Desperate Times, Desperate Measures—and Grace

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures—and Grace

Our passage this morning exemplifies the proverb, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” As we’ve seen, in the case of those living in Egypt and surrounding regions, the reason for the desperation was that they were in the throes of a terrible famine. This famine was no surprise to Pharaoh for God had disclosed to him by way of two dreams that Joseph later interpreted that seven years of abundance would be followed by seven years of famine.[1] It would no doubt have been difficult to imagine the severity of such a famine during those years of plenty. And as Genesis 47 opens, the famine had already been taking place for at least two years.[2] But, as we’ll see, things were about to become much worse.

As stated in verse 13, “There was no food…in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine.” Due to the severity of the famine, verse 14, “Joseph collected all the money that was to be found in Egypt and Canaan in payment for the grain they were buying, and he brought it to Pharaoh’s palace.” Now as in the past, Joseph’s conscientious and responsible ways were in full display. He was a ruler par excellence.

However, things continued to get worse and worse. Therefore, as stated in verse 15, “When the money of the people of Egypt and Canaan was gone, all Egypt came to Joseph and said, ‘Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? Our money is all gone.’” The desperate times had become even more desperate. But we continue to see how Joseph’s considerable administrative skills were in play as he told the people that, since their money was gone, they were to bring him their livestock in exchange for food.[3] Therefore, verse 17, “…they brought their livestock to Joseph, and he gave them food in exchange for their horses, their sheep and goats, their cattle and donkeys. And he brought them through that year with food in exchange for all their livestock.” Thus we see how the food provided as a result of this exchange was sufficient to meet the needs of this multitude of people—at least for a year.

However, once that year ended, the people again returned to Joseph the following year. As stated beginning with verse 18, they said to him,

We cannot hide from our lord the fact that since our money is gone and our livestock belongs to you, there is nothing left for our lord except our bodies and our land. 19 Why should we perish before your eyes—we and our land as well? Buy us and our land in exchange for food, and we with our land will be in bondage to Pharaoh. Give us seed so that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become desolate.

Yet again we see how these desperate times called for desperate measures for although the food generated from the sale of the people’s livestock to Joseph had been sufficient to feed them, it had been sufficient for only one year. Therefore what were they to do? There was nothing left for them to offer Joseph but their land and their very selves. This is how desperate they had become. It was either that—or death.

Joseph gave these poor, desperate people another chance at life, accepting their offer to sell him all that they had left. As stated in verses 20–21, “20 So Joseph bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh. The Egyptians, one and all, sold their fields, because the famine was too severe for them. The land became Pharaoh’s, 21 and Joseph reduced the people to servitude, from one end of Egypt to the other.” So all the people of Egypt sold their land and themselves to Joseph. Two notable exceptions to this servitude and selling off of land are first, the priests who, as noted in verse 22, “received a regular allotment from Pharaoh and had food enough from the allotment Pharaoh gave them.” Consequently, they didn’t sell Joseph their land.[4] Second, Joseph’s family didn’t sell any land. As we’ve seen, Pharaoh had allowed them to settle in Goshen, the best part of the land.[5] And while in Goshen, as stated in verse 27, “They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number.” Whereas most of the people in Egypt were languishing, Jacob and his family were prospering. They were able not only to acquire property but also increased in number. All of this was in keeping with what the LORD had promised Joseph’s great grandfather Abraham,[6] his grandfather Isaac,[7] and his father Jacob.[8] During this time of famine, they managed not only to survive but prospered. Therefore they were able to feed and provide for themselves and thereby escaped the servitude that the rest of Egypt had been placed under.

However, the servitude under which the Egyptian people were placed was a unique one. Having hit what was no doubt their lowest point, they were given hope by Joseph who allowed them to provide for themselves. As stated in verses 23–24, Joseph told the people, “Now that I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh, here is seed for you so you can plant the ground. 24 But when the crop comes in, give a fifth of it to Pharaoh. The other four-fifths you may keep as seed for the fields and as food for yourselves and your households and your children.” In essence, Joseph found a way for the people to live freely off of the seed he had provided them—and this despite their servitude. They and their families would be allowed to keep four fifths of whatever crops they grew so long as they gave a fifth of the proceeds to Pharaoh. This was the very arrangement that had been put in place at the beginning of the seven years of plenty. If you’ll recall, upon interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph had said to him,

33 And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. 36 This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine. [9]

Joseph, of course, was the “discerning and wise man” chosen by Pharaoh to be placed in charge of the land of Egypt. As a result of his leadership, the people who had now been placed in servitude would be able to continue living as they had during the years of plenty. And, as noted in verse 26, the policy Joseph enacted ended up outliving his rule.[10]

It’s evident by the people’s reaction that they well understood the generosity of Joseph’s offer. As recorded in verse 25, they said to him, “You have saved our lives… May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh.” This reaction is one of pure gratitude, relief, and delight for the people would no longer need to worry about where their next meal was coming from. By means of Joseph’s plan they would have enough to provide for themselves and continue to pay their debt to Pharaoh. Joseph had, indeed, saved their lives in the midst of the unrelenting famine.

Well, in the way in which Joseph provided for the Egyptians we may perhaps see yet another way in which he is a type, an Old Testament historical figure who foreshadows and points to Jesus Christ. For in Joseph providing food and thereby saving the lives not only of his family—of Israel his father and his brothers and their households—but also of the Egyptians, we find an anticipation at the micro level of what our gracious Lord Jesus did—and does—at the macro level. As Joseph provided food for the people’s earthly lives, so too does Jesus provide food not only for our earthly lives but for all eternity.

The beginning of the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel relates how Jesus fed well over five thousand people[11] with but “five small barley loaves and two small fish” provided by a boy.[12] As stated in verse 11, “Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.”[13] Once everyone had eaten, twelve baskets full of the leftover pieces of the five barley loaves were collected.[14] The people took this miracle to be a sign, saying, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”[15]

Some time later,[16] the crowd again sought Jesus out. Jesus took this opportunity to offer them something far more precious than the bread and fish he had earlier provided them. Knowing their hearts, he said to them, verse 26, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” But then Jesus sought to draw them to himself saying, verse 27, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” In stating this, Jesus drew their attention away from physical food and place it instead upon spiritual food—spiritual food that only he, the Son of Man upon whom the Father had placed his seal of approval (think of Jesus’ baptism[17] and Transfiguration[18]), could provide them.

Now since Jesus told the people not to work for food that spoils, they naturally asked what works God required for obtaining such eternal life-giving food.[19] Jesus’ answer to them is found in verse 29: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” Unlike earthly food which one must work to obtain, “food that endures to eternal life” can only be obtained by grace, by God’s unmerited favor; it can only be obtained by believing in the one the heavenly Father has sent, Jesus Christ, his eternal Son.

After answering some questions concerning the manna that God had provided Moses,[20] Jesus contrasted the bread Moses gave with the “true bread from heaven.” Thus for a second time Jesus distinguished earthly bread that is able to feed only for the moment with eternal bread that endures to eternal life; eternal bread that only God, who is eternal, is able to provide. Jesus again affirmed and underscored this point saying, verse 33, “For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” This divine bread gives eternal life “to the world”—that is, not only to Jews but also to Gentiles.[21] Having their full attention, the people responded, verse 34, “Sir,…always give us this bread.” And Jesus obliged by telling them more about this eternal bread that is able to provide eternal life to any and all who partake of it. As stated beginning with verse 35, Jesus declared to them:

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

Without earthly bread, our earthly bodies die; without heavenly bread, our spiritual lives are eternally lost. But let us contrast the earthly bread that Joseph provided with the heavenly bread offered by Jesus:

The earthly bread that Joseph gave was able to feed people but for that meal. As we know all too well, once a meal is digested, we’re hungry and ready for the next; but the heavenly bread that Jesus gives sates our spiritual hunger; it quenches our spiritual thirst;

The earthly bread that Joseph provided was conditioned upon people first giving him their money—then their livestock—then their land and their very selves; the heavenly bread that Jesus provides is conditioned upon our believing that he is the one whom the Father has sent. As stated in verse 29, believing in him is the work God requires;

Since the bread Joseph provided came from the earth, it was only capable of meeting earthly needs; since the bread Jesus provides comes from heaven, it is able to provide now and for all eternity and any who receives this bread, i.e., any who receives Jesus who is the bread of the life, as stated in verse 37, he will “never drive away;”

Those who partook of Joseph’s earthly bread were required to do his will; those who partake of Jesus’ heavenly bread are similarly required to do his will even as he ever did the Father’s will—for those who love Jesus, out of the love they have for him, will do as he commands.[22] And everything that he commands is for our good because he loves us;[23]

Those who partook of Joseph’s earthly bread eventually died; those who partake of Jesus’ heavenly bread, because they are his and are united with him now and forever,[24] will be raised with him at the last day.

But, dear brothers and sisters, unlike the Egyptians in Joseph’s day, we needn’t wait for desperate times before turning to Jesus. We needn’t wait until we are on our death beds to receive the eternal life he so generously offers and provides. Jesus’ words call us now to look beyond this life to the next. His words point out the brevity of our earthly lives—and the reality of our eternal existence. They remind us that, one day, the earthly part of our lives will end. Therefore we would do well to ask ourselves: Will we die with him who is the bread of life—or without him?

Ron recently shared that a friend of his, a man who seems to have endless energy and drive, is fond of saying when asked about how driven he is, “We’re going to be dead for a long time.” As I’ve been preparing these two passages from God’s Word, I’ve returned to his friend’s words for that very thought—the thought that one day we’re going to be dead for a long time—is what our dear Jesus used to draw me to himself.

I remember how as a child of around the age of twelve, I saw some medical drama on television in which a woman died. The thought of her death, despite recognizing that she was a fictitious character, caused me great distress. When I went to bed that night, I kept trying to imagine what it would be like to die—and I wept—and wept—and wept. I cried so much that my mother heard and came into my bedroom asking what was the matter. When I told her I was frightened of dying, she tried to soothe me by telling me I needn’t fear; that death was like going to sleep. This simply resulted in me not wanting to go to sleep that night out of my great fear.

It wasn’t until I was seventeen and began attending a youth group that I finally found an answer to the problem of death. Through the course of my final year of high school, each week I heard a brief, fifteen-minute talk about a man named Jesus. This was all brand new to me. I had never heard of him before. But soon after I learned that Jesus had said concerning himself, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?,”[25] I got on my knees and told him I did believe this. And I asked him to forgive me my sins. And I gave my life to him.

That day, May 20th of 1979 when I gave my life over to Jesus at the age of eighteen, was the beginning of the journey that has led me to share Jesus with you each week. Because I love him. And I know he loves me. And I want you to love him and know his love for you.

I can attest to the fact that Jesus is who he said he was. And that he does what he has promised. Though throughout my life I have at times let go of his hand, he has never let go of mine. He has never driven me away—and he never will. For he has given me himself; he has given me his eternal life; he has given me his Holy Spirit; he has opened a way for me to know, love, and know the love of our Father in heaven.

My prayer and hope today is that we wouldn’t wait for desperate times to take the joyous measure of embracing God’s grace, his unmerited favor, in doing the work God asks by turning to Jesus and believing that he has been sent by the Father;

My prayer and hope today and always is that in and because and through Jesus we will realize not that we’re going to be dead for a long time but that because he is the bread of life, we can be alive in him not just now; not just for a long time; but for all eternity;

My prayer and hope today and always is that we would embrace the words he declares in John 6:35: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Let us pray.

Benediction: Jude 24–25 24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.



[1] Genesis 41:25–32: 25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. 27 The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine. 28 “It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, 30 but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. 31 The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. 32 The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.

[2] As Joseph told his brothers at the point at which he disclosed himself to them and they were reconciled, Genesis 45:6: For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping.

[3] Genesis 47:16:  “Then bring your livestock,” said Joseph. “I will sell you food in exchange for your livestock, since your money is gone.”

[4] The full verse states, “However, he did not buy the land of the priests, because they received a regular allotment from Pharaoh and had food enough from the allotment Pharaoh gave them. That is why they did not sell their land.”

[5] Genesis 45:16–20: 16 When the news reached Pharaoh’s palace that Joseph’s brothers had come, Pharaoh and all his officials were pleased. 17 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Tell your brothers, ‘Do this: Load your animals and return to the land of Canaan, 18 and bring your father and your families back to me. I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you can enjoy the fat of the land.’19 You are also directed to tell them, ‘Do this: Take some carts from Egypt for your children and your wives, and get your father and come. 20 Never mind about your belongings, because the best of all Egypt will be yours.’” Genesis 47:5–6a, 11: Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you, and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen….” 11 So Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses, as Pharaoh directed.

[6] Genesis 12:1–3: 1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 13:14–17: 14 The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”

[7] Genesis 26:2–5: 2 The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. 3 Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. 4 I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.”;

[8] Genesis 35:9–15:After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel. 11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him. 14 Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.; Genesis 46:3–4: “I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.”

[9] Genesis 41:33–36.

[10] Genesis 47:26: So Joseph established it as a law concerning land in Egypt—still in force today—that a fifth of the produce belongs to Pharaoh. It was only the land of the priests that did not become Pharaoh’s.

[11] I say “well over” because this number represents only the men but there were also women and children present. As stated in the parenthetical note in verse 10, “(about five thousand men were there).”

[12] John 6:8–9:Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

[13] John 6:11.

[14] John 6:13: So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

[15] John 6:15.

[16] John 6:16–24 tells about Jesus’ walking on water in the intervening period.

[17] Matthew 3:16–17: 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

[18] Matthew 17:1–8: 1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

[19] John 6:28: Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

[20] John 6:30–32: 30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’[Exodus 16:4; Neh. 9:15; Psalm 78:24,25]32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.

[21] Even as Joseph had fed not only the Jews, that is, his family, but also the Egyptians, that is, the Gentiles.

[22] John 14:15: If you love me, keep my commands.

[23] John 3:16–17: 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

[24] 1 John 4:13–16: 13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

[25] John 11:25–26.