Joseph was a young man with an old dream. The dream that he had been given was that there would come a day when all would bow down before him. It was that very dream that got him into trouble and now his troubles had gone from bad to worse. He had been sold as a slave to Egypt and then, when the wife of his Egyptian master accused him of attempted rape, he was summarily thrown into prison. A year passed. And then another. We do not know exactly how long he was in prison, but it was at least two years and possibly considerably longer.

Joseph had faced a number of tests and had passed them all.

Before this chapter is over, I believe we will see Joseph facing another test. It is the test of prosperity. It is a test that attempts to corrupt a person’s character. There is an old saying that says, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." That isn’t quite right. The truth is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts the corruptible.

The original dream of Joseph had been of an exalted position in which all bowed down before him. Just as a series of dreams had brought about the circumstances that led to Joseph’s initial slavery, now it is again a series of dreams that lead to his eventual release.



1 Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream, and behold, he was standing by the Nile. 2 And lo, from the Nile there came up seven cows, sleek and fat; and they grazed in the marsh grass. 3 Then behold, seven other cows came up after them from the Nile, ugly and gaunt, and they stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. 4 And the ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven sleek and fat cows. Then Pharaoh awoke.

5 And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time; and behold, seven ears of grain came up on a single stalk, plump and good. 6 Then behold, seven ears, thin and scorched by the east wind, sprouted up after them. 7 And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears. Then Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream.

8 Now it came about in the morning that his spirit was troubled, so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh. (Genesis 41:1-8).

Two years had passed since Joseph had interpreted the dreams of the royal cupbearer and the royal baker. One had been restored to his position while the other had been executed. Joseph languished in prison.

These dreams were given in the setting of Egypt. The center and lifeblood of Egypt was the Nile River, so these groups of cows are seen coming up from the Nile.

The second dream has as its focus the grain of Egypt and the east wind. The wind that comes from the east comes across the desert of the Sinai Peninsula. It is a dry wind. It would be this same wind that would bring the plague of locusts (Exodus 10:13) and would be responsible for parting the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21).

First Dream

Second Dream

Seven fat cows come up from the Nile

Seven good ears of grain grow on a stalk

Seven skinny cows come up and eat the seven fat cows.

Seven thin, scorched ears of grain grow up and eat the good ears

The seven skinny cows remained skinny even though they had eaten well

The seven thin, scorched ears remained scorched and thin even though they had eaten well

The dream was understandably troubling and unusual because cows do not eat cows and ears of grain do not consume other ears. But what made the dream even more troubling is that those that were thin and scrawny and scorched were not benefited by the consumption of that which was good and fat and healthy.



9 Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh, saying, "I would make mention today of my own offenses. 10 Pharaoh was furious with his servants, and he put me in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, both me and the chief baker. 11 And we had a dream on the same night, he and I; each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream. 12 Now a Hebrew youth was with us there, a servant of the captain of the bodyguard, and we related them to him, and he interpreted our dreams for us. To each one he interpreted according to his own dream. 13 And it came about that just as he interpreted for us, so it happened; he restored me in my office, but he hanged him." (Genesis 41:9-13).

The incident serves as a reminder to the cupbearer. He recalls that there was a time when he also had a troubling dream and there was someone who had been able to assist him.

The fact that the cupbearer mentions this now shows a certain amount of daring on his behalf, for he is bringing to the Pharaoh a reminder of his own offenses. He is risking a return of the wrath of the Pharaoh.



Then Pharaoh sent and called for Joseph, and they hurriedly brought him out of the dungeon; and when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came to Pharaoh. (Genesis 41:14).

Joseph is summoned before the Pharaoh, but before he makes his appearance, he must be adequately prepared. A shave is in order. This is notable since the Hebrews did not customarily shave but instead were known by their long beards that were a sign of their manhood.

The Egyptians, by contrast, normally kept all of their hair shaved as a matter of bodily cleanliness. They viewed a beard as something unkempt and unclean.

This suggests something about Joseph. He had learned to adapt to the culture in which he was living. He had learned to speak the language and here is a suggestion that he had learned to groom himself after the fashion of the Egyptians.

This is a lesson that missionaries commonly learn, but I believe that it is also a lesson that we need to learn if we are to reach out to the people of our own culture. We need to learn to speak the language of a changing culture and to translate the message of the gospel into that language.

Jesus is our pattern in such an incarnational ministry. He took upon flesh and lived in the culture of the world of his day, speaking its language and living amongst its people and even making them His own. He calls us to do the same.



15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it." 16 Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, "It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer." (Genesis 41:15-16).

Joseph does not say anything about his desire to be released from prison. Nor does he use the opportunity to tell of what a wise man or what a capable dream interpreter he is. Instead, he gives the glory and the credit to the Lord.



17 So Pharaoh spoke to Joseph, "In my dream, behold, I was standing on the bank of the Nile; 18 and behold, seven cows, fat and sleek came up out of the Nile; and they grazed in the marsh grass. 19 And lo, seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and gaunt, such as I had never seen for ugliness in all the land of Egypt; 20 and the lean and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows. 21 Yet when they had devoured them, it could not be detected that they had devoured them; for they were just as ugly as before. Then I awoke.

22 "I saw also in my dream, and behold, seven ears, full and good, came up on a single stalk; 23 and lo, seven ears, withered, thin, and scorched by the east wind, sprouted up after them; 24 and the thin ears swallowed the seven good ears. Then I told it to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me." (Genesis 41:17-24).

Pharaoh relates the details of the dream to Joseph. In doing so, he adds some details that we did not see in the initial description.



25 Now Joseph said to Pharaoh, "Pharaoh's dreams are one and the same; God has told to Pharaoh what He is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one and the same. 27 And the seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven thin ears scorched by the east wind shall be seven years of famine.

28 "It is as I have spoken to Pharaoh: God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do. 29 Behold, seven years of great abundance are coming in all the land of Egypt; 30 and after them seven years of famine will come, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine will ravage the land. 31 So the abundance will be unknown in the land because of that subsequent famine; for it will be very severe. 32 Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about. (Genesis 41:25-32).

Joseph now explains the dreams to Pharaoh. The two dreams both refer to the same future event. They are prophetic of what is going to take place in Egypt.

First Dream

Second Dream


Seven fat cows

Seven good ears of grain

There will be seven years of agricultural prosperity

Seven skinny cows

Seven thin, scorched ears of grain

There will be seven years of famine

The repetition of the dream was a sign that it was from God and that it was certain to take place and that it would soon be brought to pass.

This was an important part of the interpretation since some prophecies are by their very nature conditional. Jonah came to Nineveh and announced that the city was to be destroyed within 40 days, but it is understood this was a conditional prophecy. The unspoken condition was that this destruction would take place if there was no change in the hearts of the people.

This prophecy to Egypt is not given with conditions. The good years and the famine years were not going to come because of some certain sin on the part of the Egyptians. Rather it was as a means of bringing glory to God as He moved to bring salvation to the world.



33 "And now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land, and let him exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance. 35 Then let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and store up the grain for food in the cities under Pharaoh's authority, and let them guard it. 36 And let the food become as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish during the famine." (Genesis 41:33-36).

Joseph not only had an interpretation for the dreams; he also had a ready plan to deal with the situation promised by the dreams. It involved the establishment of a 20% tax on all of the produce of the land. This double tithe was to be stored up for the coming years of famine. The harvest during these years would be so prosperous that this tax would be virtually unnoticed.

There is no indication that Joseph had even hinted that he be the proposed administrator. He did not "toss his hat into the ring" of qualified candidates who would be considered for the position. Instead, it was the Pharaoh who proposed him for the job.

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;

A stranger, and not your own lips. (Proverbs 27:2).

The world says, "Toot your own horn because no one else is going to toot it for you." The Lord says, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time" (1 Peter 5:6).



37 Now the proposal seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his servants. 38 Then Pharaoh said to his servants, "Can we find a man like this, in whom is a divine spirit?"

39 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are. 40 You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you." 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See I have set you over all the land of Egypt."

42 Then Pharaoh took off his signet ring from his hand, and put it on Joseph's hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen, and put the gold necklace around his neck. 43 And he had him ride in his second chariot; and they proclaimed before him, "Bow the knee!" And he set him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Though I am Pharaoh, yet without your permission no one shall raise his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt."

45 Then Pharaoh named Joseph Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, as his wife. And Joseph went forth over the land of Egypt. (Genesis 41:37-45).

By royal decree, Joseph was elevated to the position of prime minister over the land of Egypt. He was second only to the Pharaoh. The signs of this authority are described:

The garments of a prisoner and a slave were replaced by those of fine linen worthy of a king. The chains that had once bound him were replaced by a gold necklace around his neck. He who once had been brought to Egypt by Midianite slave traders now rode in the place of honor as second in command of all Egypt.

Joseph was also given a new name. Zaphenath-paneah means "the god speaks and he lives." It is striking that God does these things for us, too.


46 Now Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went through all the land of Egypt.

47 And during the seven years of plenty the land brought forth abundantly. 48 So he gathered all the food of these seven years which occurred in the land of Egypt, and placed the food in the cities; he placed in every city the food from its own surrounding fields. 49 Thus Joseph stored up grain in great abundance like the sand of the sea, until he stopped measuring it, for it was beyond measure. (Genesis 41:46-49).

Joseph was 30 years old at the time that he was raised to a position of power in Egypt. We will remember that Jesus was about 30 years old at the beginning of His earthly ministry. We are given several different ages in the life of Joseph.




17 years old

Gave bad report to his brothers and received coat of many colors

Genesis 37:2

30 years old

Rose to a position of power in Egypt

Genesis 41:46

39 years old

Revealed himself to his brothers

Genesis 45:11

110 years old

At the time of his death

Genesis 50:22

The next seven years saw Joseph undertaking the administrative task of preparing for the coming famine. He had the food supplies placed strategically at each city from which it had been gathered. Thus there would be no sense of one district feeling that he was favoring another district.

Could it be that Joseph had learned an important lesson concerning the harmful effects of favoritism? Jacob had placed Joseph as his favorite and had thereby incurred the jealousy of the older brothers. It would seem that Joseph now resolves not to make the same mistake.

Notice that the bounty of the harvest is likened to the sand of the seashore and that it was beyond measure. This is the same language with which Abraham had been promised when God said that his seed would be like the sands of the seashore. By the same token, we remember that the Spirit is promised to God’s people without measure (John 3:34).


50 Now before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore to him. 51 And Joseph named the first-born Manasseh, "For," he said, "God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father's household." 52 And he named the second Ephraim, "For," he said, "God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction." (Genesis 41:50-52).

Some have questioned the propriety of Joseph taking an Egyptian wife, but there was not yet a command from the Lord against such a union. We do know that both Manasseh and Ephraim would be considered among the children of Israel rather than numbered with the nation of Egypt. This hints at what shall be confirmed later in the book of Genesis -- that Joseph was careful to teach his sons of the covenant the descendants of Abraham enjoyed with the Lord.

There is some subtle humor in the names. Joseph had originally been sold as a slave to Potiphar and now he becomes the son-in-law of Potiphera. The first name is considered by most scholars to merely be an abbreviated form of the second name. It means, "Whom Ra has given."



53 When the seven years of plenty which had been in the land of Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began to come, just as Joseph had said, then there was famine in all the lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.

55 So when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, "Go to Joseph; whatever he says to you, you shall do."

56 When the famine was spread over all the face of the earth, then Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians; and the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57 And the people of all the earth came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the earth. (Genesis 41:53-57).

When the seven years of prosperity were at an end, a famine came over the land. This famine was not limited to Egypt. It was in all the lands. As food shortages became severe, Joseph opened up the storehouses and began to sell food to the Egyptians.

Why did he not give it out to them? Perhaps it was to prevent them from hoarding and/or wasting it. After all, these supplies would be necessary, not only for the survival of Egypt, but for the feeding of peoples throughout many lands.

The Lord does this same thing for us. He does not give us today all that we will need for the future. He instead supplies our needs as they arise. He teaches us to pray, Give us this day our daily bread (Matthew 6:11).

Ultimately, we are called to seek, not merely for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you, for on Him the Father, even God, has set His seal (John 6:27). Just as Joseph had been given the signet ring of Pharaoh, so God has set His seal on His Son that you come to Him to receive eternal life.

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