Weekly Bible Devotional
“Financial Freedom: The Source of Our Suffering”
November 3, 2019
Scripture for Sunday: Genesis 41:15-36
“And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not I; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile; and seven cows, fat and sleek, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. Then seven other cows came up after them, poor, very ugly, and thin. Never had I seen such ugly ones in all the land of Egypt. The thin and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows, but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had done so, for they were still as ugly as before. Then I awoke. I fell asleep a second time and I saw in my dream seven ears of grain, full and good, growing on one stalk, and seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouting after them; and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears. But when I told it to the magicians, there was no one who could explain it to me.” Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, as are the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind. They are seven years of famine. It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. After them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; the famine will consume the land. The plenty will no longer be known in the land because of the famine that will follow, for it will be very grievous. And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. Now therefore let Pharaoh select a man who is discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land, and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plenteous years. Let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and lay up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”
Notes on the Text:
This week we begin a new sermon series about financial freedom with the hope of aligning our experiences of money with God’s vision for our resources. We will look at the story of Joseph and his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream as an example of financial anxiety. This Bible story helps us examine the source of our suffering when it comes to money. The story comes to us from ancient Egypt, from the bedroom of one of the kings of Egypt. It is about the king’s fears about resources. As we know when we are worried about something, it often keeps us up at night and if we fall asleep, it finds its way into our dreams. This was the case for Pharaoh at the time of Joseph, the son of Jacob. The king had a worrisome dream and he needed someone to help him interpret it. The dream involved the Nile River which was the foundation for the health and prosperity of the whole nation. Any threat to the health of the Nile River was a serious threat to the whole nation and Egyptian Empire. That is why when Joseph came and offered Pharaoh a plan for dealing with his nightmare, Pharaoh was very willing to follow the suggestions of Joseph. The idea of storing grains and preparing for some bad years sounded like a great solution to one of the most haunting fears for the king of Egypt. But what seemed on the surface like a good idea, was actually the beginning of putting into action an economic system based on fear and scarcity.
The mentality of fear around money eventually led to the enslavement and exploitation of the Israelites for a long time. We often celebrate Joseph’s wisdom and ability to advise the king, but we forget is to look at the result of the mentality of fear. Economic fears and financial worries often lead nations to exploit others. This was in total contradiction to God’s vision of abundance in the beginning of the book of Genesis. The story of creation was a story of abundance and providence. It was a story of faith in the goodness of God’s creation. But here we have a different vision. It is a vision based on fear and a sense of scarcity. In his interpretation of this passage, biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann astutely points to this shift in vision. He writes, “In that chapter Pharaoh dreams that there will be a famine in the land. So Pharaoh gets organized to administer, control, and monopolize the food supply. Pharaoh introduces the principle of scarcity into the world economy. For the first time in the Bible, someone says, ‘There’s not enough. Let’s get everything.’ . . . Pharaoh hires Joseph to manage the monopoly. When the crops fail and the peasants run out of food, they come to Joseph. And on behalf of Pharaoh, Joseph says, ‘What’s your collateral?’ They give up their land for food, and then, the next year, they give up their cattle. By the third year of the famine they have no collateral but themselves. And that’s how the children of Israel become slaves-through an economic transaction…(Gen 47:13-20). In three years, we are told:
- Joseph seizes all the money of Pharaoh’s subjects, in order to dole out food from Pharaoh’s monopoly.
- Joseph confiscates all the livestock of Pharaoh’s subjects, in order to dole out food from Pharaoh’s monopoly.
- Joseph takes in hock the bodies of Pharaoh’s subjects, in order to dole out food from Pharaoh’s monopoly, and so reduces citizens to slaves with irreversible economic dependence upon the central economy.
- And then the narrative adds laconically: ‘So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh. All the Egyptians sold their fields…and the land became Pharaoh’s (Gen 47:20).“
Instead of finding ways to empower and equip the people to deal with the ups and downs of the fertility of the land, Pharaoh used economic uncertainty and vulnerability to create more power and wealth for his empire. The nightmare of Pharaoh about scarcity became the reality of the Hebrew people and others who lost everything in order to survive because Pharaoh found a way to profit from their misery. On the one hand, we can say, “well Pharaoh was trying to deal with the challenge of a famine.” On the other hand, we can see that Pharaoh used the drought as a tool to subjugate and enslave people. There were other potential ways to deal with the drought, but Pharaoh chose the one that ended up in the misery of many people because he operated from an assumption of scarcity.
Financial worries plague many Americans. At least 30% of Americans live with a constant concern over their finances, while many Americans experience financial worry periodically. Money by itself is not good or bad. It is neutral. In fact, it could become useless if we stop circulating it. Money is something that we as humans made up. The real reason money has much power in our lives lies in our unconscious and often unexamined beliefs about money which we learned and developed in childhood. The culture around us, our parents’ ways of dealing with money, and the hidden money messages around us often lead us into negative beliefs about money. As a result, money becomes a source of anxiety and pain for most people. Even if we personally are not anxious about money or are not suffering because of our belief systems about money, our country and our world suffers because of money. If you look at wars throughout history, the real underlying issue is always economic. People fight over resources because the fundamental (and yet untrue!) belief is that there are limited resources and those who are on top should control them. The recent struggle in northern Syria is just one example. That region has 90% of Syria’s oil reserves. That is why Turkey, the Kurds, the US, Russia, and the Syrian government are all fighting over it.
Martin Niemöller, the German pastor who heroically opposed Adolf Hitler, was a young man when, as part of a delegation of leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, he met with Hitler in 1933. Niemöller stood at the back of the room and looked and listened. He didn’t say anything. When he went home, his wife asked him what he had learned that day. Niemöller replied, “I discovered that Herr Hitler is a terribly frightened man.”
In order for us to rewire our brains and align our financial beliefs and practices with God’s vision for the world, we have to name and examine our unconscious stories about money. We have to bring them out into the light to see if they are serving or hurting us and our world. The economics of scarcity are the norm around us. But the invitation of faith is to stop and pay attention to a different voice and vision. The vision of God is for that of abundance, generosity, care, and compassion.
I invite you to examine your vision of life and money. Do you live out of a sense of abundance or scarcity? Are you haunted by the nightmare of the empire about not having enough or are you blessed by God’s vision of abundance and care? This is not to judge where you are. It is an invitation to become aware of where you are and how God is calling you to live, not just for yourself, but for your whole community and our world.
Prayer by Walter Brueggemann:
On our own, we conclude:
there is not enough to go around
we are going to run short
we should seize the day
seize our goods
seize our neighbor’s goods
because there is not enough to go around
and in the midst of our perceived deficit
you come giving bread in the wilderness
you come giving children at the 11th hour
you come giving homes to exiles
you come giving futures to the shut down
you come giving Easter joy to the dead
you come – fleshed in Jesus.
and we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing
and we take food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbors who sustain us
when we did not deserve it.
It dawns on us – late rather than soon-
that you “give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance………mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.
Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder,
without coercive need but only love,
without destructive greed but only praise
without aggression and invasiveness….
all things Easter new…..
all around us, toward us and
all things Easter new.
Finish your creation, in wonder, love and praise. Amen.