Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors, Part 3 — Genesis 41

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Last time, we learned about how Joseph was cast into prison, then interpreted dreams for Pharaoh’s baker and butler. As Joseph predicted, the baker got put to death and the butler restored to his former place . . . but the butler forgot all about Joseph once he was out of prison.

Did you miss Part 1 or Part 2?

The children tumbled into the classroom all in a knot, out of breath, having played tag all the way over from the sanctuary. With some effort, Shirlee managed to get them all settled into their seats.

“This week, we’re going to continue with Joseph’s adventures,” said Shirlee.

“Is he going to be a jerk yet?”

Shirlee looked at Ginny. Once such an innocent child, she’d become so cynical over the last few months. “Why would he become a jerk?”

“All of these Bible people are jerks at some point. I’m just wondering if it’s Joseph’s turn.”

Shirlee sighed. “No, it’s not Joseph’s turn to be a jerk. Can we read the story now?”

Without waiting for a response, Shirlee began reading from Genesis 41, paraphrasing it for the young students:

Pharaoh dreams about the cattle in this stained glass window at Lincoln Cathedral.

Two years after the butler was released from prison (and completely forgot about Joseph), Pharaoh had a dream. In this dream, he stood by a river, and seven healthy, fat cattle came up from the river and grazed in the meadow. But then, seven skinny, ugly cattle came up from the river, stood next to the fat, healthy cattle . . . and ate them! Pharaoh woke up.

Then Pharaoh fell asleep again and dreamed about seven healthy ears of corn on one stalk. But then seven withered, dry ears came up on the same stalk, and ate them! Pharaoh woke up again.

The next morning, Pharaoh called for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt, to ask if they could explain the dream, but there weren’t any clever enough to figure it out.

Right about this time, the butler suddenly recalled Joseph, who had correctly interpreted his and the baker’s dream, and explained this to Pharaoh. (Genesis 41:1-13)

“OK, so the butler is the jerk so far,” interrupted Ginny.

“Yes, he is. He forgot Joseph right up until it was useful for him to remember,” replied Shirlee.

Mark raised his hand, and Shirlee rolled her eyes. “Yes, Mark?”

“I know I asked this last week . . .”

“What is it?” Shirlee didn’t have a whole lot of patience for Mark’s questions any more, as he was usually trying to make the Bible look silly.

“The only people who heard Joseph’s interpretation were the baker, who’s dead, and the butler, who found it useful to provide a dream interpreter to Pharaoh, but who also would have no personal risk if Joseph were wrong. Right?”

“Right,” said Shirlee, “But I still don’t see your point.”

“That’s all. Thanks.”

Shirlee, perturbed and puzzled at the same time, turned back to her Bible.

Pharaoh sent for Joseph, who immediately shaved and put on clean clothes (instead of the clothes he’d worn for two years in the dungeon). Pharaoh then asked Joseph to interpret the dream, and Joseph said that he himself couldn’t interpret, but that God would provide the answer through him. (Genesis 41:14-16)

“Does God always tell the truth, Shirlee?” asked John.

“Always, except when He lies,” answered Mark.

“Is your name Shirlee?” snapped Shirlee. Then, upon reflection, answered John, “God always tells the truth, except when He . . . wishes to expose a false prophet or confuse those who don’t correctly follow His Laws, in which case He sometimes misleads people . . .” Shirlee paused, not sure how to continue.

“In other words,” finished Mark, “Except when He lies. Like in Ezekiel 14:9, where it says, ‘And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the LORD have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.'”

“Thank you, Mark.” Shirlee’s frigid words, cold as ice shattering on marble, told Mark it was time to practice being quiet for a time.

Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream. Image: Reginald Arthur, 1893.

Pharaoh told the dreams to Joseph, who explained that both dreams meant the same thing: That there would be seven years of abundance in Egypt, followed by seven years of famine so severe that the years of abundance would be forgotten.

Joseph immediately recommended that Pharaoh find a wise man and put him in charge, to take 1/5th of all the food produced during the 7 years, and store it up, so there would be food during the time of famine.

Pharaoh immediately set Joseph in this position, second only to Pharaoh, since God had shown Joseph all of this. He gave Joseph the ring from his hand, and put fancy clothes on him, and renamed Joseph ‘Zaphnathpaaneah’ and gave him a priest’s daughter for a wife.(Genesis 41:17-45)

“Yes, Mark,” said Shirlee, knowing what was coming, “Pharaoh did all that before any of it had come to pass.”

Mark still looked like he had something to say.

“And yes, Mark, it was a fairly obvious interpretation, just like the earlier interpretations, which were only attested to by the butler, who found them so memorable . . .”

“That he forgot all about them until producing an interpreter of obvious dreams was useful for him,” finished Mark.

“Anything else, Mark?” Shirlee tapped her foot and glared over her reading glasses.

Mark contemplated for a moment. “No, but I think John has a question.”

Startled from his doodling, John looked around the room, seeing all eyes fixed on him. “I . . . uh . . . I was just wondering what happened next.”

Shirlee decided to let John off the hook and make use of his segue. “Next? Seven years of plenty, of course.”

Some Europeans in the Middle Ages thought the pyramids were storehouses for grain.

Joseph, now only 30 years of age, was second in charge of all Egypt under Pharaoh. For the next seven years, he required that food be stored up. Not all in a central location, but in each city. He collected so much corn, he finally gave up accounting for it!

His wife also bore two sons for him during this time, which he named Manasseh and Ephraim.

Then came the years of famine, and Joseph opened the storehouses and sold the food back to the Egyptians from whom it had been collected, and also sold it to people from other nations who were facing the same famine. (Genesis 40:46-57)

“A jerk!” cried a triumphant Ginny.

Startled, Shirlee asked, “What are you talking about?”

“Did Joseph buy the food from the Egyptian farmers? The food that was stored up?”

Shirlee reviewed the text. “No, it appears it was just ‘collected’. Perhaps in the form of a tax.”

“And then he sold it to the farmers who grew it. He took it from them by force, without paying them, and then sold it back. JERK.”

“Ginny, in fairness, not all the Egyptians were farmers. I’m sure there were tradespeople, and pyramid-builders, and all that as well. They weren’t growing any food.”

“But why should the farmers have to pay the same price as everyone else for food, when it was their work that grew it in the first place?”

“That’s redistribution of wealth,” added John.

“Socialism!” cried Mark.

“I’m sure the farmers didn’t have to pay for it, Ginny,” stammered Shirlee. “That’d hardly be fair.”

“Welfare state!” Mark exclaimed.

“Oh, come now!” said Shirlee. “The Egyptians were not socialists, and not running a welfare state. They were just making sure all the people got enough to eat.”

“How nice of the government to make sure everyone got fed,” said Mark. “Why does Pastor Gardner say that it’s evil and depraved to have food stamps provided to poor people by the government instead of charity from churches?” Mark whipped out an article. “Look, this says that Christians should be against government-run welfare.”

Shirlee read the first paragraphs aloud:

The idea that government-sponsored welfare programs to assist the needy are compatible with, and justified by, Christian philosophy is probably the most widespread erroneous belief that permeates American society, and is hastening the destruction of freedom in the United States. This tragic flaw in the thinking of both well-educated and uneducated Christians has already brought misery to millions, and if this thinking persists in this country, it will result in economic chaos followed by political totalitarianism.

Government welfare programs, even those providing temporary relief, are in complete opposition to, and destructive of, acts of Christian charity and are totally inconsistent with Christian tradition.

One of the fundamental tenets of the Christian church is that the human is a creature possessing free will. It is because of the Christian recognition that man has control over his actions by means of his own will, that he is considered responsible for all his actions. (Our system of jurisprudence is built upon this foundation.) It is also held that for a Christian to perform an act of charity and to gain the spiritual rewards for this act, it must be performed by the deliberate intent of the individual. An act of charity — an act of helping those in need — can only be a Christian act when it involves the application of free will.

It is the concept of free will that is absent from all forms of government welfare.

“Well . . .” Shirlee began.

“And here’s another,” Mark cried, “This one’s from Gary North, you know, the Tea Party Economist guy? This is from one of his websites.”

Shirlee glanced over the text, but read it silently this time:

Jim Wallis and his colleagues make a classic error. They confuse the word social with state. When the Bible recommends charity shown by families, the Wallis brigade says, “See? The Bible teaches welfare state coercion. It really mean taxes. It did not say this explicitly, but that’s what it really means. Trust us.”

When the Bible recommends giving money to the church to help members of another church (I Cor. 9), Wallis says something like this: “The New Testament says voter blocs should elect politicians who will pass laws taking money from other groups of citizens and give it to the winners of the last election. It’s so clear in the New Testament!”

Wallis has been making a very good living teaching this for three decades. Book royalties, speaking engagements, salary: the money rolls in, all in the name of justice rolling down.

Glenn Beck has recommended to church members that they resign their membership if the pastor preaches the welfare state in the name of Jesus. I am not a Mormon, as Beck is, but I heartily concur with his recommendation.

“Well,” stammered Shirlee, “This is clearly a special case. God warned that there was a famine coming, and that justified . . .”

“Socialist confiscation and redistribution of wealth?” asked John. “That just seems wrong. I thought stealing was a sin.”

“Um . . . Well, it’s what God wanted at the time, in that occasion, not as a forever thing, breeding dependency on the state instead of on Him. Because God wants us to depend on Him, not on government. That’s why God doesn’t like welfare and it’s not Christian, just like those articles say.”

“Except in Egypt, during a famine.”

“Um, right.” Shirlee had never been so relieved to hear the cracked church bell clanking away as she was at that moment! “Time to go, I’ll see you next week, when we can read more of the story of Joseph!”

“Shirlee?” John asked, as she tried to dash out the door.

“Yes, John?”

“You don’t accept any kind of welfare, like food stamps . . . or Medicare or Social Security, do you?”

“Good one,” whispered Mark.

“I’ll see you next week, John.” Shirlee scooted down the hallway, unsure whether to be confused, embarrassed, or annoyed.

Continue to Part 4!

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