Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Joseph's Recession: A history lesson for today

The Bible tells us the story of a kind, intelligent ruler named Joseph who through Divine revelation, tells the Pharaoh that there will be 7 years of plenty and 7 years of famine.

Now, the years of plenty were amazing; wealth you can hardly imagine. During this time, the people are taxed and the grain is stored so that they would have food for the years of famine. For seven years they meticulously saved 20% of their wealth while still enjoying the bounty.

Of course the seven years of famine followed. This was a deep and dark famine. People are forced to come to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph’s families, the Israelites, come and eventually settle in the land of Goshen.

During this famine the people run out of money to buy grain, so they exchange cattle for grain. Then, there is nothing left to sell so they sold their land and themselves in exchange for grain. Imagine the desperation of these people. I cannot even imagine the kind of hunger where I would sell myself to the government to pay for food, but that is what it came down to for these people. Even with the warning that hard times were coming they were still unable to prepare adequately for their suffering. Not only did they sell themselves to the Pharoah, but as part of the agreement, they were forced to pay an additional 20% of their income to the government. They were so desperate that they sold themselves and were still taxed on what they produced.

I cannot help but see the parallel between this time in history and our nation’s current financial tempest. We have had several years of plenty but during that time our nation wasted what could have been saved. As citizens, we went into debt to pay for a lifestyle we wanted. It seemed ok at the time because we were earning decent money and the banks were willing to give out the credit in exchange for exorbitant fees and interest rates. Banks gave people credit to buy homes they could never afford. It seemed ok though because they would be able to just barely pay the bank and the bank would still be making their income. We lived in a way that seemed ok at the time. There has been little concern in our society about the time of financial famine. Our lack of concern, however, did not stop the recession for coming.

It seems as though the actions of the Egyptian government saved their people from starvation and certain death. In the short term this is absolutely true, but another result of Joseph and Pharoah’s plan was the enslavement of a nation -- not only financial enslavement but personal enslavement to the government. Government acted on the fears of their people and the people gave up everything they had in order to have grain. The people’s government was changed forever because of their immediate hunger. The help that they received in the short term took everything away for the foreseeable future. This was done with the best of intentions but the motivation did not change the ramifications of their actions.

The Israelites would remain in Egypt for years and would be the slaves of the Egyptians. They had food but it came at a price. They would be beaten, treated poorly, face persecution, and would be forced to serve their master. Yes, they are eventually saved from their horror, but it takes years and their suffering is real. Their eventual escape is the result of God’s intervention.

As Americans, it seems we are unfortunately headed down this road. We may not be physically beaten, but we are slowing giving away our freedoms and finances over to the government with the hope that they will save us.

They will not.

The result will be personal enslavement to a big, wealthy government. Even worse, since our government has spent tax dollars they did not have, American citizens will also be beholden to enemy nations. We are giving away what we have earned with the hope that the government can save us from our problems. We are giving it to a government who has not shown financial wisdom in the past. We may not feel all the effects of giving away our freedoms, but our children will. We are choosing to give away their ability to live financially free. I have no reason to think that the Egyptian leaders intended slavery to be the result of their intervention. However, their good intentions did not change the result.

Unlike these ancient times, we have history to teach us. We should use our knowledge of what has happened in the past to positively affect what we will allow to happen in our society. The power is still in the hands of the American people. Do not let go of your financial freedom for short term security. Even the most well meaning leaders can do irreparable harm. We must stop our nation from entering a recession of Biblical proportions.