Standing for Truth and Defending Your Freedom
Standing for Truth and Defending Your Freedom

Benevolent Bondage

by Frank Wright, Ph.D.

Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg expressed the hope that the lives ofthose who gave “the last full measure of their devotion” would inspire a new birth of freedom. Instead, these many years later, it seems Americans stand on the threshold of a new birth of statism, as we witness the greatest expansion of government power in the history of our nation.

Emblematic of this massive expansion is the federal government’s assertion of authority over the entire healthcare industry. Using its newfound leverage, the government is shaping a forced national policy in areas like: abortion, contraception, and euthanasia. Unsurprisingly, this coercive statism is accompanied by limitations on personal freedoms and significant new tax burdens.

Some view the magnitude and scope of this expansion of state control as a pathway to tyranny. Those more sanguine see a strong government as better able to provide for the common good. Which is it? 

We find a helpful biblical perspective in a familiar narrative— the memorable story of Joseph in Egypt. Some see this account as an example of a powerful and benevolent government helping people survive a great calamity. But a closer look is instructive. 

In Genesis 41, Joseph is released from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. The dream was of seven fat cows and seven ears of plump grain, followed by seven thin, sickly cows and seven ears of blighted grain. 

Joseph’s interpretation of the dream as seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine, along with his proposed solution, gains immediate favor with Pharaoh. So under Pharaoh’s authority, Joseph confiscates one-fifth of all the grain in the land; then we read these ominous words: The seven years of famine began to come. 

With the famine upon them, deprivation followed. Joseph then opened the storehouses and sold grain back to the Egyptians—the very grain Pharaoh previously confiscated. 

For most, this is where the story ends. Because of Joseph’s wisdom and favor with God, a great disaster is averted. But stopping here, we miss a crucial part of the story found in Genesis 47.

In a description difficult to comprehend in our day, the biblical text is blunt: there was no food in all the land. And then something equally blunt: Joseph gathered up all the money in Egypt in exchange for grain. 

With the famine undiminished, the people were forced to return to Joseph for more food. This time he took all their livestock in exchange for food—that livestock being the very means of production in an agrarian economy. 

Still in the grip of the famine, the people came back the following year for more food. This time the people asked Joseph to buy their land and themselves for food. So the money, the livestock, and the land are now Pharaoh’s—and the people are his servants. 

From being free landowners, the people effectively became indentured sharecroppers, with Pharaoh continuing to take onefifth of the grain. Interestingly, the priests were excluded—not only keeping their land, but also receiving an allowance from Pharaoh, and revealing how easily religious leaders can be co-opted. 

Stopping here with the narrative, we should note three things. First, in their desperation the Egyptian people willingly agreed to everything. Second, with the famine over, the people remained in bondage. Third, when next we see the Israelites in Exodus chapter one, they are all slaves. 

So under the all-powerful (and seemingly benevolent) government of Pharaoh, the people survived the catastrophic famine. But they also went: 

From freedom to crisis; 

From crisis to benevolent bondage; and 

From benevolent bondage to servitude. 

Said another way, any government powerful enough to give you everything you need is powerful enough to take away everything you have.

Remembering our own fallen condition, what can we learn about ourselves from this narrative? At least two things, I think. First, we are sometimes little different from the Egyptians, with a propensity to live by sight and not by faith. And second, we, too, are often willing to exchange freedom for security.

The larger question then becomes: Is that where we are today? With the rising statism in our day, are we standing at the threshold of a benevolent bondage? For the people of God, this is no small matter, as far more would be lost in such bondage than just personal freedom.

If we put our trust in “princes,” lost is the veracity of our faith witness before a watching world. Lost is the joy of seeing God provide, sometimes miraculously. Lost is the intimacy of our relationship with him, as we look to another to provide. Lost also is the sense of purpose that comes from being part of His divine plan.

Standing on the battlefield at Gettysburg, Lincoln spoke of a new birth of freedom for a nation under God, reminding us there is only one form of bondage that is truly benevolent. It is bondage to the Great King, who spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all—that we might be loosed from our sins in His own precious blood.