Meditating on the Judgements of God:
Gen 41:28-30 It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow them.
Whether this constitutes a judgment of God or not remains to be seen but browsing through this area of Scripture I realised that the years of good harvests and then of famine were clearly identified here by Joseph before they happened, as acts of God. I have underlined the “what he is about to do.” The fact that Joseph spoke it clearly as a prophetic interpretation of a prophetic dream – and then it happened exactly as said – leaves us no alternative but to attribute these years to God’s activity.
In Jesus’ exposition of the last days ‘famines and earthquakes’ are linked (Mt 24:7) In the ‘curses’ of Deut 28 famine is clearly one of the curses of disobedience (Deut 28:18,22,38-40) and there the ‘natural’ causes of such famines are shown as mildew or blight destroying the crops, lack of rain destroying the crops, or locusts or worms or other creatures destroying the crops, all with the same outcome – famine, shortage of food.
We are not told which of the ‘natural’ causes the Lord used in the time of Joseph merely that a famine occurred, first in Egypt and then in the whole world (Gen 41:56,57). In any other context we would say that a famine was to chastise the people and bring them back to God. In this situation there is no indication that the world is especially ungodly and unrighteous and when we come to look closely at the story and see the effects of this famine, we can only conclude that this famine was more something the Lord used to bring about a number of other things that are part of His long-term plans.
So our starting place is that the Lord is going to do something and He gives Pharaoh a dream which needs interpreting. Discussion reveals there is a dream-interpreter in prison who has twice given accurate interpretations of dreams to fellow prisoner. So Joseph is brought before Pharaoh and interprets his two dreams as seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. At the end of his interpretation he is quite specific: “The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that (a) the matter has been firmly decided by God, and (b) God will do it soon.” (Gen 41:32) Note the two elements we have highlighted. This is something specifically planned by God and He will go on to bring it about. This will be an act of the Almighty God, Creator of all things who acts into His Creation as He sees fit.
Now more than that Joseph has what we might call a word of wisdom and lays out before Pharaoh a strategy for dealing with the coming fourteen years (Gen 41:33-36) Pharaoh sees the wisdom in this and realises that Joseph would be the best person to bring it into being. The end result? Joseph is appointed in charge over all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh (Gen 41:40-43). As the story unfolds we see the seven years of plenty followed then by the seven years of famine which spreads far and wide – even to Canaan where Joseph’s family still live. If you know the story you know that the brothers are eventually sent by their father to Egypt to buy grain and although they do not recognize Joseph in his finery, he recognizes them and we follow a somewhat tortuous story of him playing with them until he eventually reveals himself and they and their father come and live under his protection in Egypt, where they prosper greatly.
But of course that is not the end of the story. They settle in Egypt – indeed they settle there for over four hundred years until they are made slaves and then eventually delivered by an aging shepherd by the name of Moses and we have the most startling event in the whole of the Old Testament, the Exodus.
So this famine of seven years was used to put Joseph in the role of second most powerful man in the region, enable him to be restored to his family and then the family to settle there in Egypt to eventually be delivered from slavery by the miraculous hand of God – which would have been seen or heard of by all the nations of the Middle East at least.
What we are left to conclude is that we have been observing a long-term strategy of God to bring about a series of events which would culminate first in the judgment of the biggest despot in the region, then the deliverance of what is now a nation called Israel and then the judgment brought on the pagans of Canaan – all because of a famine.
But the more you look the more you realise the enormity of this plan because it started right back when the Lord chose Abram and revealed to him: “Know for certain that (a) your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and (b) they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But (c) I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward (d) they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. (e) In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Gen 15:13-16) How specific is that! When Joseph, the young spoilt brat, starts having dreams (Gen 37:5-9) it starts off a sequence of events which, followed through, results in a nation called Israel inhabiting a land called Canaan and becoming the people of God through whom God will reveal Himself more and more to the onlooking world.
And so the famine was merely a tool used by God to progress His plans of revealing Himself to His world. Amazing!