Having been installed as economic advisor to the Pharoah, Joseph takes steps to insure Egypt against the coming austerity. But rather than simply establishing the ancient equivalent of a National Pension Reserve Fund, Joseph presses home the advantage the State has against an increasingly impoverished nation.
13 There was no food, however, in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine. 14 Joseph collected all the money that was to be found in Egypt and Canaan in payment for the grain they were buying, and he brought it to Pharaoh’s palace. 15 When the money of the people of Egypt and Canaan was gone, all Egypt came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? Our money is all gone.”
16 “Then bring your livestock,” said Joseph. “I will sell you food in exchange for your livestock, since your money is gone.” 17 So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and he gave them food in exchange for their horses, their sheep and goats, their cattle and donkeys. And he brought them through that year with food in exchange for all their livestock.
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.”
Firstly, he charges money for the grain he gives to those starving in the famine. Reducing money supply in the country by storing it in the Pharaoh’s coffers. As belts continue to tighten, he then charges people their livestock, by which he also ensures their continued poverty and their dependence on the State.
Finally, by the third year the people say the following,
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. (Gen 47:18)
And Joseph takes their bodies and effectively enslaves the people in order to protect the integrity of the country’s economic system.
By doing so he lays the foundations for the enslavement of the Israelites.
I invite you to read this passage from the Old Testament and tell me, was what Joseph did a just and honourable thing? I invite you further into reading this passage with Ireland’s Advent troubles in your mind, and answer me, where is the justice in the IMF/EU/ECB deal?
For those accustomed to reading the bible in a certain way, you may need to lay aside an automatic impulse to defend Joseph, but I ask you, with our contemporary situation in mind, can this form of behaviour ever be justified?
Which leads me to ask, have the government of Ireland not effectively enslaved generations to protect the State’s reputation and the investments of the bond holders? And can anyone say what injustices this act is storing up for us in the future?
And what should we make of the people’s delight at their enslavement? Should we be skeptical? Could this be an official gloss? Would the reaction of Ireland’s citizens to the bailout give us a more accurate impression of what happened?
Or is this designed to enrage us that a people should be brought so low as to see slavery as preferable to poverty. However we read it, I think the actions of the national authorities are utterly shameful and without excuse.
Reading this passage of the bible makes me wish I had a pulpit.