Genesis 41: Joseph Interprets Pharaoh’s Dreams

1 After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, 2 and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. 3 And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. 4 And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows. And Pharaoh awoke. 5 And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. 6 And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. 7 And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump, full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream.

-If you are reading this you probably at least have some memory of what this dream ended up meaning but in case you don’t remember or this is your first time, try interpreting the dream in these first seven verses without looking ahead and see how close you get. When you know what it is, it seems obvious but when you don’t know it just seems like nonsense and there are an infinite number of possibilities. This is why last chapter I pointed out only God can interpret God. Pharaoh somehow knew this dream was not just a random dream but something divine but unless the dream interprets itself, only someone speaking through the Spirit can interpret it for him.

8 So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh. 9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “I remember my offenses today. 10 When Pharaoh was angry with his servants and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, 11 we dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own interpretation. 12 A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. 13 And as he interpreted to us, so it came about. I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.” 14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” 16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

-Joseph wisely recognizes that it is God and not his own ability that enables the interpretation of dreams. His statement even implies that God didn’t just give Joseph a gift and now Joseph can use it when he wishes but that every time, God is the one acting through Joseph by the Spirit. Paul talks about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and nowhere is it said gifts are permanent or are from man. This means every time a gift is used, it is God’s conscious will doing the action and nothing else. We do not receive superpowers! God simply does supernatural things through us at His will and that is all. We have absolutely zero control as to the use of these gifts. We do not get to choose our gift, we have no say whatsoever. The gift of interpreting dreams is not listed as a spiritual gift in the new testament unless it is part of interpreting tongues but there is no reason to assume Paul gave a conclusive list of all gifts. There is no limit to what God can do and so there is no reason to assume there isn’t an infinite number of spiritual gifts. Paul states prophetically that all men who are saved receive the spirit and receive spiritual gifts and not all men appear to have these gifts listed in 1 Corinthians. These means there are other manifestations of the Holy Spirit that don’t have labels that many individuals employ.

17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Behold, in my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile. 18 Seven cows, plump and attractive, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. 19 Seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and thin, such as I had never seen in all the land of Egypt. 20 And the thin, ugly cows ate up the first seven plump cows, 21 but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had eaten them, for they were still as ugly as at the beginning. Then I awoke. 22 I also saw in my dream seven ears growing on one stalk, full and good. 23 Seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouted after them, 24 and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears. And I told it to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me.” 25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. 27 The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine. 28 It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, 30 but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, 31 and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe. 32 And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. 33 Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. 35 And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”

-Joseph states an interpretation that seems to satisfy everything that was seen in the dream and follows a logic but why would Pharaoh believe Joseph? Joseph is giving him some good news about the seven good years but some horrible news about the seven years of famine. Why should Pharaoh believe any of this? What makes him so sure Joseph is right? Did he just seem confident enough. Was it because Joseph just had one of those faces or personalities that everyone enjoyed? NO! Pharaoh knew Joseph spoke the truth because the Spirit bears witness to the Spirit. Any time God has a hand in something, the Holy Spirit is there. This means that yes, Pharaoh, is being effected by the Holy Spirit, even though he is an unbeliever. We receive the Spirit when we because believers; however, before we become believers the Spirit must reveal God to us or else this means that we see and choose to follow God entirely on our own. If that were the case, this means that some people are good to choose and recognize God but this is not so. Only God can reveal God. In the end, there does seem to be some choice involved as we’ve seen with Er and Onan. They seemed to be refusing what God wanted for them and so they were killed for it and God still accomplished His will by skipping that generation and having Judah produce Judah’s offspring with Tamar directly. Perez and Zarah effectively replaced Er and Onan. We are told by Jesus about the unforgivable sin which implies it is possible to completely deny God even when we know the truth or else there is no reason to warn us about it. God is revealing Himself to Pharaoh in subtle enough ways to influence Pharaoh but not enough for Pharaoh to see clearly the truth. God knows what the Pharaoh will do and decide and seems to give Him just enough to let him know to listen to Joseph right here.

Joseph Rises to Power
37 This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. 38 And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” 39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. 43 And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt.

-Pharaoh’s words are very important here. He recognizes that the reason Joseph is wise is because God has chosen to reveal truth to Joseph, that is it. But isn’t that the truth? How do you define wisdom? The definition of wisdom should be the ability to discern the truth of existence. And since God is opening the door for Joseph and revealing him the future, Joseph is the wisest man on earth despite being as young as 30 years old at this time. We also see now God’s plan for the people of Israel coming into fruition. Joseph had to endure such hardship in order to be one day put in this position of power to help his brothers and their families when the time of famine comes.

44 Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” 45 And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On. So Joseph went out over the land of Egypt.

-It is unknown what “Zaphenath-paneah” means because there is a question whether this was a Hebrew transcription of an Egyptian name or if this was a Hebrew translation of an Egyptian name. If it is a Hebrew translation, then it is possible his name was “God speaks and he lives”. If merely a transcription, it could have been “he who is called Anakh”. This would make sense because of his high status referring to him in the third person. It would be like calling someone “his majesty”or “the great one” rather than simply “Anakh” or “Joseph” by themselves.

46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt. 47 During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, 48 and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. 49 And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured. 50 Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. 51 Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” 52 The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” 53 The seven years of plenty that occurred in the land of Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. 55 When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do.” 56 So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57 Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.

-We must realize that God is in complete control of our prosperity here on earth. If people were doing everything the same, how could there have been abundance and then suddenly famine? What could have changed to cause this? Most likely it had everything to do with how much rain was received which is outside of man’s control. God is shaping events for Israel so that they can be taken care of in abundance, just as he always has since Abraham. This is why we give thanks to God before we consume a meal. The Lord giveth and the Lord can take away just as He has already done so many times just in this book of Genesis as far as we have gotten.


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