41 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 riverbank. 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 heads of grain,healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. 6 After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted—thin and scorched by the east wind. 7 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. 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 heads of grain, full and good, growing on a single stalk. 23 After them, seven other heads sprouted—withered and thin and scorched by the east wind. 24 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads. 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 heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. 27 The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain 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.
(Genesis 41:1-32 NIV)
As we finished Chapter 40, we saw the king’s cupbearer restored to his former position, and the king’s baker put to death, just as the Lord had revealed to Joseph. And the cupbearer never mentioned Joseph to the king.
As we begin Chapter 41, two years have elapsed since the cupbearer was restored to his position. Life is good for the cupbearer, and Joseph is still languishing in prison for a crime he did not commit.
Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, had two disturbing dreams. In ancient Egyptian culture, dreams were very important. The Egyptians believed dreams were often the way that their gods communicated with them.
Pharaoh likely had other dreams, but none as improbable as these two. Pharaoh was troubled, so he gathered all his wise men and magicians to provide the interpretation and meaning of the dreams. No doubt there were many suggestions offered, as the wise men and magicians wanted to be in the king’s good graces. But none of the possible explanations provided the king with the answers he longed for.
Consider for a moment the absurdity, from a human standpoint, of the dreams. Cows eating cows? Cows are herbivores, not carnivores. Ears of corn eating other ears of corn? Plants don’t eat plants, and the fruit of plants don’t eat anything – they are eaten.
And even if cows could eat cows and ears of corn could eat ears of corn, how could this happen with no visible effect? If you or I were to eat something twice our size, would not our size, our volume change? And yet, in these dreams, the skinny, malnourished cows and the withered ears of corn looked exactly the same after they ate their well-nourished and plump counterparts.
With no plausible explanations and the king still troubled about the meaning of the dreams, the cupbearer conveniently chose to remember that there was someone that might be able to interpret the king’s dreams.
Make no mistake here – the cupbearer was not confessing wrongdoing before the king, no was he feeling guilt over not mentioning Joseph to the king. Rather, the cupbearer was in this for himself and his own glory and self-serving nature.
The king sends for Joseph; after Joseph cleans up (having come from the dungeon), he appears before the king. As an interesting aside, I wonder who the king assigned to get Joseph? The text does not say… could it have been Potiphar, the very man that had imprisoned Joseph in the first place?
The text says that Joseph shaved and changed clothes. Hebrew men often kept beards, while Egyptian men were clean-shaven. Whomever brought Joseph from the prison wanted to be sure that Joseph looked presentable before the king.
Notice Joseph’s response when the king asked if he could interpret his dreams. Joseph was quick to deny his own powers, but gave all the glory to God. Joseph was also confident that God would give the king the answer that would satisfy his desire to know and understand the meaning of the dreams. In a word, the king would have peace in his heart about the meaning of the dreams. The king may not like the answer, but there would be no doubt as to the meaning of the dreams.
It is important to look at the word Joseph used for God. The Hebrew word is Elohim, the plural name of God. This is clearly in reference to the Hebrew God, not a generic term for any deity, but Joseph’s God. Joseph did not refer to the Egyptian deities, but to the Triune God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and himself.
After Pharaoh told Joseph his dreams, Joseph shared their meaning – 7 years of great abundance, followed by 7 years of intense famine that would wipe out any memory of the previous abundance. And this was not something to happen in the long-distant future – this was beginning now.
When you and I are called to stand before others, what is out response? Do we, like the cupbearer, use the opportunity to talk about ourselves, or do we simply give the glory to God as Joseph did?
May we remain faithful to the Lord, even in our own distresses and situational “jails” that we may be in, just as Joseph did.
May we be quick to give God the glory when we are asked to help others or give an account, just as Joseph did.
Next time, we’ll look at Joseph’s next words of recommendation to the king, and the king’s response.