Daily Word

Willing slaves and taxpayers | Genesis 47:20-26

20 So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for every Egyptian sold his field, because the famine was severe upon them. So the land became Pharaoh’s. 21 As for the people, he relocated them to the cities from one end of Egypt’s border to the other. 22 Only the land of the priests he did not buy, because the priests had an allotment from Pharaoh, and they lived off the allotment which Pharaoh gave them. Therefore, they did not sell their land.

23 Then Joseph said to the people, “Behold, today I have purchased you and your land for Pharaoh; now, here is seed for you, and you may sow the land. 24 At the harvest you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four-fifths shall be your own for seed of the field and for your food, and for those of your households and as food for your little ones.” 25 So they said, “You have saved our lives! Let us find favor in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh’s slaves.”

26 Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt, valid to this day, that Pharaoh was to have the fifth; only the land of the priests did not become Pharaoh’s.

Genesis 47:20-26 (NASB)

Sold as slaves

Yesterday we saw that the people sold themselves out to Pharaoh due to the severity of the famine. Today we get a review – that Joseph, on behalf of Pharaoh, acquired all the land and goods of everyone in Egypt – even their own lives. Remember it was the people who actually came up with the idea to sell themselves as slaves. Ironically, Joseph knew exactly what it was like to be a slave.

Mass relocation

Joseph moved everyone to cities. I presume this was to make food distribution and care more efficient. The land was useless for now. They returned to their land after the famine subsided – at which time Joseph gave seed for planting and the tax was instituted. The exception is the priests. They were able to keep their land since they had a special allocation from Pharaoh. It is likely Jacobs family also kept their land since it was also specifically allocated by Pharaoh.

Willing slaves and taxpayers

So in the end, the people are slaves with no land. On top of that, they have to pay a 20% income tax. And guess what, they are happy! Can you imagine? Why? Because they were alive – by the mercy of Pharaoh through the management of Joseph and overall work of God to bless them in spite of the famine.

The 20% income tax became their standard. Compared to the real tax (income, sales, property, etc) in countries, like the US, it is low. “Such a tax was not out of line with what was common in that day in the ancient Near East. Twenty percent was actually a small tax at that time, since the average was 33 and a third percent.” (planobiblechapel.org quoting Westminster Theological Journal) We’ll see that God does the opposite with the tribe of Levi and the priests – they are not allocated any land but are given the tithe and offerings to sustain them.


  • Interesting how God moves Joseph from a position of slave with no rights, to the 2nd in command who, basically, is the master of every slave (all the people) of Egypt!
  • Are we willing citizens of our county? Do we pay taxes without complaining? Do we give thanks for the government and pray for the leaders? (Romans 13:1-7)
Official US Tax Slave. Image from etsy.com *

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