Genesis 41 - Joseph Interprets Pharaoh's Dream and Rises to Power
A. Pharaoh's dreams and his dilemma.
1. (1-7) Pharaoh's disturbing dreams.
a. Joseph had been in prison, forgotten by the royal butler, for two years now. But God had a purpose in the delay, and now the purpose is explained.
i. If God wanted it, the butler could have remembered Joseph a year or more earlier, but God was moving in His perfect timing.
b. In Pharaoh's dream, seven fat cows come out of the waters of the Nile and are consumed by seven gaunt cows. Then in a second dream, seven thin heads devour seven fat heads of wheat.
2. (8-14) Joseph is called in to interpret Pharaoh's dreams.
a. Egypt's magicians were impressive, yet they cannot interpret the dreams. Pharaoh knew they were significant, yet no one could give a suitable explanation of the dreams.
b. The butler finally remembers Joseph (and confesses the wrong he has done against him). He recommends Joseph before Pharaoh as a man who can interpret dreams.
c. When it was in the timing of God to get Joseph out of prison, it all happens very quickly. Often, we feel there are long periods of time when God isn't doing anything, but when His timing is right, everything can come together in an instant.
i. During those times when we think God isn't doing anything, He is doing the work most important to Him: developing our character, transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ.
3. (15-16) Joseph comes before Pharaoh.
a. It is not in me: Pharaoh gives Joseph a golden opportunity to glorify himself, but Joseph will have none of it. He will not use this as an instance to glorify himself before Pharaoh, but only to glorify God.
b. Joseph seems much wiser, and perhaps more humble than he did before, considering the manner in which he told his brothers his dreams in a somewhat self-glorying way.
i. God's work of character building was being accomplished in Joseph even when he may not have thought anything was happening.
4. (17-24) Pharaoh tells Joseph his dream.
a. More details of the dream come out on the second telling. When the skinny cows ate the fat cows, they themselves did not become fat: they were just as ugly as at the beginning.
B. Joseph interprets Pharaoh's dream.
1. (25-32) Joseph interprets the dream.
a. The seven cows and seven heads of grain both represent seven years. There will be seven years of plenty and abundance, then seven years of want and famine; and the years of famine will be so bad, the good years will be forgotten.
b. Joseph sees the confirming hand of God in the repetition of the dream. He knew the principle of by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established (Deuteronomy 19:15), even if he didn't have it written in Scripture yet!
i. As well as the two witnesses providing certainty, they also give urgency: God will shortly bring it to pass.
ii. God will: the matter is entirely in the hands of God; God had a purpose for the dream, a purpose for the timing, a purpose for the famine, a purpose for Joseph being in jail until now, a purpose for everything.
2. (33-36) Joseph gives his advice to Pharaoh.
a. Joseph is showing his boldness and his gift of administration. No responsible administrator would present such news without also suggesting a plan to meet the coming crisis.
b. Joseph also, no doubt, immediately sensed why God had given this word to Pharaoh: so he could prepare for the coming crisis. This wasn't just gossip from heaven to earth. It was an urgent call to action.
c. Select a discerning and wise man: when God has something He wants to accomplish, He picks a man. "God always works through men performing tasks on the earth." (Barnhouse)
3. (37-45) Joseph's promotion to a position of great authority.
a. In whom is the Spirit of God: this is the first mention in the Bible of the Holy Spirit coming upon a man.
b. Joseph has now gone from the pit to the pinnacle, but it took some 13 years to happen. From the outside, Joseph looked like an "overnight success," but it was more than 13 years in the making.
c. Joseph is a good example of man who seemed to have all the gifts and talents for leadership, but God put him in a place where his character would be developed, and this took many years. Gifts and talents may be impressive and immediate, but character is what God looks for and always takes time to develop.
d. Zaphnath-Paaneah: Jewish legends say each letter of Joseph's Egyptian name means something. Linking them all together, the name is "Seer - redeemer - prophet - supporter - interpreter of dreams - clever - discreet - wise."
i. More likely, the name means God Speaks and He Lives, referring to God's word coming through Joseph, his own preservation, and the way he has preserved the country.
e. And he gave him as a wife Asenath: Jewish legends (fabrications, really) say Asenath was really the daughter of Dinah and Shechem, who had been abandoned at the border of Egypt, and she was adopted into the family of an Egyptian priest.
C. Joseph's life as Prime Minister.
1. (46-49) The seven years of plenty come to pass.
a. Joseph does what is right. He actually does store up the grain during the seven years of plenty.
b. It seems it was customary for the Pharaoh to take 10% of the grain as a tax. Essentially, he doubled the taxes over the next seven years (Genesis 41:34 mentions one-fifth, that is, 20%).
2. (50-52) Joseph's two sons and his state of heart.
a. From his Egyptian wife, Joseph fathers Manasseh, which means "forgetfulness," for God made Joseph to forget all the previous pain and trial in his life. His second son is Ephraim, which means "fruitfulness," because God has made Joseph fruitful in Egypt.
i. We can't be doubly fruitful until we are also forgetting. In his book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis describes hell as a place where no one forgets anything, and remembers every slight, every cruel exchange of words, every wrong ever done to them, and everybody is utterly unforgiving. But in heaven, all these things are put away, because all things have become new.
b. Joseph did not forget the faith of his fathers, even though he had risen to great glory in Egypt and had an Egyptian wife. As a sign of this, his children are given Hebrew names, not Egyptian names.
3. (53-57) The seven years of famine begin.
a. Because of Joseph's wise preparation, Egypt will become a supply source for the whole region, which experiences this severe famine.
b. The people in Canaan, Joseph's family, also suffer from this famine. But God has made wise, though unexpected provision for them by sending Joseph ahead of the family.
c. And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28). Joseph did not have Romans 8:28 on paper, but he had it in his heart. You may have it on paper, but do you have it in your heart?
C. Joseph as a picture of Jesus (thus far):
1. Was a shepherd.
2. Loved by his father.
3. Sent unto his brethren.
4. Hated by his brothers.
5. Prophesied his coming glory.
6. Rejected by his brothers.
7. Endures unjust punishment from his brothers.
8. Sentenced to the pit.
9. Delivered to the pit, though a leader knew he should go free.
10. Sold for pieces of silver.
11. Handed over to the Gentiles.
12. Regarded as dead, but raised out of the pit.
13. Went to Egypt.
14. Made a servant.
15. Tempted severely, but did not sin.
16. Falsely accused.
17. Made no defense.
18. Cast into prison, and numbered with sinners and criminals.
19. Endures unjust punishment from Gentiles.
20. Associated with two other criminals; one is pardoned and one is not.
a. The butler, with his wine, and the baker, with his bread, have been associated with the elements of communion. The three-day period before their case is resolved has been associated with the three days before the resurrection of Jesus.
21. Shows compassion.
22. Brings a message of deliverance in prison.
23. Wanted to be remembered.
24. Shown to have divine wisdom.
25. Recognized as having the Spirit of God.
26. Betrayed by friends.
27. Glorified after his humility.
28. Honored among Gentiles while still despised or forgotten by his brethren.
29. Given a Gentile bride.
30. 30 years old when he began his life's work.
31. He blesses the world with bread.
32. He was the only source of bread.
33. The world is instructed to go to him and do whatever he says to do.
34. Given the name "God Speaks and He Lives."