Genesis 41 – Joseph Interprets Pharaoh’s Dream and Rises to Power
A. Pharaoh’s dreams and his dilemma.
1. (1) Two years after the release of the butler and the execution of the baker…
Then it came to pass, at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh had a dream; and behold, he stood by the river.
a. At the end of two full years: Joseph was in prison, forgotten by Pharaoh’s butler, for two full years. There was difficulty and discouragement in those years for Joseph, but we assume he trusted God nonetheless. Many lessons come from this.
· Sometimes the good we do seems unrewarded.
· Waiting is a common theme in the Christian life.
· God often appoints us to wait much longer than we would like.
· God appoints our starts and our stops.
· God’s hand was in this: when the time was right, the butler knew exactly where to find Joseph. If he had been released earlier, who knows?
b. Pharaoh had a dream: The following verses describe Pharaoh’s strange dream.
2. (2-7) Pharaoh’s disturbing dreams.
Suddenly there came up out of the river seven cows, fine looking and fat; and they fed in the meadow. Then behold, seven other cows came up after them out of the river, ugly and gaunt, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the river. And the ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven fine looking and fat cows. So Pharaoh awoke. He slept and dreamed a second time; and suddenly seven heads of grain came up on one stalk, plump and good. Then behold, seven thin heads, blighted by the east wind, sprang up after them. And the seven thin heads devoured the seven plump and full heads. So Pharaoh awoke, and indeed, it was a dream.
a. There came up out of the river seven cows: In Pharaoh’s dream, seven fat cows came out of the Nile and were consumed by seven ugly and gaunt cows. This strange dream woke him up, but he went back to sleep.
b. Seven heads of grain came up on one stalk: In a second dream, seven thin heads of grain devoured seven plump and full heads of grain.
c. So Pharaoh awoke, and indeed, it was a dream: This was a life-like, crazy dream, but it was a message from God.
i. God speaks to us today. He may use supernatural means and strange things, even crazy things. More normally, God speaks to us through His Word. We remember Hebrews 1:1-2: God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.
3. (8) Pharaoh’s troubled spirit.
Now 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 its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them for Pharaoh.
a. In the morning his spirit was troubled: Pharaoh didn’t take this as merely a crazy dream. In his spirit, he knew that there was something important in this.
b. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them: Joseph told the butler and the baker in prison, Do not interpretations belong to God (Genesis 40:8). The interpretation belonged to God, and He didn’t give that knowledge to the magicians of Egypt.
4. (9-14) Joseph is called in to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams.
Then the chief butler spoke to Pharaoh, saying: “I remember my faults this day. When Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and put me in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, both me and the chief baker, we each had a dream in one night, he and I. Each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream. Now there was a young Hebrew man with us there, a servant of the captain of the guard. And we told him, and he interpreted our dreams for us; to each man he interpreted according to his own dream. And it came to pass, just as he interpreted for us, so it happened. He restored me to my office, and he hanged him.” Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; and he shaved, changed his clothing, and came to Pharaoh.
a. I remember my faults this day: The butler finally remembered Joseph and confessed the wrong he did against him. He recommended Joseph to Pharaoh as a man who interprets dreams.
b. Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him quickly out of the dungeon: When it was in the timing of God to get Joseph out of prison, it all happened quickly. Often, we feel there are long periods of time when God doesn’t do anything, but when His timing is right, everything can come together in an instant.
i. During the times we think God isn’t doing anything, He is doing the work most important to Him: developing our character and transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ.
ii. We love the words of Romans 8:28: And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. But don’t forget the next verse, Romans 8:29: For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. God’s work in our life is to conform us into the image of Jesus Christ, and that takes time.
iii. Here we see another way that Joseph shows us Jesus, who was also taken from long obscurity to great prominence quickly.
5. (15-16) Pharaoh tells Joseph of his dream.
And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that you can understand a dream, to interpret it.” So Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.”
a. I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it: Pharaoh’s dream was actually a revelation from God. He received it, but could not understand it. It was like a person who reads the Bible, but needs help from a man or woman of God to understand.
b. It is not in me: Pharaoh gave Joseph a golden opportunity to glorify himself, but Joseph refused. He did not use this as an opportunity to glorify himself before Pharaoh, but only to glorify God.
c. God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace: Joseph seems much wiser and perhaps humbler than he was before. If it was true that in the past he told his brothers his previous dreams in a self-glorying way, any such self-confidence was now gone. Joseph knew that God alone had the answer.
i. God’s work of character building was being accomplished in Joseph, even when he perhaps thought nothing was happening.
6. (17-24) Pharaoh tells Joseph his dream.
Then Pharaoh said to Joseph: “Behold, in my dream I stood on the bank of the river. Suddenly seven cows came up out of the river, fine looking and fat; and they fed in the meadow. Then behold, seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and gaunt, such ugliness as I have never seen in all the land of Egypt. And the gaunt and ugly cows ate up the first seven, the fat cows. When they had eaten them up, no one would have known that they had eaten them, for they were just as ugly as at the beginning. So I awoke. Also I saw in my dream, and suddenly seven heads came up on one stalk, full and good. Then behold, seven heads, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprang up after them. And the thin heads devoured the seven good heads. So I told this to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me.”
a. Pharaoh said to Joseph: The leader of Egypt explained the dream to Joseph, much the same way we read of it in Genesis 41:2-7.
b. They were just as ugly as at the beginning: More details of the dream come with the second telling. When the skinny cows ate the fat cows, they themselves did not become fat.
B. Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream.
1. (25-32) Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream.
Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do: The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads are seven years; the dreams are one. And the seven thin and ugly cows which came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty heads blighted by the east wind are seven years of famine. This is the thing which I have spoken to Pharaoh. God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do. Indeed seven years of great plenty will come throughout all the land of Egypt; but after them seven years of famine will arise, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine will deplete the land. So the plenty will not be known in the land because of the famine following, for it will be very severe. And the dream was repeated to Pharaoh twice because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.”
a. The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do: There would be seven years of plenty and abundance, followed by another seven years of want and famine. The years of famine will be so bad that the good years will be forgotten.
b. The dream was repeated to Pharaoh twice because the thing is established by God: Joseph saw God’s confirmation in the repetition of the dream. Joseph knew the principle later revealed in Deuteronomy 19:15: by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.
i. We can say of God’s great message to us – the Bible – that the thing is established by God. It’s unfashionable to say it today, but it remains a fact: God’s Word is true. The Bible speaks in many different styles, but in each style it is true. It’s true history, true commandments, true poetry, true wisdom, and true prophecy.
c. God will shortly bring it to pass: The confirmation of the dream also indicated the urgency of the message. This would all happen soon, shortly.
i. God spoke all this through Joseph, using Joseph as a guide to Pharaoh. Some of us wish God would give us such supernatural guidance.
ii. Many of us want guidance from God like a map, showing where to go and what to do. Instead, often Jesus comes to us as a Guide, saying “Stay close to Me, and I’ll guide you along the way.” Instead of looking for a map, look for a guide – The Guide, the Messenger from God, Jesus Christ.
2. (33-36) Joseph gives his advice to Pharaoh.
“Now therefore, let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that are coming, and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. Then that food shall be as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt, that the land may not perish during the famine.”
a. Let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man: To this point, Joseph gave Pharaoh knowledge, telling him what would happen, as revealed in the dreams that were a message from God. Now, Joseph began to apply wisdom to the knowledge.
i. It’s good to remember the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge tells you what is going on; wisdom tells you what to do about it. Knowledge is the diagnosis; wisdom is directed to the cure. Knowledge is good and necessary – it just isn’t enough.
ii. Our world has a lot more knowledge than wisdom. Our scientists, poets, politicians, and all the rest can often see what the problems are. True wisdom sees that Jesus is the answer.
b. Let him appoint officers over the land, to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years: In his God-given wisdom, Joseph saw that this great coming crisis needed proper administration.
· The problem had to be understood.
· The goal and the vision to meet the goal had to be formulated.
· The right people had to be put in place (officers over the land).
· They had to understand the big vision and their role in it.
· Someone had to make sure it was all operating according to plan.
· The work had to be measured.
· God would use a man to put all that into place – it wouldn’t happen by what we normally think of as a miracle.
i. One-fifth means a 20% tax. Some ancient sources suggest that Pharaoh normally took 10% of the grain in Egypt as a tax. If this were true, then Joseph doubled taxes over the next seven years.
c. That the land may not perish during the famine: The message of God through Pharaoh’s dreams was of a true crisis to come. If they did not prepare, the land would perish during the famine. This was an urgent call to action.
i. God would meet the need through a man. “God always works through men performing tasks on the earth” (Barnhouse).
3. (37-38) Pharaoh perceives the presence of God’s Spirit in Joseph.
So the advice was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?”
a. The advice was good in the eyes of Pharaoh: Pharaoh understood that Joseph not only had the right interpretation of the dream, but also the right advice to respond to the message from heaven.
b. A man in whom is the Spirit of God: Pharaoh had plenty of priests, magicians, and holy men. What he did not have (until Joseph) was a man with the Spirit of God. This made Joseph stand out among the others ( Can we find such a one as this).
i. This is the first mention in the Bible of the Holy Spirit coming upon a man. It is interesting to note that it was in regard to more practical things. Joseph didn’t have to preach a sermon or lead a prayer for Pharaoh to see the Spirit of God upon him. He could see it in his character, in his message, in his knowledge, in his wisdom, and in his humility.
ii. The presence and power of the Holy Spirit can be seen in very practical ways, in our character, in our humility.
4. (39-41) Joseph’s promotion to second in the kingdom of Egypt.
Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, thereis no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.”
a. Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you: This was the first firm indication that Pharaoh wanted Joseph to be the one to save Egypt through wise planning and preparation. This probably surprised Joseph.
b. You shall be over my house: Joseph had the knowledge and the wisdom, but Pharaoh had a choice. He chose to give Joseph authority over all. He didn’t say, “Thanks for the advice. I’ll handle it myself.” Pharaoh wisely surrendered to Joseph’s knowledge, wisdom, and authority.
· Joseph would be over Pharaoh’s house, his personal business.
· Joseph would rule all the people of Egypt according to his word.
· Joseph would be second in the kingdom behind Pharaoh.
· Joseph would have authority over all the land of Egypt.
i. Joseph only seemed to be an overnight success. In truth, his journey from the pit to the pinnacle took 13 hard years. This part of Joseph’s story reminds us of some important principles regarding promotion and advancement.
· Promotion and advancement is from the Lord (Psalm 75:6-7). This is not to say that hard work, preparation, good habits, and other human aspects do not contribute to success – they clearly do. Yet even those things are gifts and abilities from God and should be regarded with humility and gratitude toward Him.
· Promotion and advancement is never enough without the Lord. You can’t be so promoted or advance to where you stop needing Jesus. Often, promotion and success make us see our need for Jesus more than ever.
· Jesus received the ultimate promotion or advancement. Joseph’s path from humble servant and prisoner to powerful ruler becomes a prophecy of Jesus Himself. Philippians 2:5-11 describes that ultimate promotion.
5. (42-44) The signs of Joseph’s high status.
Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. And he had him ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried out before him, “Bow the knee!” So he set him over all the land of Egypt. Pharaoh also said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man may lift his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.”
a. Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand: The signet ring was the expression of Pharaoh’s authority. Now Joseph had that authority. Once he wore the shackles of a prisoner; now he had the signet ring of Pharaoh.
b. He clothed him in garments of fine linen: Once Joseph had the rags of a dungeon; now he had wonderful apparel, garments of fine linen.
c. Put a gold chain around his neck: Joseph once had the chains of a slave; now he was adorned with a gold chain.
d. He had him ride in the second chariot: Joseph once walked as a slave; now he traveled in style. He enjoyed great affluence.
e. Without your consent no man may lift his hand or foot: This expresses again the idea of authority. Joseph once could only obey orders; now he could also give orders.
i. In these ways, Joseph illustrates the Child of God. In Jesus we are given authority, apparel, adornment, and affluence.
ii. Yet in an even greater way, Joseph is a picture of Jesus Christ in who He is, in what He has done, and in the place He should have in our life.
· Jesus is a messenger from God.
· Jesus speaks truth about the future.
· The plan of Jesus provides bread for life.
· Authority is given to Jesus by choice.
6. (45) Joseph is given a name and a wife.
And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnath-Paaneah. And he gave him as a wife Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Pherah priest of On. So Joseph went out over all the land of Egypt.
a. And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnath-Paaneah: Jewish legends say each letter of Joseph’s Egyptian name meant something. Linking them all together, these legends say the meaning of Joseph’s Egyptian name was “Seer – redeemer – prophet – supporter – interpreter of dreams – clever – discreet – wise.”
i. More likely the name means, God Speaks and He Lives, referring to God’s word coming through Joseph, his own preservation, and the way he preserved both Egypt and the whole region.
b. And he gave him as a wife Asenath: Jewish legends (fabrications, really) say Asenath was really the daughter of Dinah and Shechem, who was many years earlier abandoned at the border of Egypt, and then adopted into the family of an Egyptian priest.
C. Joseph’s life as Prime Minister.
1. (46-49) The seven years of plenty came to pass.
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. Now in the seven plentiful years the ground brought forth abundantly. So 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; he laid up in every city the food of the fields which surrounded them. Joseph gathered very much grain, as the sand of the sea, until he stopped counting, for it was immeasurable.
a. Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh: Joseph was a young man to have such authority. Yet he had been in God’s school of trust-deepening and character-development for a long time. He was sold as a slave at 17 years of age (Genesis 37:2).
b. He gathered up all the food of the seven years which were in the land of Egypt: Joseph did what was right. He actually stored up the grain during the seven years of plenty. This was a significant logistic and accounting challenge.
c. Joseph gathered very much grain: It seems it was customary for Pharaoh to take 10% of the grain in Egypt as a tax. Essentially, Joseph doubled the taxes over the next seven years (Genesis 41:34 mentions one-fifth, that is, 20%).
2. (50-52) Joseph’s two sons and his state of heart.
And to Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, whom Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Pherah priest of On, bore to him. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: “For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house.” And the name of the second he called Ephraim: “For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
a. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: From his Egyptian wife, Joseph fathered Manasseh, whose name means forgetfulness. This was because God made Joseph to forget all the previous pain and trial in his life. His second son is Ephraim, which means fruitfulness, because God made Joseph fruitful in Egypt.
i. We can’t be doubly fruitful until we are also forgetting. In his book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis described hell as a place where no one forgets anything, remembering every slight, every cruel exchange of words, every wrong ever done to them, and everybody is utterly unforgiving. But in heaven all these things are put away, because all things have become new.
b. For God has made me forget… For God has caused me to be fruitful: Joseph did not forget the faith of his fathers, even though he rose to great glory in Egypt and had an Egyptian wife. As a sign of this, his children were given Hebrew names, not Egyptian names.
3. (53-57) The seven years of famine begin.
Then the seven years of plenty which were in the land of Egypt ended, and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. The famine was in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. So when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Then Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph; whatever he says to you, do.” The famine was over all the face of the earth, and Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians. And the famine became severe in the land of Egypt. So all countries came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine was severe in all lands.
a. The famine was in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread: Because of Joseph’s wise preparation, Egypt became a supply source for the whole region, which suffered this severe famine.
b. So all countries came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain: The people in Canaan – including Joseph’s family – also suffered from this famine. But God made wise (though unexpected) provision for them by sending Joseph ahead of the family.
i. And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Joseph did not have Romans 8:28 on paper, but he had it in his heart. A Christian today may very well have it on paper, but not in the heart.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission