Monday, 25 November 2013
Reading the Bible 34 Genesis 41: 37-57 – The Stuff of Dreams
And it came to pass (as will be said later in this same book) that Joseph’s interpretation of the Pharaoh’s dreams were realized. The seven years of plenty were followed by the seven years of famine. The Pharaoh’s discernment that Joseph was the one to lead the country through this time of trial was confirmed. All seemed to be well – at least in Egypt. However, there are two points which are almost throw away lines at the end of the chapter that should not be overlooked.
First we are told that Joseph sold to the Egyptians the wheat that had been stored up in the good years. Apparently there was no free lunch in Egypt in those days. The wheat that had I’m sure been taken by the Pharaoh was not given back to the people. They had to buy it back from their ruler through the auspices of Joseph. There does not seem to be any question that this is just how things were. It is not a case of the welfare state. Joseph, the man who had been looked on with favour because of the gifts that God had given him was quite willing to participate in this act of government control which could be interpreted as being ordained by God. I’m not sure how this would be viewed by those Christians – usually of the fundamentalist bent al la the Tea Party – who call for less government and fewer taxes. Would they hold that this was necessary for God’s plan to be fulfilled for the Israelites – God chosen people - at least until the United States was established? Therefore this inconvenient biblical passage can be overlooked. Of course I am using historical relativism to judge the situation and of course we have to see that God truth is not the same for all people in all times. God’s truth is being revealed in new ways in an ongoing revelation.
The second point is that famine was severe throughout the world. Here we have a chicken and egg situation. God foretold the coming famine through dreams sent to the Pharaoh. He also gave Joseph the gift of the interpretation of that message. Was the famine part of God’s plan? Was it necessary for God to send a famine on the world to enable His plan for Joseph and the Israelites to unfold? Or did God just use his omniscience to use the events that were destines to happen? Was the suffering that was inevitable with a world-wide famine necessary for God to fulfil His intention? It is easy to read into events our understanding of God’s will when they fit our understanding of how God works in the world and how people who we believe deserve God’s punishment receive it with natural events – AIDS as punishment for Gays comes to mind and even the reaction by some to the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina as punishment for the wickedness of that sinful city a la Sodom and Gomorrah. It is very easy for people of all stripes to relish when bad things happen to those who we consider bad people. It is always dangerous to believe that God is on our side and should meet out punishment to those we believe deserve it. We don’t like to leave punishment in the hands of God as God says elsewhere.