Chapter 41

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Two years after the cupbearer had been restored to his former position, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing on the bank of the Nile and saw seven beautiful cows ascending from the river and begin feeding on the reed grass that flourished along the river banks. Thereafter he saw seven ugly and skinny cows ascend from the Nile, and these cows consumed the beautiful, well-nourished cows. After Pharaoh woke up and then again fell asleep, he had another dream. In this dream, he saw seven solid and full ears of grain growing on one stalk. Then he saw seven thin ears sprouting, and these ears were blighted by the hot wind from the east, the arid region east of Egypt. The seven thin ears swallowed up the seven full ears. (41:1-7)

Upon waking up in the morning, Pharaoh was greatly troubled about what he had dreamed and called on the magicians and all the available Egyptian wise men to provide him with an interpretation of the two dreams. None of them were able to do so. (41:7, 8)

During the two years since his release from confinement, the cupbearer had forgotten all about Joseph, making no mention about him to Pharaoh. God, however, had not forgotten Joseph and made known to Pharaoh future developments that would lead to Joseph’s release from unjust imprisonment. Upon witnessing that the magicians and wise men were unable to interpret the dreams, the cupbearer realized how wrong he had been to forget about Joseph and was prompted to say to Pharaoh, “My offenses [sin (LXX)] I remember today.” He then related how Joseph had interpreted his dream and that of the baker at the time of their imprisonment and that three days later everything happened exactly as Joseph had revealed would occur according to the meaning of the dreams. (41:9-13)

Pharaoh immediately sent for Joseph, and he was taken from his place of confinement. Before he appeared before Pharaoh, Joseph shaved, took off his clothing, and dressed himself in suitable attire. The Septuagint rendering suggests that someone among those who were sent shaved Joseph and clothed him with an acceptable outer garment. Josephus likewise indicates that the ones whom Pharaoh had sent directed them to change Joseph’s attire so that he would be presentably dressed when appearing before him. (Antiquities, II, v, 4) Pharaoh informed Joseph that he had “dreamed a dream” and that no one had been able to interpret it. Then he continued, “I have heard it said of you that, upon hearing a dream, you can interpret it.” Joseph did not give any credit to himself but gave all glory to God, saying, “He will answer peace to Pharaoh” (give a favorable response or see to the well-being of Pharaoh). (41:14-16)

After Pharaoh related the two dreams that he had seen, Joseph explained that both were just one dream or both had the same significance and that God had revealed to Pharaoh what he was about to do. In this case, the action God would be taking may be understood to refer to the developments he would permit to occur and which would affect the land of Egypt. Joseph interpreted the seven well-nourished cows and the seven full ears of grain to represent seven years of plenty, and the seven skinny cows and the seven empty ears of grain that were blighted by the east wind to signify seven years of famine. Joseph went on to say that, in all the land of Egypt, there would come to be seven years of great abundance. This would be followed by seven years of famine of such intensity that the former abundance would completely fade from memory. The fact that there were two dreams with the same message meant that the matter had been firmly determined by God and that he would soon bring it to pass. With these words, Joseph made it clear that what God had revealed in the two dreams was certain of fulfillment. (41:17-32; see the Notes section.)

In his Antiquities (II, v, 6), Josephus has Joseph telling Pharaoh that God reveals to people what is to happen in the future, “not to grieve them,” but to enable them wisely to prepare in advance to make the future unfavorable developments more tolerable. Joseph is then quoted as advising Pharaoh, “If you, therefore, carefully dispose of the plentiful crops that will come in the [first seven] years, you will secure that the future calamity will not be felt by the Egyptians.”

Joseph recommended that Pharaoh choose a wise man to oversee arrangements for storing produce during the period of abundance. This wise man should have the authority to appoint overseers who would be responsible for taking a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven years of bountiful harvests and then storing it. The stored grain under the authority of Pharaoh would then be available during the future years of famine. Pharaoh and his servants recognized that Joseph’s proposal was good, and he concluded that Joseph was the right man to oversee the important task, for the “spirit of God” was in him and God had revealed everything to him. (41:33-39)

Pharaoh appointed Joseph over all his “house” and directed that all his “people” or subjects should heed what Joseph said (literally, “[his] mouth”). Only with reference to the throne would Pharaoh be greater. Otherwise, he would be “over all the land of Egypt.” For Joseph, the investiture procedure included receiving Pharaoh’s signet ring (which he could use for sealing official documents), being clothed in garments of fine linen, and having a gold chain placed around his neck. Pharaoh had Joseph ride in his “second chariot, and the people cried out before him, “Avrek.” Renderings such as “kneel” or “make way” are conjectures, for it is unknown what the Egyptian word “avrek” or “abrek” means. (41:40-43; see the Notes section.)

Pharaoh is quoted as telling Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and apart from you [without your consent] no man shall lift up his hand or his foot in all the land of Egypt.” This could signify that no one would be able to initiate anything significant without Joseph’s permission. (41:44) Targum Jonathan interprets the words to mean that no man would be allowed to lift up his hand to gird on arms and to lift up his foot to mount a horse.

Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah (Psonthomphanech [LXX]; Psonthonphanechos [Josephus]), which Egyptian designation is thought to mean “god speaks; he will live.” Josephus (Antiquities, II, vi, 1) understood the name to mean “revealer of hidden things.” This is also the basic meaning conveyed in the targums. Pharaoh arranged for Joseph to be married to the virgin Asenath (Asenneth [LXX]; Asennethis [Josephus]; “belonging to Neith” [the Egyptian goddess]), the daughter of Potiphera (Petephre [LXX]; Pentephres [Josephus]; “he whom Ra [the Egyptian deity] gave”). Her father was a priest at On (Heliopolis), the major center of sun worship. It appears that the marriage to Asenath would have been regarded as befitting Joseph’s high office in Egypt. He likely had no choice in the matter, as Pharaoh was the one who selected Asenath as the wife for him. (41:45)

Joseph entered royal service at the age of 30. During the seven years of abundant crops in Egypt, he traveled throughout the land, arranging to store the produce from the fields in the cities that the cultivated areas surrounded. The amount of grain which came to be stored increased to the point that no effort was made to measure it. (41:46-49)

Before the time of famine came, Asenath bore two sons to Joseph. He named the firstborn son Manasseh (linked to the verb nashshani [made me forget]), because he credited God with making him forget all his hardship and all his father’s “house,” household, or paternal home. Joseph gave the name Ephraim (connected to the verb hiphrani [made me fruitful]), ascribing to God his having become fruitful [or having fathered offspring] in the “land of [his] affliction.” (41:50-52)

Just as Joseph had foretold when interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, the seven years of abundance ended and severe famine set in. While surrounding lands were impacted by the famine conditions, Egypt was spared because of the storage arrangements Joseph had instituted. The Egyptians appealed to Pharaoh for grain, and he directed them to go to Joseph who then, apparently through officials he had appointed, apportioned out and sold grain to the people from the storage facilities. The Genesis account says that “all the lands” or “all the earth” suffered from famine. This is to be understood in a relative sense as denoting all the lands surrounding Egypt. From all these lands, people came to Egypt to buy grain. (41:53-57)


It should be noted that Pharaoh did not doubt that Joseph had interpreted the dreams aright. He had confirmation from his cupbearer that Joseph could interpret dreams correctly. Moreover, he would have known that good harvests were dependent on the flooding of the Nile, as the flood waters provided the needed water for irrigation. Without the flooding of the Nile, the lack of water would lead to crop failures and the resulting famine would bring an end to the previous times of plenty. The interpretation of the dreams harmonized with the facts. This illustrates that any exposition of the scriptures should be reasonable and not stray from what would make good sense to anyone hearing the exposition for the first time.

In verse 43, the Septuagint does not use any equivalent for the designation “avrek” or “abrek.” It says that a “herald cried out” before Joseph.