Preserving Life in Time of Famine
1. What wise action did Joseph take during the years of plenty, and with what result?
IMMEDIATELY after his appointment as food administrator, Joseph toured the land of Egypt. He had matters well organized by the time the years of plenty began. Now the land yielded its produce by the handfuls! Joseph kept collecting the foodstuffs from the field around each city, storing it up in the city. He kept “piling up grain in very great quantity, like the sand of the sea, until finally they gave up counting it, because it was without number.”—Genesis 41:46-49.
2. At what personal sacrifice were the people able to obtain sustenance?
2 The seven years of plenty ended, and the famine began as Jehovah had foretold—a famine not just in Egypt but “over all the surface of the earth.” When the famished people in Egypt began to cry out to Pharaoh for bread, Pharaoh told them: “Go to Joseph. Whatever he says to you, you are to do.” Joseph sold grain to the Egyptians until their money ran out. Then he accepted their livestock in payment. Finally, the people came to Joseph, saying: “Buy us and our land for bread, and we together with our land will become slaves to Pharaoh.” So Joseph bought all the land of the Egyptians for Pharaoh.—Genesis 41:53-57; 47:13-20.
Provision for Spiritual Feeding
3. What agency did Jesus foretell for providing food at the proper time?
3 Just as the grain distributed by Joseph meant life to the Egyptians, so true spiritual food is essential for sustaining Christians who become slaves of Jehovah by their dedication to Him through the Greater Joseph, Jesus Christ. During his earthly ministry, Jesus foretold that his anointed footstep followers would bear the responsibility of dispensing these provisions. He asked: “Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so.”—Matthew 24:45, 46.
4. How does the provision made by the “slave” class today correspond with what was organized in Joseph’s day?
4 The faithful remnant of this “discreet slave” class today go to any Scriptural lengths to see that Jehovah’s dedicated witnesses, as well as interested people out in the world, receive life-sustaining spiritual food. This trust is recognized as a sacred duty and is performed as a sacred service to Jehovah. Moreover, the “slave” has organized congregations and supplied these with Bible literature in such quantity that they have ample Kingdom “seed” for scattering publicly in their assigned fields. This corresponds to Joseph’s day, when he gathered the people into cities and provided them with grain not only for sustenance but also for sowing with a later harvest in view.—Genesis 47:21-25; Mark 4:14, 20; Matthew 28:19, 20.
5. (a) What special attention does the “slave” pay to household needs in time of crisis? (b) How does the “overflow” of spiritual provisions in 1986 compare with supplies back in Joseph’s time?
5 Even when the public preaching work is under ban and Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted, the ‘faithful slave’ views this providing of spiritual food as a sacred trust. (Acts 5:29, 41, 42; 14:19-22) When disaster strikes, such as by storms, floods, and earthquakes, the “slave” sees to it that both the physical and the spiritual needs of God’s household are supplied. Even those in concentration camps have been reached regularly with the printed word. National boundaries are not permitted to stop the flow of spiritual food to those needing it. Keeping up the supply requires courage, faith in Jehovah, and often considerable ingenuity. Worldwide during 1986 alone, the “slave” produced an overflow of 43,958,303 Bibles and hardcovered books, as well as 550,216,455 magazines—truly a “very great quantity, like the sand of the sea.”
Retaliation, Punishment, or Mercy?
6, 7. (a) How did the famine result in the ten half brothers’ prostrating themselves before Joseph? (b) In what ways was Joseph himself now on trial?
6 Eventually the famine came to the land of Canaan. Jacob sent the ten half brothers of Joseph down to Egypt to buy grain. But he did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s only full brother, for fear, as he said, that “a fatal accident may befall him.” Since Joseph was the one who did the selling, his brothers came to him and prostrated themselves before him. Though they did not recognize their brother, Joseph knew them.—Genesis 42:1-7.
7 Joseph now remembered his earlier dreams concerning them. But what was he to do? Should he retaliate? In their time of great need, should he forgive the treatment he had received at their hands? What of his father’s agonizing grief? Should this be forgotten? How did his brothers now feel about the great wrong they had committed? Joseph, too, was on trial in this matter. Would his actions be in line with the attitude that the Greater Joseph, Jesus Christ, would show later, as described at 1 Peter 2:22, 23: “He committed no sin, nor was deception found in his mouth. When he was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening, but kept on committing himself to the one who judges righteously.”
8. By what would Joseph be guided, illustrating what with regard to Jesus and His disciples?
8 Since Joseph could see Jehovah’s hand in the outworking of events, he would be careful to observe God’s laws and principles. In the same way, Jesus was always eager to ‘do the will of his Father’ as he dispensed everlasting life to ‘everyone exercising faith in him.’ (John 6:37-40) As “ambassadors substituting for Christ,” his anointed disciples also fulfill their sacred trust in “speaking to the people all the sayings about this life.”—2 Corinthians 5:20; Acts 5:20.
9, 10. (a) What course did Joseph now take, and why? (b) How did Joseph show compassion comparable to what Jesus would show?
9 Joseph did not reveal himself to his brothers right away. Instead, he spoke to them harshly through an interpreter, saying: “You are spies!” Since they had mentioned a younger brother, Joseph demanded that they prove their truthfulness by bringing this one down to Egypt. Joseph overheard them saying repentantly to one another that this turn of events must be in recompense for their selling him, Joseph, into slavery. Turning aside, Joseph wept. Nevertheless, he had Simeon bound as hostage until they returned with Benjamin.—Genesis 42:9-24.
10 Joseph was not retaliating for the wrong done to him. He wanted to determine whether their repentance was genuine, from the depths of their hearts, so that they might be shown mercy. (Malachi 3:7; James 4:8) With a compassionate attitude, comparable to the one Jesus would display, Joseph not only filled their sacks with grain but also returned their money to them in the mouth of each one’s sack. Additionally, he gave them provisions for their journey.—Genesis 42:25-35; compare Matthew 11:28-30.
11 In time, they finished the food they had bought in Egypt. Jacob asked the nine sons to return and buy more. Previously, he had pleaded with regard to Benjamin, saying: “My son will not go down with you men, because his brother is dead and he has been left by himself. If a fatal accident should befall him on the way on which you would go, then you would certainly bring down my gray hairs with grief to Sheol.” However, after much persuasion and Judah’s offer to become personally responsible for Benjamin, Jacob reluctantly agrees to allow them to take the boy with them.—Genesis 42:36–43:14.
12, 13. (a) How did Joseph impose a test to reveal the heart attitude of his brothers? (b) How did the result give Joseph a basis for showing mercy?
12 When Joseph saw that Benjamin had come with the brothers, he invited them to his house, where he spread a feast. For Benjamin he provided a portion five times that of the portion for each of the others. Then Joseph made a final test of his brothers. Again, he returned all their money in their individual sacks, but his own special silver cup was placed in the mouth of Benjamin’s sack. After their departure, Joseph sent his house manager to accuse them of theft and to search their sacks for his cup. When it was found in Benjamin’s sack, the brothers ripped their mantles apart. They were led back to face Joseph. Judah made an impassioned plea for mercy, offering to become a slave in Benjamin’s place so that the boy could be returned to his father.—Genesis 43:15–44:34.
13 Convinced now of his brothers’ change of heart, Joseph could no longer control his emotions. After ordering everyone else to go out from him, Joseph declared: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now do not feel hurt and do not be angry with yourselves because you sold me here; because for the preservation of life God has sent me ahead of you . . . in order to place a remnant for you men in the earth and to keep you alive by a great escape.” He then said to his brothers: “Go up quickly to my father, and you must say to him, ‘ . . . Come down to me. Do not delay. And you must dwell in the land of Goshen, and . . . I will supply you with food there, for there are yet five years of famine; for fear you and your house and everything you have may come to poverty.’”—Genesis 45:4-15.
14. What joyful news was conveyed to Jacob?
14 When Pharaoh heard the news about Joseph’s brothers, he told Joseph to have wagons taken from the land of Egypt to bring his father and all of his family to Egypt because the best of the land was to be theirs. Hearing all that had happened, Jacob was revived in spirit and exclaimed: “It is enough! Joseph my son is still alive! Ah, let me go and see him before I die!”—Genesis 45:16-28.
Spiritual Food Aplenty
15. To whom do we now look for spiritual sustenance, and how may we be assured of an abundance?
15 What does all of this mean for us today? Ever conscious of our spiritual need, we look to One far greater than the kindly Pharaoh of Joseph’s time. It is the Sovereign Lord Jehovah who provides sustenance and guidance through these dark days of a world starved for Bible truth. We have exerted ourselves in the interests of his Kingdom, bringing our tithes, as it were, into his storehouse. How generously he has opened to us “the floodgates of the heavens,” pouring out a blessing “until there is no more want”!—Malachi 3:10.
16. (a) Where only is life-preserving “food” to be found today? (b) How has the sowing of “grain” in behalf of famished mankind been expanded?
16 At Jehovah’s right hand is his Food Administrator, now the enthroned King, the glorified Jesus. (Acts 2:34-36) As the people had to sell themselves as slaves to keep alive, so all today who want to keep living must come to Jesus, becoming his followers dedicated to God. (Luke 9:23, 24) As Jacob directed his sons to go to Joseph for food, so Jehovah guides repentant humans to his beloved Son, Jesus Christ. (John 6:44, 48-51) Jesus gathers his followers into citylike congregations—more than 52,000 strong throughout the world today—where they are fed from a bounty of spiritual food and are supplied with an overflow of “grain,” as “seed” for sowing in the field. (Genesis 47:23, 24; Matthew 13:4-9, 18-23) Willing workers are these witnesses of Jehovah! More and more of them are volunteering for full-time pioneer service, with as many as 595,896 of them sharing, as a peak, in this privileged work in one month last year. That averages out at more than 11 pioneers in each congregation!
17. What other prophetic account has a similarity to the uniting of the ten half brothers with Joseph?
17 It is noteworthy that all ten of Joseph’s half brothers, now repentant of former attitudes and actions, were united with him down in Egypt, which, along with Sodom, typifies the world in which Jesus was impaled. (Revelation 11:8) This reminds us of Zechariah 8:20-23, which climaxes with a description of “ten men” who say, “We will go with you people,” that is, with Jehovah’s anointed people, of whom a remnant still serve here on earth.
18. The special favor shown to Benjamin resembles what in modern times?
18 However, what of Joseph’s one full brother, Benjamin, whose hard birth cost the life of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel? Benjamin was specially favored by Joseph, who no doubt felt a closer intimacy with this son of his own mother. This most likely accounts for Benjamin’s receiving the fivefold portion when all 12 brothers were first reunited at the feast in Joseph’s house. Does not Benjamin well portray the remnant of anointed Witnesses today, most of those who survive having been gathered to the Lord’s side since 1919? This “Benjamin” class have indeed received a special portion from Jehovah, as his ‘spirit bears witness with their spirit.’ (Romans 8:16) These, too, have been tested as to their integrity while the Lord’s “sheep” have ministered to them.—Matthew 25:34-40.
19. What parallel is to be observed between the moving of the households of Israel to Goshen and the gathering of God’s people today?
19 It is of interest that, when Pharaoh arranged to transport Jacob and his households to Egypt, all the male “souls” who settled there numbered 70, a multiple of 7 and 10. (Genesis 46:26, 27) These two numbers are used significantly throughout the Scriptures, “7” often indicating heavenly and “10” earthly completeness. (Revelation 1:4, 12, 16; 2:10; 17:12) This parallels the situation today, when we may expect that Jehovah will gather into his “land,” the spiritual paradise in which we now rejoice, every last one of his family of Witnesses. (Compare Ephesians 1:10.) “Jehovah knows those who belong to him,” and even now he is settling them in “the very best of the land,” as was Goshen back in Pharaoh’s domain.—Genesis 47:5, 6; 2 Timothy 2:19.
20. Despite the spiritual famine today, why must we rejoice?
20 In Joseph’s day, the years of famine followed the years of plenty. Today, they run concurrently. In contrast with the spiritual famine in the land outside of Jehovah’s favor, there is an abundance of spiritual food in Jehovah’s place of worship. (Isaiah 25:6-9; Revelation 7:16, 17) Yes, although there is a famine for hearing the words of Jehovah in Christendom, as Amos foretold, the word of Jehovah does go forth out of heavenly Jerusalem. How that makes us rejoice!—Amos 8:11; Isaiah 2:2, 3; 65:17, 18.
21. (a) What great privilege do we enjoy today? (b) For what should we be grateful, and how may we express our thanks?
21 Today, under the direction of the Greater Joseph, Jesus Christ, we have the great privilege to be gathered into citylike congregations. There we can feast on an abundance of rich spiritual food and also sow seeds of truth and spread the good news that spiritual food is available. This we do for the benefit of all who accept the terms and provisions lovingly arranged for by the Sovereign Ruler, Jehovah. How grateful we can be to our God for the gift of his Son, the Greater Joseph, who serves as the wise Administrator of spiritual food! It is he who has been delegated by Jehovah to act as the Preserver of life in this time of spiritual famine. May each one of us show diligence in rendering sacred service after his example and under his leadership!
Do You See the Parallel?
◻ How did Joseph resemble Jesus as Food Administrator?
◻ What in the Joseph drama compares with becoming slaves to God through dedication?
◻ What quality was shown by Joseph and by Jesus as an example for us today?
◻ As in Joseph’s time, what thorough arrangement for food distribution exists today?
◻ What should our consideration of this drama impel us to do?
[Pictures on page 16, 17]
In a world engulfed by spiritual famine, the Greater Joseph provides plentifully for all who come to him in faith
As the ten half brothers showed submission to Joseph, a great crowd now acknowledges Christ
Like the 70 souls of Jacob’s household, the complete number of Jehovah’s “sheep” arrive in a good “land”—the spiritual paradise we now enjoy
[Picture on page 18]
The modern-day Benjamin class have been specially favored by Christ, receiving an abundance of “food at the proper time”