A common dilemma in business is when your immediate boss responds to growth by appointing a supervisor above you. In addition to a layer of management now insulating you from your boss, it becomes especially unpleasant if the new manager is an outsider. Whatever the difficulties, one thing any experienced business professional knows is that going over your new supervisor’s head directly to your old boss can be a career-killer.
This makes a sequence of events late in Genesis especially surprising. Like many of our Thought Tools, this one will definitely repay you if you read it with an open Bible . Pharaoh appoints Joseph viceroy over Egypt saying, “Only the throne shall be higher than you.” He repeatedly admonishes Egypt that Joseph’s word will rule in all matters. (Genesis 41:40-45)
It must have been a tad awkward for those senior administrators who formerly enjoyed direct access to Pharaoh himself. Nonetheless, Joseph gets to work diligently making the most of the seven years of agricultural and economic abundance. (Genesis 41:48-49)
So it is astonishing when the Egyptians approach Pharaoh directly.
The entire land of Egypt was starving and the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread.
Not surprisingly, Pharaoh does what most competent bosses would do—he reminds them of Joseph’s authority and sends them right back to Joseph.
What could possibly account for the Egyptians acting in a manner that seems so irrational? Pharaoh had emphasized Joseph’s absolute power so clearly that it is unthinkable that they simply forgot. What made them go over Joseph’s head and submit their appeal directly to Boss Pharaoh?
Ancient Jewish wisdom comes to our rescue. The clue is the precise wording in Pharaoh’s response to them. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians,
…Go to Joseph, that which he says to you, you must do.
Ordinarily, in conventional Biblical style, we’d have expected Pharaoh to have said, “That which he commands you, you must do.” The word ‘says’ ( Hebrew root AMaR) is especially incongruous here since it usually means casual conversation.
Happily, another usage of that word helps us decode its secondary meaning. In Psalms 119:162 King David says, “I rejoice at Your saying…” using that same word. This use of AMaR alerts us to hidden meaning.
The full story is that David uttered these words while in the shower! That’s right, standing nude with water sluicing over him, David was suddenly overwhelmed by a depressing thought: Stripped of clothing, I resemble just another animal. Is that really all I am; just an animal trying to look better than other creatures by donning fancy clothing?
Glancing down in the midst of these dispiriting musings, he realized that his male member was circumcised. He was instantly filled with exultation realizing that no animal deliberately marked its body in accordance with God’s directives. “I rejoice at your instruction to circumcise” said David. He was after all, not an animal but a human touched by God.
It is from this account that we understand that the Hebrew root AMaR has a secondary association. Not only does it mean oral communication but it also means circumcision. Returning to Joseph in Egypt, we now understand that what Pharaoh really said to his people was, “Go to Joseph, he told you to circumcise, go and do it.” (Genesis 41:55) No wonder the Egyptians weren’t quick to listen.
It turns out that when the seven years of famine began people began starving immediately. (Genesis 41:54-55) I have noticed that many English translations wrongly insert the word “When” at the beginning of verse 55 which mistakenly conceals the suddenness of the transition from having bread to starving.
Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that the Egyptians did first go to Joseph. He asked them why they were not eating from food that they surely stockpiled. They responded that their stored food went rotten overnight. “Oh well, in that case,” said Joseph, “you must circumcise.”
The Egyptians were so outraged at this insane-sounding instruction that they went over Joseph’s head to Pharaoh. Predictably he told them to obey Joseph. But why would Joseph tell the Egyptians to circumcise themselves?
God imbued people with appetites for both sex and food. Harm inevitably follows immoderate self-indulgence in both. Furthermore, loss of all constraint in sex usually impacts the food area too. Which is to say that people who live out their sexual obsessions may lack “enough to eat” meaning that their lack of self-discipline can diminish their ability to accumulate wealth. Food is of course the most basic use for money.
Circumcision is a symbol of God’s rules over even the urgency of sex. We mark that most demanding of organs with a symbol of restraint and self-discipline. Not surprisingly, those with restraint in the sexual area generally possess it in the financial area too.
The intricate details of these fifteen verses in Genesis 41 help us understand a very subtle but very real relationship that God built into the world. In Biblical nomenclature, Egypt is associated with licentiousness.
Our drive for food (money) is inextricably linked to our drive for sex. If we yield entirely to our lower selves in the sexual arena, we’re liable to suffer in the money area. It’s interesting to note that America’s economy seemed like an unstoppable juggernaut until the aftermath of the so-called sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s.
The deterioration in America’s economic power in the world that began in about 1979 was at least partially due to increasing numbers of people wanting more and more in exchange for less and less. This is exactly the economic consequences one might expect to see coming to a population ever more of which desires more sex and less commitment.
Commitment means marriage and nobody is surprised by government statistics showing that among families headed by two married parents just 7.5% live in poverty while in families headed by a single parent the poverty level jumps to 33.9%.
Thus, we discover two mistakes that can hurt the ability to earn money. One is that there is no good way to go over your boss’s head to his boss. The second is that life’s different areas are sometimes unexpectedly linked.