ASK Commentary
June 10, 2003 

Free Men into Slaves

Commentary for June 10, 2003 God Enslaves the Egyptians

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In today's world "freedom" is very important. Freedom of nations, peoples, families, and in the western world, the freedom of individuals to live their lives as they see fit is one of our cherished ideals. Freedom is such a central principal that it is surprising to learn that God creates circumstances whereby men would be made servants or enslaved by other men.

In an audio tape Dr. Martin explained the story of Genesis 47. (I cannot remember the title.) He pointed out that the Egyptians were free before the 7-years of plenty and the 7-years of famine. During the famine Joseph kept the Egyptians alive by providing them grain. However, Joseph did not give them grain, he sold it to them in stages. First he sold them grain in exchange for their goods, then their lands and finally their bodies,

"And the famine was over all the face of the earth: And Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt. And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands."

Genesis 47:56-57

Before the 7-years of famine Egyptian farmers were free men. After the famine Pharaoh was the majority landholder and all Egyptians (except the priests) were servants of Pharaoh.

In the first year the people of Egypt spent all their money on food (Genesis 47:13-15). Then Joseph exchanged grain for all the cattle of the Egyptians (Genesis 47:16-17). The second year Joseph gave the Egyptians grain in exchange for ownership of their land so that Pharaoh owned all the land except that of the priest (Genesis 47:18-22). Joseph sold them the seed to grow food on land that Pharaoh now owned (Genesis 47:23-24). The payment price was their freedom. The Egyptians made a contract with Pharaoh through Joseph. They said, "We will be Pharaoh's servants" (Genesis 47:25).

Then Joseph did something even more interesting, "Joseph made it a law ... that Pharaoh should have" one-fifth of the produce of the land, in perpetuity. This law existed even to the time of Moses "unto this day," (Genesis 47:26). It was during this period of time that the Israelites prospered (Genesis 47:27), probably because they were free and unencumbered by the one-fifth tax on their agricultural produce. In addition, the Israelites probably owned their land in Goshen, unlike the Egyptians.

God, through Joseph, transformed the Egyptians from being free men into being servants of Pharaoh in less than three years. It is not surprising that the Egyptians were so willing to oppress the Israelites when God brought up "a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph" Exodus 1: The Jewish historian Josephus stated in Antiquities of the Jews Book 2, chapter 9, that the new king was from a new family that arose in Egypt. We now would say that a new "dynasty" had taken rulership over Egypt. The Tackeray translation of Josephus does use the term "dynasty."

Through the famine God made the Egyptians servants to Pharaoh. The Egyptians in turn oppressed the Israelites (with Pharaoh's approval), then God freed the Israelites through His mighty acts at the Exodus. God is sovereign. If God so chooses He will make those who are free to be slaves, and those who are slaves to be free.

Remember the main message of the book of Philemon, a slave, in the New Testament. We should always attempt to improve our situation in life. That is good and proper. However, while keeping in mind that prayer has great effect at times, we should also be willing to accept from God both good and bad, not cheerfully necessarily, but with the understanding that He is sovereign and He will do what He will do, sometimes regardless of our wishes or current understanding.

David Sielaff

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