Having settled his entire extended family *in Goshen*, Joseph turned his attention back to the huge problem that beset all of Egypt, which was the terrible famine.
Joseph, as Prime Minister, had set up the plan whereby Egyptian food-growers had to give, as taxes to the state, one fifth of the food *they produced*. This was during the years of plenty, when it still rained. Now, however, the rains had stopped, seemingly never to return, so food was no longer growing.
Where, then, could Egyptians now get their food, but from the granaries in which Joseph had stored the food he’d collected as tax. Although Egyptians could lawfully now get from Joseph this food, they still had to pay money for it. This does seem, today, from four thousand years on, a little unfair, for it constituted in effect double taxation. That, though, was how it was.
However, the longer the drought continued, the more the money-savings of Egyptians ran out. Soon their money was gone. A large crowd came to Joseph. Its spokesman said to him, “My Lord, give us food, or we shall die before your eyes. Unfortunately we can’t pay for it because we’ve no money left.”
“Mmmm” said Joseph, “you do have a problem. Tell you what, I’ll give you food for your cattle and sheep, that I’ll accept in lieu of money. How about it?”
“I suppose we don’t have much choice, do we” said the spokesman.
Egyptians, after going home and returning with all their cattle and sheep, received from Joseph’s granaries enough food for a year. When the year was finished and it still hadn’t rained, the crowd again sought out Joseph.
“My Lord” said the spokesman, “give us more food, or we shall die before your eyes. Unfortunately we can’t pay for it because we’ve no cattle and sheep left.”
“You can’t keep doing this, you know,” said Joseph, “I expect you think I’ll now give you food for nothing. This would be most unEgyptian.”
“I agree, my Lord” said the spokesman. “So we’ve come up with a plan that I beg you’ll at least consider.”
“Tell me about it.”
“My Lord, seeing as we’ve nothing left but our bodies and our lands, we propose that the Egyptian state, in the person of His Majesty the Pharaoh, becomes the owner of us and our lands, in exchange for the food we need.”
“I like what you say. It’s well thought-out. Logical. I myself couldn’t have come up with anything better. In the name of His Majesty the Pharaoh, I agree to this plan.”
Hence Egyptians became slaves, accepting it better to be a slave but alive, than to be free but dead.
All the foregoing applied, though, only to the average Egyptian, but not to priests, of which there were many. Priests, as priests, weren’t deemed average, and so had exalted status. Again, from four thousand years on, this seems a little unfair. Not quite cricket. But that’s how it was.
Source: Genesis 47, 13-26