“And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. 36 This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.” 37 The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. (Genesis 41:33-37 NIV)
The math in this plan has always bothered me. I’m confident that Joseph was guided by God when he made his recommendation to Pharaoh, but why set aside only 20% of the crop in the abundant years. What follows is pure speculation. I think there are several ways to explain what Joseph recommended.
The first way would be to assume that God was going to bless Egypt with an abundance of grain that exceeded their needs by five times. In this case the amount set aside would be equivalent to the amount of grain that Egypt normally consumed in a year.
The second way would be to assume that the crop was only double a typical year in which case the amount stored up would provide about forty percent of the amount consumed in a normal year.
Only in the case where the crop was five times the normal would the people have the same amount of grain they were used to. The problem is that even in this most optimistic case that wouldn’t be true. Human nature says we consume as much as there is available. Without Joseph’s recommendation that grain be set aside there would have been none left for the famine years.
I think God’s plan was that Egypt experience the famine, but in a way that enabled them to survive. They were going to have to adjust their lifestyle. Regardless of the amount of abundance there was going to be a difference in the amount of food to eat between the abundant years and the famine years.
The prevailing wisdom in our country is that the collapse of the real estate bubble in 2008 was a terrible thing. I don’t want to make light of the economic suffering that many people experienced, but how else were we going to learn that our economy could not support an endless growth in consumption. I would like to think that we all learned how important it is to spend less than we earn every year. This will sometimes mean that we need to reduce our consumption for a time. Unfortunately, many don’t learn and easy credit results in many families being crippled by enormous debt.
Most of us can look around and see many people who live on far less. It is foolish for us to think that we could not live on less. Sometimes we must be reminded of the abundance we are blessed with. The Egyptians survived the famine and became a very wealthy nation. What will it take for our culture to learn the same lesson?
For my grandchildren:
Always spend less than you earn.