Joseph and the Egyptian Ponzi Scheme

For the last several years, I haven’t had the highest opinion of Joseph.  Most writing on the life of Joseph and Genesis drips with honey and can’t wait to sing the endless virtues of Egypt’s agricultural czar.

Sure, they always say he started off as a tattle-tail, quick to report his brothers to his father.  And maybe he wasn’t the wisest of youths, spouting off his dreams like they were about to catch his tongue on fire. But he was young.  Nothing a good dose of humility won’t fix.

The medicine of humility comes, and from then on Joseph is looked on as an angel. Usually. It was refreshing to read a book that brought up some doubts about this typical enthusiasm in Reno’s Genesis commentary, but these treatments are few and far between.

Joseph is obviously a type of Christ, but that doesn’t mean we should read about him with rose-tinted glasses. David is a type of Christ too, and I don’t see anyone trying to explain away his adultery with Bathsheba with clever excuses.  But Joseph’s issues are not the loud, brass band of obvious, in-your-face sin like that of fornication and murder.

His issues are subtle.  The problems of power and cultural chameleonism always are. And a failure to recognize the problems show just how enamored we have become with the trappings of power, and how easily we make an idol of the State.

A Great Story, but…

Granted, when you’re teaching a bunch of 5 year olds about Joseph, its easy to get caught up in the rags to riches part of the story. Its a great story that touches something deep within every human. And how do you even explain the nuances behind the temptations of political power to a child who hasn’t even read The Lord of the Rings?

Joseph’s faults shouldn’t surprise us.  Look at the stock he came from. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the three names God decides to attach to Himself for eternity, all have their serious problems. Joseph’s eventual words to his brothers seems to be the theme behind the second half of Genesis. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20)(ESV) And thank God for that, or else where would any of us be?

Joseph is still a man of obvious faith that we can learn from.  But keep in mind what the Hebrew writer calls attention to when he praises the faith of Joseph:

By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.

Nothing about his perseverance in prison. Nothing about his steadfast hope while sold into slavery. And, notably, nothing about his role in feeding the entire world. Just a mention about his burial arrangements. This should give us a clue as to what was truly praiseworthy about Joseph, in God’s eyes.

So what are some of these issues, besides the obvious youthful pride?

Cultural Assimilation

As soon as Joseph is raised up, he is married to the daughter of a priest of On (Gen. 41:45), thereby gaining religious acceptance to a group that held enormous sway within Egypt, and later would gain even more power through Joseph’s own machinations. We know that during Israel’s time in Egypt, they served other gods (Josh. 24:14).

Perhaps this alliance was the beginning of this indiscretion? Regardless, we know that Abraham insisted on non-foreign wives for Isaac, and Rebekah did likewise for Jacob. After Sinai, such a marriage would be explicitly forbidden.

In an effort to absolve Joseph of this misstep, many rabbinical writings scramble to craft interpretations that border on fantasy. One even claims that Asenath was really Joseph’s kin, the daughter of Shechem and Dinah (Gen. 34) who eventually ended up being raised by Potiphera in Egypt. The sentiment may also have led to the writing of the apocryphal Joseph and Aseneth that depicts the conversion of Aseneth to the worship of YHWH before Joseph agrees to marry her.

The assimilation continues.  In Genesis 42:23, we see that Joseph needs an interpreter to understand the language of his fathers.  He has forgotten it. The curse of Babel rears its head, signifying that Joseph is currently separate from the  family of promise. Not good.

Unlike Christ, who was faithful to both his divinity and humanity, Joseph cannot be a son of both Jacob and Egypt.  One side inevitably gives way to the other, and it looks like the Egyptian side comes to reign.

Total Fraud and Enslavement

The world is fed on the labor of the Egyptian populace. They give up a fifth of everything they produce during the 7 years of plenty to prepare for the 7 years of famine.  Its a temporary tax.  Or so it was probably sold to the Egyptians.

When the famine hits, Joseph sells grain to anyone who needs it. This makes sense for foreigners who come from other lands.  But what about the Egyptians who filled up the storehouses?  Its their grain after all.  Certainly they are due at least what they put in. But no. Joseph charges them money for their own grain.

Soon the Egyptians run out of money, and begin begging Joseph for food. (Gen. 47:15). Joseph, not without mercy, agrees to give them food for the small price of all of their livestock. But hey, at least they have enough food to live…for a year.

The Egyptians come begging again.  They have no money.  They have no livestock to give in trade.  Desperate, they offer their bodies and their land and Joseph accepts their generous offer. (Gen. 47:18-22).

Except the lands of the priests.  So the only people in Egypt that owned land after this were Pharaoh and the pagan priests.  What a drastic shift in power.

Once again showing mercy (and probably realizing a 100% enslaved population isn’t really that productive), Joseph tells the people to keep tilling the land, do all of the work.  And all they have to do is give back one fifth of their production to Pharaoh. During a debilitating famine.  And beyond.

So much for a “temporary” tax to cover the tough times. Like a good politician, he didn’t let a good disaster go to waste.

Maybe we should rename the Ponzi scheme after Joseph instead?

But thanks be to God, for he works good out of evil. Even our own evil. It was true with the other sons of Jacob.  It was true with Joseph himself.  And it is true with those of us who are in Christ.

Four Groups Who Laughed at the Rapture

I’m not writing to scoff at Harold Camping’s Rapture date that has come and gone like the stink of a passing garbage truck.  There are plenty of other people poking fun, and doing it better than I could. Everything that could be said has been said, twisted every way to expose every angle and to squeeze out another laugh. I admit I’ve laughed and I’ve chuckled. There might have been a guffaw or two.

Some have begun to offer the pastoral approach to help teach those who were misguided and other words of wisdom to aid in the cleanup. These words are needed.

But now that everyone has caught their collective breath, its time for some additional reflection. And to remind the laughers and the pointers, in the tradition of banal, elementary school proverbs, that when you point at someone, you have three fingers pointing right back at you.

There are four broad categories of scoffers and pointers that I noticed. What follows is what I imagine those three fingers are implying as they point in accusation at their respective owners.

1. The Establishment Media

While not direct scoffers per se, they made the whole feast possible by spending so much time telling us about it.  With a wink and a smirk lurking behind the thin veil of their “neutrality” faces, they handed out invitations to the freak show and shouted out the meeting times from the rooftops. They never laughed in public, but you could tell they really wanted to.

You can’t blame them.  It was newsworthy, and its their job. But a locomotive doesn’t need someone to get out and push once it gains some speed and momentum. Anyone who thinks a little bit of pushing can help, if only they are the ones who are doing the pushing, can rightly be labeled as someone who has an inflated sense of their own importance.  Which, come to think of it, describes the establishment media pretty well.

2. The Atheist Blogosphere

Yes, there is a sphere o’ blogs whose name is based on something that they all don’t believe in. So even though they gladly curse His name and deny His existence, all of their thoughts and ramblings orbit the Truth, in some form or another. The poor things just can’t escape the inevitable. It’s like the moons of Jupiter formed a club whose core, foundational principle was denying the existence of planets.

And oh how they cackled in glee.  Another chance to point and laugh at Christians and their silly doomsday scenarios.

Two things.

One, most of these atheists are leftist progressives, and therefore hold to their own doomsday apocalypses and eschatons, which are also based on spurious and questionable mathematics.  Just ask them about global warming or climate change, and they will get dead serious.  Not serious enough to stop themselves from breathing and releasing more of the obviously deadly pollutant known as CO2 into the atmosphere, but hey, there are fair-weather Christians too. Not everyone has the same level of faith.

Since they tend be pretty gullible, there are many more examples that I don’t have time to expound upon. Chesterton said through his character Father Brown

“It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can’t see things as they are.”

But their gullibility helps lead into…

Two, most are also amateur evolutionary biologists.  That means they go around quoting Richard Dawkins at each other. Evolution in itself is pretty funny, but then you get people extracting self-righteous morality from it, as many are in the habit of doing, and it becomes downright hilarious.

In a world where actions, including laughter and why we laugh, are reduced to simple chemical reactions in the brain, it really doesn’t matter what someone else’s chemical reactions are causing them to believe and do.  Shake up a can of soda and open it, and you have a chemical reaction that is just as important as anything that happens in the brain. Well, maybe not.  At least the can of soda has an ultimate  purpose for it’s existence…

So they can claim that it gives them pleasure to mock and ridicule.  I don’t doubt they know how to set off the right chemical reactions in their brains to tickle their funny bone.  Any animal can do that.  But based on their world-view, they cannot claim any sort of intellectual superiority over those they are mocking.  They would just be comparing one meaningless set of chemical reactions to another.  Different, yes.  One set better than the other?  Who cares?

3. Other Christians Who Believe in the Rapture

While they found it easy to scoff at the prophecy of Camping, they didn’t realize that the idea of the Rapture is pretty goofy in itself. You don’t have to put an arbitrary date on something to make it ahistorical and unbiblical. This is where a large swath of American Evangelicalism falls. It is characterized by extreme pessimism, an idolatrous gaze cast toward the physical nation of Israel, and a continuous lookout for signs in current events like a witch looking at the entrails of a slaughtered calf.

4. Other Christians Who Don’t Believe in the Rapture, but Still Maintain a Good Dose of Worldly Pessimism

A large minority of Christians take the pilgrim and citizen language of the New Testament, unknowingly filter it through Greek and gnostic philosophy, and then combine it with a dash of Enlightenment thinking.  It treats the world as God’s Vietnam, getting worse and worse, descending further and further into darkness.  His ultimate plan is to rescue the troops, whoever he can get out in time, and then napalm the whole place.  The troops he was able to fit on the rescue craft will then live in disembodied bliss in s0me heavenly realm. The Bible says that Christ came to save the world and fulfill the promises of Abraham…except not really. He certainly gave it his best shot, though. Bless His heart.

This type of thinking is just as ahistorical and unbiblical as the Rapture and the bad theology that surrounds it. And the pessimism it encourages is just as corrosive.  Why have kids?  Why work?  Why pay your credit card bills? Why do anything?  The world is going to hell, despite God’s efforts, and regardless of anything I could possibly do.  Its all going to burn anyway.  With this conceptual scheme, the sooner you die after your baptism, the better.

Some ancient Stoics had similar ideas.  To remain logically consistent in their framework, they committed suicide. Better to die sooner rather than later. Especially if things get unbearable, as they did for Cato when Julius Caesar’s victory was assured. I was reminded of the Stoic’s choice while reading the following snippet from an article in the LA Times, about people who quit their jobs or did other foolish things because they believed this false prophet:

Keith Bauer, a 38-year-old tractor-trailer driver from Westminster, Md., took last week off from work, packed his wife, young son and a relative in their SUV and crossed the country.

If it was his last week on Earth, he wanted to see parts of it he’d always heard about but missed, such as the Grand Canyon. With maxed-out credit cards and a growing mountain of bills, he said, the rapture would have been a relief.

If he is so eager to leave this world, the Stoic’s answer of suicide would seem to solve the same problems. What a relief! That may sound harsh,  but it’s where this theological framework logically leads.

Instead of the battalions of God conquering the world (but not with the weapons of the world), we become content to hold down the fort while everything collapses around us, waiting for God to come to the rescue, even though he has already equipped us for every good work. Occasionally, we muster up the courage to open the gates and attempt to break the siege, but we always go back behind the walls to our spiritual ghettos.

This is where I used to fall.  I laughed at the idea of the Rapture, even though my eschatology caused me to have the same outlook and attitude as many of those who hold to the Rapture.  But at least I didn’t believe in the Rapture! I bore the same sour fruit, yet assumed I was a different tree.  Now that’s true silliness.

Eschatology matters.  We dismiss it sometimes, thinking, for some baffling reason, that the destination has no bearing on the journey.  But it influences the path taken.  It influences the mode of travel chosen. It influences the mindset of the travelers. In other words, it colors everything about the journey. This is one lesson we can’t afford to miss, and one this Rapture nonsense should drill into our heads.

Did you see other categories of mockers during this latest Rapture scare?  Did anything cause you to step back and look at your own beliefs?