The Pharaoh Who Didn’t Know Joseph


Joseph saved his family. Well, God did, through Joseph. He said it clearly to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” But it just dawned on me, the “many people” were also the Egyptians.

How many of them would have died during a seven-year drought if God hadn’t warned Pharaoh, through Joseph, so that they saved grain during the years of plenty?

Joseph was a hero. His father was an honored elder, so much so that many Egyptian dignitaries accompanied Joseph and his brothers to Canaan to bury Jacob in the family burial plot when he died.

But then the Pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph came to power.

First off, he was afraid of the people of Israel. After all, they were so many! And of course he started playing the “what if” game. What if, in a battle against our enemies, they join the opposition?

That kind of thinking would have not taken hold if the people of Israel and the Egyptians were still friends. If the Egyptians were still treating them with respect. But apparently that wasn’t the case.

I’ve wondered, how did a people go from being protected to being enslaved. The roots were there in Joseph’s day. Scripture records that the Egyptians found it loathsome to eat with the Hebrews, which meant Joseph, even as the second in command of the nation, ate by himself.

Also back in that day, Joseph told his brothers that the Egyptians despised shepherds—which, of course, was exactly how the Hebrews made their livelihood.

So already the roots of division were in the society—elements of prejudice and disrespect.

Add in that Pharaoh “suggested” that some of Joseph’s newly arrived family could also care for his flocks and herds. Let the Hebrews do the dirty job, the Egyptians hated.

And would Joseph’s family have balked at this? Hardly! They saw Pharaoh and Egypt as their salvation. They would have died if they stayed home. Instead they were provided with abundant pasture land and the food they needed to survive the drought. Was caring for Pharaoh’s livestock too much to ask? Not at all.

Except, the foundation for slavery was undoubtedly laid right there. If the Hebrews did what Pharaoh asked when it came to the animals, why not ask them to “help” with the construction of a couple storage cities?

By the time the Pharaoh came to power who didn’t know Joseph, the Hebrews were not only numerous, they were invaluable. That’s the second horn of this ugly animal the Egyptians had created. Not only did they fear the Hebrews, they needed them and they didn’t want to lose them. So as part of the “what if” game, the Pharaoh postulated, What if they leave?

He said to his people, “Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.” (Exodus 1:9-10, emphasis added)

His way of “dealing wisely?” First he brought in taskmasters to oversee the Hebrews’ work. Next to assigned the Hebrew midwives to kill the baby boys when they were born. That plan didn’t work, so he passed the law that the boys should be exposed as infants—thrown in the river, killed, by their parents.

I think it’s safe to say, this man who did not know Joseph also did not know God.

Think for a second with me: why would he order only the boys to be killed? What would become of those baby girls when they grew up? No Hebrew men to marry. Would the Egyptians take them as wives? Or more likely take those slaves for their harems?

We have no idea how long this edict lasted or how many babies died. Was it a generation of Hebrews, which would mean there weren’t many men Moses’s age who were involved in the Exodus. But that’s another story.

From this Pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph, I think it’s easy to see how fear changes everything. From offering friendship, mutual cooperation, protection, and shared benefits to slavery and murder.

Fear wasn’t alone. There was some greed there, too. This Pharaoh wanted to use people, particularly those he saw as inferior.

Are there lessons in this story for Americans today in conjunction with immigration? I’d say so. And I’d say they are these: don’t let fear dictate policy, in this story called “dealing with them wisely”; and second, don’t use people. Don’t use them as a political football, and don’t use them to further the American economy

Not heeding those two simple points may have the same kind of dire consequences for the US that they had for Egypt back in the day.

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Published in: on September 4, 2018 at 5:08 pm  Comments Off on The Pharaoh Who Didn’t Know Joseph  
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