How Pharaoh bought all of Egypt

Genesis 47:13-26 tells us how Pharaoh came to own all of the land and inhabitants of Egypt, including the Israelites, who had moved there under the care of Joseph.

Remember that Joseph had interpreted a dream which predicted 7 years of plenty, followed by 7 years of famine, and Pharaoh had put him in charge of the plan to save a fifth of the grain to see them through. (Genesis 41:14-41) When the famine becomes severe, the Egyptians (including the Israelites) come to Joseph and say, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone.” (Genesis 47:15) Joseph gives them food in return for their livestock.

The famine continues, and again they ask Joseph for bread, but now they have no livestock to trade with. They offer their land and themselves (their labour) in return for food. (The practice of selling oneself into bonded service to pay a debt was a widespread practice and although it is sometimes thought of as “slavery” it doesn’t hold the connotations we would associate with the word.)

Joseph accepts and buys their fields for Pharaoh, with the exception of the fields of the priests. They have an allowance from Pharaoh and do not need to sell their land. From then on their fields and a fifth of their crop belongs to Pharaoah.

Why are these seemingly unimportant machinations recorded, and what can we learn from them? My opinion is that nothing is recorded needlessly, and that the same themes and stories crop up again and again.

It’s well established that Joseph is a “type” of Jesus; a character who prophetically outlines certain aspects of Jesus’s life and ministry. Being thrown into a pit (which represents death – his brothers planned to kill him), being betrayed and sold for silver and so on. He is “resurrected” out of his pit and ends up rising to the dizzying heights of governor of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.

So, do the types and shadows end there? I don’t think so. I’ve already written about how feast days typify the ultimate reconciliation of all mankind. This story does too!

If Joseph is Jesus, he can only be second-in-command to God. And indeed this is what we see: Pharaoh, via Joseph, ends up owning everything. The hunger of the people drives them into Joseph’s arms and they all end up serving Pharaoh. There is only one group to whom this does not apply – the priests. They receive preferential treatment because of the roles they fulfil.

Now, types and shadows are not perfect representations; God is not a tyrant, although it is worth pointing out that this Pharaoh allowed the Israelites to multiply and prosper, having weathered the famine. It was a future king who did the enslaving and oppressing, and at that stage we have entered the book of Exodus and the types and shadows have changed.

Nevertheless, in this story of how everyone in Egypt is brought under Joseph’s governance and Pharaoh’s ownership, I think we have a glimpse of how all will be drawn to Christ and owned by God. Verse 26 is particularly powerful, in which the people say to Joseph: “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.”