Ten years ago, in the summer of 2006, I wrote an editorial titled Years of Plenty, Years of Famine. In it, I told how Joseph has always been one of my favorite Bible characters. His roller-coaster ride from favorite son to slave to master of the house to prisoner to Viceroy of Egypt is both amazing and inspiring.
The culmination of the story in Genesis 50:20 holds out hope to every believer going through difficult times: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” What an inspiring example of God at work in the affairs of men to accomplish His ultimate purposes!
The turning point of Joseph’s experience in Egypt occurs when he interprets a pair of dreams for Pharaoh. He realizes that Egypt will soon experience seven years of abundance, followed by seven years of famine. Joseph is put in charge of the preparations during the years of plenty, so that the people can survive the coming years of famine.
In that editorial, I suggested that America might have been facing a similar “years of plenty, years of famine” scenario. If that was a possibility, I wrote that we would be wise to consider the personal implications of Joseph’s story and start making appropriate preparations now, during the years of plenty, for any difficult years ahead.
The point of revisiting this 10 years later isn’t to take a victory lap, pointing out the financial crisis and economic trouble that began a couple of years later. Rather, it’s to re-examine some of the takeaways we gleaned then and see if there’s any beneficial application for us today.
America — and in fact the entire global economy — certainly faced a frightening economic storm in 2008-2009. Many wondered if the current financial/economic system would even survive. It has, but many believe the core issues that led to the financial crisis and global recession were never truly addressed.
Rather than recognize the dangerous implications of our runaway debt, we’ve added trillions more. Rather than reform a financial system sorely lacking adequate controls, we implement stress tests to comfort ourselves that the massive banks we’ve allowed to grow even bigger are “safe” now. Rather than step back from the type of active and interventionist central-bank policies that helped lay the groundwork for the initial financial crisis, we’ve doubled down with Quantitative Easings and negative interest-rate policies. And rather than our political leaders coming together to deal in a substantive way with the most important issues of our time, our politics are more fractured and divided than they’ve been in my lifetime.
Have the bankers and policymakers simply kicked the years-of-famine “can” further down the road, avoiding the worst of it for now only to ensure a future due date? We can only speculate. But we do know the Bible has many clear warnings about debt, so as was the case a decade ago, it doesn’t take a prophet to see that at some point our national debt addiction is likely to cause problems.
Of much greater importance than our national problems are the protective principles God has provided to help us prepare individually for future storms. If we’re wise, we’ll use any current “years of plenty” to prepare for potential hardship in the future. We can do that by diligently working to get debt-free, funding an emergency-savings reserve, investing for the future, and diversifying broadly.
Joseph wisely set aside 20% of the harvested grain, and was able to save not only Egypt during the eventual famine, but the surrounding nations as well. That should be our goal — to be faithful stewards when times are good, in preparation for those times when they will not be. In being faithful this way, we may find ourselves being used, like Joseph, as instruments of God’s deliverance in times of distress. (Naturally, we shouldn’t be so preoccupied with the future that we fail to be generous givers now. God will provide!)
A major theme of Joseph’s story is that God is at work even in times of hardship. Like the ancient Israelites, many Americans turn to God during crisis, only to go back to their “old idols” when the threat recedes. Those crises can be widespread, as in 2008. Or they can be individual, as in the case of a neighbor or co-worker falling on hard times. In either case, having our own financial house in order may enable us to reach out and help, while also offering the spiritual food that truly satisifies.