SynopsisWhen last we saw Joseph, he was in jail, and had interpreted dreams for the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker. He predicted that the cupbearer would be restored to his position, but that the baker would be executed—and his interpretations proved correct, because both of those things happened. The cupbearer promised to tell the Pharaoh about Joseph, but promptly forgot all about it.
In this chapter—which takes place two years later!—the Pharaoh has a couple of dreams, and is troubled, because he doesn’t know what they mean. The dreams:
… He was standing by the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up.
He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted—thin and scorched by the east wind. The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream.
So the Pharaoh brings in all of the magicians and wise men in Egypt, but none of them can interpret the dreams. At this point, the cupbearer [figuratively] slaps his forehead, and remembers about Joseph:
Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was hanged.” (verses 9–13)
So Joseph is brought out of jail, and—after shaving and changing his clothes—brought before the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh asks him to interpret the dreams, and Joseph tells Pharaoh “I cannot do it, …but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires” (verse 16).
So Pharaoh tells Joseph his dreams. Rather than paraphrasing, I’ll just include Joseph’s answer:
Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.
“It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.
“And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.”
This sounds like a good idea to Pharaoh and his officials. In fact, it sounds like such a good idea that they decide Joseph is the man for the job:
Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” (verses 39–40)
The pattern should be familiar to us, by now: Joseph is put in charge of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. Just like he was put in charge of the jail, before that, and put in charge of Potiphar’s household before that. Pharaoh also gives Joseph the daughter of one of Egypt’s priests as a wife.
As the LORD had predicted through Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, the seven years of abundance come. In each city, Joseph sets up storage facilities, where he stores all of the excess grain. Verse 49 says “Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.”
Then, as anticipated, the seven years of abundance come to an end, and a seven year famine starts. When the famine begins, the people start coming to Joseph to buy back the grain he’s been storing.
ThoughtsThis is probably common knowledge, but just in case it’s not: the term “Pharaoh” is a title, not a name. It’s like “president” or “king”; the Pharaoh is the ruler of Egypt. It might get a little confusing sometimes, because Pharaohs in the Bible are sometimes referred to as “the Pharaoh”, and other times just as “Pharaoh”. So, in a hundred years or so, when the Bible is still referring to “the Pharaoh”, it won’t be referring to the same man. Just another man in the same position.
Also, as is probably becoming evident, dreams meant much more to people in Joseph’s time than they do today. This explains why the Pharaoh becomes troubled when he has dreams that he’s not able to interpret.
Verse 46 mentions that Joseph is 30 when he is put in charge of Egypt. So by the time he’s 30, he’s been sold into slavery, thrown into jail because of a rape accusation, and then put in charge of all of Egypt. By the time I was 30, I had… um… become a yuppie.