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JOSEPH SUPPLYING CORN FROM THE EGYPTIAN STORE
(GENESIS XLI. 54-57.)
ABOUT the year B.C. 1872, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, had two remarkable dreams, by which he was greatly troubled. He thought that he was standing on the margin of the Nile, when he beheld seven beautiful fat heifers come forth from the water, and feed in a meadow. He was yet admiring them, when there came up, at the same spot, seven of the leanest and most ill-conditioned heifers that the king had ever seen, and these devoured the seven beautiful and fat heifers, and yet appeared lean and ill-favoured still. Pharaoh then awoke. But he again fell asleep, and then he dreamed that he saw seven good and plump ears of corn spring up on one stalk, which were succeeded by seven other ears of corn, thin and blasted by the east wind, and by these the first were devoured.
As these dreams appeared to import some remarkable event, Pharaoh was anxious to have them interpreted. Accordingly, in the morning, he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt for that purpose. They came; and as they stood before him, Pharaoh related his dreams; but the meaning of them was too deep for their skill; “none could interpret them unto Pharaoh.”
How anxious Pharaoh was to have his two-fold dream interpreted, is discovered in the circumstances which followed. About two years before, the Hebrew, Joseph, had interpreted a dream with which his then fellow-prisoner, Pharaoh's butler, was visited, to the effect that he would be restored to his office. He was restored, and he related the circumstance to Pharaoh, when he saw him in this dilemma, and the monarch's mandate was instantly issued for the Hebrew to be brought into his presence. Joseph was allowed but just time to shave his head and beard, and to change his raiment, before he was hurried off to the palace, and presented to the king. As soon as he arrived, Pharaoh addressed him thus :—“I have dreamed a dream, and there is none that can interpret it: and I have heard say of thee, that thou canst understand a dream to interpret it.” The answer of Joseph was very pleasing. Unwilling to encourage even a kingly delusion, he replied, that the solution belonged not to himself, but to
God, who would give to the king “ an answer of peace."
peace.” Pharaoh then related his dreams, and Joseph, instructed by God, replied, that they had both the same signification; namely, that seven years of exuberant plenty were coming, which would be followed by seven years of the severest scarcity ever experienced.
Having thus interpreted the double dream, Joseph proceeded to advise Pharaoh how to husband the exuberant supplies of the seven fertile
years, so as to meet the deficiencies of the seven years of scarcity which were to follow. “Now therefore,” said he, “let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. And that food shall be for store to the land against the seven years of famine, which shall be in the land of Egypt; that the land perish not through the famine.” Struck no less by the interpretation of his dreams, than by the wisdom of the plan by which Joseph proposed to avert the evils which that interpretation threatened, the king asked those around him, in the language of astonishment, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?” Then, addressing himself to Joseph, he said, “ Forasmuch as God hath showed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art: thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled : only in the throne will I be greater than thou.” Pharaoh then proceeded to invest him with this high office. He drew his signet-ring from his finger, and placed it upon the finger of Joseph, conveying to him by that act the highest powers he could delegate, saying, as he did it, “ See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.” He then caused him to be arrayed in vestures of fine linen, such as are worn only by royal and high persons in the East, after which he placed a chain of gold about his neck with his own hands. As it was usual, also, to promulgate with high pomp and ceremony such acts of royal favour, and to make known the authority which had been conferred, the king commanded that he should be conducted through the city in the second of the royal chariots, and that his heralds should shout before him, “ Bow the knee!”
On the return of Joseph, the monarch expressed his own view
JOSEPH SUPPLYING CORN FROM THE EGYPTIAN STOREHOUSES.
of the powers he had conferred to him in more emphatic language. “I am Pharaoh,” or “the king,” said he; “and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt." Then, that his foreign origin might not be constantly presented to the mind of the Egyptians by his strange name, the king bestowed on him the high-sounding name of Zaphnath-paaneah, signifying “revealer of secrets;” and, that he might establish him in his position by securing him the support of the priestly order, he got him married to Asenath, daughter of Poti-pherah, the chief priest of On, or Heliopolis.
The years of exuberant plenty came, as Joseph had foretold; and during that season he made a tour of survey through all the land of Egypt, establishing granaries, and laying up stores, according to his own suggestions, that “the people of the land might not perish through famine.” This was a merciful provision, for the years of famine came at the appointed time, and its pressure soon began to be felt severely. So fearful were its ravages indeed, that all the people of Egypt were on the point of famishing, and “they cried to Pharaoh for bread.” Pharaoh listened to their
Pharaoh listened to their cry, and referred them to Joseph, who now understanding that the proper time was arrived, opened his well-filled granaries and sold corn, not only to the Egyptians, but, with some restrictions, to foreigners, for the dearth was not confined to Egypt, but extended at least to Syria.
Such is the scene represented in the engraving annexed to this narrative. And it may be observed of the history of Joseph, that it affords a theme for the best exercise of the pencil; yet few of the great personages of Scripture have been more fancifully or injuriously treated. By Raffaelle he is painted as an Italian peasant; by Rembrandt as a Dutch gentleman; and by Gentileschi, as a hero of romance. In the present engraving the artist has restored him to the costume and circumstances of the times, the details of which have been carefully studied from the early Egyptian monuments. All this, coupled with the narrative, renders it a subject of much interest. The reader's attention is also directed to the architecture, which is pure Egyptian.
The manner in which Joseph dispensed the stores which he had so judiciously collected was marked by consummate wisdom. In the second year of the famine, when the money and the cattle of the Egyptians failed, by their own desire, he bought all their lands for the crown, in return for supplying them with provisions;
and he then brought the people, who were scattered throughout the open country, into the adjacent cities, wherein the corn was stored, for the greater ease of distribution, from the one end of the borders of Egypt even unto the other. The lands thus voluntarily sold, he farmed to the occupiers again at the moderate and fixed rent of a fifth part of the produce, by which wise regulation the people had four-fifths of the produce of their lands for their own use, and were exempted from any further taxes, the king being bound to support his civil and military establishment out of the crown rents. At the same time Joseph respected the primitive usage, and bought not “ the lands of the priests,” but during the continuance of the famine he fed them at the king's expense.
Thus was this consummate statesman, so truly “wise and discreet” because he was directed by the Spirit of God, a “father to Pharaoh ” and his people. Nor to them alone.
The famine was felt severely in the land of Canaan, and his brethren who sold him into Egypt sought relief at his hands. He gave it freely; and, at the command of the grateful Pharaoh, he sent for his aged father, who had long mourned for him as one that he should see no more on this side of the grave, and he nourished him, with his numerous descendants, with “ the good of all the land of Egypt.
How beautifully does the superintending care of Divine Providence shine forth in this narrative; and that in a twofold light! We see in it that the Almighty not only extends his fatherly protection to nations, but to individuals. While Egypt and the adjacent regions were saved by his mercy from the ruin which hung over them, Joseph was delivered by the same mercy from his galling fetters. What encouragement is there, therefore, for men to cast all their cares upon him! Doubtless, Joseph acted thus, and it was not in vain.
And yet, with such examples as these set before them, mankind are so blind as to forget God. He is not in all their thoughts. In prosperity and in adversity the many look not beyond themselves; deeming the one the fruits of their own worthiness or exertions, and the other the effects of their “ill stars.” Even those who believe in a Divine Providence too frequently distrust it. They know there is a God presiding over all his works, and yet fear that they are overlooked. But the tender mercies of God are over all his works, Psa. cxlv. 9.
* See the account of “ Jacob and his family journeying to Egypt."