Genesis 41:1-41:57 From Pauper to Prince

two full years… Pharaoh dream… butler remember… God’s timing… fulfill dreams… humble and confident… attributes to God… impress Pharaoh… level of detail… gets the job… fruitful… contented… saves the world…

Genesis 41:1-41:57

And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed:

Ouch! Two years of Joseph in prison, waiting to be remembered by the butler. In fact, probably just long enough for Joseph to give up hope. I can imagine one year of expectant waiting, hoping that perhaps he’ll remember on the anniversary. Then hope slowly dying away. Joseph must’ve reluctantly concluded that God wasn’t going to use that extraordinary coincidence to rescue him. Perhaps he’d resigned himself to being in prison, or was praying that God would find some other way to reunite him with his family.

Then God sends Pharoah (Par`oh) a dream (chalam). We’ll discuss that more later, but what’s interesting to me at the moment is that nobody could interpret (pathar ) it:

And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all the wise men thereof: and Pharaoh told them his dream; but [there was] none that could interpret them unto Pharaoh.

Actually, what’s even more interesting to me is that Pharaoh knew nobody could interpret it. Perhaps Egyptians are more honest than Babylonians and didn’t even try to fake it. Or possibly dreams were rare enough that among them that nobody had any context for interpreting them. At least, nobody except the chief (sar) butler (shaqah):

Then spake the chief butler unto Pharaoh, saying, I do remember my faults this day:

A fascinating confession. He tells the story of his dream in prison, and of Joseph:

And [there was] there with us a young man, an Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams; to each man according to his dream he did interpret. And it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was; me he restored unto mine office, and him he hanged.

I am awestruck by God’s timing in all this. If the butler had remembered Joseph earlier, Joseph would likely have been freed and returned to Israel. Yet God was saving Joseph for such a time as this — in order to fulfill his dreams! At the same time, it does seem as if God deliberately delayed the fulfillment so that Joseph would credit Him, rather than himself, with his deliverance.

Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon: and he shaved [himself], and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh.

I find it amusing that he was brought hastily (ruwts), but he had time to shave (galach) and change (chalaph). Pretty reasonable after being in a smelly dungeon (bowr) so long, though its an interesting echo of ritual purification; perhaps it also reflects conformance to Egyptian rather than Jewish standards.

That done, Pharaoh gets down to business:

And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I have dreamed a dream, and [there is] none that can interpret it: and I have heard say of thee, [that] thou canst understand a dream to interpret it.

Joseph is both humble and confident:

And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, [It is] not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.

I wonder if Pharaoh is as taken aback by this bluntness as I am. If so, it doesn’t appear to slow him down:

And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, In my dream, behold, I stood upon the bank of the river:

So, he tells the dream, and Joseph — apparently without hesitating, or seeking God through fervent prayer, or any ceremony at all — gives him the interpretation he sought:

And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, The dream of Pharaoh [is] one: God hath shewed Pharaoh what he [is] about to do.

Again, I note how Joseph explicitly attributes this to God (‘elohiym). He then concisely summarizes the dreams, which he notes are really one (‘echad):

The seven good kine [are] seven years; and the seven good ears [are] seven years: the dream [is] one. And the seven thin and ill favoured kine that came up after them [are] seven years; and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine.

As a professional communicator, I am impressed with how his interpretation is comprehensive, yet shorter than the dream itself! He is also completely confident in the accuracy of his interpretation of what God is doing:

This [is] the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh: What God [is] about to do he sheweth unto Pharaoh.

He then lays out the situation explicitly for Pharaoh:

Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt: And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land; And the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following; for it [shall be] very grievous.

I see this not so much as interpreting the dream anymore, but moving beyond that to impress upon Pharaoh the gravity of the situation:

And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; [it is] because the thing [is] established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.

as well as what needs to be done:

Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do [this], and let him appoint officers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. And that food shall be for store to the land against the seven years of famine, which shall be in the land of Egypt; that the land perish not through the famine.

God may have provided the interpretation, but Joseph took the initiative to come up with the application. Its almost shocking in its level of detail, considering it’s pretty much real-time planning. But, I’ve known (and on occasion been 🙂 people like that: who take in a problem at a glance, and immediately recognize what must be done to solve it. Joseph is astute enough to realize he may never see Pharaoh again, and wants to do his part to ensure God’s warning is followed up on.

Of course, I can’t help but wonder if he was also pitching a job for himself:

And the thing was good in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of all his servants. And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find [such a one] as this [is], a man in whom the Spirit of God [is]?And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, [there is] none so discreet and wise as thou [art]: Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou.

Personally, I doubt contrivance on Joseph’s part. I don’t think Joseph had thought that far ahead, nor really considered whether he’d rather stay in Egypt versus go home. I think he was just going with the flow, and perhaps only begun thinking of himself as a possible candidate after he’d started describing the position. Regardless of intent, though, he gets the job:

And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck; And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him [ruler] over all the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I [am] Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.

A pretty amazing Horatio Alger story, from slave to prisoner to prime minister of the world’s most powerful country. He even gets the girl:

And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnathpaaneah; and he gave him to wife Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On. And Joseph went out over [all] the land of Egypt.

One can’t help but wonder whether Potiphera (Powtiy Phera’) is any relation to his former Potipher (Powtiyphar), but I guess we’ll never know for sure.

And Joseph [was] thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt.

Wow, thirty years. That’s thirteen years of exile after his capture at seventeen. By the end of the seven plentiful years (sheba` saba` shaneh), he’s lived longer in Egypt than in Palestine:

And in the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth by handfuls. And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities: the food of the field, which [was] round about every city, laid he up in the same.

It is encouraging to see that work doesn’t completely ruin his family life; the land isn’t the only thing that’s fertile:

And unto Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, which Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On bare unto him.

I’m impressed with Joseph’s choice of names:

And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: For God, [said he], hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house. And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.

Wow! Such contented names. Compare that to the stories behind the names of Isaac (“mocking laughter”), Jacob (“deceiver”) or his brothers and Joseph (“I want more”). Joseph forgets (M@nashsheh, from nashah) the past, and enjoys double fruitfulness (‘Ephrayim, from parah) God has for him. Sounds simple, but how many of us are truly free from the pain of our families of origin, and able to fully enjoy the present?

Of course, the good times don’t last:

And the seven years of plenteousness, that was in the land of Egypt, were ended.

But Joseph was prepared:

And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.

And Pharaoh knows to trust him:

And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do.

Interestingly, Joseph’s wisdom is so foresightful that it blesses not just Egypt, but all the surrounding territory:

And the famine was over all the face of the earth: And Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt. And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy [corn]; because that the famine was [so] sore in all lands.

A pretty amazing story. Not only does he escape prison, he gets a job, a wife, a family, a kingdom, and even saves the known world. And like every successful man, his shadow reaches far enough to dig up the ghosts of the past, as we’ll see next time…


God, I confess that I have such a small understanding of your ways. I grow impatient when my prayers are not answered the way I think they should be, and totally miss the fact that you are planning to bless me above and beyond anything I can imagine. Give me a heart like Joseph, that is ready to respond to needs, offer hope, and accept love even when they arrive unexpectedly. May I forget the pain of the past and enjoy the fruitfulness of the present, even as I plan for the future. A future of blessing for myself, my family, those I love — and those who need me to love them. Amen.