Aug 19, 2019

The Ethics of Joseph’s Famine Policy

Interpreters often express some trepidation related to Joseph's policies regrading famine relief (Gen 47:13-26). Some view his approach as being exploitative at best and unjust at worst. While such concerns might owe more to reading Joseph's actions through the lens of the current populist ethos reflected in such movements as the "we are the 99%," it is an issue that should be addressed in preaching and teaching this text in Genesis. To this end at least four observations should be kept in mind.

  1. There is no explicit criticism or embarrassment concerning Joseph's policies or actions in the text. 
  2. Joseph’s actions are portrayed positively as life-saving (vv. 15, 19, 25). There is no indication of popular resentment in the text.
  3. There is no indication that Joseph’s actions were self-serving or self-enriching. 
  4. Although, one might argue that the terms were unfair, Joseph's policies involved meaningful exchanges and therefore, not merely one-sided.
  5. One must exercise caution in viewing the past in light of present cultural and ethical concerns.

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