WHAT THE BIBLE REALLY SAYS
By: J. R. Hyland
Most people are familiar with the story of
the escape of the Hebrew people from Egypt, where they had been living as
slaves. The story of the Exodus has been told and re-told in books and movies
that relate the miraculous events that allowed Moses to lead his people out of
Egypt, through the wilderness and back to Canaan, their ancestral home.
For three generations, the Patriarch Abraham
and his descendants had lived as herdsmen in Canaan. Abraham settled there after
leaving his native city of Ur. He raised his family in Canaan as did his son
Isaac, and his grandson, Jacob. But in the fourth generation a series of
unplanned events resulted in the entire family going to live in Egypt. They
stayed there for more than four hundred years and during that time they grew
from a small clan to a great number of people who formed the 12 tribes of
The account of how the Jewish people went to
live in Egypt begins in the land of Canaan with the story of Joseph. He was one
of the twelve sons born to Jacob and was his father’s favorite. Like many
favored children, the self assurance this gave him sometimes manifested itself
in less than desirable traits.
Like his forefathers, Jacob was a herdsman
and the family business was tending the extensive flocks that kept his sons on
the move, always searching for good pasture. Joseph took it upon himself to
report back to his father whenever his older brothers, far from parental
supervision, neglected their duties. And along with informing on them, Joseph
also delighted in telling them about a prophetic dream he had: a dream in which
they all bowed down in homage, before him. “Do you think you are going to be
a king and rule over us” they demanded.
His self-prophecy of greatness increased his
brothers’ resentment and although he was only seventeen years old, they were in
no mood to make allowances for the egocentricity of the very young. And his
claims of future greatness increased the anger they already felt because of
their father’s favoritism. “His brothers saw that their father loved Joseph
more than he loved them and they hated their brother.”
They resolved to kill Joseph the next time
they were all out in the country-side, pasturing their flocks. But at the last
minute they decided to sell him into slavery, instead. They were paid twenty
pieces of silver by a passing trade caravan that was on its way to Egypt. They
told their father his favorite son had been killed by a wild animal. “Jacob
tore his clothes in sorrow and put on sackcloth. He mourned for his son a long
In Egypt, Joseph was sold to Potiphar,
captain of Pharaoh’s palace guards. He demonstrated great management skills in
running his master’s extensive estate. This made life easier for him and for his
owner and eventually “Potiphar turned over everything he had to the care of
Joseph and did not concern himself with anything.”
Actually, the captain did concern himself
with one of his possessions—his wife. And the Bible reports that because Joseph
was “well built and good looking,” she lusted for him. But Joseph was
loyal to Potiphar and repeatedly said “no” to her overtures. Angered by this
ongoing refusal, she got rid of him by telling Potiphar he tried to rape her.
“Joseph’s master was furious and had him arrested and put in the prison where
the king’s prisoners were kept, and there he stayed.”
But even in prison the young man’s managerial
skills helped make life easier. “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 prison.”
It was during this time that two officials from the royal household were
imprisoned. Both the king’s cupbearer and his chief baker had managed to offend
Pharaoh and they were frantic to know what would become of them. Each had a
dream about his ultimate fate and although they knew their dreams were
significant, the symbology eluded them. But Joseph had intuitive as well as
administrative abilities and was able to interpret their dreams.
There was good news and bad new for the two
men. The bad news was that the baker’s dream meant he would soon be executed.
His head would be cut off and his decapitated body lashed to a tree. The
cupbearer was more fortunate. His dream meant that Pharaoh would forgive him and
restore him to service in the royal household. Everything came about just as
Joseph predicted. The baker was executed and the cupbearer was released from
prison and returned to Pharaoh’s service.
Two years after being restored to favor, the
cupbearer had reason to remember Joseph. Pharaoh had a very disturbing dream. He
sent for the magicians and all the wise men in his kingdom, but none could give
an interpretation that rang true. He was becoming increasingly agitated and the
cupbearer knew from past experience how disastrous that anger could be. So it
was with relief that he remembered Joseph’s predications about his own release,
and the death of the baker. He told Pharaoh about the incident and Joseph was
ordered to the palace.
Pharaoh told the young man about his 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
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 bureau-cratic 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’s name and
place the food in the towns 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.”
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. 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.”
Joseph was thirty years old when Pharaoh
appointed him to rule the land and along with all the trappings of royalty he
was given Asenath, daughter of the high priest of Heliopolis, as his bride.
It was a marriage that gave him an unassailable position among the socially
elite and powerful.
As he 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
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 second trip that Joseph revealed
himself to them.
The brothers were 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 glad to see them and told them the famine
would last four more years. They went back to Canaan, gathered their extended
family together and headed south. And so it came about that all the descendants
of Abraham and Sarah went to live in Egypt.
They settled in the land and Joseph provided
for all their needs. They were well fed and cared for while many around them
struggled to survive. 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 had been 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 Hysksos were a Semitic people who had
thundered out of the North, conquering the land before them with the superior
weapons they had developed. They 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 the Hyksos Pharaoh, and he had no intention of doing
anything that would cause an uprising or precipitate a coup. But Pharaoh did
covet more land and money for himself and for those he favored.
He could not risk arbitrarily seizing the
possessions 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 the native Egyptians of their
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 first year
of famine “Joseph accumulated all the money there was to be found in the land
of Egypt…in return for the grain which men were buying, and he brought
the money to Pharaoh’s palace.”
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.” 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.”
By the next 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
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.”
And 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.”
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 Semitic
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.”
With this as his justification, Pharaoh
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.
Until he was thirty years old, the story of Joseph is the story of a young man
overcoming terrible adversity; of a gifted administrator who behaved morally and
ethically. There is nothing to prepare the Bible reader for the kind of
corruption that marked his reign as Grand Vizier of Egypt: his ruthless policies
led to the poverty, enslavement and death of innumerable people. Joseph sowed
the seeds of suffering in Egypt and his descendants reaped the bitter harvest.
Joseph’s story is a powerful morality tale,
warning of the ways in which power can corrupt. But even those ministers and
scholars who use the scriptures as a moral guide never speak of the way in which
he abused the native Egyptians. According to the Religiously Correct version, Joseph went
from glory to glory unsullied by the power and wealth he amassed.
Although clearly explained in the Bible, both
Christians and Jews ignore the events that toppled the Hebrew people from a
pinnacle of favor and wealth in their adopted land, leaving them deprived and in servitude.
The biblical facts are ignored because they jeopardize the human insistence that
in a conflict with outsiders, only the group they favor behaves in a moral,
ethical or godly manner. It is the good-guy/bad-guy explanation of conflict and
it ignores any evidence that the reality may be a bad-guy/bad-guy scenario.
Both the Hebrews and the Egyptians exploited
each other when they were in a position to do so. Both groups abused the power
they had in a way that guaranteed anger, bitterness and a desire for
retaliation. The Bible can tell its readers what happened in times past, but it
cannot force them to accept the facts it presents.
Genesis 37:8 TEV
Genesis 37:3,4 TEV
Genesis 37:34 TEV
 Genesis 39:6 TEV
 Genesis 39:19,20 TEV
 Genesis 39:21,22 TEV
Genesis 41:33-36 JB
Genesis 41:39-43 TEV
 This woman, whom the Egyptians considered to be a descendant of the
goddess Neit, became the mother of Manasseh and Ephraim and matriarch of
the tribes of Israel that bore those names.
Genesis 47:14 TEV
Genesis 47:15 TEV
Genesis 47:17 TEV
 Genesis 47:20 TEV
 Genesis 47:21 TEV
 Exodus 1:7 TEV
 Exodus 1:9, 10 TEV
There is much scholarly debate regarding the length of time that the
Israelites remained in Egypt. They range from a claim that it was about
240 years, to a belief that it was closer to 450 years.
Go on to: MOSES
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