New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Gen 41:1 It happened at the end of two full years- Joseph would have been expecting that the butler would get him out of prison, and thus his own dreams would have their primary fulfilment. But that didn't seem to happen, for two years. Perhaps at this time particularly, Joseph was tested by God's word (Ps. 105:19), i.e. his faith in it was tested. Each day would have dragged... "two years of days", as the Hebrew is literally. And yet Joseph lived believing that double dreams meant they would surely be fulfilled- and soon. But "soon" from God's perspective. Over 14 years in the case of Pharaoh's dreams. Like us, on one hand Joseph by faith accepted God's perspective. In another sense, he felt the drag of time.

The parallels between Joseph and Daniel are clearest in Gen. 41. They were young Hebrews in Gentile lands, both "handsome" (Dan. 1:4). Pharaoh’s dream occurs two years after Joseph’s incarceration (41:1), just as Nebuchadnezzar’s dream occurs two years into his reign (Dan. 2:1). “Pharaoh had a dream” (41:1), and “Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams” (Dan. 2:1), the spirit of both kings was "troubled". They called their wise men, who were unable to explain the dreams. Their officials [Arioch cp. the the butler] in both cases are aware of a Hebrew captive who can interpret dreams. In both accounts they were "hurriedly" brought before the king, and both were asked by the king if they would really interpret the dream. Both ascribe interpretations to God- perhaps Daniel perceived the similarities, and was encouraged in his humility by that of Joseph. Both recount the king's dreams, and provide interpretation. Joseph's statement that the dream is “determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about” (Gen. 41:32) surely inspired Daniel to say that “The dream is true; and its interpretation is trustworthy” (Dan. 2:45). Both men were subsequently worshipped, given gifts, and made rules in a foreign land, with the Gentile rulers perceiving the spirit of the one true God in these young men. Some of these similarities could never have been contrived by Daniel. But he chose to continue the similarities in that he perceived how he was being 'set up', as a second Joseph, and responded appropriately- especially by saying that it was his God and not him who could interpret dreams. We must be on the lookout for which Bible characters are being repeated in our lives. Perhaps the Joseph story is so long and detailed because so many of us have found his life indeed to be the template for our own experiences. We might also ponder how Joseph is never recorded as praying to God. But Daniel immediately thanks God for being given the interpretation and is presented as a man of prayer. Perhaps he perceived this apparent deficit in Joseph, and decided to learn from Joseph's apparent omission. This leads on to the observation that Daniel's response to his interpretation of the dream in Daniel 5 differs sharply from Joseph's response. Although they receive the same rewards [gold chain about the neck etc.], Daniel refuses them whilst Joseph accepts them. And Daniel appears to have always gotten out of working for the evil empire, whilst Joseph marries into it and dedicates his life to it. But we are assured of Joseph's salvation in Hebrews 11.

That Pharaoh dreamed: and behold, he stood by the river- In consort with the gods, for the Nile was thought to be the god Hapi. And yet Joseph will go on to speak of one singular God, the God of Joseph, who is responsible for both good and bad, famine and fertility.

Gen 41:2 Behold, there came up out of the river seven cattle, sleek and fat, and they fed in the marsh grass- A hymn to the Nile now in the British Museum describes the Nile as "overflowing the gardens created by Ra giving life to all animals … watering the land without ceasing … Lover of food, bestower of corn … Bringer of food! Great Lord of provisions! Creator of all good things!". Pharaoh imagined that such prosperity came up out of the Nile; but his pagan ideas were overturned by evil and famine coming up out of the Nile. And then Joseph explains that his God, the one God, is the One responsible for all things, not the god of the Nile. Pharaoh was being challenged deeply, and he does well to resign his whole belief system in a moment.

Gen 41:3 Behold, seven other cattle came up after them out of the river, ugly and thin, and stood by the other cattle on the brink of the river- As noted on :2, this was a radical inversion of the Egyptian paganic worldview, whereby only good and fat things came from the Nile. The Nile played a huge part in the thinking and belief structure of Pharaoh. Yet he stood by the river, on its banks (:1), and now the cattle appear on its banks. Presumably we are meant to understand that he was looking across the river to the opposite bank. He was being encouraged not to 'stand before' the Nile as a man stands before an idol, but to look over it, beyond it, to new possibilities and realities. Consistently, the nature and symbolism of the dreams and Joseph's repeated talk about one God... was all designed to uproot his whole belief system and bring him to Israel's God.

Gen 41:4 The ugly and thin cattle ate up the seven sleek and fat cattle. So Pharaoh awoke- He may have seen the two types of cattle merge into each other. "Sleek and fat" is AV "well favoured", the very Hebrew phrase used of Joseph (Gen. 39:6). He may well have been called or nicknamed that term. Joseph may have perceived that those good cattle were him. He therefore was inspired to assume he would be the man through whom the effect of evil, the seven thin cattle, would be resolved. He would later realize that all meant for evil in his life was turned to good through his remaining a part of God's saving plan (Gen. 50:20). "The ugly" is s.w. "evil"; and the same words are used of the false suggestion that an "evil beast" had "eaten up" Joseph (Gen. 37:33). See on :20. The dreams showed that evil was not going to prevail ultimately- because Joseph was going to be faithful to the Abrahamic covenant, and God would work through him, therefore, to the blessing and salvation of Israel and the world around them.

The good and evil cattle taught a profound lesson. The loss of the good to the evil was so that a far greater good could come. The unbeliever would see the glass half empty, forgetting the good years and lamenting the evil. Joseph likewise could have just lamented his evil. He was the well favoured cattle who lost all that due to evil, but his loss overcame that evil.  That evil, the loss of his good, was to bring about a far greater good. This is the only way to successfully cope with our experience of evil. Otherwise we are left lamenting our loss of good, potential or otherwise, and are left with no answer to man's search for meaning.  

Gen 41:5 He slept and dreamed a second time: and behold, seven heads of grain came up on one stalk, healthy and good- The corn of the Nile valley, the triticum compositum, was famed for bearing seven ears upon one stalk; and it was exactly that which was to be offered to the gods. The paintings of the Thebaid show stalks with seven heads of grain being specifically offered to the gods, and other stalks being eaten by the people. Joseph's suggestion was that it not be offered to the gods, but be stored up by a man acting on behalf of God, and given to hungry people. This was all a request to Pharaoh and the Egyptians to invert their whole belief system.

Gen 41:6 Behold, seven heads of grain, thin and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them- There is an element of unreality in this, because as the miserable critics correctly point out, a wind directly east is rare in Egypt. But this was the point- a new thing was to arise in Egypt. And it was an east wind which destroyed a later Pharaoh at the Red Sea, and was used by God in bringing the plagues. The dreams, like Joseph's about his dead mother bowing to him, all have this element of unreality which speaks of something Divine. We could observe further that the hot winds which afflict Egypt came from the South; it is the land of Israel which is affected by the hamsin, the hot wind from the East. Perhaps Joseph gathered from this that the famine inducing East wind was going to affect Israel too; it would come primarily as judgment upon his family, but the wind would be so strong that Egypt would suffer that judgment too. He would have been encouraged to see that this was the very scenario which would make his brothers come begging to him for grain, as he had dreamed years ago. And it would have encouraged him to suggest Pharaoh appoint a man to manage things, envisaging exactly how events did indeed transpire. But still he had to wait through the seven good years for the famine to come. In faith, and having adopted God's perspective, he still considered this as a "soon" fulfilment of God's prophetic word.

Gen 41:7 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy and full ears. Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream- The swallowing up of good by evil was perceived by the Egyptians as a sign the gods were either dead or had turned against them. And they were intended to think that- and come to realize that Yahweh was the only God, responsible for good and 'evil' (Is. 45:5-7).

Gen 41:8 It happened in the morning that his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all of Egypt’s magicians and wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh- The situation repeated at least twice in Daniel's time (Dan. 2:1; Dan. 4:5). These similarities are in order to teach us that our situations are not unique, but rather are in line with the Father's previous activities with men.

One theme of the record is that circumstances repeat in life, because there is the higher hand of God over all. These men came to Joseph in the morning- and we are told concerning Pharaoh: "And it was in the morning that his spirit was troubled" (Gen. 41:8). The butler and baker tell Joseph: "We have dreamed a dream, and there is no one to interpret it" (Gen. 40:8), and Pharaoh likewise told Joseph: "I have dreamed a dream and there is no one to interpret it" (Gen. 41:15). Joseph's "Do interpretations not belong to God?" (Gen. 40:8)is then matched by what he tells Pharaoh: "It is not me; God will restore Pharaoh's peace of mind" (Gen. 41:16). Joseph saw the parallels. And just as he had the right, humble attitude about dream interpretation in the first case, so he did in the second case when the situation was repeated. We may fail the first time and get it right the second time; or get it right the first time and fail the second time. Or like Joseph, get it right and keep getting it right.

Gen 41:9 Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh, saying, I remember my sins today- I discussed on Gen. 40:1 the question of whether the butler really had sinned. But all the same, he felt he had committed a very serious sin in allowing the busyness of daily life and his demanding job to make him simply forget Joseph’s need and tragedy. Perhaps an intensive plural is being used here- as if to mean ‘my very great sin’. To forget others’ need due to the busyness of our lives is a great sin.

Gen 41:10 Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and put me in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, me and the chief baker- I suggested earlier that the butler may not have sinned and like Joseph was in prison at the whim or "anger" of others. Therefore he became an example to Joseph of how Divine dreams could really change destiny. For Joseph too was placed in prison due to the "wrath" of Potiphar.

Gen 41:11 We dreamed a dream in one night, I and he. We dreamed each man according to the interpretation of his dream- The idea is that the interpretations came true.

Gen 41:12 There was with us there a young man, a 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 interpreted- I suggested that Potiphar was in fact the manager of the prison, and also the father of Joseph's future wife. In this case we have this confirmed, for even in prison Joseph was known as the servant of the captain of the guard, who was Potiphar. Joseph is described here with the term for "slave". Evidence has been found of Egyptian laws and culture which stated that a slave must never become a ruler nor be arrayed in royal clothes, not even as a reward for faithfulness. I will later suggest that Joseph calmly believed that he would be exalted to power in Egypt, so that his brothers would come bowing to him for food when his sheaf [grain] stood and their grain had collapsed. Just as God had revealed to him in his youth. So Egypt, the world, appeared to preclude Joseph from ever getting to a position where he would be in power in Egypt, receiving international visitors [his brothers] and having them bow to him. But he believed in God's word to him, and believed that this would happen even if Egypt, the world, appeared to make that an impossibility. We face the same challenge of faith.

Gen 41:13 It happened, as he interpreted to us, so it was: he restored me to my office, and he hanged him- The implication was that Joseph's interpretations were what had restored him.

Gen 41:14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon. He shaved himself, changed his clothing, and came in to Pharaoh- "They made him run hastily out of the dungeon...and changed his raiment" (AVmg.)- This speaks of the energy of Christ's resurrection; the change of clothing would then speak of the Lord's change of nature, Zech. 3:3,4.

Gen 41:15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, I have dreamed 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- Perhaps Paul alludes here in saying that no man can know the things of the Spirit of God, apart from the man to whom the Spirit reveals them (1 Cor. 2:10,11). In this case, Joseph like Daniel is being set up as our pattern.

Gen 41:16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, It isn’t in me. God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace- I have developed the point throughout this chapter that the nature of the dreams and their interpretation was a direct attack on Pharaoh's belief system; God was seeking to convert him, as He was the Pharaoh at the time of the exodus. The LXX brings this out here: "Without God an answer of safety shall not be given to Pharaoh". The one God alone could give the king peace.

Joseph at this point was clearly the role model chosen by Daniel in similar situations, centuries later. And this is how the Biblical record should function for us too. This is the advantage of knowing the Biblical text; we see our own situations are not without precedent, but are repetitions of the same Divine hand in earlier human history.

Joseph is repeating his earlier experience with the butler and baker when interpreting their dreams. He insists that he is not of himself a magician or psychologist. He stresses that God can interpret dreams, and therefore, he, Joseph, can interpret dreams- implying that he is very very close to God and feels he knows God's mind. He is confident he manifests God. In Gen. 40:8 the Hebrew is a word play, although not apparent in translation: "Isn't it God who has interpretations? So tell me". And he says the same here to Pharaoh. He got it right the first time, and he gets it right again when the temptation to self-exalt is again placed before him.

Gen 41:17 Pharaoh spoke to Joseph, In my dream, behold, I stood on the brink of the river- Literally, on the lip of the river; this apparently is an Egyptian term and is found in the papyri discovered from that time. It has been observed that the text here was written by one who was fluent in both Egyptian and Hebrew, which would fit Moses, who was educated in all the learning of Egypt.

Gen 41:18 And behold, there came up out of the river seven cattle, fat and sleek. They fed in the marsh grass- 'Coming up' is a major theme. The ears of corn 'came up' (5), as the cattle came up from the river. The word is used of how blossom 'came up' on the vine in the butler's dream (Gen. 40:10), of how Joseph 'came up out of' the pit (Gen. 37:28); and of how finally the brothers came up to Joseph (Gen. 44:33). The Egyptian hieroglyph for a year was the picture of a cow. So the interpretation of seven years was logical. Drawings of seven fat cows are found on Egyptian tombs from the time; they represented a prosperous afterlife. The dream is seeking to lead Pharaoh away from these ideas, and to see that in this life he is going to have both a blessed future for a while, and also suffering. And he cannot just let the future happen, hoping and assuming his future will be good; he must act now to manage it succesfully. The later Pharaoh, like so many people, failed to learn from history.

Gen 41:19 And behold, seven other cattle came up after them, poor and very ugly and thin, such as I never saw in all the land of Egypt for ugliness- There is an element of the unreal in all the dreams in the Joseph story; this is not simply seven years of famine, but famine such as had never been known, whereby animals ate each other (:20). Pharaoh says that the seven good cattle came up out of the river Nile, in line with his belief that the gods of the Nile only gave good. But we are specifically told in :3 that the bad cattle also came up out of the Nile, "seven other cattle came up after them out of the river, ugly and thin". Pharaoh cannot bring himself to say this about the Nile. But he was being taught that his entire worldview was mistaken. Both good and evil came from Israel's God, not the Nile, and the Nile gods were not therefore only the source of good. And he appears to have the humility to accept this.

Gen 41:20 The thin and ugly cattle ate up the first seven fat cattle- Animals only eat each other in extreme famine. The dreams of Pharaoh at the time of Joseph were a clear inversion of the surrounding pagan ideas. One of the foremost Egyptian gods, Osiris, had seven cows; it must have taken some courage for Joseph to comment on the fact that the seven fat cows were to be eaten up by the seven thin ones (possibly representing Israel in the long term, cp. Hos. 4:15–16; Am. 4:1). The pagan ideas of Pharaoh were not explicitly corrected; instead, the supremacy of Yahweh and His people over them was taught by implication.

"Ate up" is the same word used in Gen. 43:2 of Joseph's brothers eating up the corn of the good years. They then are presented as the "ugly" [s.w. "evil"] cattle in Joseph's life who meant evil to him (Gen. 50:20), who was described with the same term as the handsome sleek cattle; see on :4.

Gen 41:21 And when they had eaten them up, it couldn’t be known that they had eaten them, but they were still ugly, as at the beginning. So I awoke- This was not simply a prediction of seven years of plentiful harvest followed by seven years of famine. The idea was that the evilness [s.w. "ugly"] of the famine years would be neutralized. But as Joseph explained, that was in fact conditional upon wise management and strong leadership in the first seven years. This conditional aspect to the fulfilments would have made him reflect that his own dreams likewise depended partly upon his sheaf standing up, of his own volition. The description of the thin cows eating up the fat cows (Gen. 41:21) is alluded to in the Hebrew text of the curses for Israel's disobedience in Lev. 26:26: "you shall eat, and not be satisfied". The seven years of famine were therefore to be seen as a curse. Disobedient Israel would be treated like Egypt, which is a theme throughout all the curses of Lev. 26. Egypt represents the world, and those rejected from the new Israel will likewise "be condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11:32), sent back into the world they loved to share the world's judgment.

Gen 41:22 I saw in my dream, and behold, seven heads of grain came up on one stalk, full and good- "Heads of grain" translates a single Hebrew word which has no reference to grain; it means a stream, a branch, something which comes off something else. And "stalk" likewise translates a Hebrew word usually translated "branch"; it is the word used for the seven branches of the candlestick. The picture may not necessarily have been of grain, although we shall later read of grain being gathered in abundance; but of seven branches coming out of one branch, the impression being of fecundity. The idea could be that the goodness of the Israelite candlestick was to bring blessing on the world to neutralize the evil. The Egyptian corn god, Npri, was symbolized by seven such ears of corn. But the Egyptian gods were to be shown unable to resist or countervail the evil which Yahweh would bring. And Pharaoh humbles himself to accept that, whereas a later Pharaoah refused, and so all the ten plagues were targetted at the Egyptian gods to make him learn that lesson. Man can avoid so much suffering, if he humbles himself before God's word and simply believes it- rather than insisting upon being an empirical learner.

Gen 41:23 And behold, seven heads of grain, withered, thin, and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them- The same word for "blasted" is repeatedly used as a figure for Divine judgment (Dt. 28:22; 1 Kings 8:37; 2 Kings 19:26 "corn blasted"; Am. 4:9 etc.). Seeing that Egypt doesn't usually get an east wind, Pharaoh was surely intended to understand that this spoke of superhuman judgment from one almighty God.

Gen 41:24 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads of grain. I told it to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me- Dream interpretation was a major science with the Egyptians. There were "dream books" which were consulted to give the meaning of the various things dreamt, and provided guidelines for interpretation. None of these had the ring of truth for Pharaoh. "Explain" is s.w. "declared" in :25; God explained / declared it whereas the magicians could not. Yet it was Joseph who in contrast to the magicians declared it. Joseph knew that he was God's man in this situation, the manifestation of God, although as he clarifies in Gen. 50:19 "Am I in the place of God?". However that sentence could as well be translated "I am in the place of God", and therefore, in the context, his brothers need not fear that he would condemn them as God didn't.

Gen 41:25 Joseph said to Pharaoh, The dream of Pharaoh is one- This is in contrast to the two dreams of the butler and baker, which they assumed were one singular dream, but had different interpretations. See on Gen. 40:5,8.

What God is about to do, He has declared to Pharaoh- See on :24. Speaking within a society where there were multiple gods, Joseph gives no opening statement to the effect that he believes in only one God. He simply speaks from that assumed position, and our witness likewise has power from speaking from assumed positions about God and His Son, rather than seeking to offer some apologetic argument for those positions. When you talk to an agnostic about God, using phrases like "God willing", talking unashamedly and naturally about your prayers, you make a powerful witness. As noted on :38, Joseph's language of only one God rubbed off on Pharaoh and he too started reasoning likewise.

The Hebrew is literally 'what He is doing'. Joseph so believed in the dreams that for him, it was as if the whole sequence of events was already in motion. He adopted the Divine perspective, as we should; see on :32.

Gen 41:26 The seven good cattle are seven years; and the seven good heads of grain are seven years- Seven was understood as a Divine number, a good number. That it would be associated with good years was understandable for the Egyptians, but not that it should be associated with evil. The belief system of Pharaoh was being challenged- the one God of Joseph and Israel was responsible for both good and evil (Is. 45:5-8).

The dream is one- See on Gen. 40:5,8.

Gen 41:27 The seven thin and ugly cattle that came up after them are seven years, and also the seven empty heads of grain blasted with the east wind; they will be seven years of famine- Several studies have revealed the similarities between Moses' account of Joseph and the Gilgamesh Epic and other Mesopotamian writings. World-wide famines of seven years' duration are a common theme in many of the Epics. But they are usually explained as arising from the death or anger of a demon / god (See documentation in Donald Redford, The Biblical Story of Joseph (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1970) p. 98; C.H. Gordon, The Common Background of Greek and Hebrew Civilizations (New York: Norton, 1965) pp. 69,88). Gilgamesh 6.104 describes Ishtar as preparing for the seven year famine in an almost identical way to Joseph. Ishtar is being deconstructed, and brought down to a human level- a faithful human being, Joseph, rather than any god or Ishtar, was who prepared for and staved off the effects of the famine through his obedience to God. And it was the one God of Israel who brought the seven year famine, rather than any demon or Satan figure. The similarities between Joseph and Osiris, the Egyptian fertility god, 'the provider of food', also can't be lightly dismissed. Like Osiris, Joseph was confined until the word of his prediction came true, and afterwards he taught wisdom to the elders of Egypt (Ps. 105:19,22). The allusion is surely intended to rid the Israelites of any hankering to still believe in Osiris, within whose cult they had lived for 400 years, and instead to believe that it is Yahweh who provides fertility and the blessing of food through His obedient servants here on earth like Joseph. The pagan fantasies are alluded to but brought down to more human, earthly terms, with Yahweh being presented as the only true God.

"Empty" is the word used of the empty pit that had no water where Joseph was thrown (Gen. 37:24). It is quite likely that the pit where Joseph was cast was in fact a grain storage pit that was "empty". There were such "tithepits" in the old England, where grain was also stored in pits. The description of it as "empty" of itself supposes that it was at times "full" of something- probably grain. Joseph himself had in essence been through what the people were to suffer, lack of water and empty, dry conditions; and had been saved out of it. As 2 Cor. 1:4 makes clear, all we suffer or experience is in order for us in some way to help others who suffer. Only in this way can we answer man's native, inborn search for meaning.

In a dated but fascinating book entitled The Language of the Pentateuch in its Relation to Egyptian (Oxford: O.U.P., 1933), A.S. Yahuda demonstrated that the syntax and vocabulary of the Joseph story is very similar to Egyptian idiom. This would strengthen my suggestion that Moses is consciously seeking to engage with and deconstruct the Egyptian stories, amongst whose influence Israel had lived for four centuries. Moses is writing what could be termed 'The Israelite epic', in response to the 'stories' and epics of the surrounding peoples amongst whom they lived and through whom they travelled. But Moses paints this picture, constructs the true, Divinely inspired version of the story, through engagement with and allusion to the incorrect stories and epics of the Gentiles. And in linguistic terms, Yahuda shows at depth how Moses is writing with allusion to Egypt and Egyptian in a manner which only the Israelites who had lived in Egypt would have perceived- e.g. Moses records how the cows in Pharaoh's dream represented years, but the hieroglyphic symbol for "year" was a cow. And Moses, trained in the learning of Egypt whilst being a native Hebrew speaker, would have been the appropriate person for the Spirit to inspire to write in this way.

Gen 41:28 That is the thing which I spoke to Pharaoh. What God is about to do, He has shown to Pharaoh- Joseph invites Pharaoh to perceive him as speaking for God; and Pharaoh agrees, stating that God's Spirit is in Joseph (:38). Joseph mixes the ideas of present and future in saying that this thing "is" and yet is "about" to be done; hence GNB: "It is just as I told you- God has shown you what He is going to do". The weather pattern was already working out. And God through Joseph had shown it to Pharaoh.

Gen 41:29 Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt- The Hebrew for "plenty" is used many times in the record here, but only twice elsewhere; Prov. 3:10, as so many Proverbs, alludes to this historical incident in saying that if Yahweh is honoured with substance [a reference to the tithe], "so shall your barns be filled with plenty". Pharaoh's acceptance of Joseph's interpretations was tantamount to rejecting his paganic belief system, and so effectively Yahweh was being honoured with Egypt's substance. The emphasis upon "all the land of Egypt" may mean a more radical change in weather than we immediately imagine. For the Egyptians only cultivated along the banks of the Nile, and a good harvest was a result of the Nile flooding the river plains to a high level. But good harvest throughout "all the land of Egypt" seems to imply far more than that; there would be abundant harvest not only along the Nile flood plain. The emphasis is upon the good harvests coming in Egypt, but famine consuming the entire "land" or 'world' around Egypt, the land promised to Abraham. Joseph clearly perceives that therefore his brothers will come from Canaan to Egypt to buy food and he wants to be the one before whom they bow in gratitude for it.

Gen 41:30 There will arise after them seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land- The same word is used of how the butler forgot Joseph (Gen. 40:23). Joseph had spent two years (:1) reflecting how blessing was so easily forgotten, and he imagined how this would be the case. We too easily forget blessing, it is human to do so; hence the "cup of blessing which we bless" at the regular breaking of bread meeting. This is designed to help us against this tendency to forget blessing and be swamped by what is immediately before our eyes. People want to enjoy blessing now, and then they forget it. Joseph knew that the way of wisdom, seeing both good and evil as from God, meant that in time of blessing one must remember the evil and seek to negate it. He could of course have become swamped with bitterness, but he didn't.

Gen 41:31 And the plenty will not be known in the land by reason of that famine which follows; for it will be very grievous- "Which follows" translates two Hebrew words which together can mean 'which rightly follows'. The imagery of the dreams, such as blasting and the east wind, is all elsewhere used of Divine judgment. "Seven years of famine" is specifically stated to represent Divine judgment in 2 Sam. 24:13. There would be blessing and then judgment. Perhaps this was God's way of saying that Egypt's injustice to Joseph was to be punished by judgment, and yet through Joseph's grace they were to be saved out of it. See on :34. Just as Joseph saved Egypt from the consequences of the evil they did to him, so he was to save his brothers from the consequences of their sins. Whilst we do at times suffer the consequences of sinas David did, it is not inevitably nor always so, and the Lord's work is in fact to save us from those consequences. See on :34.

Gen 41:32 The dream was doubled to Pharaoh, because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass- The idea is 'God is hastening to do it', as if Joseph saw that this apparently future sequence of events was already being operationalized; see on :25.

Each of the three dreams in the Joseph story is a double dream (Joseph's dreams, the dreams of butler and baker, Pharaoah's dreams). When Joseph tells Pharaoh that double dreams mean they definitely come true, he said this, therefore, in faith- that his own dreams would come true. That faith is contrasted with both his father and his brothers protesting that these dreams could never come true. And I suggest he had this in mind all through, that circumstances would work out so that his brothers came bowing to him. I suggest that is what motivated him to suggest Pharaoh set a man over all Egypt to manage the people would come to buy grain- inwardly scheming that he would be the one chosen. He showed great spiritual ambition in all this. But Joseph also understands the double dream of Pharaoah to mean that God will "soon" fulfil it- and the double dream of the butler and baker indeed immediately came true. Joseph therefore understood that his own dreams would "soon" come true; but he understood that the "soon" was relative to God's view of time, and not his. The dreams of Pharaoh would take seven to fourteen years to come true; but Joseph understood that as "soon". We like Joseph must see that our redemption and the fulfilment of God's plan for us is likewise "soon"- in the ultimate perspective.

Gen 41:33 Now therefore let Pharaoh look for a discreet and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt- Joseph knew that there must be some fulfilment of the prophetic revelation that his sheaf must arise. I dare to think that Joseph made this suggestion hinting that he could be that man. The Hebrew for "look" is literally 'to see'. Joseph is definitely offering himself- 'see for yourself a discreet and wise man', he tells Pharaoh. When Pharaoh is looking at and 'seeing' Joseph right in front of him. This was spiritual ambition indeed. The years in slavery and prison, all the rejection, injustice and betrayal by his brethren... did not break his faith in God's prophetic word to him. Had he not had those experiences, and the dreams had come true painlessly, he would have been proud; and there would have been no reason for his brothers to bow before him. There can be no true, legitimate exaltation without the humbling hand of providence first. By seeking to fulfil the dreams, Joseph showed that he recognized that God's revelation requires some degree of human effort to fulfil it. But we note that he understood the dreams as meaning that he was to care for and provide for his brothers- not simply get aggrandisment over them for its own sake. See on Gen. 45:6 for another example.

The same Hebrew phrase "discreet and wise man" is used about the leaders of Israel (Dt. 1:13) and also every individual in Israel (Dt. 4:6; Ps. 107:43; Hos. 14:9), and is used multiple times in Proverbs about whoever gives heed to God's word. Joseph knew that he had received God's word, and that it had given him the wisdom he had just shared with Pharaoh. His desire to be set over Egypt was not motivated by personal pride, but in order to be a blessing to the world and to save his brethren, all in fulfilment of the Abrahamic promises. We too cannot just wait for these promises to be fulfilled; they are the basis of the new covenant in which we are. We must have vision and be proactive as to how we can be a blessing and source of salvation in this world.

Gen 41:34 Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint overseers over the land- "Appoint" is the same word used three times of how Joseph was appointed to authority in prison and in Potiphar's house (Gen. 39:4,5; 40:4). He had clearly been prepared for the responsibility he would now bear and the job he was to do. "Overseers" is the same word used of Pharaoh's officers with whom Joseph had been imprisoned. All he had been through was now making sense and was appropriate background experience for what he now had to do. And so it shall be in our eternal work in the Kingdom; we are being prepared for it now, although we don't realize the details.

And take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt’s produce in the seven plenteous years- A fifth was a double tithe. It was also seen as the amount which should be paid in compensation for theft or fraud, especially when committed in ignorance (Lev. 5:16; Lev. 6:5; 22:14; 27:13; Num. 5:7). This is quite a significant catena of verses; and we must remember that the Law of Moses was codifying things which were already understood. It all suggests that Egypt had sinned, even if most were ignorant, and there had to be this compensation. I discussed on :31 the idea that the famine was Divine judgment upon Egypt in response to what they had done to Joseph. It was Joseph who suggested this "fifth", so we wonder if he did struggle with feelings of anger over it all, and yet came down on the side of mercy rather than judgment. He clearly wanted the brothers to come to repentance through experience of discipline, he wanted there to be some recognition of wrong, as he saw it as a step required toward their salvation. And so perhaps he also saw the situation with the Egyptians.

Gen 41:35 Let them gather all the food of these good years that come, and lay up grain under the hand of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it- The "them" refers to the overseers whom Joseph suggests should be appointed. It would have meant a huge administrative task and a shakeup of the existing administration and government. Ps. 105:22 states that Pharaoh gave Joseph power "to discipline (AV "bind") his princes at his pleasure, and to teach his elders wisdom". The wisdom Joseph had was from God (see on :33), so this was really an invitation to teach the Egyptian leadership the wisdom of the true God. There is no record that Joseph ever 'bound' any princes; he didn't want to do to others what had been done to him, rather than seeking the opportunity to make others suffer as he had. The idea presumably was that any who didn't invert their superstitions and follow Joseph's policies would be disciplined or "bound" in prison. There would've been much opposition to Joseph's plans; he was a foreigner, a newcomer without political experience, and he was asking Egypt to go against their previous superstitions and religious ideas. But he was empowered by Pharaoh to do so. We tend to therefore think that effectively, Pharaoh accepted Joseph's religion, or at least, rejected his own. During the seven good years, this would have been difficult; it would have seemed that nothing now could go too wrong. So the way Pharaoh persevered in faith in the dream over an extended period is significant.

Gen 41:36 The food will be for a store to the land against the seven years of famine, which will be in the land of Egypt- "A store" is the noun from the verb 'to oversee', which was been used about Joseph being made an overseer in prison and in Potiphar's house (Gen. 39:4,5; 40:4). The food would oversee them; and yet Joseph would be the supreme overseer. We can therefore understand the association perceived between Joseph and the food, for he was given a title meaning 'Bread of life' (:45).

That the land not perish through the famine- This is surely alluded to in the Bible's most well known verse; God so loved this world, as He did Egypt [which represents the world] that He sent His Son, prefigured in Joseph, that whoever believes in him "should not perish" (Jn. 3:16).

Gen 41:37 The thing was good in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of all his servants- As noted on :36, it all required quite some faith in Joseph personally and the Divine message he was giving; and that faith had to continue over the seven good prosperous years. And prosperity is never a good environment for faith in God regarding future things.

Gen 41:38 Pharaoh said to his servants, Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?- Pharaoh believed in multiple gods, but Joseph had adopted the assumed position that there was only one God. And that rubbed off upon Pharaoh, who now speaks likewise. He was open to the inversion of his belief system and was blessed because of it. Pharaoh means that Joseph knew the mind of God; this is what it means to have the Spirit of God, in this context.

Gen 41:39 Pharaoh said to Joseph, Because God has shown you all of this, there is none so discreet and wise as you- Without doubt the absolute power of the Pharaohs made them capricious and often unwise in who they rewarded on the cusp of emotion or personal pleasure. But the exaltation was so major and so sudden, and was respected for the rest of Pharaoh's life, that we have to see something more here than the momentary emotional outburst of a powerful man. He saw something of God, and as noted throughout this chapter, he had accepted the inversion of his belief system, thanks to Joseph.

Gen 41:40 You shall be over my house-
Pharaoh wanted Joseph to not only rule over all Egypt, but over his own family (:43). We see here another hint that Pharaoh personally accepted Joseph and wanted his private matters ruled according to Joseph's Divine principles. Joseph had been prepared for this by being made ruler over Pharaoh's house. If we keep responding to God's movement in our lives, one experience leads to another.

And according to your word will all my people be ruled. Only in the throne I will be greater than you- This must have been the greatest and quickest exaltation of all time. A man who was just an hour before a miserable prisoner shaving himself in the prison washroom was now the second most powerful person on the planet. It speaks of the Lord's exaltation, from earth to heaven, from a shamed, bleeding, spittle covered body lying in a cave in Palestine... to the exalted Lord of heaven and earth. But it also demonstrates for all time that no human situation is as permanent as it may seem. God can really do anything.

It's a debatable question as to whether Pharaoh created this new position, or whether by giving Joseph this exaltation he was effectively firing another man from his post; or maybe, providentially enough, the post was open. It could be that all this happened two full years, precisely two years, after the exaltation of the butler (:1), which would mean that again it was the time of Pharaoh's birthday, when apparently judgments were made; the baker put to death, the butler exalted. So perhaps the position was open. Joseph would have accepted the position fully aware of how easily such senior officers could be removed or killed by Pharaoh. But unlike Daniel, he accepted the position because he knew that he could use it to save his family, and he perceived that it was part of the fulfilment of the dreams he had been given. That Joseph remained in power all his life beneath the Pharaoh was of itself a testament to God's power and purpose. Or perhaps the Pharaoh came closer to the morality of the one God whom he had come to recognize, and ceased to act in the capricious manner of despots.

The rulership of Egypt according to Joseph's word was backed up by the power to bind any objectors in prison, and to teach the officials Divine wisdom (Ps. 105:22). It points forward to the supremacy of the word of the Lord Jesus.

Gen 41:41 Pharaoh said to Joseph, Behold, I have set you over all the land of Egypt-
Joseph was given the land of Egypt (Gen. 41:41 Heb.), using the same words as in Gen. 45:18; 48:4 concerning how the true land -of Canaan- had been given to Abraham's children. The gift of the land of Egypt was but a primary fulfilment of the greater promise. Again, we see the theme developed of primary fulfilment of the promises in this life. The promises of being fruitful and being given a land were being fulfilled, in a primary sense, in Israel's experience in Egypt (Gen. 48:4 cp. 47:27). And that fruitfulness was shared with all Egypt in the seven years of plenty. Abraham's seed was in a primary sense a blessing for the world (Egypt).

Gen 41:42 Pharaoh took off his signet ring from his hand, and put it on Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in robes of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck- Joseph had been given a special robe by Jacob which he lost; the garment Potiphar gave him was likewise grabbed from him by Potiphar's wife; so he must have thought 'how long will this one last?'. And his previous experiences were so that he would now not feel proud about having this robe of honour from Pharaoh. We note how Biblical history repeated in the similar experiences of Daniel; and we can discern such similarities in our own lives, as the Bible's narrative helps us too to make sense of our lives. The exaltation and empowerment of Joseph clearly speaks of the Lord's exaltation and similar total empowerment, so that He functions as God, without being God Himself in person.

Gen 41:43 And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had. They cried before him, Tender father!- Although only 30, Joseph already had a fatherly image because of his loving care for others. Or we can read as AV "Bow the knee". Joseph's faith in his dreams would've helped him not to be proud. He knew this wasn't the fulfilment of his dream of others bowing to him, but it was going to lead up to the primary fulfilment of it. He would've realized that if his brothers came to Egypt, they too would have to bow the knee to him, and thus fulfil his dreams. So he would've been on the lookout for them coming to him. Adam Clarke suggests the term could be translated "Father of blessing". In this case, we see Joseph as a primary fulfilment of the promised Abrahamic seed who would bring blessing upon Israel's Gentile neighbours.

He set him over all the land of Egypt- It seems there were rulers over the regions of Egypt, but this was a new position created- total control over the whole nation. Joseph was a foreigner and unknown to anyone much. His rulership was very strongly dependent upon his personal relationship with the king, and the direct delegation to him of all Pharaoh's power. This again gives an insight into the Lord's relationship with the Father. The dreams and their interpretation would have been preached and taught throughout Egypt; otherwise there would have been no motivation to pay the double tithe and make operational the plans which Joseph had. Those dreams were God's word; and perhaps some perceived what we noted earlier, that the seven years of famine suggested Divine punishment, and they needed to repent of sin.

Gen 41:44 Pharaoh said to Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without you shall no man lift up his hand or his foot in all the land of Egypt- As noted on :43, for Joseph to practically have authority to execute his plans, he needed a clearly understood delegation of total power to him from Pharaoh; and this is what happened. It gives insight into the nature of the Lord's current exaltation. Lifting up hand or foot could be understood as idioms for agriculture; Dt. 11:10 speaks of Egypt as a place where agriculture depended upon the watering of the land by foot.

Gen 41:45 Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnath-Paaneah- 'Saviour of the world', or 'bread of life'. The Lord was likewise given a new name on ascension (Phil. 2:6-9; Rev. 3:12). See on :36. The giving of an Egyptian name and an Egyptian wife, daughter of a higher caste leading figure, is typical of how Egyptian citizenship was granted to foreigners. Joseph the Hebrew accepted this. Like us in this world, he was on one hand an Egyptian, appearing as one to his brothers and also to the Canaanites when he returned there to bury his father. But he retained his essential identification as a Hebrew and named his children appropriately.

And he gave him Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On as a wife. Joseph went out over the land of Egypt- "Asenath" means 'worshipper of Nath'. Joseph's wife had to forget all about her pagan past (Ps. 45:10 = Dt. 21:13), especially her father's house. Joseph alluded to what she had gone through when he spoke of how he too had forgotten all his past suffering and his father's house (41:51). What a pair they were! Both had broken free of their pasts and were dedicated to the new life together. As such they typify the relationship between Christ and His bride.

It seems hardly chance that Potiphera is the same word as Potiphar. Under Egyptian law, a slave or foreigner could not have any exalted political position unless they married their master's daughter. So it would make sense that Pharaoh ordered Joseph to marry his master Potiphar's daughter, so that his exaltation remained legal. It could be that "Priest of On" just meant he was from the ruling caste, rather than that he was actually a priest. I suggested on Gen. 39 that Potiphar didn't believe his wife's story. Could it be that he also bore the title "Priest of On", and now his daughter married Joseph? "On" is Heliopolis (as in LXX), and I suggested that the "round house" prison was in fact the circular tower of Heliopolis. All this points to an identity between Potiphar and Potiphera. See on Gen. 39:19; it was the same "captain of the guard" who was also the manager of the prison. There was therefore this man Potiphar who was hanging around in Joseph's life, clearly used by providence. And why do we have to as it were read between the lines of the record to make this connection? Because that is how providence works, subtle rather than direct and 'in your face'. You have to read between the lines of your own life to see it, rather than having providence baldly stated. Joseph would have realized that clearly God's hand was at work with him. As he stood as a nervous 17 year old in a slave market in Egypt... it was all of God's grace and plan that he was bought by Potiphar or one of his servants. But it took him many years to perceive this. And the same can be said of events in our lives.

Gen 41:46 Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh king of Egypt. Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt- "Went throughout" is literally 'to cross over', and is a strange term to use. But the Hebrew abar is the root of the word "Hebrew". Literally, Joseph 'Hebrewed' throughout Egypt. News of his one God principles, the word of that God in the dreams, the rejection of superstition and paganic ideas... along with Joseph's personal travels throughout the land would have spread the Hebrew religion throughout Egypt. This would explain why even 500 years later, a significant number of Egyptians considered themselves Hebrews and left Egypt with Israel to settle in Canaan.

Gen 41:47 In the seven plenteous years the earth produced abundantly- Literally, 'by handfuls', a term more appropriate to the harvesting of rice than grain. The exact crop isn't specific in the original Hebrew.

Gen 41:48 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 around every city, he laid up in the same- The bread laid up in preparation for the famine seems to be alluded to when Paul writes of laying up the word as a foundation against the judgment (1 Tim. 6:19). To build storehouses in every town was a significant amount of work; perhaps it was in bitterness at this memory that a later Pharaoh made the Hebrews build him storehouses (Ex. 1:11).

Gen 41:49 Joseph laid up grain- Laying up or gathering corn would have made him reflect upon his dreams; he realized it was his sheaf standing up, and so he expected his brothers to come and bow down to it for the sake of corn.

As the sand of the sea, very much, until he stopped counting, for it was without number- This was the description of Abraham's seed. He realized that all this was happening for the sake of preserving Abraham's seed; which meant his brothers would come to him and bow down in search of corn from him. Likewise world events can happen for the sake of the people of God, who may be a tiny minority.

Gen 41:50 To Joseph were born two sons before the year of famine came, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore to him- The implication is that he had other children, but these are the two who remained within the purpose of God. It's a sober thought that such a spiritual person as Joseph produced children who didn't all accept the covenant.

Gen 41:51 Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh, For, he said, God has made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house- Joseph's (half-Gentile) sons were counted as the twelve tribes of Jacob, just as we are Christ's sons (Heb. 2:13). Joseph was called "tender father" (41:43 mg.) as the Lord will be called 'Father' in the future age (Is. 9:6 Heb.)

The same word for "toil" is used of the "travail" of the Lord's soul during the crucifixion process (Is. 53:11). He forgot the pain of it all but clearly remembered what had happened. His apparent hardness to the brothers was therefore not from any motive of revenge. We find here a profound statement of God's ability to make us "forget" things which otherwise would remain an endless fountain of bitterness and regret. He clearly had not forgotten his family, and it could be argued that he did all he did with the hope of saving them, although on the right spiritual basis. It is clear from :52 that he considered Egypt "the land of my affliction"; he had not forgotten the affliction in prison and through the slander of Potiphar's wife; but he forgot the pain psychologically and didn't keep reliving it. He "forgot" in the sense that God forgets sin; the fact of them is still there, as witnessed by the Biblical history being full of the record of forgiven sins. But they are forgotten in the sense of not being counted against us, and this is how Joseph was helped to "forget" his sufferings. "My toil" could refer to hard labour in prison, although the Hebrew word is also translated "misery" and "sorrow". In this word choice we have a window back onto the deep psychological sufferings which the behaviour of others brought about. They are associated with his father's family. But there is such huge encouragement here, that God through the work of the Holy Spirit on the human heart is able to do such psychological miracles. And He does so to this day. To deny such operation of His Spirit is to leave ourselves bitter and at the mercy of hard memories which we will otherwise find impossible to deal with. This was an amazing miracle; no amount of steel-willed suppression of his past could have made Joseph paper over all the pain. But God did a psychological miracle upon him. God did not obliterate or delete Joseph's memory cells, but He made him "forget" the pain.


Gen 41:52 The name of the second, he called Ephraim: For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction- Life without his brothers was an affliction, and the soft life was only affliction without that relationship. The idea of fruitfulness is an allusion to the promised fruitfulness of the Abrahamic seed (s.w. Gen. 35:11). But Joseph noted that this was experienced in the land of his affliction, not in Canaan; so it was only a shadow fulfilment of the greater fruitfulness of the Kingdom which those promises spoke of. Again we see the theme of primary fulfilment of the promises in this life, even if we are not physically located in Canaan. The first audience of Genesis was Israel in the wilderness, who would well relate to Egypt as "the land of affliction", and the same word is used in this sense (Gen. 15:13; Ex. 3:7,17; 4:31; Neh. 9:9). But they were to grasp the point that even when things were going wonderfully in that land, for God's true people, it was still a land of affliction; as is anywhere apart from the Kingdom. Jacob would later comment on Joseph's fruitfulness (Gen. 49:22); but the fruitfulness was in spiritual terms, for only two of his children have any further mention in the Biblical record.

Gen 41:53 The seven years of plenty, that were in the land of Egypt, came to an end- Joseph may have reflected upon the strange similarity with how his father Jacob had served Laban for two periods of seven years, and Joseph had apparently been born in year two of the second seven years; which was exactly when he met his brothers again. There are at times such strange coincidences which are surely Divine, and yet we fail to attach meaning to them. Perhaps we shall know in the Kingdom; or maybe we are just supposed to take outline encouragement from the fact that our lives are under the Father's loving overall control.

Gen 41:54 The seven years of famine began to come, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread- The "all lands" refer not to the whole planet, but the lands of the eretz. Just as the knowledge of the one true God had been distributed throughout Egypt, so all lands of the eretz would now come and meet Joseph in Egypt and hear of the dreams and their fulfilment by the one God. Jacob's sons likely heard the story- strange dreams had been fulfilled in Egypt, and there was therefore the bread of salvation available to all. And the brothers would have thought of Joseph's dreams, although probably on the level of the unconscious.

Gen 41:55 When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread, and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do- When Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says (Jn. 2:5), she is quoting from the LXX of Gen. 41:55, where Joseph’s word has to be obeyed in order to provide food for the needy Egyptians. I have several times pointed out the inversion of Egyptian religious values which was required to believe in the dreams and the interpretation being enforced by Joseph. Egypt was being given the chance to know God, and famine is a judgment from God designed to elicit repentance (see on :31) and faith in Him (Israel therefore were "famished" in the desert, Dt. 8:3 s.w.). But we note that such judgment doesn't come immediately; there is not a connection between sin and Divine judgment in real time; otherwise we would all be dead. In this case, God brought blessing and then only after that judgment for sin. We may balk at the idea of the whole nation and surrounding Canaan being afflicted for the sake of one man's mistreatment. But this is how significant is just one individual to God; and we think of the huge ramifications of the Lord's crucifixion. 

Gen 41:56 The famine was over all the surface of the earth. Joseph opened all the store houses, and sold to the Egyptians. The famine was severe in the land of Egypt- The Proverbs often allude to historical incidents in earlier Biblical books. Prov. 11:26 clearly fills out the situation that arose: "People curse someone who withholds grain, but blessing will be on the head of him who sells it". Joseph would have been blessed by the Egyptians; and thus there was again a primary fulfilment of the Abrahamic promises of blessing upon the Gentiles of the eretz.

Gen 41:57 All countries came into Egypt, to Joseph, to buy grain, because the famine was severe in all the earth- We wonder why Joseph didn't invite his family to come, as surely he knew they were suffering. Perhaps he had learnt enough of the ways of providence to leave it all to God. Or he felt they had to take the initiative, and needed to most importantly repent before simply getting material salvation from their situation. Whatever the reason, one suggests it had a spiritual dimension to it, and was not because he didn't care for them or wanted them to suffer. Or it could be that as with Joseph's rather strange responses to his brothers, that he simply didn't know how to act. He had no game plan, because he didn't know. Perhaps he was indeed partly angry with them, and partly sorry; and partly wished their judgment, and partly their repentance. And in his character, mercy triumphed over judgment. This would give a window into the internal struggles of God and the Lord Jesus, before they finally come down on the side of mercy to us rather than the judgment we deserve.