● Gen 41:53-54 . . At last the seven years of plenty came to an end. Then the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had predicted. There were crop failures in all the surrounding countries, too, but in Egypt there was plenty of grain in the storehouses.
Joseph had made no mention of the misfortunes of Egypt's neighbors to Pharaoh. But now comes out the reason for Egypt's incredible over-abundance during the good years. It wasn't meant just to sustain their own selves that God had so blessed the Egyptians, no, all around them countries were effected, became desperate, and forced to look outside themselves for relief.
In order for the countries all around Egypt to experience the famine, it would mean that they too were experiencing severe reductions in annual rainfall. Though northern Egypt, around the Nile delta, normally receives very little rain to begin with, it's agriculture prospers because of heavy rainfalls way down in Africa that feed tributaries flowing into the Nile; e.g. the Blue Nile. We're talking about a massive watershed encompassing several thousands of square miles of Africa's countryside. And that, added to the surrounding countries, really adds up to an incredibly large geographic area effected by an unbelievable large-scale drought.
● Gen 41:53-56 . .Throughout the land of Egypt the people began to starve. They pleaded with Pharaoh for food, and he told them; Go to Joseph and do whatever he tells you. So with severe famine everywhere in the land, Joseph opened up the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians.
Advocates of a welfare state might question Joseph's ethical integrity and want to know why he "sold" grain to his fellow citizens instead of just doling it out in soup lines. Well, for one thing, quite a few of the Egyptians had good incomes (Ex 3:20-22, Ex 11:2). They were quite prosperous and could easily afford to pay-- at least at first. Secondly, Joseph answered to a higher power than himself. It was his duty to look out for Pharaoh's best interests, and make sure his boss received adequate taxes even during lean years (cf. Matt 25:14-30, 1Cor 4:1-2, 1Pet 4:10).
● Gen 41:57 . . And people from surrounding lands also came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph because the famine was severe throughout the world.
The "world" likely refers to a political region rather than geographical. In other words; the world in Gen 41:57 was their world rather than the whole planet. Compare that to the world of Jesus' day.
"Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, "See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!" (John 12:18-19).
Wherever the famine was, it was severe; as opposed to severe in some places while tolerable in others; viz: nobody had it good. Wherever that famine went, if it went there at all, then it was all bad rather than some bad and some not so bad.
At this point, Joseph had been away from home for twenty years (cf. Gen 37:2, Gen 41:46, Gen 41:53) and had seen neither his dad nor his brothers even once in all that time. When he was sold into slavery, Joseph was just a young teen-ager; now he's in his late thirties. He was just a boy then; now he's a man.
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