Consider Joseph’s welfare plan for Egypt. Pharaoh would take twenty percent of all the harvest in all of Egypt for the seven years of abundance. However, even at that rate, it would only equal 140 percent of one year’s crop after seven years of saving. In order to have enough to get through seven years of severe famine (see 41:57,57; 43:1; 47:4, 13, 20), the crops would have to be abundant indeed – nearly five times the normal harvest, a prospect that is unlikely (though it was huge – 41:49).
And so, when the seven years of plenty were over, rather than distribute the stored rations freely, Joseph charged for the food (even for the Egyptians). There is never a free lunch. Modern people ought to remember that. When a people are not producing themselves, they become slaves. Without crops, the Egyptians ran out of money, mortgaged their cattle, and ultimately, exchanged all their assets for food. Verse twenty-one of chapter forty-seven says Joseph “reduced the people to servitude.” There is a textual problem here. Some manuscripts have “he moved the people to the cities,” but “reduced to servitude” makes better sense.
It also makes a point of the chapter stand out.
Here was a Hebrew who, though making all Egypt servants of Pharaoh, also made all Egypt his servants. Notice also that while the Egyptians lost their wealth and land, the Hebrews acquired land and became prosperous. As Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before them, God made them to prosper, even in a foreign land.
God never loses sight of His people, and they always, in time, are made the top and not the bottom (Deuteronomy 28:13).