Genesis 41:54
And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.
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(54) The dearth.—As the Nile at this early period was not assisted and regulated in its overflow by dams and canals, famines were much more common in Egypt than when subsequently the kings had done so much to provide against this danger. As, too, this dearth was “in all lands,” in Arabia, Palestine, Ethiopia, &c., there was evidently a long period of excessive drought. Still Egypt is always liable to famine, and Bar Hebræus (Chronicon, p. 260) gives terrible details of the sufferings of Egypt in the year of the Hej’ra 462, when so great was the loss of life, that whereas in the city of Tanis (Zoan) 300,000 men paid poll-tax in the previous year, there remained in it less than a hundred souls at the end of the dearth.

One argument adduced by Canon Cook, Excursus on the Bearings of Egyptian History on the Pentateuch, p. 451, for placing the descent of the Israelites into Egypt in the reign of Amenemha III., is that it was this monarch who “first established a complete system of dykes, canals, locks, and reservoirs, by which the inundations of the Nile were henceforth regulated.” The artificial lake of Moeris was also made by his orders, and other works of extraordinary vastness. Now not only would such works be suggested by a dearth of unusually long continuance, but the measures taken by Joseph during the seven years of famine would place the whole resources of the country at the Pharaoh’s disposal.

Genesis 41:54. The seven years of death began to come — Not only in Egypt, but in other lands, that is, all the neighbouring countries.

41:46-57 In the names of his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, Joseph owned the Divine providence. 1. He was made to forget his misery. 2. He was made fruitful in the land of his affliction. The seven plenteous years came, and were ended. We ought to look forward to the end of the days, both of our prosperity and of our opportunity. We must not be secure in prosperity, nor slothful in making good use of opportunity. Years of plenty will end; what thy hand finds to do, do it; and gather in gathering time. The dearth came, and the famine was not only in Egypt, but in other lands. Joseph was diligent in laying up, while the plenty lasted. He was prudent and careful in giving out, when the famine came. Joseph was engaged in useful and important labours. Yet it was in the midst of this his activity that his father Jacob said, Joseph is not! What a large portion of our troubles would be done away if we knew the whole truth! Let these events lead us to Jesus. There is a famine of the bread of life throughout the whole earth. Go to Jesus, and what he bids you, do. Attend to His voice, apply to him; he will open his treasures, and satisfy with goodness the hungry soul of every age and nation, without money and without price. But those who slight this provision must starve, and his enemies will be destroyed.The commencement and the extent of the famine are now noted. "As Joseph had said." The fulfillment is as perfect in the one part as in the other. "In all the lands" - all the lands adjacent to Egypt; such as Arabia and Palestine. The word all in popular discourse is taken in a relative sense, to be ascertained by the context. We are not aware that this famine was felt beyond the distance of Hebron. "Go unto Joseph" Pharaoh has had reason to trust Joseph more and more, and now he adheres to his purpose of sending his people to him. "All the face of the land of Egypt." "And Joseph opened all places in which there was food" - all the stores in every city. "And sold unto Mizaim." The stores under Pharaoh's hand were public property, obtained either by lawful taxation or by purchase. It was a great public benefit to sell this grain, that had been providently kept in store, at a moderate price, and thus preserve the lives of a nation during a seven years' famine. "All the land." This is to be understood of the countries in the neighborhood of Egypt. Famines in these countries were not unusual. We have read already of two famines in Palestine that did not extend to Egypt Genesis 12:10; Genesis 26:1.

The fertility of Egypt depends on the rise of the waters of the Nile to a certain point, at which they will reach all the country. If it fall short of that point, there will be a deficiency in the crops proportioned to the deficiency in the rise. The rise of the Nile depends on the tropical rains by which the lake is supplied from which it flows. These rains depend on the clouds wafted by the winds from the basin of the Mediterranean Sea. The amount of these piles of vapor will depend on the access and strength of the solar heat producing evaporation from the surface of that inland sea. The same cause, therefore, may withhold rain from central Africa, and from all the lands that are watered from the Mediterranean. The duration of the extraordinary plenty was indeed wonderful. But such periods of excess are generally followed by corresponding periods of deficiency over the same area. This prepares the way for the arrival of Joseph's kindred in Egypt.

- Joseph and Ten of His Brethren

1. שׁבר sheber, "fragment, crumb, hence, grain." בר bar "pure," "winnowed," hence, "corn" (grain).

6. שׁליט shallı̂yṭ, "ruler, governor, hence," Sultan. Not elsewhere found in the Pentateuch.

25. כלי kelı̂y, "vessel," here any portable article in which grain may be conveyed. שׂק śaq, "sack," the very word which remains in our language to this day. אמתחת 'amtachath "bag."

Twenty years, the period of Joseph's long and anxious waiting, have come to an end. The dreams of his boyhood are now at length to be fulfilled. The famine has reached the chosen family, and they look at one another perplexed and irresolute, not knowing what to do.

53-56. The seven years of plenteousness … ended—Over and above the proportion purchased for the government during the years of plenty, the people could still have husbanded much for future use. But improvident as men commonly are in the time of prosperity, they found themselves in want, and would have starved by thousands had not Joseph anticipated and provided for the protracted calamity. In all lands; in all the neighbouring countries, appears by comparing this with Genesis 42:1.

And the seven years of dearth began to come, as Joseph had said,.... In the interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams; as soon as the seven years of plenty were over, there were quickly some appearances of the famine coming on; as particularly the river Nile not flowing to its usual height at the season of it; hence there was a drought, the earth was parched, and everything began to wither and decay, and the seed that was sown sprung not up:

and the dearth was in all lands; adjoining to Egypt, as Syria, Arabia, Palestine, Canaan, &c.

but in all the land of Egypt there was bread; which was in the hands of everyone, and remained of their old stores in the years of plenty not yet exhausted, and which continued for some time after the dearth began. It is very probable that to this seven years' drought in Egypt Ovid (t) refers, which he makes to be nine; as does also Apollodorus (u).

(t) "Dicitur Aegyptus caruisse juvantibus arva Imbribus, atque annis sicca fuisse novem." --Ovid de Artc Amandi, l. 1. ver. 647. (u) De Deor Orig. l. 2. p. 104.

And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.
53–57. The Years of Famine

54. all lands] Cf. Genesis 41:57. The famine is represented as afflicting not only Egypt, but all the neighbouring lands which constituted the known world of the Israelites. Cf. Genesis 43:1. For a similar hyperbole, cf. “all the world” (Luke 2:1; John 21:25); “a great famine over all the world” (Acts 11:28).

Genesis 41:54When the years of scarcity commenced, at the close of the years of plenty, the famine spread over all (the neighbouring) lands; only in Egypt was there bread. As the famine increased in the land, and the people cried to Pharaoh for bread, he directed them to Joseph, who "opened all in which was" (bread), i.e., all the granaries, and sold corn (שׁבר, denom. from שׁבר, signifies to trade in corn, to buy and sell corn) to the Egyptians, and (as the writer adds, with a view to what follows) to all the world (כּל־הארץ, Genesis 41:57), that came thither to buy corn, because the famine was great on every hand. - Years of famine have frequently fallen, like this one, upon Egypt, and the neighbouring countries to the north. The cause of this is to be seen in the fact, that the overflowing of the Nile, to which Egypt is indebted for its fertility, is produced by torrents of rain falling in the alpine regions of Abyssinia, which proceed from clouds formed in the Mediterranean and carried thither by the wind; consequently it has a common origin with the rains of Palestine (see the proofs in Hengst. pp. 37ff.).
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