‘When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up. He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted—thin and scorched by the east wind. The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream. In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.’ Genesis 41:1-8
Joseph’s Life Line
We are told that he was seventeen years old, Genesis 39:2, when he was taken to Egypt and sold to Potiphar, a high ranking officer in the service of Pharaoh. And he was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh, Genesis 41:14.
He spent two years in prison, Genesis 41:1, which means that he was in the service of Potiphar for about eleven years, during which time he rose to become the most important man in the official’s household. In fact, he was placed in charge of everything that Potiphar possessed.
Two things to notice about Joseph’s imprisonment
1. It seems reasonable to assume that Joseph’s character and conduct during those eleven years had been such that Potiphar didn’t believe his wife when she accused Joseph of attempting to seduce her. Such an offence by a servant wouldn’t have received a prison sentence. The penalty would have been death!
2. That Joseph was the most important servant of such a high-ranking official wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by the prison warden, and, some might suppose that this was the reason why Joseph was treated kindly and given responsibility over the other prisoners. But the Scriptures tell us that Joseph was in the hands of One Who is far more powerful than any Egyptian official.
One of the striking facts about Joseph’s story is that, when it records the harsh treatment or the difficult circumstances in which he found himself, it does not say, ‘But Joseph remained faithful’. We read, ‘And God was with Joseph’, Genesis 39:2 / Genesis 39:3 / Genesis 39:5 / Genesis 39:21 / Genesis 39:23.
Pharaoh dreams of seven fat cows, seven thin cows, seven fat heads of grain and seven thin heads of grain. There would be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. When he realised it was a dream, he was troubled and sought help from his magicians and wise men, but no one could interpret his dreams. It’s interesting that Pharaoh himself, who was considered a god, a sun god, couldn’t even interpret the dream himself.
Joseph Interprets Pharaoh’s Dream
‘Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, ‘Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was impaled.’ So, Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’ ‘I cannot do it,’ Joseph replied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.’ Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘In my dream, I was standing on the bank of the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, fat and sleek, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows came up—scrawny and very ugly and lean. I had never seen such ugly cows in all the land of Egypt. The lean, ugly cows ate up the seven fat cows that came up first. But even after they ate them, no one could tell that they had done so; they looked just as ugly as before. Then I woke up. ‘In my dream I saw seven heads of grain, full and good, growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other heads sprouted—withered and thin and scorched by the east wind. The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads. I told this to the magicians, but none of them could explain it to me.’ Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, ‘The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine. ‘It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.’ Genesis 41:9-32
The cupbearer recalls how Joseph interpreted his dream and the baker’s dream accurately, whilst he was in prison, Genesis 40:9-19 and so he finally remembers Joseph two years later, Genesis 40:14.
Pharaoh summons Joseph who once again, gives the credit for being able to interpret dreams comes to God Himself.
Notice that before Joseph was brought to Pharaoh, ‘he shaved himself’, by this time, at 30 years of age, Joseph had grown a beard, and, very probably, long hair. He shaved off all hair to conform to the practice of the Egyptians, who never allowed hair to grow on their heads or faces, except when they were in mourning, because they regarded it as ‘unclean’, and, in Egyptian inscriptions, only men regarded as of low standing are shown as having beards.
He also ‘changed his clothes’, this was also necessary because Pharaoh would have been informed that Joseph was a shepherd, or ‘sand-dweller’, as the Egyptians called the Hebrews and the religion of the Egyptians decreed that shepherds and sheep were ‘unclean’.
Because of this, when Pharaoh allowed Joseph’s father and brothers to enter and live in Egypt, he gave them permission to occupy land in Goshen, Genesis 45:10, which was in the Nile delta, a fertile region that would provide excellent pasture for their sheep, and, also, be far enough from the cities of the native Egyptians to keep them from being troubled by the sight and smell of sheep, or the shepherds who tended them!
This undoubtedly is what God intended, because these nomadic shepherds had to become the numerous people whom God had promised to Abraham.
They needed a place where they could cease to wander as shepherds and adopt a settled lifestyle, and they needed the time in which to become a great people. This is what Egypt provided, the captivity was part of the Divine plan!
The two dreams which Pharaoh had, both spoke of the future condition of the crops and Egypt itself, and so, Joseph interprets the dreams. There are going to be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. The dreams are repeated so that’s confirmed, in other words, it’s God who will make it happen.
We must remember how much Egypt depended upon the River Nile for life, as there was very little rain which fell on Egypt, they totally relied on that rainwater to come so that the Nile would overflow, which in turn would water their crops. Joseph says that a huge drought would come, and not only is the River Nile going to be affected, but the drought would affect their food supply.
‘And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.’ The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. So, Pharaoh asked them, ‘Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?’ Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.’ So, Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.’ Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, ‘Make way!’ Thus, he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.’ Genesis 41:33-43
Joseph not only interprets Pharaoh’s dreams, but he also gives advice to Pharaoh. Joseph’s leadership skills are clearly seen here, the experience he had in Potiphar’s household, Genesis 39:4-6, and the experience he had in prison were preparing him for this moment, Genesis 40:4.
There’s no doubt that Pharaoh trusted Joseph’s interpretations of his dreams because Pharaoh himself gave Joseph his ‘signet ring’, which was a sign of authority and placed it on his finger. The signet ring gave Joseph the authority to act on Pharaoh’s behalf in organising the harvest, so they can store extra food for seven years in preparation for the seven years of famine.
Joseph is placed in a high position of rank, second in command, and to publicly let everyone know of his new ruling position, he was given a chariot to ride.
‘Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I am Pharaoh, but without your word, no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt.’ Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife. And Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt. Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharaoh’s presence and travelled throughout Egypt. During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully. Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it. Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure. Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, ‘It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.’ The second son he named Ephraim and said, ‘It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.’ The seven years of abundance in Egypt came to an end, and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in all the other lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food. When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food. Then Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, ‘Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.’ When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt. And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.’ Genesis 41:44-57
Joseph is now thirty years of age and is given a new name by Pharaoh, Zaphenath-Paneah, Pharaoh also gives him a wife named, Asenath, whose name means, she who is of Neith, the Minerva of the Egyptians. Joseph is now the ‘Prime Minister’.
The city of On, also called, Heliopolis, was named after an Egyptian sun god and Asenath’s father, Potiphera served as a priest in the city. Asenath, his new wife bore him two sons, both of whom are Hebrew names.
The first son was named Manasseh, which means, forgetting, this is probably in reference to Joseph forgetting about all his troubles of the past of how he ended up in Egypt in the first place.
His second son is named Ephraim, which means, twice fruitful, this is probably a reference to his current position in Egypt in contrast to how life would have been if he remained with his family.
Joseph organised the Egyptians so well, that they stored so much grain in the seven good years that they couldn’t keep records of it all. When the seven years of famine came it didn’t only affect Egypt, but it affected all the nations around.
Although it took thirteen years for Joseph gets to here, God has now got Joseph in the position He wants him in, the time is coming when his brothers will realise their brother’s dreams will be fulfilled and they will bow down before him, Genesis 37:5-9.
More importantly, God has everything ready to get Jacob’s family out of Palestine and into Egypt.
Go To Genesis 42