Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
A Southern chain gang from the 1900s.1 (Detroit Publishing Company/United States Library of Congress)
When that year was ended, they came unto him the second year, and said unto him, We will not hide it from my lord, how that our money is spent; my lord also hath our herds of cattle; there is not ought left in the sight of my lord, but our bodies and our lands: Wherefore shall we die before thine eyes, both we and our land? buy us and our land for bread, and we and our land will be servants unto Pharaoh: and give us seed, that we may live, and not die, that the land be not desolate.
— Genesis 47:18-19
Power corrupts, and Joseph by the end of the story has plenty of power—not just over his repentant brothers, but over all of Egypt. In popular versions of the Joseph story, the final chapter (Genesis 47) is dropped and the story climaxes with a loving family reunion. But the story of Joseph is an episode in an epic tale, not an isolated story. It continues past the reunion, and it gets dark. Very dark.
As the famine progresses the people of Egypt suffer dearly, just as Joseph's family had suffered in Canaan. They come to Joseph begging for food, there is not ought left in the sight of my lord, but our bodies2 and our lands. Their desperation is heard clearly in the tragic request, buy us and our land for bread. Joseph, the now ruthless administrator, uses his position of (uncontested) power to take them at their word depriving them of everything they own, including their very selves. Essentially Joseph single-handedly consolidates the centralised power structure and establishes the slave culture of Egypt—the exact system that would oppress his own people in generations to come. Unintended consequences.
Today, with political and corporate power being less and less distributed and more and more centralised in the hands of the few, we may wonder what the inevitable unintended consequences are for us. Maybe we are seeing some already. Think about it, and look about you.
1 "The link between prison labor and slavery is not merely rhetorical. At the end of the Civil War, the 13th amendment abolished slavery 'except as a punishment for a crime.' This opened the door for more than a century of forced labor that was in many ways identical to, and in some ways worse than, slavery." — The Origins of Prison Slavery, Slate.com, 02/10/18
2 The original Hebrew term here is literally "carcasses" which far better describes the farmers' anguish.