing the end of his life. He secures a promise from Joseph that he’ll be buried back in Canaan, in the family burial plot that Abraham originally purchased. In the next two chapters, as his health falters, we’ll see him give parting words to each of his sons. Home stretch, everyone. This is far from the end, but it’s nearing the end of the beginning.

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One thought on “Genesis 47 – Economics, But Not Just Economics

  1. You’re right, the 20% taxation and slavery was really bad, and it came back to bite the Israelites. The people became used to being slaves, and when the Israelites were enslaved, too, no one was free to fight for them.

    God had it all in control, of course, to His glory in liberating them under Moses. But it was a bad thing He turned good. Never let anyone read into this that taxation is anything but theft (or slavery).

    Like

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