In Genesis 41, after two full years of Joseph’s imprisonment, Pharaoh has two terrifying dreams that he cannot understand. The royal cupbearer, who had been in prison, remembers and recommends his fellow inmate to the king, who promptly sends for Joseph and tells him his dreams. Seven fat cows are eaten by seven skinny cows, and seven fat ears of corn are eaten by seven skinny ears of corn. Joseph interprets the dream and gives his suggestion for the best course of action:
“God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do. 29 Behold, seven years of great abundance are coming in all the land of Egypt; 30 and after them seven years of famine will come, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine will ravage the land... 33 Now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land, and let him exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance. 35 Then let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and store up the grain for food in the cities under Pharaoh’s authority, and let them guard it. 36 Let the food become as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land will not perish during the famine (Gen 41:28b-30, 33-37 NASB[i]).”
Then it’s “hail to the hero!” Joseph is brought into the king’s court and made second-in-command after Pharaoh himself. He is dressed in fine robes and treated like royalty. That’s generally where the Sunday school lesson ends, and we all say, “Isn’t that nice? Pharaoh puts Joseph’s plan into practice and the nation is saved.” But few of us read the rest of the story, found in Genesis 47:13-25. Joseph taxed the people one-fifth of all their produce during the productive years. Then, during the famine when there was no food in the land, the people were forced to go back to Pharaoh to buy back the grain that they had contributed through taxes. This was no government free-food program. The people had to buy the food back. When they had no money left, they sold their livestock, their land, and eventually themselves and their children into slavery, just so they could survive. Joseph’s was no benevolent regime, but one that oppressed and enslaved its own people, leaving all people, property and possessions in the hand of a Communist government.
John Dalberg-Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This is certainly true in the life of Joseph. The one that we hail as a hero turns out to be a despot. (This ought to give us pause as we consider this election season.) But what else does it tell you, besides that we need to be careful how we vote? It tells us something that impacts not just the next four or eight years—but something that affects generations to come.
The universe works on a system of reciprocity that is recognized by every culture. Hindus call it karma, while others call it recompense or reckoning. Folk wisdom from our mothers and grandmothers says, “garbage in, garbage out.” Children know it as the “I’m-rubber-you’re-glue-principle.” In Galatians 6:7-10a, Paul writes:
7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. 10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people…
Jesus says, “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return (Luke 6:38).” This means that what you give, you will receive back, multiplied many times over. When you give good things, you get good things. James 3:18 (NIV) says, “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” But this is also true of negative things. Proverbs 20:17 says, “Bread obtained by falsehood is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel.” This universal law says that you get what you give.
Now we have to keep this in perspective. Not every sickness or injury or injustice is because you have done something wrong to deserve it. This universal law doesn’t work that way. But, in general, love breeds more love. Hatred breeds more hatred. Bigotry breeds more bigotry. Slavery breeds more slavery. And what did Joseph do? He enslaved the Egyptian nation. What happened when there arose a Pharaoh who did not remember Joseph? He enslaved Joseph’s people. The iniquity of the father was visited on the children, for many generations to come.
As believers, we must be aware that our behavior affects other people, for good or for ill. Our good deeds and our wrongdoing both come back on us and on our children. This is why we need to adopt the same job description that Jesus gave himself in the synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18).” As we follow Jesus, this becomes the job description of every Christian. Jesus-followers are brought into the King’s court, not so we can be political leaders but so we can serve the King of heaven in a world that needs redemption. With life so full of politics and lies and slavery and greed and violence and corruption, isn’t it time that God’s people work for the benefit of the poor, the captives, the injured, and the oppressed? Instead of seeking power that so easily corrupts, let’s be like Jesus and become servants of all.