Genesis 47:26
And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth part, except the land of the priests only, which became not Pharaoh's.
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47:13-26 Care being taken of Jacob and his family, which mercy was especially designed by Providence in Joseph's advancement, an account is given of the saving the kingdom of Egypt from ruin. There was no bread, and the people were ready to die. See how we depend upon God's providence. All our wealth would not keep us from starving, if rain were withheld for two or three years. See how much we are at God's mercy, and let us keep ourselves always in his love. Also see how much we smart by our own want of care. If all the Egyptians had laid up corn for themselves in the seven years of plenty, they had not been in these straits; but they regarded not the warning. Silver and gold would not feed them: they must have corn. All that a man hath will he give for his life. We cannot judge this matter by modern rules. It is plain that the Egyptians regarded Joseph as a public benefactor. The whole is consistent with Joseph's character, acting between Pharaoh and his subjects, in the fear of God. The Egyptians confessed concerning Joseph, Thou hast saved our lives. What multitudes will gratefully say to Jesus, at the last day, Thou hast saved our souls from the most tremendous destruction, and in the season of uttermost distress! The Egyptians parted with all their property, and even their liberty, for the saving of their lives: can it then be too much for us to count all but loss, and part with all, at His command, and for His sake, who will both save our souls, and give us an hundredfold, even here, in this present world? Surely if saved by Christ, we shall be willing to become his servants.I have bought you. - He had bought their lands, and so they might be regarded, in some sort, as the servants of Pharaoh, or the serfs of the soil. "In the increase ye shall give the fifth to Pharaoh." This explains at once the extent of their liability, and the security of their liberty and property. They do not become Pharaoh's bondmen. They own their land under him by a new tenure. They are no longer subject to arbitrary exactions. They have a stated annual rent, bearing a fixed ratio to the amount of their crop. This is an equitable adjustment of their dues, and places them under the protection of a statute law. The people are accordingly well pleased with the enactment of Joseph, which becomes henceforth the law of Egypt.23-28. Joseph said, Behold, &c.—The lands being sold to the government (Ge 47:19, 20), seed would be distributed for the first crop after the famine; and the people would occupy them as tenants-at-will on the payment of a produce rent, almost the same rule as obtains in Egypt in the present day. That Pharaoh should have the fifth part; that the propriety of the land should be Pharaoh’s; and that in token thereof the people should pay the fifth part of the products of it to Pharaoh. And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt unto this day,.... With the consent of Pharaoh, his nobles, and all the people of the land, who readily came into it; and so it became, a fundamental law of their constitution, and which continued to the times of Moses, the writer of this history:

that Pharaoh should have the fifth part; that is, of the increase the whole land of Egypt produced:

except the land of the priests only, which became not Pharaoh's; it not being bought by him; so Diodorus Siculus (m), as he assigns the first part of the land to the priests, so he says they were free from all taxes and tribute, and next to the king were possessed of honour and authority.

(m) Ut supra. (Bibliothec. l. 1. p. 47.)

And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt unto this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth part; {h} except the land of the priests only, which became not Pharaoh's.

(h) Pharaoh, in providing for idolatrous priests, will be a condemnation to all those who neglect the true ministers of God's word.

26. a statute] The Israelites preserved this tradition concerning the origin of the system of land-tenure which prevailed in Egypt at a later time. For the expression “unto this day,” cf. Genesis 22:14. Unfortunately it does not supply us with the date at which this section was written.Verse 26. - And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt unto this day (i.e. the day of the narrator), that Pharaoh should have the fifth part; except the land of the priests only, which became not Pharaoh's. The account here given of the land tenure in Egypt, viz.,

(1) that after the time of Joseph the kings of Egypt became lords paramount of the soil,

(2) that the only free landholders in the country were the members of the priestly caste, and

(3) that the population generally occupied their farms at the uniform fixed rent of one fifth of their yearly produce, is abundantly corroborated by the statements of Herodotus (2. 109), that Sesostris divided the soil of Egypt among the inhabitants, "assigning square plots of equal size to all, and obtaining his chief revenue from the rent which the holders were required to pay him year by year; of Diodorus Siculus (1. 73), that the land in Egypt belonged either to the priests, to the king, or to the military order; and of Strabo (17. 787), that the peasants were not landowners, but occupiers of ratable land; as also by the monuments, which represent the king, priests, and warriors alone as having landed property (Wilkinson, Ken). Dr. Robinson quotes a modern parallel to this act of Joseph's, which both illustrates its nature and by way of contrast exhibits its clemency. Up to the middle of the present century the people of Egypt had been the owners as well as tillers of the soil. "By a single decree the Pasha (Mohammed Ali) declared himself to be the sole owner of all lands in Egypt; and the people of course became at once-only his tenants at will, or rather his slaves." "The modern Pharaoh made no exceptions, and stripped the mosques and other religious and charitable institutions of their landed endowments as mercilessly as the rest. Joseph gave the people seed to sow, and required for the king only a fifth of the produce, leaving four-fifths to them as their own; but now, though seed is in like manner given out, yet every village is compelled to cultivate two-thirds of its lands with corn and other articles for the Pasha, and also to render back to him, in the form of taxes and exactions in kind, a large proportion of the produce remaining after" ('Biblical Researches,' 1:42). Thus Joseph secured the possession of the whole land to Pharaoh by purchase, and "the people he removed to cities, from one end of the land of Egypt to the other." לערים, not from one city to another, but "according to ( equals κατά) the cities;" so that he distributed the population of the whole land according to the cities in which the corn was housed, placing them partly in the cities themselves, and partly in the immediate neighbourhood.
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