How Bad Was the Famine in Egypt? (Genesis 41:56)

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When Joseph stood in front of Pharaoh and interpreted his dreams (Genesis 41:14-24), he did so with an extreme amount of confidence.

After all, he wasn’t really the one interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams. God was. All Joseph had to do was tell Pharaoh what God was saying, then help him manage the famine itself.

That must’ve sounded like a fantastic idea seven years ago. Upon his advice, Pharaoh installed a wise man — who ended up being Joseph — to oversee the famine preparation and relief. 

During those seven years, Joseph stored and stored and stored. He built enormous rooms that could hold a massive amount of grain, so much so that it could feed an entire nation for another seven years. Easy peasy, right?

Then the famine came, and not only was there no food in the land of Egypt, but no food “in all the lands” (Genesis 41:54). But what exactly does that mean?

There is a ton of debate in the academic world about just how far reaching this famine was. Some would argue for a more localized famine, whereas others claim it reached all the way to far-off areas such as the Americas and even Australia. 

What we do know is that the famine reached far enough north to affect Joseph’s family still living in Canaan. In Genesis 47, they eventually move to Egypt to stay with Joseph and his family (but that’s a story for another time).

Genesis 47 also goes into greater detail on the state of Egypt and surrounding areas during this famine. According to the Text, the famine was so severe that the Egyptians eventually turn over their livestock to Pharaoh, which was more of an act of mercy since the animals would’ve most likely died afterwards.

A famine like this had the potential to obliterate an entire empire. Without Joseph, there’s a good possibility that Egypt itself could’ve failed, if not significantly downgraded, at least. Joseph’s administration proved instrumental not only in preserving the people of the lands, but most likely ushering in a new relationship between citizen and government.