Monday, October 31, 2011

Joseph's Twenty Percent Solution - Genesis 47:22-26

Only the land of the priests he did not buy, for the priests had an allotment from Pharaoh, and they lived off the allotment which Pharaoh gave them.  Therefore, they did not sell their land.  Then Joseph said to the people, “Behold, I have today bought you and your land for Pharaoh; now, here is seed for you, and you may sow the land.  And at the harvest you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own for seed of the field and for your food and for those of your households and as food for your little ones.”  So they said, “You have saved our lives! Let us find favor in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh’s slaves.”  And Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt valid to this day that Pharaoh should have the fifth; only the land of the priest did not become Pharaoh’s.

It appears that the heathen priests were exempt based on a previous arrangement with Pharaoh.  They had been endowed land on which to have temples for public worship.  Since they could not grow food on their land because of its use, Pharaoh provided the priests with food directly on an annual or other basis.  Thus, now at the time of the famine, it would have been inappropriate for Joseph to withhold that allowance from them and/or to charge them the tax he was about to charge all the rest.

And charge he did, requiring all Egyptians to pay one-fifth or 20% of their annual harvest back to Pharaoh who let them stay on the land and gave them the original seed to sow.  Of course, knowing the amount of taxes some of us pay now in North America especially, twenty percent sounds like a fair deal.  But then again who knows what kind of government-provided services they were getting.  I venture to say it was very few, if any, in those days.

Clearly, Joseph tells them they and their lands have been bought.  And to help them survive on the Pharaoh’s lands he is now allowing them to occupy, he gives them seed to sow in order to produce grain for food.  This way they and their little ones could live and survival was indeed the one thing these people needed now.

And how did the people respond?  They were ecstatic, seeing Joseph as a lifesaver.  They sought for continued favor in Joseph and the Pharaoh’s eyes and in turn they would willingly be their slaves.  When you and your family are about to die from starvation or any other form of extreme condition, losing all, becoming a slave, and paying back one-fifth of your harvest looks like a great deal.    

The last sentence of the text does present some difficulties.  It appears to be saying that Joseph had the tax rule made into a law that all Egyptians would give the Pharaoh 20% of all their gains.  We read that this statute was “valid to this day”.  The reference here is to the day of the author, which we believe to be Moses many years after the events in Genesis took place.  This law was in effect more than three centuries later when Moses was born and on into his adulthood.  Even in 2011, before any new tax reforms would eventually come into play as a result of the recent Arab Spring revolution and takeover, income taxes in Egypt ranged from 0% to 20%, while corporations paid on average about 43.6%.  Some individuals seem to still be getting the deal Joseph had worked out thousands of years ago.

What is difficult to ascertain from this section is whether or not Joseph believed he was acting fairly and kindly, or whether he had succumbed to suppressing the people by taking their land and their freedom, and then taxing them in addition – for his own satisfaction or the greed of his boss.  A modern day equivalent of this may be a situation where someone with money and means goes into a third-world or developing country and offers work to the natives of the land.  Clearly he or she does not need to pay as much as he/she would have had to pay back in North America or Europe and that’s why they have moved their business to Africa, or South America, for example.  But how much should they pay and how should the new workers be treated?  I have seen terrible exploitation in Africa time and time again.  I have also seen good people loving their African employees and treating them as part of the family.

I can only hope that were God’s people are involved, the laborers are treated with dignity and fairness, as well as with the care and concern that God would have us show all mankind.

Whatever you think of this section of service, one thing we do know is that through it God made it possible for His people to survive.  And that’s how it is with God.

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  2. Thank you "food solutions" -- glad we can help in this way and God bless you.