President Ronald Reagan was known for clever humor. At least once he quipped that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” I wonder how much more that joke rings in our ears today.
While reading through the book of Genesis in my newest Bible reading plan, I found myself thinking about government. No, I do not believe that the narrative at the end of Genesis is there for the purpose of teaching us about politics. But, I think, as we observe the narrative, we can at least see something of human nature and political nature holding true-to-form.
In Genesis, God moves to relocate the family and future nation of Israel to their own land in Egypt. God prepares the way for Israel to move to Egypt through the way that Joseph helps the government of Egypt deal with the disaster of seven years of famine. Over a period of four centuries between Genesis 50 and Exodus 1, the family of Israel will grow into a nation. Then, in Exodus, God will bring this new nation out of its incubator and into the promised land.
Now, let’s ponder government. With the point already made that this is not the message of Genesis, let’s catch some truth anyhow. What is the nature of a government when its people face a crisis? In historical human experience, when the government helps a people out of a time of crisis, the government will also use that time of crisis to increase its own power over the people. Particularly, in Genesis, Joseph puts together a food-storage program that saves the lives of many. However, when the people need to come to him, a government official, for their food, he gives it to the people in exchange for their property and eventually their freedom.
Genesis 47:20-21 – 20 So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. 21 As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other.
Understand, dear friends, that any government not bound by the standards of the Lord and his holy word will move to grant itself greater and greater power over its people. Government will happily use times of crisis to take freedoms from its people. And even when freedoms are returned, they are never as many as were taken. A government that takes five freedoms from you and returns to you three has not left you as free as you were before it reached into your world.
Joseph was used by God to save lives. But Joseph was also used by the government of Egypt to create a new world in which the people and the land were under the thumb of Pharaoh. Eventually, this same power became the power that enslaved the people of Israel. And let’s not take time to ponder much about the fact that the oppressive taxation of Pharaoh was a 20% flat tax, which, all the sudden does not sound as bad as some other systems with which you may be familiar.
It will be for you to figure out your own views on politics and government. But, dear friends, be very careful tolerating the taking of your freedom by leaders in power. The powerful have a very hard time giving freedoms back to the people. And if we let these things pass unnoticed, we put ourselves in a very vulnerable position.