Genesis 41

The Word Made Fresh

1Two long years went by. Then one night Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile 2and while he looked, seven healthy, fat cows came up out of the river and began to graze among the reeds. 3Then seven more cows, scrawny and boney, came up and joined the healthy cows along the banks of the Nile. 4Then the scrawny cows ate the seven healthy cows. Pharaoh woke up.

5Soon he fell asleep again and had another dream. This time he saw seven heads of grain, plump and healthy, growing on one stalk. 6They were followed by seven more heads of grain, thin and dry from the east wind. 7The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven plump heads. Pharaoh woke up. It was only a dream, but the next morning he was really upset. He sent for the magicians and wise men of Egypt and told them his dreams, but none of them could tell Pharaoh what they might mean.

9Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Now I remember my promise that I did not keep. 19There was a time when Pharaoh was angry with his servants and he put me and the chief baker in the prison house of the captain of the guard. 11The chief baker and I each had dreams on the same night, and both dreams were quite disturbing. 12There was a young Hebrew in the jail with us who belonged to the captain of the guard. When we told him our dreams, he interpreted both dreams to us. 13And things happened exactly according to his interpretations: I was restored to my position and the chief baker was hanged.”

14Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and they brought him immediately out of the jail. When he had shaved and changed clothes he came and stood before Pharaoh. 15Pharaoh said, “I have had a dream and no one here can tell me what it means. But I am told that you have the ability to interpret dreams.”

16Joseph said, “It’s not me, but God who can tell Pharaoh what the dream means.”

17Pharaoh said, “Here is my dream: I was standing on the banks of the Nile, 18and seven smooth, healthy cows came up out of the water and fed on the reeds. 19Then seven more cows followed, but these were gaunt and pitiful. I’ve never seen such ugly livestock in all of Egypt. 20The scrawny cows ate the first seven healthy cows, 21but afterwards you would never guess it because they were just as skinny and ugly as before. That’s when I woke up. 22But when I fell asleep again, I dreamed there were seven heads of healthy, plump grain on one stalk, 23then seven thin heads dried out by the east wind sprang up after them. 24The thin, blighted heads of grain ate up the plump, healthy heads. But I told this to my magicians, and none of them were able to tell me what they mean.”

25Joseph said, “Pharaoh’s dreams are really one and the same. God has shown Pharaoh what is about to occur. 26The seven healthy cows are seven years, and the seven plump heads of grain are seven years; the dreams are alike. 27The seven scrawny cows and the seven thin heads of grain represent seven years of famine. 28God is telling Pharaoh what God is about to do. 29There will be seven years of abundant harvests throughout Egypt. 30They will be followed by seven years of famine, so severe that the bountiful years will be forgotten. The land will be laid waste by the famine. 31The years of abundance will be completely forgotten. 32The fact that there were two dreams with the same meaning indicates that this is firmly fixed by God, and it will begin very soon. 33Now, Pharaoh needs to choose someone who is perceptive and wise, and put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt. 34And Pharaoh should appoint governors over the land who will take one-fifth of the harvest during the seven years of plenty. 35Tell them to gather from all the crops during these good years and store away grain under your authority so the cities will have food. Then put them in charge of distributing it. 36The stored crops will be a reserve during the seven years of famine that are coming to the land of Egypt, and the land will not perish during the famine.”

37Pharaoh and his servants were impressed. 38Pharaoh said, “Where can we find anyone else who is so attuned to the spirit of God?” 39He said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, no one else is better able to handle preparations. 40I am putting you over my house. My people will do whatever you tell them to do. You will be second in command only to the throne.” 41And he said, “I hereby put you over the whole land of Egypt,” 42and he took off his signature ring and put it on Joseph’s finger. Then he put royal linen clothes on Joseph, and a gold chain around his neck. 43He told Joseph to ride in the chariot of his second-in-command, who called out before him, “Kneel!” And Joseph was placed in charge of the whole land of Egypt.

44Pharaoh also told Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, but without your permission no one can do anything in all the land of Egypt.” He gave Joseph the name, “Zaphenath-paneah, and gave him Asenath, daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife. 45And so, Joseph was in charge of the whole land of Egypt.

46Joseph was thirty years old when he joined Pharaoh’s staff. He travelled all through the land of Egypt. 47During the seven years of abundant crops 48he gathered the produce from around the country and built storehouses in the cities where the grain from surrounding fields could be stored. 49He gathered the surplus produce in such great amounts that he stopped keeping track of it. It was beyond measure.

50Before the years of famine arrived Joseph had two sons with Asenath the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. 51He named the firstborn Manasseh, saying, “God has made me forget all the hardships I went through in my father’s house. 52He named the second child Ephraim. “God has made me successful in the land of my troubles,” he said.

53The seven years of abundance in Egypt were over, 54and the seven years of scarcity began just as Joseph had said. Every country experienced the famine, but there was bread in Egypt. 55When the famine struck the land of Egypt the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread, and Pharaoh told them to go to Joseph. “Do whatever he tells you to do,” he said. 56The famine spread across the whole country, and Joseph opened all the storage houses and sold grain to the Egyptians because the food shortage was extreme throughout the land. 57Not only that, but people from all over the world came to Joseph to buy grain because the famine was so widespread.

Commentary

1-8: Time passes. Two years after reinstating the royal cup bearer, Pharaoh has a couple of powerful and disturbing dreams. In his first dream he sees 7 fat cows come out of the Nile. Then 7 gaunt cows come out of the Nile and eat the other 7. We know, of course, that cows are vegetarians, so this is a shocking scene. It wakes him up. He falls asleep again and dreams that he sees 7 plump ears of grain on one stalk, then 7 blighted ears sprout from the same stalk and eat the other 7. It wakes him up again. He summons all his magicians and wise men and tells them the dreams, but they don’t have a clue what the dreams mean. Neither do we at this point.

9-13: That’s when the cup bearer said, “Oops. There’s a guy in jail who can interpret dreams,” and he tells the story.

14-24: Joseph is summoned, cleaned up and presented to Pharaoh. Once again Joseph gives God credit for dream interpretation and offers to disclose God’s interpretation to Pharaoh. Pharaoh recounts his dreams, adding the detail that in the first dream the 7 thin cows were just as thin after eating the fat cows as they were before.

25-36: Joseph explains the dreams: the 7 cows and 7 ears of grain all mean 7 years. There are going to be 7 years of bountiful harvests, followed by 7 years of famine, he says. Then he offers Pharaoh some advice: Find some smart fellow to organize the country and collect 20% of the harvest during the good years so you’ll have food stored away for the bad years.

37-45: Pharaoh and his advisors are bowled over by Joseph’s suggestion, and Pharaoh chooses Joseph to be the brain behind the operation. He puts his own signet ring on Joseph’s hand, conferring his authority, dresses him up in nice clothes and jewelry and makes a public announcement about Joseph’s appointment. In addition, he gives Joseph a wife, a daughter of a priest (whose name, Potiphera, is very like Potiphar – poetic justice!), making Joseph an integral part not only of the administration but also of the religious establishment of Egypt.

45-49: At the ripe old age of 30 Joseph goes to work organizing the country with store houses in every city. Over the next 7 years he stores up more grain than they can keep track of.

50-52: Joseph and Asenath have two children, Manasseh and Ephraim. Their birth makes Joseph forget all his hardships and all his father’s house. In other words, he is now an Egyptian.

53-57: The boom years come to an end and the famine begins, but people come from all over Egypt and the Near Middle East to buy grain from Joseph. Please note the word “buy.” He isn’t giving this food away.

Takeaway

Looking back on my life I can think of a number of times when I was placed in what I thought was a bad situation. But every time that happened, something good and positive followed that could not have occurred had I not suffered a bit. I expect you have experienced the same.