When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: he was standing by the Nile, 2 when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. 3 After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the river-bank. 4 And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up.
5 He fell asleep again and had a second dream: seven ears of corn, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. 6 After them, seven other ears of corn sprouted – thin and scorched by the east wind. 7 The thin ears of corn swallowed up the seven healthy, full ears. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream.
8 In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.
9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, ‘Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. 10 Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. 11 Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. 12 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. 13 And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was impaled.’
14 So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.
15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’
16 ‘I cannot do it,’ Joseph replied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.’
17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile, 18 when out of the river there came up seven cows, fat and sleek, and they grazed among the reeds. 19 After them, seven other cows came up – scrawny and very ugly and lean. I had never seen such ugly cows in all the land of Egypt. 20 The lean, ugly cows ate up the seven fat cows that came up first. 21 But even after they ate them, no one could tell that they had done so; they looked just as ugly as before. Then I woke up.
22 ‘In my dream I saw seven ears of corn, full and good, growing on a single stalk. 23 After them, seven other ears sprouted – withered and thin and scorched by the east wind. 24 The thin ears of corn swallowed up the seven good ears. I told this to the magicians, but none of them could explain it to me.’
25 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. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears of corn are seven years; it is one and the same dream. 27 The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterwards are seven years, and so are the seven worthless ears of corn scorched by the east wind: they are seven years of famine.
28 ‘It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, 30 but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. 31 The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. 32 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.
33 ‘And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 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. 36 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.’
37 The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked them, ‘Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?’[a
39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 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.’
Joseph in charge of Egypt
41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.’ 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain round his neck. 43 He made him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, ‘Make way!’ Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.
44 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt.’ 45 Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife. And Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt.
46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharaoh’s presence and travelled throughout Egypt. 47 During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully. 48 Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it. 49 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.
50 Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. 51 Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, ‘It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.’ 52 The second son he named Ephraim and said, ‘It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.’
53 The seven years of abundance in Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in all the other lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food. 55 When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food. Then Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, ‘Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.’
56 When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt. 57 And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.
The Biblical account of Joseph is a great story with lots of unexpected twists and turns, but with a happy ending. Joseph, a precocious teenager, offends his brothers, and is sold into slavery. He is falsely accused by his master’s wife of sexual harassment and ends up in prison, only to rise unexpectedly and suddenly to be ruler of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. It reads like a rags to riches Hollywood movie that some people love to watch. Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt is showcased in this chapter. However, it is apparent that this does not happen quickly for Joseph, but in God’s timing.
In Genesis 41, the cup-bearer sins against Joseph by inexplicably forgetting to honour Joseph’s request to him in prison (cf. Genesis 40:9ff; 41:9). Consequently, Joseph languishes in prison for a further two years for a crime he did not commit (verse 11; cf. 40:15). The point, of course, is that Joseph’s rise to power and prominence in Egypt was not smooth or plain-sailing. It might have been unexpected and sudden on the day, but it certainly wasn’t quick. Indeed, a period of about 13 years elapsed between the commencement of Joseph’s slavery and his release from the Egyptian prison (cf. Genesis 37:2; 41:46). It was tough going for Joseph – for many years! But as we will see, God’s timing is always perfect. Unlike the cup-bearer, God had not forgotten Joseph; there was a reason for the two-year delay.
Joseph’s deliverance was God’s doing (verse 16). But the timing was critical. It was the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream that secured Joseph’s release and promotion. Consider for a moment if the cup-bearer two years earlier, newly released from prison, had honoured Joseph’s request (verse 14)? Any possible deliverance at that point would have been premature for God’s purposes. God had bigger and better plans for Joseph – to become the key person in the deliverance of “every land” from a severe and extended famine (verse 57). Who would have said? Who could have known? It is not difficult at this point to see parallels between Joseph and Jesus – both were betrayed and unjustly accused; both were unexpectedly raised up by God to save the nations!
God’s dealings with Joseph are a salutary reminder to trust God’s timing in His dealings with our struggles and day-to-day difficulties. Deliverance may or may not come quickly, or it may not come at all. Whatever the case, whatever the reason, we have to trust God that it is for our good and His glory. To be sure, Joseph’s story is not our story, but Joseph’s God is our God. Trust Him!
Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for the life of Joseph that assures me of Your presence through all the ups and downs of my earthly life. Forgive me, Lord, for doubting You and Your Word in any way when things don’t go according to my plans.
Thank You, Lord, that unlike the cup-bearer, You never forget me and are always at work in and through me to achieve Your good and glorious purposes. Help me to recognise and remember that it is not the pharaohs of this world who ultimately ‘call the shots’, but You, the Almighty, all-knowing God who knows the future and whose word does not fail.
Give me the grace to trust You with my future and, like Joseph, to honour You whatever my circumstances. And when the going gets tough, give me the grace and strength to persevere and remain patient and steadfast in my faith, mindful that, like Joseph, my deliverance may not be quick.
Finally, Lord, thank You for the Lord Jesus Christ, who, like Joseph, was betrayed by his brothers and unjustly suffered much, but honoured You, and was in due course raised up to save the nations. Amen.