In way of introduction I want to remind you once again of five overarching truths about the story of Joseph essential to your understanding of his plight. One… From the very beginning it was clear God had a very important plan for his life. Two… A portion of this plan had been revealed to Joseph through a divine revelation (two specific dreams).
Three… Regardless of whatever would transpire in his life, Joseph was continually loved by his Father. Which is important to keep in mind for it’s also undeniable that Four… God’s sovereign-will specifically yielded incredible suffering (being sold into slavery by his brothers), and that Five… Joseph’s faithfulness and obedience ended up being the very reason his suffering continued and increased (he finds himself in the King’s Prison).
Before we dive into Genesis 41 let’s quickly set the stage… While a slave in the home of Potiphar, Joseph resisted the sexual advances of his master’s wife. Sadly, his honor was reciprocated with slander. Potiphar’s wife accuses Joseph of rape leading to a completely innocent man being sent to the King’s Prison! And yet, we read “the Lord was with him.”
Though a lesser man would have found such a tragic turn due cause for sulking, not so with Joseph. Not only does he remain upbeat, but he wisely seeks a purpose in his plight. Because of his willingness to serve his fellow prisoners and God’s blessing, the keeper of the prison promotes Joseph entrusting him with all of the comings and goings of prison life.
And it’s this position that eventually affords Joseph the opportunity to minister to two specific prisoners: The Butler and the Baker of Pharaoh who are imprisoned because they’ve done something to “offend and anger” the King. Well… According to Genesis 40, one night each of these men had a prophetic dream that Joseph ends up interpreting the following morning.
While the Baker’s dream indicated he would be executed in three days, knowing the Butler would soon be restored, Joseph makes an interesting request. He says (Genesis 40:14-15), “Remember me when it is well with you, and please show kindness to me; make mention of me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this house. For indeed I was stolen away from the land of the Hebrews; and also I have done nothing here that they should put me into the dungeon.”
Sadly, the chapter closes informing us that “the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” Genesis 41:1, “Then it came to pass, at the end of two full years…”
Imagine what this must have been like for Joseph… I have no doubt when the Butler was restored Joseph was convinced he’d finally caught a break. He probably returned to his cell and prepared for his soon release. Imagine when one day turned to two… When two days became a week… When a week grew into a month… A month morphed into several… At what point did Joseph resign himself to the reality the Butler had indeed forgotten him?
Oh the disappointment! Joseph ministered to the Butler. He’d proven himself to be a genuine friend. He’d served him and demonstrated real kindness. For the Butler, Joseph had been a conduit of God’s blessings! Why hadn’t any of these things been reciprocated? Why had he been forgotten? What had he done to deserve such treatment? Why did he forget?
Before we move on may I ask… Have you been forgotten? Have you poured your life (your time, energy, and efforts) into someone who eventually bailed - someone that traded you in the very moment a perceived upgrade was available - someone who’s actions lacked appreciation for the kindness you’ve shown? I know I have! Oh the disappointment, hurt, betrayal. How easily these emotions can sour further into bitterness, anger, and ill-will.
As William M. Taylor observed, “Men too often write the record of grudges in marble and of favors in water. Those whom we benefit have often very poor remembrance of our kindness.”
Though for the next two years Joseph would grapple daily with these real and raw emotions, the truth is that the Butler’s amnesia was God’s doing! It was a divine forgetfulness for if he had remembered Joseph and secured his release, there is little doubt Joseph would have returned to his father’s home and not been present to interpret the dream of Pharaoh.
I know you're thinking, “But if this is the case why did it take two years for Pharaoh to dream?” As difficult as it is to accept, the truth is that Joseph still needed two more years in this prison to prepare him for the entire reason God had lead him into Egypt in the first place.
If you’ll indulge me, I need to ask another relevant question… Who have you forgotten? Honestly take a second and think about it… Who’s kindness have you glossed over? Who have you failed to follow up with? Who still remains in the prison cell you once occupied? The truth is that at some point everyone has been forgotten and everyone has forgotten.
Genesis 41:1-8, “Then it came to pass, at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream; and behold, he stood by the river. Suddenly there came up out of the river seven cows, fine looking and fat; and they fed in the meadow. Then behold, seven other cows came up after them out of the river, ugly and gaunt, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the river. And the ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven fine looking and fat cows. So Pharaoh awoke.
He slept and dreamed a second time; and suddenly seven heads of grain came up on one stalk, plump and good. Then behold, seven thin heads, blighted by the east wind, sprang up after them. And the seven thin heads devoured the seven plump and full heads. So Pharaoh awoke, and indeed, it was a dream.
Now it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled, and 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 for Pharaoh.”
“At the end of two full years Pharaoh had a dream…” Technically speaking Pharaoh had two dreams that possessed a repetitive meaning or communicate the same thing. In the first he witnesses seven healthy cows come out of the Nile and begin grazing in the meadow. This is then followed by seven “ugly and gaunt” cows also emerging only to eat the first seven. That’s trippy enough to be a scene straight out of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
In the second dream the same dynamic occurs when “seven plump and good heads of grain” end up being “devoured” by “seven thin heads blighted by the east wind.” In both dreams the seven good and healthy (cows and heads of grain) are devoured by seven thin and gaunt.
Furthermore, in much the same way as we saw with the dreams of the Butler and the Baker, “Pharaoh awoke” and “his spirit was troubled” indicating he also perceived these dreams to be of some type of divine origin and therefore possessing of a significant meaning.
As such, Pharaoh “called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men” to interpret the dream; and yet, we read “there was no one who could interpret them for Pharaoh.”
Genesis 41:9-14, “Then the chief butler spoke to Pharaoh, saying: ‘I remember my faults this day. When Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and put me in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, both me and the chief baker, we each had a dream in one night, he and I. Each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream. Now there was a young Hebrew man with us there, a servant of the captain of the guard.
And we told him, and he interpreted our dreams for us; to each man he interpreted according to his own dream. And it came to pass, just as he interpreted for us, so it happened. He restored me to my office, and he hanged him.’ Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; and he shaved, changed his clothing, and came to Pharaoh.”
Seeing that none of the “magicians” or “wise men” of Egypt were able to interpret the dream, “the chief butler” not only remembers Joseph, but presents him as a remedy for Pharaoh’s conundrum. In actuality, in recounting his own experience with dreams and Joseph’s uncanny ability to provide an accurate interpretation, the Butler acknowledges his “faults.” He’d promised to bring up Joseph to Pharaoh earlier, but it just so happened to slip his mind.
Consider this particular day for Joseph… For starters, he’s 30 years old. After being sold into slavery around the age of 17 or 18, Joseph has spent the better part of a decade first as a slave before being relegated to the King’s Prison. Beyond this, his one hope for escape (the Butler) has long ago dissipated. I mean it’s now been more than two years!
Joseph awoke that particular morning as he’d done every morning for the last decade. In spite of the brief reprieve of his dreams, his eyes opened to see a familiar prison cell. Any hope his circumstances had magically changed are once again dashed. His situation is inescapable. He awakes to the same routine, same condition… The same disappointment.
And yet, unknown to Joseph, as he begins to address the menial tasks of yet another day - trusting that God had a plan for it all, the entire scene we just read is playing itself out.
Joseph is oblivious that God had given Pharaoh a dream that night and that his name had just rung out in the palace halls. Joseph has no clue the Butler just remembered and that the most powerful man in the world was presently demanding an audience with him!
Joseph had no idea this morning would be the last he’d ever spend in that cell - that his suffering was about to come to an end - that so many of his questions would be answered. Unbeknownst to Joseph this would be the day God’s promises would finally come to fruition.
It’s interesting that every monumental, life-altering event in Joseph’s life occurred in a day. It only took one day for Joseph to go from being the favored son of his father to a slave in Egypt. It only took one day for Joseph to go from being the trusted servant of Potiphar to a imprisoned convict… Only one day to go from being a forgotten man to the second most powerful man in the world. Friend, never underestimate the power of today!
I imagine Joseph is going about his tasks in the dungeon when he hears a commotion at the entryway of the prison. Word quickly spreads that guards have been sent from Pharaoh to retrieve a prisoner. I’m sure Joseph’s heart sinks when he hears they’ve come for him. The scene is hectic. We’re told “they brought him quickly out of the dungeon.” Joseph is given no explanation. For all he knows they’ve come to finally take him to the gallows. This is the end.
Imagine Joseph’s surprise when they hustle pass the gibbet and proceed to march him directly into the palace. Imagine the thoughts that must have been rushing through his head! Where is he going? What’s going on? Imagine the confusion when these guards then proceed to “shave” his head and beard, give him a shower, and a fresh “change of clothing.”
Imagine that moment the doors open and Joseph finds himself being lead through a room filled with the most powerful men of Egypt. Then to his great amazement he’s introduced and presented to none other than Pharaoh - with his old pal the Butler standing off to the side.
Genesis 41:15-32, “And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that you can understand a dream, to interpret it.’ So Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.’
Then Pharaoh said to Joseph: ‘Behold, in my dream I stood on the bank of the river. Suddenly seven cows came up out of the river, fine looking and fat; and they fed in the meadow. Then behold, seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and gaunt, such ugliness as I have never seen in all the land of Egypt. And the gaunt and ugly cows ate up the first seven, the fat cows. When they had eaten them up, no one would have known that they had eaten them, for they were just as ugly as at the beginning. So I awoke.
Also I saw in my dream, and suddenly seven heads came up on one stalk, full and good. Then behold, seven heads, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprang up after them. And the thin heads devoured the seven good heads. So I told this to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me.’
Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, ‘The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do: The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads are seven years; the dreams are one. And the seven thin and ugly cows which came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty heads blighted by the east wind are seven years of famine. This is the thing which I have spoken to Pharaoh. God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do.
Indeed seven years of great plenty will come throughout all the land of Egypt; but after them seven years of famine will arise, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine will deplete the land. So the plenty will not be known in the land because of the famine following, for it will be very severe. And the dream was repeated to Pharaoh twice because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.’”
As he’d done with the Butler and the Baker, Joseph listens intently to Pharaoh’s dream prior to providing the interpretation. In actuality, before he even get’s into the specifics, Joseph affirms that Pharaoh was indeed correct in sensing the divine nature of these dreams.
He says, “God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do” - adding later that what was to come “is established by God” and that “God will shortly bring it to pass.” In a sense Joseph is telling Pharaoh that the dream was revelatory - God was revealing to him the future.
Before we get to the specific meaning of the dream, I do think it’s interesting that Joseph tells Pharaoh that “the dream was repeated twice because the thing is established by God.” Joseph points to the repetition of the dream as the certainty it was going to happen.
Consider Joseph says this as he’s thinking back on the two dreams he’d received some 13 years earlier. It’s my belief the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place for Joseph. The trajectory of his life is beginning to make sense. Things are growing clear. Everything he’d encountered was leading him to and preparing him for this very moment!
So what is God revealing through these dreams? God reveals to Pharaoh that seven years of “plenty” are going to be followed by seven years of “sever famine” - which will be so bad that “all the plenty will be forgotten” because “the famine will deplete the land” or literally “consume all the land.” This famine will be so extreme no one will be able to survive it.
Joseph continues… Genesis 41:33-36, “Now therefore, let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land in the seven plentiful years. Let them gather all the food of those good years that are coming, and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. Then that food shall be as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which shall be in the land, that the land may not perish during the famine.”
What’s most interesting about Joseph’s council is that it was unrelated to interpreting the dream (which he’s already done) and was completely unsolicited by Pharaoh. Knowing what was on the horizon (seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine), Joseph takes the bold initiative by advising Pharaoh as to how he should prepare the nation.
He tells the King that “officers” should be “appointed to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land” during these “seven plentiful years” to be specifically “stored in the cities” so that the nation would be prepared to endure the “seven years of famine” that would follow.
Joseph is basically suggesting Pharaoh do two things: (1) Enact a 20% grain tax for the next seven years, and (2) “Select a discerning and wise man” to oversee the entire project.
One thing is clear… Joseph knew the stakes were high! He realized what God had revealed was a matter of life and death. If Pharaoh rejected this revelation, resisted God’s Word, if he failed to act appropriately… Egypt was not going to survive! It’s likely Joseph (in applying his dreams to this situation) knew such a famine would even jeopardize his own family as well.
You see Joseph’s council reveals an interesting insight. While it’s true God was revealing to Pharaoh would the future held, Joseph knew God was doing this for a reason. Yes, there was nothing anyone, even Pharaoh, could do to stop the famine. In seven years and for seven years it would reek havoc on the land. And yet, God was also letting them know He would provide seven years of plenty - giving them ample time and resources to prepare.
As a servant of God Joseph took it upon himself to do more than simply tell Pharaoh what God’s Word was saying, he shoulders the responsibility to go one step further by explaining the appropriate application and response Pharaoh needed to have to such a revelation! God was warning of a coming tribulation, but He was also providing a way of salvation.
You see for the world to be saved Pharaoh needed to be more than a hearer of the Word… Salvation was only possible if he chose to act in faith based upon what he heard! If Pharaoh failed to act or procrastinated the entire nation was going to perish.
I hope you know it’s one thing to be given knowledge and entirely another thing to act accordingly. As a matter of fact, according to the Proverbs, the fundamental difference between the “wise man” and “the fool” isn’t the amount of knowledge a person possesses, but whether or not they correctly apply such knowledge to their lives.
Please understand, knowing what God is saying is worthless if you aren’t willing to act upon it. In James 1:22-25, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”
And while this seem cut and dry the implications of this idea are interesting… No man will be held accountable for failing to act on the knowledge he didn’t possess. Instead, every man will be held to account for what he did with the knowledge he’d been given.
What this means is that the “I needed to know more” excuse will not be accepted by God for failing to act on what you did know. There were all kinds of obvious questions Pharaoh could have asked, but he knew enough to know how he needed to respond.
Genesis 41:37-45, “So the advice was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?’ Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you.’ And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.’
Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. And he had him ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried out before him, ‘Bow the knee!’ So he set him over all the land of Egypt.
Pharaoh also said to Joseph, ‘I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man may lift his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.’ Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnath-Paaneah. And gave him as a wife Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Pherah priest of On.”
Notice Pharaoh’s immediate reaction to Joseph’s interpretation and council… He says, “Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?” The way in which Joseph handled himself was so Godly that even a pagan man like Pharaoh had to acknowledge the presence of God in his life. What Joseph said and how he behaved testified!
Though you can read to much into this observation by viewing Pharaoh’s statement as a literal affirmation that the Holy Spirit resided in Joseph (He did not and would not until the NT), what does make this statement so noteworthy is that, in the context of Joseph being a type of Jesus, it is the first mention in Scripture of the “Spirit of God” residing “in man.”
You have to admit this had been a strange day for Joseph. In one un-expecting moment he goes from the King’s Prison to the King’s Palace. Joseph finds himself ascending from the darkness of the dungeon to a position of incredible power. The formal declaration of Pharaoh coupled with the presentation of the “signet ring, linen, chain, and chariot” indicates Joseph has been appointed Prime Minister tasked with preparing Egypt for this coming famine.
In addition to all of this we’re also told Pharaoh “gave Joseph Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Pherah priest of On” to be his “wife.” The name “Poti-Pherah” literally means “he whom the Ra gave” - which makes sense as the southern city of “On” was where the temple to the Sun-god Ra was located. Since this man was the “priest” of Ra, giving his daughter “Asenath” to Joseph was a way of expediting his political clout and influence.
As we close I want to read a section of Psalms 105:16-22, “Moreover God called for a famine in the land; He destroyed all the provision of bread. He sent a man before them - Joseph - who was sold as a slave. They hurt his feet with fetters, he was laid in irons. Until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him. The king sent and released him, the ruler of the people let him go free. He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his possessions, to bind his princes at his pleasure, and teach his elders wisdom.”
In considering this section of Genesis King David makes a few interesting observations: First, please don’t overlook the very real struggle and humanity Joseph endured in the midst of all of these trying circumstances. David writes, “Until the time that His word came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him.” In the Hebrew this word “tested” was a term goldsmiths used to describe the process of “smelting” or “refining.”
You see the purpose of heating up the metal was to force the dross (the impurities) to rise to the top so it could be removed. This testing process was essential in making the metal stronger and therefore more useful to the purposes of the smith. In much the same way this means every difficult experience Joseph encountered… Every injustice… Every iniquity… Every disappointment was part of God’s larger plan in preparing him for what lay ahead.
And how was Joseph tested? He was forced to trust God’s Word would “come to pass” even when his circumstances said otherwise. Friend, it’s easy to trust God when life is filled with blessings, but true faith is formed when you have to hold fast to Him in the storm.
Secondly, while David is clear that it was God who “called for a famine in the land” of Egypt, it’s equally true it was for this reason that “God sent Joseph.” What a picture! God set the stage by which mankind would be destroyed unless they placed their faith in another man’s interpretation of God’s Word. First, they had to trust that Joseph was speaking the truth. Then they had to trust that Joseph’s plan for salvation was indeed trustworthy.
You know it’s not an accident that Pharaoh changes Joseph’s name to “Zaphnath-Paaneah.” In the native language this means “treasury of the glorious rest” or literally “one who preserves all.” Some even go so far as to translate the word into English simply as “Savior.”
We know Pharaoh believed Joseph as well as his plan for the saving of Egypt because he was willing to call him his Savior and place his complete trust in this man. He says, “You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you. See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” David writes that Pharaoh “made Joseph lord of his house, and ruler of all his possessions.”
Friend, Pharaoh wasn’t given all the answers, but he was given enough knowledge to know a great tribulation was coming that would destroy the world. As such, Pharaoh responded accordingly by placing his complete faith in Joseph by surrendering all to his care!
I must close by pointing out that we see in this story a picture of much larger realities. Like Joseph, Jesus has also warned of a coming tribulation no man will be able to escape. Additionally, He warned of a day when all men will face death and then the judgment of God. It’s a certainty these things are on your horizon, but that’s not the end of His revelation.
You see, like Joseph, Jesus also presents a way of salvation. In John 3:16 Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The truth is your decision is identical to that of Pharaoh. The matter we’re discussing is of life and death! Tribulation is coming, but salvation is in front of you! Do you believe this? And if you do will you demonstrate genuine faith by accepting it by surrendering all you are to Jesus’ care? Will you call him a Savior?
Once again, the “I needed to know more” excuse will not be accepted by God for failing to act on what you did know. Pharaoh was given a simple revelation - death was coming and Joseph had a way they could be saved. Pharaoh knew enough to know how he needed to respond. The question I close with is simple… Will you?
No Additional Links.