How a government handles challenges to its security and how it handles immigration are issues you are familiar with from current events. I was reading an ancient document the other day, and there was some history about another country’s handling of those two issues.

How a government handles challenges to its security and how it handles immigration are issues you are familiar with from current events. I was reading an ancient document the other day, and there was some history about another country’s handling of those two issues.

I’m talking about the story in the Bible of Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers. He ended up in Egypt where he landed in prison for awhile and then became second in command.
The security challenge he faced was a massive food shortage brought on by climate change or some such meteorological phenomenon. The immigration challenge Egypt faced was what to do with the people who came from Canaan, now the site of Israel, looking for food.

It’s one of the most interesting stories of the Bible, which is filled with lots of interesting stuff, and I wonder if we could learn some lessons from what happened.

Joseph had the ability to interpret dreams. Nowadays, we figure dreams are a way to deal with life’s stresses, but in those days, dreams were often seen as messages from God.

Pharaoh, the president of the country, had a dream about some fat cattle that were devoured by skinny cattle. No one could tell him the meaning of the dream until Joseph revealed that it meant seven years of good agricultural production followed by seven years of famine. Joseph suggested that pharaoh appoint a food czar with the power to collect 20 percent of the grain produced during the seven bountiful years.

Pharaoh bought Joseph’s story and made him the man in charge. Joseph and Pharaoh set up a tax collection bureaucracy and grabbed 20 percent of the grain produced every year. That food was stored in Egyptian cities. The Bible says Joseph collected so much corn it was like the grains of sand on the beach of a sea. It was so much corn that they couldn’t count it all.

That corn and other grains were laid up for the emergency Joseph had predicted. Sure enough, the hard times that Joseph foresaw were on the way did indeed arrive.

It was a regional famine, so the other countries in the region were also hungry. Joseph opened up his grain storage bins and started selling the corn to the Egyptians. People from other countries showed up wanting food, too.

Among the hungry immigrants were Joseph’s own brothers, the same bunch of ne’er-do-wells that sold him into slavery so many years previous. He recognized them, but he didn’t bear any grudge, and eventually he got them and their families, plus his old dad, a sweet deal with the government.

Joseph took his boss, the pharaoh, to see his brothers, who had brought their families and their livestock to stay and eat for awhile. Pharaoh told Joseph to give his family the best land in Egypt and to put them in charge of Pharaoh’s livestock.

I told you it was a sweet deal.

Think on that for awhile. Here are a bunch of immigrants who have not worked the land or paid the taxes that the Egyptians paid, and the president of the country gives them the best land and puts them in charge of his own ranches.

And the immigrants ate well during the famine. The Bible says, “Joseph nourished his father, and his brethren, and all his father's household, with bread, according to their families.”
But out in the rest of the country, where the Egyptians lived, “there was no bread in all the land.”

Joseph, the government agent, second in command to pharaoh, gathered up all the money in the lands of Egypt and Canaan by selling back the grain he had collected taxes for the previous seven years.

When the Egyptians ran out of money, they came to the capital and asked Joseph for grain even though they had no more money. Joseph said he would give them grain in exchange for their cattle.

The people were hungry, so they gave the government all their cattle.

That year ended, and the famine and economic downturn continued. The hungry people from all over the nation asked the government for more help. They told Joseph that the government had all their money and all their cattle. “There is not ought left … but our bodies and our lands,” they told him.

So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, paid for with grain. There went private property out the window. He also bought the people in exchange for grain, making them slaves to the government, which was Pharaoh. There went freedom right out the door.

Joseph gave the citizen-slaves of Egypt seed grain and told them to plant. He turned them all into sharecroppers, telling them that they had to pay the government a tax of 20 percent of their harvest. They could keep the 80 percent for next year’s seed and for food for themselves, he said.

Now the people were so happy to be alive that they didn’t care that private property rights and personal freedoms were gone. They said, “Thou hast saved our lives: let us find grace in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh's servants.”

They were a cowed people.

Meanwhile, the immigrants from Canaan lived high on the hog, so to speak, in the best region of Egypt. “They had possessions therein, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly,” the Bible says.
This is an Old Testament story. There’s nothing contemporary about it. But doesn’t the story of an economic downturn for taxpayers who are losing their jobs, homes and personal freedoms, while benefits are extended to people who have not paid taxes, seem familiar?

What lesson have you learned?

For me, the moral is this: Even with a righteous man in charge, government is out to screw you.

R.D. Hohenfeldt can be reached by e-mail at Photo of  R.D. and Henry courtesy of Bea Bonebrake Photography (