Bible Lesson: Joseph and the Seven Years of Plenty and the Seven Years of Famine

by TessaSchlesinger

The lesson behind Joseph and his coat of many colors is that people should save during the good years so that they have money during the bad years...

Sometimes a timely lesson from the bible is as good a place to start as any. Probably the bible story that influenced me the most was the story of Joseph, his technicolor coat, his jealous brothers, how he came to be sold into slavery, and his emergency as the chief assistant to Pharaoh. There are so many lessons in that story. The best lesson, and one I have never forgotten is the seven good years and the seven bad years. Bible stories and bible lessons, even when one doesn't believe in the bible, are often good stories to teach one simple folk wisdom. So here is the bible story of Joseph. The bible lesson is covered from Genesis Chapter 37 to Genesis Chapter 49. The most important bible lesson from this story seems to have been forgotten.

The Seven Years of Plenty and the Seven Years of Famine.

Joseph is Jacob's Favorite Son
Jacob had twelve sons. Joseph was his eleventh son – much younger than his brothers. He was also his father’s favorite. That was because Jacob loved Rachel, and Joseph was Rachel’s first born son.

Joseph's Brothers are Jealous!
Well, as most good people will tell you, there’s nothing like a bit of jealousy to bring out the worst in people, and Joseph’s brothers were no exception to that piece of conventional wisdom. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Jacob gave Joseph a multi-colored coat, no small luxury in a time when items of color were rarities.

Joseph has Dreams
Things might have remained okay if Joseph hadn’t then had two dreams which he unwisely shared with his brothers. In the first of the dreams, Joseph and his brothers collected bundles of grain and then stood them in piles. Then the bundles of grain which had been collected by his half brothers all bowed down to Joseph’s grains. You can bet that that didn’t go down well!

However, it was the second dream that really put the cat amongst the pigeons. Joseph told his brothers that he had dreamt that the sun, the moon, and the stars would bow down before him. He even went so far as to interpret that to mean that his father, his mother, and his eleven brothers would be doing the bowing!


In a Caravan, Far, Far Away
So, the brothers, angry and jealous, conferred amongst themselves and made a plan to kill their brother who took the affection of their father away from them. The eldest brother, Reuben, wasn’t that keen to bring harm to his kid brother. So, he suggested that they dig a hole and put him in a water hole until they decided what to do with him. Secretly, Reuben was going to rescue him and return his kid brother to Jacob.

It wasn’t, of course, that Reuben was that much better in character than his brothers. It’s just that because Reuben was the eldest, he was going to inherit everything anyway, so he wasn’t quite as upset about the favoritism his brother was getting. It’s also possible that he might receive some reward from his father. Who knows the motives in a story of myth so long ago? Still, we can extrapolate.

As the brothers talked about what to do with their thorn-in-the-flesh baby brother, they saw a caravan in the distance. Judah had a brain wave. “Let’s sell him,” he said. That way, not only were they rid of their perpetual problem, but they received some coin to make up for the years of resentment. Those twenty pieces of silver they received for their brother made them feel a whole lot better! Plus they kept the coat! Of course, they had to explain to their father what happened to his favorite son so they slaughtered a goat and then, rather sadly, marred the coat by putting goat’s blood on it. They then took it to their father and said that they had found Joseph’s coat. Jacob, of course, believed his youngest son to be dead and mourned deep and long for him.

Joseph and the House of Potiphar
It is, unfortunately, a curse that those who are good looking and beautiful often incur forces that others seldom have to face. Joseph had that curse. The caravan sold him to Potiphar, the captain of the Egyptian Pharaoh’s guard. Joseph, being the diligent sort (he must have been a virgo), went about his work. Very soon Potiphar’s wife saw him and was hell bent on seducing the man. Only, he declined her advances. At first, no doubt, he did it politely. But some women, especially ones accustomed to getting exactly what they want, will try anything. So, she grabbed Joseph’s cloak, determined to get him to her bed. He slipped out of the cloak and left her hot and bothered.

She was not a happy lady.

Rejection Makes Potiphar's Wife Nasty
Rejection, and especially rejection by a slave, was not something that she was accustomed to.

So, she went to her husband and promptly told him that Joseph had attempted to seduce her. Poor Joseph! Here is he minding his own business, doing his job to the best of his ability, and all his natural graces, provided to him at birth, were held against him by those born without those talents and accoutrements.

Guess what?

He went to jail and there he languished.

Of course, Joseph being Joseph, he had those special talents. Very soon, the warden of the prison put Joseph in charge of the other prisoners!

Dream Interpretation
It wasn’t long before there were some very important people who were put in jail. One was Pharaoh’s chief cup bearer and the other was the chief baker. One can only surmise what they did to offend the Pharaoh. Any guy who is willing to drink poison for the king can’t be that bad, can he?

Friends of Royalty
Anyway, both these two friends of royalty had dreams. They were rather confounded by their dreams and told their fellow inmates – which included Joseph – about their dreams. No skin off Joseph’s nose, he told them immediately what the dream meant. Probably, those around him thought he was a know-it-all as well!

He told the cup bearer that he would be back in his office in three days (guess there weren’t many takers who were willing to drink poison for the king) while the baker would hang. Perhaps, baking bread wasn’t such a unique skill and bakers could more easily be replaced than cup bearers!

When the cup bearer was released, Joseph asked him if he would speak to Pharaoh about releasing him from prison. Now that shows that Joseph was a pretty political sort of animal. He knew that people in important places had the power to make things happen. Perhaps, as a young boy, he had made sure that he was his father’s favorite?

The chief cup bearer, as soon as he had what he wanted, did nothing of the kind. Perhaps, it was that he forgot, or, perhaps, he, too, feared that Joseph might be some mighty competition for the favor of Pharaoh. So, Joseph remained in that jail.


Pharaoh Dreams
A couple of years later, Pharoah had a dream in which seven lean cows came out of the river and ate the seven fat cows that were standing of the banks of the river. Later, he had a dream in which seven withered ears of grain consumed seven fat ears of grain. These dreams left him pretty much puzzled. They were the sort of dreams he couldn’t let go and he wanted an interpretation for them. There were, of course, lots of astrologers, psychics, mediums, shamans, and all sorts of people who pretended power, who were only too willing to interpret his dreams. Something about their dream interpretation methods didn’t ring true and Pharaoh kept looking for someone who really could interpret his dreams. If one thinks about it, maybe pharaoh kept having the dream each night and it was becoming more like a nightmare?

Joseph Remembered by Cup Bearer!
In any event, it was around this time that the cup bearer remembered Joseph and called for him. Joseph interpreted the dream in the following way. He said that there would be seven years of abundance during which the climate would provide good crops and then there would be a change in the climate, drought would come, and there would be famine in the land. He told Pharaoh that it was probably a good idea to save some of his crop during the good years so that when the bad years came, Pharaoh wouldn’t starve. In other words, Pharaoh wasn’t tosplurge and live it up during the good years. He was to save ever bit over what was necessary for his survival, so that seven years of grain could be stored, awaiting the bad times.

And That’s the Lesson that 20th Century and 21st Century has FORGOTTEN!
Yes, sure, we all remember that story. We know that when the times of famine came, Jacob’s brothers came looking for food and that they didn’t recognize their brother. We know how accused them of being spies, and how he got them to bring their youngest brother, Benjamin, along with them when next they brought grain. We know how he tricked the brothers by putting a silver chalice in Benjamin’s belongings and how Judah offered to be enslaved himself, rather than put his father through any further heartbreak. Obviously, the brothers had realized by this time that it wasn’t Joseph’s fault that he was born fair of face, with multiple talents, or that he was born to his father’s favorite wife. The brothers had done some learning during the years!

But those are not the lessons I want to speak about!

Articles on Why Saving Money is Important

Saving Money for the Future

Nero Partied While Rome Burnt
There comes a time in the life cycle of most people and most nations when they have more than they need and they begin to party. They spend their extra money. They buy bigger houses and better yachts. They have wardrobes that stretch across the room with enough clothing to feed twenty families in Africa. The point is that during good times, a wise man prepared for the bad times! In the 50s, it used to be called ‘saving for a rainy day.’ That is a mind-set that has all but disappeared from the current hedonism that rules.

Joseph Saved the Extra Production for the Times When There Would be NO Production. 
During my lifetime, I have often run into people who tell me how rich they were once upon a time. They seem to think that it was all rather bad luck and that it was the economy that made them penurious. Actually, everything in life is cyclic. There are good years and bad years. Good years are not a reason to upgrade one’s Nissan for a Mercedes. They are not a reason to go from living in a house in a middle class suburb to a mcmansion in an exclusive suburb. The good years are there so that one can prepare for when the bad years come, because sure as autumn follows summer, so the bad times will come.

Why Saving is Important

Affluenza: PBS Program on the Epidemic of Overconsumption
The program on the high social and environmental costs of overconsumption and materialism.

The Moral of the Story is to Save during the Good Times so that You Have Something fo the Bad Times

Moral of Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors

A Biblical Lesson as Old as Time
The story of the seven good years and the seven bad years is a story that is as old as time. Good times come and good times go. Cycles last different lengths of time, but things are cyclic. So, when you’re next tempted to upgrade your phone, your computer, buy a better mousetrap, or keep up with the Joneses, remember, the bad times are coming, and it’s a biblical tenet to save your profits from the good times so that you’re okay in the bad time. The lesson behind the bible story of Joseph and the seven good years and the seven bad years has been lost this last half century. It is time that it is taught again.

Updated: 01/17/2013, TessaSchlesinger
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