Genesis 41 – Joseph Interprets Pharaoh’s Dream and Rises to Power
A. Pharaoh’s dreams and his dilemma.
1. (1-7) Pharaoh’s disturbing dreams.
Then it came to pass, at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh had a dream; and behold, he stood by the river. 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. At the end of two full years: Joseph was in prison – forgotten by the royal butler – for two years now. But God had a purpose in the delay, and now the purpose is explained. After all, if God wanted it, the butler could have remembered Joseph a year or more earlier. But God moved in His perfect timing.
b. Pharaoh had a dream: In Pharaoh’s dream, seven fat cows came out of the waters of the Nile and were consumed by seven gaunt cows. In a second dream, seven thin heads devoured seven fat heads of wheat.
2. (8-14) Joseph is called in to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams.
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. 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. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them: Egypt’s magicians were impressive, yet they could not interpret the dreams. Pharaoh knew the dreams were significant, yet no one could give a suitable explanation of their meaning.
b. 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.
c. 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.
3. (15-16) Joseph comes before Pharaoh.
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. 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.
b. God will give Pharaoh and answer of peace: Joseph seems much wiser and perhaps more humble than he did before, considering the way he told his brothers his previous dreams in a self-glorying way.
i. God’s work of character building was being accomplished in Joseph even when he perhaps thought nothing was happening.
4. (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. 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 the 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: The seven cows and seven heads of grain each represent seven years. There will 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 the confirming hand of God in the repetition of the dream. He knew the principle of by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established (Deuteronomy 19:15), even if he didn’t have it written in Scripture yet. The repetition also gave Joseph a sense of urgency: God will shortly bring it to pass.
c. God will shortly bring it to pass: Joseph knew the matter was entirely in the hands of God. God had a purpose for the dream, a purpose for the timing, a purpose for the famine, a purpose for Joseph being in jail, and a purpose for everything.
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 him appoint officers over the land, to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years: Joseph showed both his boldness and his gift of administration. No responsible administrator would present such news without also suggesting a plan to meet the coming crisis.
b. That the land may not perish during the famine: Joseph sensed there was a reason why God gave this word to Pharaoh. It was so he could prepare for the coming crisis. This wasn’t just gossip from heaven to earth; it was an urgent call to action.
c. Select a discerning and wise man: God picked a man when He had something to accomplish. He uses people to further His plan. “God always works through men performing tasks on the earth.” (Barnhouse)
3. (37-45) Joseph’s promotion to a position of great authority.
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?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is 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.” 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.” 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. In whom is the Spirit of God: This is the first mention in the Bible of the Holy Spirit coming upon a man. Pharaoh saw that Joseph was filled with the Spirit of God.
b. Only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you: Joseph had now gone from the pit to the pinnacle, but it took some 13 years to happen. From the outside, Joseph looked like an immediate success, but it was more than 13 years in the making.
i. Joseph is a good example of a man who seemed to have all the gifts and talents for leadership, but God developed his character and talents over many years. Gifts and talents may be impressive and immediate, but character is what God looks for and always takes time to develop.
c. And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnath-Paaneah: Jewish legends say each letter of Joseph’s Egyptian name means something. Linking them all together, the name is “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 has preserved the country.
d. 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 she was 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. 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.
b. 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 on the heart.
D. To this point in the Book of Genesis, Joseph is a remarkable picture of Jesus Christ.
1. Was a shepherd.
2. Loved by his father.
3. Sent unto his brethren.
4. Hated by his brothers.
5. Prophesied his coming glory.
6. Rejected by his brothers.
7. Endured unjust punishment from his brothers.
8. Sentenced to the pit.
9. Delivered to the pit, though a leader knew he should go free.
10. Sold for pieces of silver.
11. Handed over to the Gentiles.
12. Regarded as dead, but raised out of the pit.
13. Went to Egypt.
14. Made a servant.
15. Tempted severely, but did not sin.
16. Falsely accused.
17. Made no defense.
18. Cast into prison, and numbered with sinners and criminals.
19. Endured unjust punishment from Gentiles.
20. Associated with two other criminals; one is pardoned and one is not.
a. Some associate the butler, with his wine, and the baker with the elements of communion. Along the same lines, some associate the three-day period before their case is resolved with the three days before the resurrection of Jesus.
21. Showed compassion.
22. Brought a message of deliverance in prison.
23. Wanted to be remembered.
24. Shown to have divine wisdom.
25. Recognized as having the Spirit of God.
26. Betrayed by friends.
27. Glorified after his humility.
28. Honored among Gentiles while still despised or forgotten by his brethren.
29. Given a Gentile bride.
30. Was 30 years old when he began his life’s work.
31. Blessed the world with bread.
32. Became the only source of bread for the world.
33. The world was instructed to go to him and do whatever he said to do.
34. Was given the name “God Speaks and He Lives.”
©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission