The book of Genesis tells us the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob, who lived in Canaan with his father and his brothers and had the God given ability to interpret dreams. His brothers, motivated by jealousy, decide to sell Joseph into slavery, and tell his father that Joseph has died after being attacked by a beast.
Once a slave, Joseph is taken to Egypt, where he finds his destiny. He is thrown in jail after refusing to have sex with his master’s wife, and after a couple of years in prison, he is taken to the Pharaoh in order to interpret a dream of the monarch that none of his wizards and magicians has been able to interpret. In the Pharaoh’s dream, seven fat cows emerge from the Nile, followed by seven lean and ugly cows that devour the fat cows. Joseph’s interpretation is dramatic: there will come seven years of abundance for Egypt, followed by seven years of famine. In order for the kingdom to survive those seven years of hardships, they will have to make the best of the resources they will have in the seven years of abundance.
With this scenario in front of him, Pharaoh decides that it shall be none other than Joseph who will be in charge of preparing the country and managing the resources for the seven years of hunger.
Joseph’s interpretation of the Pharaoh’s dream comes true, and after seven years of abundance comes seven years of increasing shortage. Thanks to Joseph’s work, during the famine the Pharaoh becomes the only person in the whole kingdom with grains and food, so everybody goes to the Pharaoh to buy these products. They first offer money, then they offer their animals (which tells us that Joseph had some way of feeding the animals), and finally, when they have nothing else, they offer themselves and their land to the Pharaoh, in exchange for food.
After the seven years of famine come to an end, the Pharaoh has become the owner of pretty much everything and everyone in Egypt, thanks to the work of Joseph, who had married, had two sons and was held in such high regard by the Pharaoh that he is even allowed to bring his brothers (who he forgives) and his father from Canaan, and they are granted a piece of land in Egypt, where Joseph spends the rest of his days.
The Bible tells us that after this, the sons of Jacob thrived in Egypt, becoming a numerous and affluent population. But after some years, a new Pharaoh, who knows nothing of Joseph, comes into power, and he doesn’t trust the Israelites. He thinks they have become too many and too wealthy and they could revolt against the Egyptians or join one of their enemies, so he orders they be slaves now, and thus began a period of enslavement that would last 430 years, until Moses came to free the people of God in the Exodus.
Joseph’s story gives us a very valuable lesson about power, he worked to bring power to a Pharaoh (not that he had much choice or that he knew what would happen later) and it was because of him that Pharaoh became the most powerful person in Egypt. That was no problem for Joseph because he was honored by Pharaoh; the problem came later for Joseph’s people, because now they were made slaves by the same figure Joseph had helped so much.
And this is an everlasting lesson. If, due to whatever reason, you grant a big amount of power to someone, the power will remain there even if the person doesn’t, because, more than the person himself, what has become powerful is the figure, the position, so now whoever inherits that position (either by succession, election or force) will enjoy that power and will be able to do with it as he pleases.
This situation repeats itself over and over through history: just think about how about right now in the US, the people that for years worked to expand the power of the government are now very concerned because of the huge amount of power Donald Trump will have as president.
Just as Joseph granted power to a figure that later on would turn his own people into slaves, we as a society in the current world have granted unprecedented amounts of power to our rulers. And just as the Egyptians, we have begged them to save us from hunger (or poverty, or terrorism, or to give us free education and wi-fi, you name it) in exchange for our own lives.
I don’t think we can blame Joseph for what happened, I certainly don’t blame him. He fulfilled the job God laid in front of him in the best and most righteous way he could, and after all, it was the plan of God. But we can learn from his story so we don’t make the mistake of turning our rulers into our oppressors.
I like Joseph’s story so much because of its emotional content (the guy was sold as a slave by his own brothers, I couldn’t carry on after that) and because he is one of the most remarkable and righteous persons I’ve ever read about (I truly admire him), but also because of this lesson, which I consider everlasting: be careful with the power that you grant to someone, because sooner or later that same power that you gave will turn against you.