Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Take up the fifth part of the land.—Heb., let him fifth the land, that is, exact a fifth part of the produce. It has been supposed that it had been usual in Egypt to pay to the king a tithe of the crop, and the doubling of the impost would not press very heavily on the people in these years of extraordinary abundance. As the reason of the enactment would be made known, it would also induce all careful people to store up a portion of their own superabundance for future need. Subsequently, a fifth of the produce was fixed by Joseph permanently as the king’s rent.Genesis 41:34. Let him appoint officers to take up a fifth part — Not by force or violence, but by purchase at the common price, which would probably be very low during these years of plenty. But why only a fifth part, seeing the years of famine were to be as many as the years of plenty? 1st, Because people would live more sparingly in the time of the famine. 2d, It is likely that many persons, in all parts of the country, besides the king, would lay up great quantities of corn, both because they could not easily consume it all, and in expectation of a time of greater scarcity and dearness, when they might either use it themselves, or sell it to their advantage. Add to this, 3d, That even the fifth part of the produce of those years of plenty might be more than the half, yea, equal to the whole crop of ordinary years.
The measures here suggested to Pharaoh were, we must suppose in conformity with the civil institutions of the country. Thee exaction of a fifth, or two tithes, during the period of plenty, may have been an extraordinary measure, which the absolute power of the monarch enabled him to enforce for the public safety. The sovereign was probably dependent for his revenues on the produce of the crown lands, certain taxes on exports or imports, and occasional gifts or forced contributions from his subjects. This extraordinary fifth was, probably, of the last description, and was fully warranted by the coming emergency. The "gathering up of all the food" may imply that, in addition to the fifth, large purchases of corn were made by the government out of the surplus produce of the country.
take up the fifth part of the land—that is, of the land's produce, to be purchased and stored by the government, instead of being sold to foreign corn merchants.
the fifth part, and not half, seeing the years of famine were as many as the years of plenty?
1. Men would and should live more sparingly in times of famine.
2. It was likely that very many men would lay up great quantities of corn in those years, partly because they could not spend it all, and partly in expectation of a scarcer and dearer time, when they might either use it themselves, or sell it to their advantage.
3. The fifth part of those years of great plenty might be more than the half, yea, equal to the whole crop of ordinary years.
and let him appoint officers over the land; not Pharaoh, but the wise and discreet governor he should set over the land, who should have a power of appointing officers or overseers under him to manage things according to his direction:
and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years; not the officers appointed, but the appointer of them, the chief governor under Pharaoh, for the word is singular; it is proposed that he should, in Pharaoh's name, and by his order, take a fifth part of all the corn in the land of Egypt during seven years of plenty; not by force, which so good a man as Joseph would never advise to, whatever power Pharaoh might have, and could exercise if he pleased; but by making a purchase of it, which in such time of plenty would be bought cheap, and which so great a prince as Pharaoh was capable of. It is commonly asked, why an half part was not ordered to be took up, since there were to be as many years of famine as of plenty? and to this it is usually replied, that besides this fifth part taken up, as there might be an old stock of former years, so there would be something considerable remain of these seven years of plenty, which men of substance would lay up, as Pharaoh did; and besides, a fifth part might be equal to the crop of an ordinary year, or near it: to which may be added, that in times of famine men live more sparingly, as they are obliged, and therefore such a quantity would go the further; as well as it may be considered, that notwithstanding the barrenness of the land in general, yet in some places, especially on the banks of the Nile, some corn might be produced; so that upon the whole a fifth part might be judged sufficient to answer the extremity of the seven years of famine, and even to allow a distribution to other countries.Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)34. Let Pharaoh do this] Joseph’s advice is (1) to appoint a “grain administrator,” praefectus rei frumentariae; (2) to appoint local officers, “over-seers,” LXX τοπάρχαι, for the various districts of Egypt; (3) to exact for the crown 20 per cent., “the fifth part,” of the grain of the country.
Some think an inconsistency is involved in the recommendation of one supreme officer (Genesis 41:33) and the recommendation of local overseers (Genesis 41:34). The two, however, are practically inseparable elements in a sound administrative scheme.
take up the fifth part of the land] Lit. “let him fifth the land,” i.e. secure for the crown one-fifth of the annual grain produce of Egypt during the seven years of fertility. In this passage from E, the imposition of a 20 per cent. duty is a special regulation proposed by Joseph to meet the exigencies of the impending famine. In Genesis 47:24, from J, it appears as a permanent Egyptian usage, owing its origin to the initiation of Joseph.Genesis 14:24), God will answer Pharaoh's good," i.e., what shall profit Pharaoh; just as in Genesis 40:8 he had pointed the two prisoners away from himself to God. Pharaoh then related his double dream (Genesis 41:17-24), and Joseph gave the interpretation (Genesis 41:25-32): "The dream of Pharaoh is one (i.e., the two dreams have the same meaning); God hath showed Pharaoh what He is about to do." The seven cows and seven ears of corn were seven years, the fat ones very fertile years of superabundance, the lean ones very barren years of famine; the latter would follow the former over the whole land of Egypt, so that the years of famine would leave no trace of the seven fruitful years; and, "for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice" (i.e., so far as this fact is concerned, it signifies) "that the thing is firmly resolved by God, and God will quickly carry it out." In the confidence of this interpretation which looked forward over fourteen years, the divinely enlightened seer's glance was clearly manifested, and could not fail to make an impression upon the king, when contrasted with the perplexity of the Egyptian augurs and wise men. Joseph followed up his interpretation by the advice (Genesis 41:33-36), that Pharaoh should "look out (ירא) a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt;" and cause יעשׂה) that in the seven years of superabundance he should raise fifths (חמּשׁ), i.e., the fifth part of the harvest, through overseers, and have the corn, or the stores of food (אכל), laid up in the cities "under the hand of the king," i.e., by royal authority and direction, as food for the land for the seven years of famine, that it might not perish through famine.
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