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Joseph was sold by his brothers and ended up in Egypt. It was while interpreting the dream of Pharaoh that he was rewarded to administer the grains of Egypt for the impending seven years of famine. 

As administrator, Joseph could have given away all the wealth of Egypt. But he was not wasteful, especially with what belonged to others. 

He preferred to sell the corn rather than to give it to the hungry. For if he gave it free there would have been none for most. His liberality was wise whereby there was enough for everybody. 

Anybody could buy corn; for if it was perceived that the corn was free, they would give up cultivating the land. For he who has the use of what is another's neglects to cultivate his own.

In his wisdom, Joseph proceeded thus: first, he gathered up their money, then their implements; last of all, he acquired for the king all their rights to the ground. Today that would provoke a revolution and yet this arrangement saved Egypt and the world around Egypt. 

Joseph did not wish to deprive all of them of their property, but to support them in it. He imposed a general tax that they might hold their own in safety. So pleasing was this to all from whom he had taken the land, that they looked on it not as the selling of their rights, but as the recovery of their welfare. Thus they praised Joseph: "Thou hast saved our lives, let us find grace in the sight of our Lord." For they had lost nothing of their own, but had received a new right. Nothing of what was useful to them had failed for they had now gained it in perpetuity.

In his wisdom, Joseph acted so that the people should help themselves by their payments and should not in their time of need seek help from others. For it was surely better to give up part of their crops than to lose the whole of their rights. He required them to give up a fifth of their whole produce, and thus showed himself clear-sighted in making provisions for the future. Never after did Egypt suffer from such a famine. 

Note that in Pharaoh's dream, the produce of the seven fruitful years was all consumed by the seven years of famine. A way must be found so that the gains of the fruitful years can be extended during the seven unfruitful years. And this is for everyone to be able to give up a portion of their gains...i.e., not to consume all their gains. And it was this portion that Joseph saved for the seven lean years. 

What shall we admire in Joseph? His watchfulness--when so high an office was given him, he gathered such vast supplies; his justice--for having treated all alike. But what made him truly wise was that, sold by his brothers into slavery, he took no revenge for this wrong but put an end to their want. 

St. Ambrose




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