While Joseph was still in prison, the account focused on Pharaoh and his dreams. Troubled by the disturbing dreams, Pharaoh sent and called Joseph out of the prison to interpret the meaning of the dreams for him. The event in the passage teaches us that the Lord gradually guided Joseph out of his misery and steadily revealed the destiny and the meaning of Joseph’s own dream.
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- The river (41:1): In Hebrew, the word “river” is of Egyptian origin and is used almost exclusively for the Nile. The Nile was literally the source of Egypt’s entire economy. [ref]
- Cows (41:2) were abundant in Egypt and were considered as a symbol of the earth, agriculture and nourishment by the Egyptians. [ref]
- Seven (41:2): The number “seven” has been significantly used throughout the Scriptures for certain symbolisms. For example, seven is the number of sacrifice (
2 Chr 29:21), of purification and consecration (Lev 4:6, 17), of reward (Deut 28:7; 1 Sam 2:5), of punishment (Lev 26:21; Deut 28:25), of abundance (Gen 4:15, 24; Ps 79:12) and of order in the sacred feasts of the Israelites (Ex 12:15; Deut 16:9; Lev 25:8).
- The meadow (41:2) can literally be translated in Hebrew as “reed grass.” The Hebrew word came from an Egyptian loan word that originally meant the land flooded by the Nile and then came to be used for pasture land in general. [ref]
- “Ugly and gaunt” (41:3): Such an expression can literally be translated as “evil to look upon” or “bad in appearance” and “withered in the flesh” or “beaten small.”
- East wind (41:6) refers to the dreaded sirocco or Ḥamsīn (Ex 10:13, 14:21), [ref] the hot, dry, withering wind which blows from the Southeast in February to June. While the south-east wind continues, the thermometer rises suddenly from 16°, up to 36° and even 38°, seeking to destroy the vegetation it passes, even killing the seed-corn in the clods. [ref]
- “His spirit was troubled” (41:8): The word “spirit” in Hebrew, can literally be translated as: “vivacity” or “vigor” (
1 Kgs 21:5; Gen 45:27), “courage” (Josh 5:1; Psa 76:12), “temper” or “anger” (Judg 8:3; Prov 16:32), “impatience” or “hastiness” (Mic 2:7; Job 32:18),”patience” (Ecc 7:8), “disposition” or “discontented” or “bitterness” (Gen 26:35; Isa 54:6; Ezek 3:14), “crushed” (Ezek 21:7; Isa 61:3; Psa 143:7), “unaccountable” or “uncontrollable impulse” (Jer 51:11; Hag 1:14; Deut 2:30).
- Magicians (41:8) were common in the courts of foreign kings (Ex 7:11; Dan 1:20). The term in Egyptian means a “chief lector priest” and who also practices magical arts. In Hebrew, the word “magician” can literally be translated as one who explains hidden, mysterious things or is skilled in making and deciphering the hieroglyphics and who belongs to the priestly caste. [ref]
- Wise men (41:8) were educated, intellectually capable advisers (Est 1:13; Isa 19:11-12; Dan 2:12), believed to be gifted by the gods (Gen 41:38-39; Dan 5:11). The term “wise men” can literally be translated in Hebrew as ones who possess specialized knowledge and skill in judgment and in the magic arts. Thus, they were considered as persons who were able to cultivate arts and sciences, to prosecute ordinary business of life, to practice divination and to interpret dreams. In summary, they were the sages of the nation. [ref]
- Quickly (41:14), in Hebrew, can literally be translated as “caused [Joseph] to run.”
- Shaved (41:14): The custom of shaving the head as well as beard was practiced not just by the Egyptian priests but also by Egyptian men among all classes for hygienic reasons. [ref]
- “You can understand a dream” (41:15): This expression in Hebrew can be translated literally as “you hear a dream to interpret it” or in Greek-Septuagint, “after you have heard a dream, it is in the process of being interpreted.”
- “It is not in me” (41:16): Such an expression can literally be translated in Hebrew as “not I” or “I claim nothing.” In addition, the phrase can literally be translated as “apart from” or “besides” in Hebrew. In the Scriptures, a similar Hebrew expression is used by the Lord to express His singularity. For example, throughout the book of Isaiah, the Lord firmly expresses, “Besides Me there is no Savior” (Isa 43:11), “besides Me there is no God” (Isa 45:21), “besides Me there is no Rock” (Isa 44:8), “besides Me there is no other Lord” (Isa 45:6).
- “An answer of peace” (41:16): In Hebrew, the word “peace” can literally be translated into several meanings, such as: “soundness”or safety” (Psa 38:4; Isa 38:17), “health” or “prosperity” or “welfare” (Ex 18:7; Judg 18:15; Jer 38:4) and “tranquility” or “contentment” (Isa 32:17 and Jer 12:5).
- Poor (41:19) can literally be translated in Hebrew as “worthless.”
- Fat (41:20) can be translated in Hebrew literally as “excellent.”
- “They had eaten them up” (41:21): This expression can literally be translated in Hebrew as “they went into their inward parts” or “they went into their bellies.”
- “Sprang up after them” (41:23): In Greek-Septuagint, such an expression can be translated as “[the withered heads] were gripping [the good heads] for themselves.”
- “Will be forgotten” (41:30): The expression “be forgotten” in the Scriptures is also used to refer to the forgotten memory of the dead (Ecc 9:5), the forgotten city of Tyre (Isa 23:16), the forgotten shafts in the valley (Job 28:4), the unforgotten song to confront evils and troubles (Deut 31:21), the unforgotten reproach and shame (Jer 23:40), and the unforgotten everlasting covenant of the Lord (Jer 50:5).
- Established (41:32): The word can be translated literally in Hebrew as “fixed” or “determined beyond the shadow of doubt.” And in Greek-Septuagint, the word can be literally translated as “matter spoken about will be true.” In Hebrew, the mentioned verb is also referred to establishing the kingdom (
1 Kgs 2:12), to accomplishing the work of the house of the Lord ( 2 Chr 8:16), to the preparation in meeting the Lord (Amos 4:12), to keeping ready from the enemies (Ezek 38:7), full day (Prov 4:18), and the truth in the mouth (Psa 5:10).
- “Shortly” (41:32): The expression in Hebrew can be literally translated as “quickly” (
1 Sam 9:12), “swiftly” or “make haste” ( 1 Chr 12:9; Isa 59:7), “prepare quickly” (Gen 18:6), “bring quickly” (Est 5:5), and ”do quickly” ( 2 Chr 24:5).
- A discerning man (41:33): The expression can literally be translated in Hebrew as “have understanding” (Deut 4:6), “the sense of differentiation between right and wrong” (Hos 14:9), “filled with sense” (Prov 10:13), “knowledgable” and “intelligent” (Prov 14:6, 19:25, 17:28, 18:15), ”have a heart of wisdom” (Prov 14:33, 15:14, 16:21).
- One-fifth (41:34): In Hebrew, the expression can literally be translated as “one-fifth” in terms of measurement unit (Gen 41:34), as “battle-array” (Ex 13:18), “armed with weapons of war” (Josh 1:14, 4:12; Judg 7:11) and as “belly” (
2 Sam 2:23, 3:27).
How did Joseph’s first dream in Gen 37:6-7 begin to unravel in the overall event of Gen 41?Hide Answer
The book of Genesis 37 mentioned for the first time about Joseph’s first dream. Later, the mystery of the dream began to unravel in the overall event of Gen 41. In the book of Genesis 37, Joseph dreamed of himself and his brothers binding sheaves in the field. Then, his sheaf stood upright while the sheaves of his brothers stood all around and bowed down to Joseph’s sheaf (Gen 37:5-7). Joseph’s dream began to reveal its meaning through the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams. After Joseph provided the solution for the imminent calamity, Joseph was chosen to be the overseer of all the grain in the whole land of Egypt. Later in the book of Genesis 42, the brothers of Joseph came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph. In that moment, the dream of Joseph came true—Joseph’s sheaf stood upright while the brothers’ sheaves bowed down to Joseph’s sheaf.
How did the phrase “at the end of two full years” in Gen 41:
1 connect with the ending of the book of Genesis chapter 40? What was the significance?Hide Answer
The phrase “at the end of two full years” in Gen 41:1 has a strong relationship with Gen 40:23. The connection tells us that the chief butler had forgotten Joseph for two full years. In Gen 40, Joseph had hoped to be released from the dungeon through the chief butler’s effort. Yet, for two full years, Joseph was forgotten by the chief butler and his requests were despised by him (Gen 40:14-15).
If you were Joseph, how would you feel by “the end of two full years” in relation to Gen 40:23?Hide Answer
If we were Joseph, we would be experiencing several mixed feelings during those two full years. First, we would be feeling weary and angry. We had been snatched without our consent and accused without a fair trial (Gen 40:15), spending the two full years in a place and with the treatment which we did not deserve. Second, we would be feeling desperate and hopeless. We had placed a great hope on the chief butler and had made a sincere request for his help to let us out of the dungeon (Gen 40:14). But the reality did not turn as we had hoped for. Instead, we were being forgotten. For two full years, there was no sign of help at all and it could provoke us to feel desperate and pessimistic.
Describe the two dreams of Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s first dream;Hide Answer
According to the book of Genesis 41, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the river. Suddenly seven fine looking and fat cows came out of the river and began grazing in the meadow. Then just as suddenly, another seven ugly and gaunt cows came out of the same river. They ate up the seven fine looking and fat cows! (Gen 41:1-4). Then Pharaoh woke up.
Pharaoh’s second dream;Hide Answer
The book of Genesis continued to mention that Pharaoh dreamed for the second time. Suddenly he saw in his dream, seven heads of plump and good grain on one stalk. Then just as suddenly seven thin and blighted heads appeared (Gen 41:5-7). They devoured the seven heads of plump and good grain! Then Pharaoh woke up.
The Scriptures mentioned how the river, also referred as Nile, is the source of economy for fishermen (Isa 19:8) and the source of harvest for marketers around the nations (Isa 23:3). The waters of the river was abundant like a flood and overflowing (Isa 23:10; Jer 46:7, 8). Furthermore, the abundance of the river was reflected by the flourishing life of animals and plants such as fishes (Ex 7:18, 21), frogs (Ex 8:3, 11), papyrus reeds (Isa 19:7) and rushes (Isa 19:6).
In the biblical world, grain can be used as a gift (Gen 45:23) and can be taxed (Amos 5:11). In addition, the abundant harvest of grain is usually used as a symbol of joy (Psa 65:13) and blessing (Prov 11:26). As the produce of the land, grain is a common market product to be sold, bought and stored (Amos 8:5; Gen 42:3, 41:35).
What caused Pharaoh’s spirit to be troubled?Hide Answer
After the dreams, Pharaoh’s spirit was troubled due to several reasons. First, Pharaoh was troubled because he could not understand the meaning of his dreams. Pharaoh was eager to know the meaning of his dreams that in the morning after the dream, he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men to interpret them (Gen 41:8). Although the surrounding content of the dreams was familiar to Pharaoh, including the river, the cows, the grains and himself, Pharaoh was not able to familiarize himself with the events or the meaning of the dreams.
Second, Pharaoh was troubled because the content of his dreams was disturbingly unusual. In his dreams, Pharaoh saw the ugly and gaunt cows eat up the fine and fat cows. Pharaoh also saw the thin and blighted heads of grain devour the plump and good heads of grain (Gen 41:4, 7). These dreams were disturbing, not only were they unnatural, cows and grains devouring their own species, they were also alarming, both the thin cows and the blighted grains remained the same after they had devoured the fat cows and the plump grains.
There were several reasons why the magicians of Egypt and the wise men could not interpret the dreams of Pharaoh. First, God did not reveal the dreams’ interpretation to the magicians and the wise men. Since the dreams (Gen 41:25) and their interpretations belonged to God (Gen 40:8), the magicians of Egypt and the wise men could not interpret the dreams and could not understand their meaning without God’s guidance.
Second, the magicians and wise men could not give a satisfactory explanation for Pharaoh. The magicians of Egypt and the wise men were intelligent and knowledgable, but they could not give a thorough and accurate explanation for the disturbing and unnatural elements of Pharaoh’s dreams. In other words, they failed to interpret the meaning of the dreams for Pharaoh (Gen 41:8, 24). Either they felt confused and fearful of the unsettling descriptions and uncertain meaning of the dreams; or just like the Chaldeans of King Nebuchadnezzar’s reign in the book of Daniel, they fell into their customary habit of lying, speaking flattering and corrupt words until the situation had changed (Dan 2:8-9).
What was the significance of the chief butler’s phrase “I remember my faults this day”? And what were his faults? “This day”;Hide Answer
The chief butler’s phrase ”this day” signified that the event which happened on that day reminded him on his past faults. On that day, the troubled Pharaoh sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men to interpret the meaning of his dreams. But there was no one who could interpret them for Pharaoh (Gen 41:8). The troubled spirit of Pharaoh on that day reminded the chief butler of a similar event that was related to his own sadness when no one was available to interpret his dream in prison (Gen 40:8).
“My faults”;Hide Answer
The unavailability of a dream-interpreter not only reminded the chief butler of his own experience but also reminded him on his faults. First, Pharaoh’s experience reminded the chief butler of his fault toward Joseph. After Joseph had interpreted the dream of the chief butler, he specifically requested the chief butler to remember Joseph when it was well with him and to show kindness by making mention of Joseph to Pharaoh (Gen 40:14). But when the chief butler was released and restored to his former position, he forgot Joseph in his wellness. Second, Pharaoh’s experience reminded the chief butler of his fault toward the Pharaoh. When the chief butler got his position back, he did not mention Joseph to Pharaoh. Though the chief butler knew that Joseph was able to interpret dreams, he only used the gift for his well being. His “last minute” mentioning of Joseph to Pharaoh (Gen 41:9-13) reflected that the chief butler failed to inform Pharaoh that there was a man who had a gift of interpreting dreams in Pharaoh’s kingdom.
How did the chief butler’s confession of faults build up Joseph’s resume before Pharaoh?Hide Answer
The chief butler’s confession of faults built up Joseph’s resume before Pharaoh. Through the confession, the chief butler informed Pharaoh that Joseph possessed an extraordinary skill (Gen 41:12) equivalent to that of the magicians and the wise men of Egypt. Though Joseph was of a low status, a Hebrew man, a prisoner and a servant of the captain of the guard, he possessed the skill to interpret the chief butler’s and the chief baker’s dream, “to each man he interpreted according to his own dream.” Furthermore, through the confession, the chief butler reported to Pharaoh that Joseph’s skill was not only extraordinary at interpreting dreams but his skill was also accurate. After Joseph had interpreted the dreams for the chief butler and the chief baker, the interpretations came to pass exactly as he had interpreted (Gen 41:13).
How did Joseph respond to Pharaoh’s expectation? How was Joseph’s faith reflected in his answer? See also Gen 40:8.Hide Answer
In responding to Pharaoh’s expectation, Joseph responded by saying, “It is not in me, God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace” (Gen 41:16). Such a reply reflected the faith of Joseph. Similar to Joseph’s answer to the two chief officials of Pharaoh, here Joseph emphasized to Pharaoh that it was God who would give an answer. By giving the honor to God, Joseph wanted Pharaoh to know that the talent to interpret the dreams was not by his own skill or effort, but by God’s grace. Despite the disturbing content of Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph comforted Pharaoh that the Lord would give an answer of peace. In other words, God would give a way out to Pharaoh in regards to the unsettling events in Pharaoh’s dream.
From Joseph’s reply to Pharaoh, we can learn a lesson about his humility. When Pharaoh commended his talent in understanding a dream, Joseph rejected such a commendation politely and declared that he could not claim such an extraordinary skill. Joseph told Pharaoh that the skill of interpreting a dream belonged to God and He would give Pharaoh an answer of peace in regards to the meaning of the dream (Gen 41:15-16).
Examples of such acts of humility could also be found in the New Testament. First, the example of the Lord Jesus. When the Lord Jesus was among the Jews who questioned Him, the Lord explained to them that His teachings and His doctrine were not His but the Father is who sent Him (Jn 7:16). The Lord also directed the Jews not to believe in Him but rather to believe in the Father who had sent Him (Jn 12:44). Instead of glorifying Himself through His sound teachings and miracles, the Lord Jesus directed the people to believe in the Father who had sent Him.
Second, the example of John the baptist. When the priests and Levites asked whether John was the prophet Elijah or the Christ (Jn 1:19-21), John sternly denied, saying “I am not He.” Furthermore, John the baptist directed them to the One,who would come after him and whose sandals he was not worthy to loose (Acts 13:25). Though John was preaching repentance, paving the way for the coming of Christ, he humbly lowered himself to a mere voice in the desert (Mt 3:3).
Third, the example of the apostle Paul. Even though the apostle Paul preached the gospel and labored abundantly for the work of God, he never boasted (
1 Cor 9:16). In fact, he humbly directed the members that it was due to the grace of God in Him which enabled him to perform the abundant work ( 1 Cor 15:10).
Likewise, from Joseph’s examples and the other examples from the New Testament, we learn a lesson that the ability to perform certain works is but from the Lord. Instead of boasting and claiming the glory for ourselves, we should humbly make use of our talents for the purpose of God’s work and of God’s glory.
What additional information can we obtain from Pharaoh’s report in Gen 41:17-24 to intensify the depiction of Pharaoh’s dream?Hide Answer
Pharaoh’s narration in Gen 41:17-24 gave a more intensified version of his dreams which were documented in the beginning of the chapter. For example, from Gen 41:19, we learn that the other seven cows were not only gaunt but also very ugly and poor. Pharaoh even intensified the ugliness more by stating, “such ugliness as I have never seen in all the land of Egypt.” Furthermore, from Gen 41:20, we learn that Pharaoh was surprised to find out that the gaunt cows stayed in their same thin-and-ugly-form even after they had eaten up the seven fine-and-fat cows. In addition, from Gen 41:23, we learn that the other seven heads of grain were not only thin and blighted by the east wind but they were also withered.
How did Joseph interpret the meaning of Pharaoh’s dreams? The two dreams;
The seven good cows and the seven plump heads;
The seven ugly cows and the seven blighted heads;
The ugly remained ugly as in the beginning;Hide Answer
Although Joseph did not completely explain the scene by scene of the dreams to Pharaoh, he did give the overall conclusion of the dreams’ meaning. The ugly cows and the blighted heads which remained ugly and blighted as they were in the beginning signified seven years of severe famine following seven years of plenty. In addition, the famine was so severe that it depleted the land and made forget the seven years of plentiness (Gen 41:29-31).
How did the famine serve as an announcement of God’s authority over mankind?Hide Answer
According to the book of Genesis 41:28, Joseph declared to Pharaoh that through the dreams, God was showing Pharaoh what He was about to do. Joseph specifically pointed out that after the seven years of plenty, the seven years of famine would follow. In other words, both the plenty and famine were of God’s doing. And through the repeated dreams, God was revealing to Pharaoh that the upcoming events of plenty and famine had been established and would be brought to pass (Gen 41:32). Thus, the Lord was announcing to Pharaoh of His power and authority over the course of events that would befall upon Egypt. In addition, through the repeated dreams, God was showing Pharaoh the seriousness and the accuracy of the message in his dreams.
How did Joseph advise Pharaoh to prepare for the upcoming events that God had warned him through his dreams?Hide Answer
To prepare for the upcoming events warned through the dreams, Joseph advised Pharaoh several things. First, Joseph advised Pharaoh to select a discerning and wise man, setting him over the land of Egypt (Gen 41:33). Second, Joseph advised Pharaoh to appoint officers over the land, collecting one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years (Gen 41:34). Third, Joseph advised Pharaoh to gather all the food of those good years that are coming and to store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh, keeping the food in the cities (Gen 41:35). Fourth, Joseph advised Pharaoh to set up the stored-up grain as a reserve for the land for seven years of famine, that the land may not perish during the famine (Gen 41:36).
How was Joseph’s approach in interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams different from Daniel’s approach to King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Dan 2? Compare the differences between the two approaches.Hide Answer
In terms of interpreting the dreams, Joseph took a different approach when compared to Daniel. After Joseph had heard the dreams, he interpreted the meaning of Pharaoh’s dreams in Gen 41:25-32 and he proposed the solutions to Pharaoh for the upcoming famine (Gen 41:33-36). The wisdom in Joseph’s solutions was more in strategic planning and administration to confront the upcoming danger which would befall the land of Egypt. On the other hand, although Daniel had not heard the dream of the king, he was able to accurately narrate the content of the dream (Dan 2:31-35). Afterwards, he interpreted the meaning of the dream to the king (Dan 2:36-45). The wisdom of Daniel’s interpretation was more in revealing secrets and mysteries not only concerning the king and the nation of Babylon but also concerning the kingdoms and surrounding nations after King Nebuchadnezzar’s time.
From Joseph’s advice to Pharaoh, what can we learn about Joseph’s selflessness?Hide Answer
From Joseph’s proposed advice to Pharaoh, we can learn about Joseph’s selflessness. First, Joseph did not try to take an advantage of Pharaoh. Although Joseph proposed Pharaoh to select a discerning and wise man to be an overseer of the land of Egypt (Gen 41:33), he still respected and protected the authority of Pharaoh. The appointed overseer would still require the authority of Pharaoh for the storing up of the grain (Gen 41:35). In other words, whatever the overseer and his officers did in the management of the grain, they needed the approval from Pharaoh’s authority and acknowledgement. Thus, limiting the great power of the overseer below Pharaoh’s authority.
Second, Joseph cared for the wellbeing of the people in the land of Egypt. From the dream interpretation, Joseph knew that the severe famine was imminent. Instead of focusing on the scheme for his escape, Joseph carefully and thoroughly paid attention to the wellbeing of the people in the cities. He set up a grain reserve for the people’s survival during the severe famine so that they would not perish (Gen 41:36).
How could we see the providence of God through the impending calamity which would befall upon the land of Egypt?Hide Answer
During the conversation, Joseph replied to Pharaoh that God would give Pharaoh an answer of peace (Gen 41:16). But in his interpretation, Joseph expounded that a severe calamity would befall the land of Egypt (Gen 41:27). Although the impending calamity seemed to contradict the answer of God’s peace, the overall event experienced by Pharaoh was indeed the revelation of the providence of God. The Lord provided and protected the land of Egypt in several ways. First, the Lord gave a warning to Pharaoh through dreams (Gen 41:1f). Second, through Joseph, the Lord gave the dreams’ meaning for Pharaoh to understand the upcoming calamity (Gen 41:25-32). Third, through Joseph, the Lord gave Pharaoh the chance to get ready and to prepare himself and the whole nation to confront the impending severe calamity (Gen 41:33-36). In other words, these three ways given by the Lord ahead before the imminent disaster were indeed the answer of peace promised by Joseph. After Joseph’s proposition of advice, Pharaoh and the land of Egypt could prepare and better equip themselves to deal with the severe famine.
What can we learn about endurance through God’s providence to the land of Egypt during difficult times?Hide Answer
From the example of God’s providence to the land of Egypt during the imminent famine, we can learn a lesson about endurance. In his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul shared that God’s strength was made perfect in the apostle’s weakness (
2 Cor 12:9). Though the apostle himself had undergone a difficult challenge in his life, he encouraged the Corinthians that it was through difficult times that the grace of the Lord could be reminded again. Just as the apostle Paul was boasting in his infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon him, our hardship ought to be a trigger for us to rely and trust on God’s strength and help all the more.