There is an interesting story of social welfare that is told in Genesis 47. As the famine continues to rage on for years in the land of Egypt, everyone comes to Joseph for help.
One year when they come pleading for food, their argument is that they have no money left. Joseph’s response is that they should exchange their livestock for food, which they do and their families are fed.
The next year, having no livestock, they come to Joseph and ask again. This time, they have an idea of their own. They will offer to Joseph the only thing that they have left…their land.
You might think, “How enraged they must feel about Joseph!” The idea that we would come to one of our leaders and say to them “I have no food, please help” and their response is “what are you going to give me in return” sounds reprehensible to us.
In our country we like to believe that the little guy has a chance. That’s good. I think the attitude of picking ourselves up by our bootstraps is what has made America great today. However, it is simply not how the Bible describes a great society. For many of us, the Bible challenges us in a way that makes us uncomfortable when it comes to how a society or an economy should be run.
What we find in the Old Testament, is that the most revered societies, such as the one that Joseph was in charge of, there is no redistribution of wealth. There are the “haves” and the “have nots”. The best case scenario is that the “haves” recognize their responsibility to the “have nots” and work out an arrangement to provide for them. If in that provision their wealth increases (such is the case with Joseph in this chapter), it is taken with the purpose of enhancing the governments ability to provide for the people.
Now, I am not going to waste a whole chapter of God’s word talking about politics. Rather, I gave that background so that I could put the response of the people in the proper context.
When the people come to Joseph the first time and Joseph asks for their livestock in exchange for food, I’m sure they weren’t expecting that. I’m sure they didn’t know what to expect. What I find interesting is how they respond to the offer. Obviously they accept it, but we find that they consider it appropriate on some level. Perhaps this response was formed over time as they considered their plight, but nevertheless, when they come the next year, they are so convinced of it’s validity that they approach Joseph with an attitude of humble gratitude and even servitude.
Their thought process must have been that “we wouldn’t have any food if not for this man. Therefore, we owe him our lives in service.” So they come to him with their requests and in exchange offer to become his servants.
I wonder if we approach God in the same way. I wonder if we feel the need to. When we come to God in prayer, do we feel entitled to his blessing because we’re so focused on how much he loves us that we just feel it’s what he wants to do anyway? After all, when you love someone, you want to give them everything, right? God loves me, therefore he wants to give me everything and I should let him, right?
We’re so focused on his love for us that we often forget how much we don’t deserve it. We don’t deserve it. To truly appreciate that, you’d have to live in a society where you actually felt like the wealthy people deserved to have all the money and you don’t. Make no mistake, God has everything and is entitled to it.
The point of all of this is not that God requires anything from us. He doesn’t. The point is that the people, in spite of the fact that they had nothing left to offer, found a way to offer something to Joseph…that of their entire lives in service to him.
The question is simple. When you approach the throne of God today, what do you have to offer him?