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Chapter 3: Joseph

Jacob loved Joseph more than all his sons...When his brothers saw that their father loved Joseph more than he loved them, they hated their brother.[1]

Joseph was the eleventh of twelve sons born to Jacob. He was the son who demonstrated remarkable intuitive gifts; the one through whom the female principle was manifesting itself. He also had great organizational ability, and it was this balance of the intuitive and the rational--of the male and female--that empowered his rise to greatness. It was this balance that ultimately led to his being appointed grand vizier of Egypt.

The intuitive gifts had shown themselves first. By the time he was seventeen years old he was a visionary whose dreams of fame and power alienated his older brothers. His dreams foretold that not only his brothers, but his mother and father as well would some day bow down to him, in recognition of his superior standing and power. And Joseph revealed these dreams to his family.

When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, "What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?" His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.[2]

The brothers were so jealous of Joseph that they plotted to kill him. They were about to carry out their plan when they decided it would be more advantageous to sell him as a slave. They sold him to a passing caravan for twenty pieces of silver. Then they told Jacob that his favorite son was dead, that he had been devoured by a wild animal. "Jacob tore his clothes in sorrow...He mourned for his son a long time...he refused to be comforted and said, 'I will go down to the world of the dead still mourning for my son.'"[3]

Joseph was taken to Egypt by the slave-traders and sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh's palace guards. It was during the time that he was in service to Potiphar that his organizational abilities began to manifest themselves. Little by little he was given responsibility for the captain's extended household and, ultimately, he was put in charge of all of Potiphar's enterprises. Under Joseph's direction, his master prospered as never before. "Potiphar turned over everything he had to the care of Joseph and did not concern himself with anything."[4]

But the situation changed suddenly, and drastically, when Potiphar's wife wrongfully accused Joseph of trying to seduce her. The captain believed her and had Joseph thrown into prison. It was a life sentence, but even in prison Joseph's talents came to the fore.

The Jailer was pleased with him. He put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and made him responsible for everything that was done in the prison. The Jailer did not have to look after anything for which Joseph was responsible.[5]

While in prison, the organizational gifts that Joseph demonstrated in Potiphar's household were given an even greater range of activity. But it was not just the talents of the male principle that he was perfecting. Joseph continued developing both sides of his nature, and it was the female/intuitive principle that brought him to the attention of Pharaoh and secured his release from prison.

During his years of imprisonment Joseph became known as an interpreter of dreams. At one point he had successfully predicted the fate of a royal prisoner--the Pharaoh's cupbearer. The man had fallen out of favor and been sent to prison, with the possibility of being put to death. But Joseph foresaw that the man would survive and be restored to the royal household. It all came about, just as predicted, and years later the cupbearer had reason to remember Joseph's intuitive gifts.

Pharaoh had a dream that disturbed him greatly and although every visionary and soothsayer in the kingdom had been summoned to the palace, no one could give an acceptable interpretation of his dream. Then the cupbearer told him about Joseph. Pharaoh sent for the young man and told him about the dream.

He had seen himself standing beside the Nile River when seven cows, sleek and fat, came to feed. Then, suddenly, there were seven other cows. They were sickly and skinny, yet they devoured the healthy cows. The dream continued and Pharaoh saw a stalk on which there grew seven ears of corn, full and ripe. Then, another stalk grew beside it. The corn on this stalk was withered and dried, yet it devoured the full, ripe corn.

Joseph immediately knew what the dream meant. He told Pharaoh it symbolized seven years of plentiful harvest that Egypt would enjoy. During those years, the grain would overflow the storehouses and the people and cattle would prosper. But after that would come seven years of terrible famine.

Pharaoh and all his court accepted this interpretation and if the matter had ended there, Joseph would have been given a suitable reward and released from prison. But the young man who had administered Potiphar's extensive holdings and the bureaucratic structure of the royal prison had an organizational plan for Egypt as well as a vision of what was to come. He told Pharaoh how to prepare for the hard times ahead.

"Choose a man who is intelligent and wise to govern the land of Egypt...take action and impose a tax of one-fifth during the seven years of plenty. [Supervisors] will collect all food produced during these good years that are coming. They will store the corn in Pharaoh name and place the food in the town and hold it there. This food will serve as a reserve for the land during the seven years of famine...and so the land will not be destroyed by the famine."[6]

This plan impressed Pharaoh so much that he chose Joseph as the man to put it into effect. He told him, "It is obvious that you have greater wisdom and insight than anyone else. I will put you in charge of my country, and all my people will obey your orders. Your authority will be second only to mine. I now appoint you governor over all Egypt."[7]

Joseph was thirty years old when Pharaoh appointed him to rule the land. He had continued to develop the rational/intuitive gifts of the male and female principles throughout his years of slavery and imprisonment. Now he reaped the rewards of that balanced development.

He was also given the daughter of the high priest of Ra as his bride. It was a marriage that made him part of the highest circle of nobility in the land and gave him all the trappings of royalty.

The King removed from his finger the ring engraved with the royal seal and put it on Joseph's finger. He put a fine linen robe on him and placed a gold chain around his neck. He gave him the second royal chariot to ride in, and his guard of honor went

ahead of him and cried out, "Make way! Make way"[8]

As Joseph had predicted, there were seven years of bountiful harvest, but in the eighth year the land was blighted and there was widespread famine. The famine was not confined to Egypt. It spread north and east, affecting all of Canaan where Joseph's father and brothers still lived. But unlike the Egyptians, those who lived in Canaan were not prepared for the devastation.

During the second year of famine, Joseph's brothers watched the people and animals around them dying of starvation. Like many other Canaanites, they knew that if they were to survive they would have to make the long journey to Egypt to buy grain for their families. They had no idea that Joseph was still alive, much less that he ruled Egypt for Pharaoh. They returned home with their food supplies, but the next year they had to return again for more grain. It was during this trip that Joseph revealed himself to them.

The brothers were very frightened when he told them who he was. They thought he would retaliate for what they had done to him so many years before. But Joseph was overjoyed to see them; whatever bitterness he may have felt was forgotten. He told them the famine would last four more years and they knew they might not survive those years in Canaan. They went back home to gather their extended family together and the whole tribe made the journey to Egypt.

They settled in the land and Joseph provided for all his family's needs. They were well fed and taken care of while many around them went hungry. And when the lean years of the famine were over, they lived prosperously on the large acreage of land that Pharaoh deeded to them. The land they were given was in the fertile delta area of the Nile, where crops and livestock could easily flourish. In this setting, the Hebrews grew in numbers and in wealth. But during the years that the sons of Israel prospered, the native Egyptians were systematically reduced to slavery.

The Pharaoh who appointed Joseph as grand vizier was not an Egyptian. He was part of the Hyksos dynasty that had conquered Egypt circa 1780 B.C. The Hyksos were a semitic people who had thundered out of the North, conquering the land before them with the superior weapons they had developed.

The Hyksos ruled Egypt for many generations and the native Egyptians had adapted to life under their alien rule. There was a respectful coexistence between the people and Pharaoh, and he had no intention of doing anything that would cause an uprising or precipitate a coup. But he did covet more land and money for himself and for those he favored. He could not risk arbitrarily seizing the wealth of the Egyptians, but extortion was another thing. It was Joseph who devised a scheme to extort their property and their money. It was Joseph who used his highly developed gifts to defraud other human beings of their possessions.

His plan depended on the tragedy of the famine for its success. During the seven years of plenty, Joseph imposed a twenty percent tax on all the grain the Egyptians produced. It was this grain that filled the storehouses in preparation for the lean times to come. The landowners cooperated with this method of taxation, trusting that it would benefit them during the years of famine. But when it came time for them to reap the benefits of their cooperation, they found their trust had been violated. They would have to pay very dearly to receive the food they had produced. In fact,it would cost them everything they had.

The Bible records that during the very first year of famine, "Joseph accumulated all the money there was to be found in the land of return for the grain which men were buying, and he brought the money to Pharaoh's palace."[9] The price the people had to pay to buy back their own grain was set so high that within a year, everyone had spent all the money they had.

"When all the money in Egypt was spent, the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, 'Give us food! Don't let us die. Do something! Our money is all gone.'"[10] Joseph assured them that they did not have to die--all they had to do was turn over all their horses, sheep, cattle, and donkeys in return for some bread. So that year Joseph "supplied them with food in exchange for all their livestock."[11]

By the second year of famine, the people no longer had any money, horses, cattle or sheep. They had only the parched land that could not produce any food for them to eat. To avoid starvation they exchanged all their land for bread. "Thus Joseph acquired all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh, since one by one the Egyptians sold their estates, so hard-pressed were they by the famine, and the whole country passed into Pharaoh's possession."[12]

The people had lost all their money, livestock, and land. Then they suffered the final indignity. The Bible reports that "Joseph made slaves of the people from one end of Egypt to the other."[13]

As the Egyptian population was systematically reduced to poverty and slavery, Joseph and his family accumulated great wealth and extensive land holdings. Their wealth and power remained intact for many generations. "The sons of Israel were fruitful and grew in numbers greatly; they increased and grew so immensely powerful that they filled the land."[14]

The Egyptian people, still subject to Hyksos rule, could do nothing to stop this expanding Hebrew presence. But like any exploited people, they seethed with resentment against those who had deprived them of their land and their autonomy. And they waited for the day when they could regain control of their own country.

Eventually, it came to pass. The Hyksos rulers were finally overthrown and driven out of Egypt. It was to be a triumphal era for the Egyptians--and a disaster for the Israelites. The new Pharaoh represented them as a subversive element; a people who would be anxious to have another foreign power rule again in Egypt.

He told his people: "The sons of Israel have become so numerous and strong that they are a threat to us. We must be prudent and take steps against their increasing any further, or if war should break out, they might add to the number of our enemies."[15]

With this justification, Pharaoh systematically reduced the Hebrew people to slavery. They were deprived of their lands and their wealth, just as their ancestors had once deprived the Egyptians of their possessions. The terrible hardships that the Hebrews eventually endured in Egypt were part of the legacy that Joseph left them.[16] The gifted young man who had manifested a highly developed male/female balance was corrupted by the power and possessions that were conferred upon him.

Until he was thirty, the story of Joseph is the story of a young man overcoming terrible adversity; of a person who always behaved in a moral and ethical manner. There is nothing to prepare the Bible reader for the story of corruption that marked his reign as grand vizier of Egypt. But there was a reason for the drastic change that took place in his character.

From the time that he became the most powerful leader in Egypt, Joseph increasingly repressed the female part of his nature. The empathy, compassion and caring that had previously marked his relationship with the Egyptians[17] was replaced by his lust for power and possessions. He had forfeited his balanced male/female development and allowed the unbalanced male power principle to rule his life.

The extent of that male/female imbalance showed itself in Joseph's harsh and uncompromising treatment of the Egyptians. His policies led to the enslavement and death of innumerable people. Joseph sowed the seeds of suffering and poverty in Egypt and his descendants who reaped the bitter harvest.

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