Death-Dealing Famine in a Time of Plenty
“My own servants will eat, but you yourselves will go hungry.”—ISAIAH 65:13.
1, 2. (a) With what problem do the nations struggle in vain? (b) To what realistic hope does the Bible point?
THE specter of famine hovers over the entire world! Commenting on the crisis, an editorial in The Boston Globe stated: “A world with nearly a billion persons living close to starvation has to find ways to help the poorest nations to enjoy something approaching the bounty reaped by the richest nations.” However, even technically advanced nations, so-called, cannot claim total exemption from food shortages. These have also failed to come up with a program to ensure that all their citizens will be fed. Concerned humanists struggle with the growing problem. Is there a solution?
2 The above-quoted editorial admitted: “The most disheartening aspect of undernourishment . . . is that the world has a clear-cut capacity to feed everyone.” Yet the scourge of famine and starvation keeps on advancing. Why should this be so? Our loving Creator has provided amply for all earth’s teeming billions. In preparing the earth as man’s home, he made it capable of producing an abundance, more than enough for all. (Psalm 72:16-19; 104:15, 16, 24) Even in these troublous times, we are assured that our Grand Provider will furnish sufficient food for those who look to the right Source. Through the One whom he gave as the great Food Administrator, he tells us: “Keep on . . . seeking first the kingdom and [God’s] righteousness, and all these other things [life’s material necessities] will be added to you.”—Matthew 6:33; 1 John 4:14.
A Death-Dealing Famine
3. What is the famine of greatest significance, and how was it foretold?
3 Of greatest significance on earth today is the deplorable spiritual famine. It is directly related to the lack of peace. Mankind is staggering around, searching frantically for a way out. The almighty God caused his prophet to write of this situation many centuries ago, saying: “‘Look! There are days coming,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, ‘and I will send a famine into the land, a famine, not for bread, and a thirst, not for water, but for hearing the words of Jehovah. And they will certainly stagger from sea all the way to sea, and from north even to the sunrise. They will keep roving about while searching for the word of Jehovah, but they will not find it.’”—Amos 8:11, 12.
4, 5. (a) Why do some not find God though they search for him? (b) How did Jesus contrast with the religious leaders of his day? (Matthew 15:1-14)
4 However, is there a way out of the impasse? The apostle Paul answers yes, encouraging us with the words: “The God that made the world . . . decreed the appointed times and the set limits of the dwelling of men, for them to seek God, if they might grope for him and really find him, although, in fact, he is not far off from each one of us.”—Acts 17:24-27.
5 If God is “not far off from each one of us,” why is it that many grope for him, yet do not find him? It is because they are searching for him in the wrong places. How many who call themselves Christians personally consult the basic textbook of Christianity, the Holy Bible? How many so-called “shepherds” use God’s Word to teach the “sheep”? (Compare Ezekiel 34:10.) Jesus told the proud religious leaders of his day that they knew “neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29; John 5:44) However, Jesus both knew the Scriptures and taught them to the people, for whom he felt pity “because they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.”—Matthew 9:36.
How a Time of Plenty?
6. As to spiritual plenty, how does Jehovah reassure his servants?
6 Jehovah reassures and encourages those sincerely seeking to know him. In reproving false religious shepherds, he says through his prophet Isaiah: “Look! My own servants will eat, but you yourselves will go hungry. Look! My own servants will drink, but you yourselves will go thirsty. Look! My own servants will rejoice, but you yourselves will suffer shame.” (Isaiah 65:13, 14) But how does God provide plenty for his own servants? What must we do to share with joy in his provision for the preservation of life, despite today’s spiritual famine?
7. What ancient drama was lovingly provided for our encouragement today?
7 Since survival depends so completely on our knowing God’s requirements and acting in faith on them, we should gladly go to God’s Word, seeking to know his will for us and to discern his manner of dealing with us. (John 17:3) To this end, we will now consider a Biblical drama that parallels what is happening today. The central character in this drama is the patriarch Joseph. As Jehovah made wise provision for His people through Joseph, so He lovingly leads those who search for Him today.—Compare Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11, Reference Bible footnote (*); Galatians 4:24.
Joseph, Preserver of Life
8, 9. (a) What parallels do we find in later times for Joseph and for Jacob and Pharaoh? (b) How may we ourselves be involved in the fulfillment?
8 As a preserver of life, Joseph the son of Jacob played a striking role. Does this depict something in later times? Well, consider Joseph’s endurance of undeserved treatment by his brothers, his coping with tests and trials in a foreign land, his unshakable faith, his maintaining integrity, and his being exalted to the position of wise administrator in a time of catastrophic famine. (Genesis 39:1-3, 7-9; 41:38-41) Do we not see a parallel in the life course of Jesus?
9 It was through adversity that Jesus became the Bread of Life amid a world that is starved “for hearing the words of Jehovah.” (Amos 8:11; Hebrews 5:8, 9; John 6:35) In their relations with Joseph, both Jacob and Pharaoh remind us of Jehovah and what he accomplishes through his Son. (John 3:17, 34; 20:17; Romans 8:15, 16; Luke 4:18) There were others also who shared in acting out this real-life drama, and we will consider their parts with interest. We will no doubt be reminded of our own dependency upon the Greater Joseph, Christ Jesus. How thankful we are that he preserves us from death-dealing famine during these worsening “last days”!—2 Timothy 3:1, 13.
The Drama Unfolds
10. (a) How was Joseph prepared for the responsible role he was to play? (b) What qualities did he display early in life?
10 In Joseph’s day, no human could have known in advance what Jehovah had in store for His people. But by the time Joseph was called on to fulfill his vital role, Jehovah had already trained and perfected him as to his qualifications. With regard to his early life, the account reads: “Joseph, when seventeen years old, happened to be tending sheep with his brothers among the flock, and, being but a boy, he was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, the wives of his father. So Joseph brought a bad report about them to their father.” (Genesis 37:2) He showed loyalty to his father’s interests even as Jesus was unswervingly loyal in tending his Father’s flock amid a “faithless and twisted generation.”—Matthew 17:17, 22, 23.
11. (a) Why did Joseph’s half brothers come to hate him? (b) What similar situation involved Jesus?
11 Joseph’s father, Israel, came to love him more than all his brothers and favored him by having a long, striped shirtlike garment made for him. Because of this, Joseph’s half brothers “began to hate him, and they were not able to speak peacefully to him.” They found further reason to hate him when he had two dreams that they interpreted to mean he would dominate over them. In like manner, the leaders among the Jews came to hate Jesus because of his loyalty, his persuasive teaching, and Jehovah’s obvious blessing upon him.—Genesis 37:3-11; John 7:46; 8:40.
12. (a) Why was Jacob concerned about the welfare of his sons? (b) What parallel do we find between Joseph’s course and that of Jesus?
12 In time, Joseph’s brothers were tending sheep near Shechem. Joseph’s father was properly concerned because it was there that Shechem had defiled Dinah, so that Simeon and Levi, with their brothers, had killed the men of that city. Jacob asked Joseph to go and see about their welfare and report back to him. Despite his brothers’ animosity toward him, Joseph immediately set out to find them. In like fashion, Jesus gladly accepted Jehovah’s assignment here on earth, even though it would mean great suffering during his perfecting as the Chief Agent of salvation. In his endurance, what a fine exemplar Jesus became for all of us!—Genesis 34:25-27; 37:12-17; Hebrews 2:10; 12:1, 2.
13. (a) How did Joseph’s half brothers vent their hatred? (b) To what may Jacob’s sorrow be compared?
13 Joseph’s ten half brothers saw him coming at a distance. Immediately their anger flared up against him, and they schemed to get rid of him. At first they planned to kill him. But Reuben, out of fear for his responsibility as firstborn, prevailed upon them to pitch Joseph into a dry waterpit, expecting to return later and free him. Meantime, however, Judah persuaded his brothers to sell him as a slave to some Ishmaelites whose caravan was passing. The brothers then took Joseph’s long garment and dipped it into the blood of a male goat and sent it to their father. When Jacob examined it, he exclaimed: “It is my son’s long garment! A vicious wild beast must have devoured him! Joseph is surely torn to pieces!” Jehovah must have felt similar grief over Jesus’ suffering as he fulfilled his assignment on earth.—Genesis 37:18-35; 1 John 4:9, 10.
Joseph in Egypt
14. How may this ancient drama benefit us today?
14 We must not conclude that the fulfillments of the dramatic events involving Joseph take place in exact chronological sequence. Rather, we find back there a series of patterns that are for our instruction and encouragement today. As the apostle Paul states: “All the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction, that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope. Now may the God who supplies endurance and comfort grant you to have among yourselves the same mental attitude that Christ Jesus had, that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”—Romans 15:4-6.
15. Why did Joseph and the house of Potiphar prosper?
15 Joseph was taken to Egypt, and there he was sold to an Egyptian named Potiphar, the chief of Pharaoh’s bodyguard. Jehovah proved to be with Joseph, who continued to live by the fine principles that his father had instilled in him, even though he was far away from his father’s house. Joseph did not abandon Jehovah’s worship. His master, Potiphar, got to appreciate Joseph’s outstanding qualities and placed him over his entire household. Jehovah kept blessing the house of Potiphar because of Joseph.—Genesis 37:36; 39:1-6.
16, 17. (a) How did Joseph meet a further test of integrity? (b) Joseph’s experience in prison shows what direction of matters?
16 It was there that the wife of Potiphar tried to seduce Joseph. He kept refusing her. One day she grabbed hold of his garment, but he fled, leaving it in her hand. Before Potiphar, she accused Joseph of making immoral advances, and Potiphar had Joseph thrown into prison. For a time he was put in fetters of iron. But throughout the adversities of his prison experience, Joseph continued to prove that he was a man of integrity. Thus, the keeper of the prison placed him in charge of all the prisoners.—Genesis 39:7-23; Psalm 105:17, 18.
17 In the course of time, Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and chief baker displeased him and were imprisoned. Joseph was assigned to minister to them. Again, Jehovah maneuvered matters. The two court officials had dreams that perplexed them. After emphasizing that “interpretations belong to God,” Joseph told them what the dreams meant. And just as Joseph had indicated, three days later (on Pharaoh’s birthday) the cupbearer was restored to his position, but the chief baker was hanged.—Genesis 40:1-22.
18. (a) How did Joseph come to be remembered? (b) What was the substance of Pharaoh’s dreams?
18 Though Joseph had implored the cupbearer to speak to Pharaoh in his behalf, two years passed before the man remembered Joseph. Even then, this was only because of Pharaoh’s twice having perplexing dreams in one night. When none of the king’s magic-practicing priests could unravel their meaning, the cupbearer told Pharaoh that Joseph could interpret dreams. So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, who humbly pointed to the Source of true interpretations, saying: “God will announce welfare to Pharaoh.” Egypt’s ruler then related the dreams to Joseph, as follows:
“Here I was standing on the bank of the river Nile. And here ascending out of the river Nile were seven cows fat-fleshed and beautiful in form, and they began to feed among the Nile grass. And here there were seven other cows ascending after them, poor and very bad in form and thin-fleshed. For badness I have not seen the like of them in all the land of Egypt. And the skinny and bad cows began to eat up the first seven fat cows. So these came into their bellies, and yet it could not be known that they had come into their bellies, as their appearance was bad just as at the start. . . .
“After that I saw in my dream and here there were seven ears of grain coming up on one stalk, full and good. And here there were seven ears of grain shriveled, thin, scorched by the east wind, growing up after them. And the thin ears of grain began to swallow up the seven good ears of grain. So I stated it to the magic-practicing priests, but there was none telling me.”—Genesis 40:23–41:24.
19. (a) How did Joseph show humility? (b) What message was conveyed by the interpretation of the dreams?
19 What strange dreams! How could anyone explain them? Joseph did, but not for his own self-glory. He said: “The dream of Pharaoh is but one. What the true God is doing . . . he has caused Pharaoh to see.” Then Joseph went on to reveal the powerful prophetic message of those dreams, saying:
“Here there are seven years coming with great plenty in all the land of Egypt. But seven years of famine will certainly arise after them, and all the plenty in the land of Egypt will certainly be forgotten and the famine will simply consume the land. . . . And the fact that the dream was repeated to Pharaoh twice means that the thing is firmly established on the part of the true God, and the true God is speeding to do it.”—Genesis 41:25-32.
20, 21. (a) How did Pharaoh react to the warning? (b) At this point, how may Joseph and Jesus be compared?
20 What could Pharaoh do about this impending famine? Joseph recommended that Pharaoh make preparation by setting a discreet and wise man over the land to store the surplus harvest of the good years. By now Pharaoh had recognized Joseph’s outstanding qualities. Removing his signet ring from his own hand and putting it upon the hand of Joseph, Pharaoh thus appointed him over all the land of Egypt.—Genesis 41:33-46.
21 Joseph was 30 years old when he stood before Pharaoh, the same age as Jesus Christ when he was baptized and began his life-giving ministry. The article that follows will show how Joseph was used by Jehovah in foreshadowing Jehovah’s “Chief Agent and Savior” in time of spiritual famine with special reference to our own day.—Acts 3:15; 5:31.
How Do You Answer?
□ In what twofold way is famine a menace today?
□ What fine qualities did Joseph cultivate while with his half brothers?
□ What can we learn from Joseph’s early experiences in Egypt?
□ Jehovah’s concern for Joseph and the famine-stricken people assures us of what?
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A columnist in The Sunday Star (Toronto, March 30, 1986) said of the so-called mainline churches: “Where they are failing badly is in making contact with the deep spiritual hunger of today’s men, women and young people”