15 And when money failed in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came unto Joseph, and said, Give us bread: for why should we die in thy presence? for the money faileth. 16 And Joseph said, Give your cattle; and I will give you for your cattle, if money fail. 17 And they brought their cattle unto Joseph: and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for horses, and for the flocks, and for the cattle of the herds, and for the asses: and he fed them with bread for all their cattle for that year.
Previously, Joseph traded corn for all the money in the land of Egypt. But now that he has all the money, the typical exchange of currency won’t work, and they must fall back on more primitive methods of bartering. And so, when the people come begging for food again, Joseph now exchanges it with them for their cattle. Horses, flocks, cattle, and asses, Joseph acquires them all for Pharaoh, just as he did with the money.
Of course, during a time of famine, providing feed for one’s flocks would only be an additional burden, secondary to having enough grain for one’s family. Thus, Pharaoh is being made richer, but there is also a double blessing being given to the people. Give up these flocks that you can’t afford to support anyway, and with them gone the grain you receive will last you longer.
What a strange thing, that an act of shrewd business could also be an act of kindness!