A Negative Part to Joseph’s Solution: A warning during COVID-19

Today is the last day of the Shelter in Place lockdown in the state of Texas as well as in several other states in the United States. Texas is significant because it has the second biggest economy among the 50 states in the United States, so when this particular local economy opens up, it will have a significant effect on the plight of millions of people who have lost their jobs due to Coronavirus. The economic destruction of the last month and a half is just terrible - seemingly of Biblical proportions. In this short period of time, literally the most powerful economy - at its highest pinnacle - has been shut down, and all the prosperity from it came crashing down. I am of the opinion that this situation would have been much worse if any other person had been President of the United States other than Donald Trump. I know this is a controversial statement to many, but it is the truth. Without the economic prosperity of the last three years, the current economic problems we face would have been ten times worse. It brings to mind the story from the Bible of another leader of the most powerful nation of the world at the time: Egypt. That leader’s name was Joseph, favorite son of Jacob/Israel, and later, Prime Minister of Egypt. Genesis chapters 37-50 documents his story, but they also leave a warning - a very pertinent warning considering the times of this Coronavirus crisis.

I’ll skip Joseph’s backstory and come to the time where he served under the Pharaoh as the Prime Minister (some scholars call the position Vizier). That position was probably in effect in some way prior to Joseph's arrival at the royal court of Egypt, but Joseph was remarkably different. Pharaoh made him ruler of Egypt in all but name, giving him extraordinary power and responsibility; the Pharaoh himself would be the only limit to the power at his beck and call. There was no parliament or congress to consult him or advise him. If Joseph decided that all the farmers were going to endure 1/5th of their produce (not just the surplus - everything), then it was done. Such power could only be trusted to the one man who could handle it and not abuse it: Joseph. Pharaoh himself recognized the most important truth about Joseph, which he alluded to when he gave him the Egyptian name Zaphenath-Paneah, translated (according Egyptologist Georg Steindorff) “the god speaks and he lives”.

Joseph said it over and over again: God is the one who gave him the wisdom not just to interpret dreams but also develop solutions to problems. He had a gift for that, which was why people like Potiphar (who owned him previously) and the jailer of the dungeon trusted him to run their operations. But that said, Joseph was part of a government system, and that meant there would be serious consequences to his decisions in the good times, and especially in the bad times. Joseph was a man of God and everyone from the Pharaoh to his wife knew that he was not going to bow down to the gods of Egypt (this is not to say that Joseph was going to be obnoxious about the matter - he was not), but that system of government was very much inundated and intertwined with that religion. After all, Pharaoh himself was considered a god. Joseph would operate, lead, and control almost every aspect of that system, but he was not a part of it. He was a Hebrew, from the Egyptian word pronounced “Hapiru”. The word is synonymous to idea of being a wanderer, and meant one was “uncivilized”.

Joseph achieved the summit of power - not by hereditary right or nobility, but rather by the divine providence of the God of Abraham. This was not his home and these were not his people, but because of the God of his fathers, the God who gave him the dreams and the interpretations in his past, the God in whose name and power he was standing now, he was determined to do the best job that he could with his responsibilities; and he did so, and with such gusto that at the very end of the story, the people of Egypt confessed he saved their land and their lives. He never abused his power for the same reason that he did not take advantage of the generosity of his previous master Potiphar: he served and feared his God first. This said, God would make sure that Joseph succeeded in his job.

The years of success were wonderful and the harvest was enormous. Imagine seven wonderful years of economic bliss. During this time in his life, Joseph got married to Asenath (daughter of Potiphera-the priest of On) and they had two sons (Manasseh and Ephraim). But then the seventh year ended, and then came the years of the famine. Periods of famine in Biblical times could be considered those moments of massive economic catastrophe in the nations of the ancient world. City-states in Canaan and other regions as far such as the land of the Hittites and Babylonians could be utterly wiped out. There was a fight for survival and to that end, envoys would be sent to discuss to treaties with more powerful and stable nations. The famine during the time of Joseph was so severe that even a powerful civilization like Egypt faced the prospect of total economic collapse. This being the case, the disastrous conditions of nations or cities in neighboring areas could only be imagined.

Pharaoh directed everyone to Joseph. It was possibly around the second or third year of the famine that the real pinch began to be felt. Just like today, lands of the Bible - Egypt, Israel and the other nations in the Middle East - were fairly arid areas, but Egypt was different. The reason that Egypt was seemingly stable through all seasons was because of the Nile River (another reason the Nile was a god in the Egyptian pantheon). Like Canaan, Egypt was dependent on two rainy seasons, but the difference was the effects on the Nile. Most of Egypt’s farmlands (as today) are all around the Nile Valley. When the floods come and the river rose, it would drench the surrounding farmland and saturate them with silt, which served as a type of fertilizer. This type of flooding was regular enough in Egypt that the farmers based the times of their plowing, sowing, watering, and harvesting on it. Perhaps this was the one reason that kept Egypt as a viable power from before the times of Abraham all the way to the times of the Roman Empire. The famine during the time of Joseph was so severe that it affected this system for seven years. The shock of it must have been terrible to the Egyptians.

Joseph’s preparations during the seven good years are well known. What is not well known are the administrative decisions that he made through the seven lean years. Within the last three years of that famine (Genesis 47:15-26), the value of money completely collapsed. Security around the granary cities where the grain was stored was very tight and the military was on alert against any possible invasion or incursion. If Joseph raised his voice to anyone, the soldiers were right there next to him to carry out his orders. Thankfully for all the people - both the Egyptians and every single foreigner - Joseph exercised that power with a soft touch.

The people of Egypt as well as the land of Canaan (and anywhere else around the region who came to buy grain from Egypt) surrendered all their money to Pharaoh; the financial system of the entire area was now completely in the power of the Egyptian government. Effectively, Egyptian grain was the currency to trade with, but the next year the people had to ask, what do we trade with next? Joseph’s answer: their livestock. All the sheep, cattle, donkey, camels, horses - all of them became the property of the Pharaoh. Now, unless you are involved in Agricultural Science and Economy, you will not understand the significance of this progression. In the times before the Industrial Revolution, livestock carried enormous currency as well as utility. In many parts of the world, cattle is still used for trade. A farmer of the ancient world used them for just about everything: from food, to generating income from their skins or wool or milk, to the work and activities of farming, and to bringing their crop to the markets. Now all the livestock would become Pharaoh’s, which meant that he did not have to take them to his barns, but rather he could rent it out to the farmers for a price, much as utilities and mass transit systems would be today. Just these two decisions by Joseph made the Pharaoh of Egypt an enormously wealthy man; and we hadn’t counted the fact that in that moment, it was the only part of the world in the Middle East which had grain to sell.

The third decision, which probably happened in the worst and last year of that famine, was just a resignation to the situation of the times. This was Joseph’s idea: the land. The people understood the obvious: that they had lost their money, their livestock, and they would now give up their property rights to the Pharaoh. They now belonged to Pharaoh and as such, they would live by whatever the government decided to ration out to the people. The government would “take the responsibility” over the people and they would survive through the famine, but indeed afterwards too, when Joseph would give the farmers their seed to sow the land with. But by that time Egypt had changed in ways never to be forgotten. The Pharaoh was more powerful than ever, and while there was a loosening of his grip on the people, from that point on everyone was indebted to him and his government. The NASB translation of Genesis 47:25 says the people said to Joseph that they would be “Pharaoh’s slaves”. Eventually, the Hebrews would learn the reality of that statement. What is the lesson to be learned here? What is the warning regarding the times in which we live?

Over the course of the last two months, the United States Congress has passed four stages of relief over the economic carnage of COVID-19, and now various states and special interest groups are pushing for more. This nation must be very careful. There are at least three points that we as a people must never forget. First, government is not God. Second, there is no such thing as free money from government or from any other institution. Third, there is no deal made or policy adhered to, in terms of government that will not have a drastic consequence on personal liberty or freedoms in to the future; and from this change, there usually is no return. These points are especially true during a crisis.

Government is not God. There is no such thing as free money. The idea of looking up to government as if every aspect of our lives depended on it is a sin. And from this point comes the fallacy that the government is able to pay for anything. “Government of the People, by the People, for the People” - famously said by President Abraham Lincoln - is not the same thing as “Government is God”, but if you watch the continuing coverage of the current crisis, one gets the idea of the latter. People are looking with wide-eyed expectation to the government for financial assistance. Wall Street reacts accordingly. Politicians such as Senator Chuck Schumer of New York talk about a “Rooseveltian Response”. Unless you are a student of economics who has looked at the details of FDR’s policies during the 1930s, you will not know that his policies actually kept America in the Great Depression from which the United States would not have come out without the advent of World War 2.

Trillions and trillions of dollars are being promised without taking into consideration that the state cannot promise money that it does not have; what the press is not saying, and what many people will not figure out until it is way too late, is that what the government does not have now and it will surely take in the grossest terms in the future. What is even more dangerous is that several democrat governors are continuing the shutdowns of the state economies, ignoring the economic destruction that is caused by the shutdown. Why? “The Federal Government should pay for it.” In other words, they do not care. The unspoken desire is to somehow affect the coming presidential election, particularly against President Trump. But that is not the only result of such policies and ideas by these leaders.

The actions of governors such as those in the states of New York, Michigan, and Illinois, should appall everyone. Already they have the shelter-in-place order which has ravaged their states’ economies, but their enforcement measures have become increasingly menacing each day, with these governors and other leaders now threatening to jail people - all in the name of keeping people from spreading or dying from the COVID-19 virus. In certain places, people were arrested on their front lawn. One couple was arrested on a beach: the beach was totally empty, but they were arrested nonetheless because of the restrictions, despite the fact that they were socially distanced from everyone else!

Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota - one of the very few voices of reason among government leaders these days - made clear that the nation had to be careful during these days because our freedoms would become the ultimate casualty. She said in an interview with Laura Ingraham on Fox News, “I took an oath when I was in Congress obviously to uphold the Constitution of the United States. I believe in our freedom and liberties. What I’ve seen across the country is so many people give up their liberties for just a little bit of security and they don’t have to do that.” She went on: If a leader will take too much power in a time of crisis, that is how we lose our country. So I felt like I’ve had to use every single opportunity to talk about why we slow things down, we make decisions based on science and facts, and make sure that we are not letting emotion grab a hold of the situation.” It is an understatement to say that the liberal press and many politicians disagreed with her. She was lampooned on many newscasts and talk shows to the point of being accused to being an accessory to murder. Democrat presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren said of Governor Noem’s handling of the Coronavirus in South Dakota, “The governor just lets this problem get bigger and bigger and bigger.” - a frightening sentiment, and the second person who reminds one of the Pharaoh of Egypt in Exodus 1.

Joseph did what he had to do to save Egypt and the rest of the world of his time. In the process he received the acclamation of everyone, from the Pharaoh to his own family. But, there was a catch: he had also - inadvertently - set up the very directives, tools, and precedents with which another Pharaoh who knew nothing about him (and did not care anyway) would oppress the children of Israel for the next hundreds of years until the Almighty God would deliver them through Moses. Without arguing about God’s foreknowledge about all things (especially with regards to the people of Israel) let me focus on the institution of government. William Penn (the founder of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania) said about government, "Governments, like clocks, go from the motions men give them, and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them are they ruined too. Wherefore governments rather depend upon men than men upon governments. Wherefore governments rather depend upon men than men upon governments." (from preface to the Frame of Government of Pennsylvania, 1682).

The idea that government must depend on people rather than people on the government is what made Penn say that the deciding factor is God and Faith - the Freedom of Conscience and Worship. "No people can be truly happy, though under the greatest enjoyments of civil liberties, if abridged of the Freedom of their Conscience as to their Religious Profession and Worship." (Pennsylvania Charter of Liberties, 1701) Penn then went on to say, “If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants.”

What should we say about government today? I would say that every person should listen to what their leaders are saying and compare them to Joseph, and consider the difference in how they handle the levers of power and the lack or addition of deference to God and freedom. Government on Earth will always be imperfect because it involves people and therefore is subject to all the sin nature of man. The only remedy to that sin condition is the fear of the Lord as said in the book of Proverbs.

There is an unfortunate fact from world history which is pertinent to this very day. When frightened, people will readily give up their liberties and freedoms. When people are moved by their passions, they will be moved by charismatic leaders toward objectives and actions that will have long-lasting consequences. We are commanded in Scripture to pray for the leaders of government, especially that the fear and respect for God and His truth would be in their hearts. Are we listening? There was only a few years passing from the time of Joseph the Prime Minister who saved Egypt to the moment documented in the first chapter of Exodus where another “Pharaoh who did not know Joseph” came into power.

Typed May 6, 2020: Yesterday, the city of New York, under the prompting of the speaker of the City Council, screamed for the departure of Samaritan’s Purse and their field hospital in front of the Cedar-Sinai Hospital in Central Park because the ministry’s biblical stand on homosexuality. Without causing any kind of a fight, Samaritan’s Purse began dismantling the hospital. Perhaps the Governor of New York State, the mayor of New York City, and the city council members should find out how many people were served in that field hospital and ask those people or their loved ones how many were asked about their sexual orientation or lifestyle. If not one (and there is not one), what is their justification for this type of maltreatment (if not injustice)?

Instead, there is not even a “thank you” for the service rendered. Rather, just the absolute fawning and pandering of the press while the Governor, Andrew Cuomo, becomes increasingly belligerent and autocratic with an obvious antagonism toward people of faith - in particular, toward Bible-believing Christians. He further intends to charge a New York State tax on everyone who came from outside the state to help during this time of this crisis! Why the press is lauding him as the greatest “leader on earth” does not make any sense whatsoever. The policies he instituted during this crisis are unbelievably destructive, even to force elderly Coronavirus victims into nursing homes despite the warning from many medical experts about his adamantine shelter-in-place and lockdown regulations. Most of New York’s close-to-20,000 deaths occurred in nursing homes. Yesterday, Cuomo himself admitted that 66% of the new cases in New York State happened to people who were sheltering in their homes. Both Governor Cuomo and New York City mayor Bill De Blasio ignored President Trump’s first quarantine on travel at the beginning of this crisis. The New York Times reports now that travel from New York seeded wave after wave of outbreaks all over the United States. And the sad part is that in a state like New York, people seem completely surrendered to this kind of a situation!

The policies that Joseph instituted during his rule perpetuated beyond his intended timeframe, and we should not be under any illusion that the policies made for this country by the United States Congress (as well as in many of the state legislatures) will not follow the same pattern, to the detriment of the people of God. The world has seen that the Church can be shut down in such circumstances. Legal powers can be exercised against it. Thankfully, the Justice Department and the United States Supreme Court have ruled against it. Perhaps I should change that: this current Justice Department and U.S. Supreme Court have ruled against it. What will happen in the future?

May God have mercy on His people. May God open the eyes of the people of this nation.

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