Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1. at the end of two full years--It is not certain whether these
years are reckoned from the beginning of Joseph's imprisonment, or from
the events described in the preceding chapter--most likely the latter.
What a long time for Joseph to experience the sickness of hope
deferred! But the time of his enlargement came when he had sufficiently
learned the lessons of God designed for him; and the plans of
Providence were matured.
Pharaoh dreamed--"Pharaoh," from an Egyptian word Phre,
signifying the "sun," was the official title of the kings of that
country. The prince, who occupied the throne of Egypt, was Aphophis,
one of the Memphite kings, whose capital was On or Heliopolis, and who
is universally acknowledged to have been a patriot king. Between the
arrival of Abraham and the appearance of Joseph in that country,
somewhat more than two centuries had elapsed. Kings sleep and dream, as
well as their subjects. And this Pharaoh had two dreams in one night so
singular and so similar, so distinct and so apparently significant, so
coherent and vividly impressed on his memory, that his spirit was
8. he called for all the magicians of Egypt--It is not possible
to define the exact distinction between "magicians" and "wise men"; but
they formed different branches of a numerous body, who laid claim to
supernatural skill in occult arts and sciences, in revealing mysteries,
explaining portents, and, above all, interpreting dreams. Long practice
had rendered them expert in devising a plausible way of getting out of
every difficulty and framing an answer suitable to the occasion. But
the dreams of Pharaoh baffled their united skill. Unlike their Assyrian
they did not pretend to know the meaning of the symbols contained in
them, and the providence of God had determined that they should all be
nonplussed in the exercise of their boasted powers, in order that the
inspired wisdom of Joseph might appear the more remarkable.
9-13. then spake the chief butler unto Pharaoh, saying, I do
remember my faults--This public acknowledgment of the merits of the
young Hebrew would, tardy though it was, have reflected credit on the
butler had it not been obviously made to ingratiate himself with his
royal master. It is right to confess our faults against God, and
against our fellow men when that confession is made in the spirit of
godly sorrow and penitence. But this man was not much impressed with a
sense of the fault he had committed against Joseph; he never thought of
God, to whose goodness he was indebted for the prophetic announcement
of his release, and in acknowledging his former fault against the king,
he was practising the courtly art of pleasing his master.
14. Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph--Now that God's set time
no human power nor policy could detain Joseph in prison. During his
protracted confinement, he might have often been distressed with
perplexing doubts; but the mystery of Providence was about to be
cleared up, and all his sorrows forgotten in the course of honor and
public usefulness in which his services were to be employed.
shaved himself--The Egyptians were the only Oriental nation that
liked a smooth chin. All slaves and foreigners who were reduced to that
condition, were obliged, on their arrival in that country, to conform
to the cleanly habits of the natives, by shaving their beards and
heads, the latter of which were covered with a close cap. Thus
prepared, Joseph was conducted to the palace, where the king seemed to
have been anxiously waiting his arrival.
15, 16. Pharaoh said, . . . I have dreamed a
dream--The king's brief statement of the service required brought
out the genuine piety of Joseph; disclaiming all merit, he ascribed
whatever gifts or sagacity he possessed to the divine source of all
wisdom, and he declared his own inability to penetrate futurity; but,
at the same time, he expressed his confident persuasion that God would
reveal what was necessary to be known.
17. Pharaoh said, In my dream, behold, I stood upon the bank of the
river--The dreams were purely Egyptian, founded on the productions
of that country and the experience of a native. The fertility of Egypt
being wholly dependent on the Nile, the scene is laid on the banks of
that river; and oxen being in the ancient hieroglyphics symbolical of
the earth and of food, animals of that species were introduced in the
18. there came up out of the river seven kine--Cows now, of the
buffalo kind, are seen daily plunging into the Nile; when their huge
form is gradually emerging, they seem as if rising "out of the river."
and they fed in a meadow--Nile grass, the aquatic plants that
grow on the marshy banks of that river, particularly the lotus kind, on
which cattle were usually fattened.
19. behold, seven other kine . . . poor and
ill-favoured--The cow being the emblem of fruitfulness, the
different years of plenty and of famine were aptly represented by the
different condition of those kine--the plenty, by the cattle feeding on
the richest fodder; and the dearth, by the lean and famishing kine,
which the pangs of hunger drove to act contrary to their nature.
22. I saw in my dream, and, behold, seven ears--that is, of
Egyptian wheat, which, when "full and good," is remarkable in size (a
single seed sprouting into seven, ten, or fourteen stalks) and each
stalk bearing an ear.
23. blasted with the east wind--destructive everywhere to grain,
but particularly so in Egypt; where, sweeping over the sandy deserts of
Arabia, it comes in the character of a hot, blighting wind, that
quickly withers all vegetation (compare
24. the thin ears devoured the seven good ears--devoured
is a different word from that used in
and conveys the idea of destroying, by absorbing to themselves all the
nutritious virtue of the soil around them.
25. Joseph said, . . . The dream . . . is
one--They both pointed to the same event--a remarkable dispensation
of seven years of unexampled abundance, to be followed by a similar
period of unparalleled dearth. The repetition of the dream in two
different forms was designed to show the absolute certainty and speedy
arrival of this public crisis; the interpretation was accompanied by
several suggestions of practical wisdom for meeting so great an
emergency as was impending.
33. Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man--The explanation
given, when the key to the dreams was supplied, appears to have been
satisfactory to the king and his courtiers; and we may suppose that
much and anxious conversation arose, in the course of which Joseph
might have been asked whether he had anything further to say. No doubt
the providence of God provided the opportunity of his suggesting what
34. and let him appoint officers over the land--overseers,
equivalent to the beys of modern Egypt.
take up the fifth part of the land--that is, of the land's
produce, to be purchased and stored by the government, instead of being
sold to foreign corn merchants.
38. Pharaoh said unto his servants--The kings of ancient Egypt
were assisted in the management of state affairs by the advice of the
most distinguished members of the priestly order; and, accordingly,
before admitting Joseph to the new and extraordinary office that was to
be created, those ministers were consulted as to the expediency and
propriety of the appointment.
a man in whom the Spirit of God is--An acknowledgment of the
being and power of the true God, though faint and feeble, continued to
linger amongst the higher classes long after idolatry had come to
40. Thou shalt be over my house--This sudden change in the
condition of a man who had just been taken out of prison could take
place nowhere, except in Egypt. In ancient as well as modern times,
slaves have often risen to be its rulers. But the special providence of
God had determined to make Joseph governor of Egypt; and the way was
paved for it by the deep and universal conviction produced in the minds
both of the king and his councillors, that a divine spirit animated his
mind and had given him such extraordinary knowledge.
according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled--literally,
"kiss." This refers to the edict granting official power to Joseph, to
be issued in the form of a firman, as in all Oriental countries; and
all who should receive that order would kiss it, according to the usual
Eastern mode of acknowledging obedience and respect for the sovereign
41. Pharaoh said, . . . See, I have set thee over all the
land--These words were preliminary to investiture with the insignia
of office, which were these: the signet-ring, used for signing public
documents, and its impression was more valid than the sign-manual of
the king; the khelaat or dress of honor, a coat of finely
wrought linen, or rather cotton, worn only by the highest personages;
the gold necklace, a badge of rank, the plain or ornamental form
of it indicating the degree of rank and dignity; the privilege of
riding in a state carriage, the second chariot; and lastly--
43. they cried before him, Bow the knee--abrech, an
Egyptian term, not referring to prostration, but signifying, according
to some, "father" (compare
according to others, "native prince"--that is, proclaimed him
naturalized, in order to remove all popular dislike to him as a
44. These ceremonies of investiture were closed in usual form by
the king in council solemnly ratifying the appointment.
I am Pharaoh, and without thee, &c.--a proverbial mode of
expression for great power.
45. Zaphnath-paaneah--variously interpreted, "revealer of
secrets"; "saviour of the land"; and from the hieroglyphics, "a wise
man fleeing from pollution"--that is, adultery.
gave him to wife Asenath, the daughter of--His naturalization
was completed by this alliance with a family of high distinction. On
being founded by an Arab colony, Poti-pherah, like Jethro, priest of
Midian, might be a worshipper of the true God; and thus Joseph, a pious
man, will be freed from the charge of marrying an idolatress for
and also Beth-shemesh
In looking at this profusion of honors heaped suddenly upon Joseph, it
cannot be doubted that he would humbly yet thankfully acknowledge the
hand of a special Providence in conducting him through all his
checkered course to almost royal power; and we, who know more than
Joseph did, cannot only see that his advancement was subservient to the
most important purposes relative to the Church of God, but learn the
great lesson that a Providence directs the minutest events of human
46. Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before
Pharaoh--seventeen when brought into Egypt, probably three in
prison, and thirteen in the service of Potiphar.
went out . . . all the land--made an immediate survey
to determine the site and size of the storehouses required for the
different quarters of the country.
47. the earth brought forth by handfuls--a singular expression,
alluding not only to the luxuriance of the crop, but the practice of
the reapers grasping the ears, which alone were cut.
48. he gathered up all the food of the seven years--It gives a
striking idea of the exuberant fertility of this land, that, from the
superabundance of the seven plenteous years, corn enough was laid up
for the subsistence, not only of its home population, but of the
neighboring countries, during the seven years of dearth.
50-52. unto Joseph were born two sons--These domestic events,
which increased his temporal happiness, develop the piety of his
character in the names conferred upon his children.
53-56. The seven years of plenteousness . . .
ended--Over and above the proportion purchased for the government
during the years of plenty, the people could still have husbanded much
for future use. But improvident as men commonly are in the time of
prosperity, they found themselves in want, and would have starved by
thousands had not Joseph anticipated and provided for the protracted
57. The famine was sore in all lands--that is, the lands
contiguous to Egypt--Canaan, Syria, and Arabia.