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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 41

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-8


Verses 1-8:

Scholars differ widely as to the identity of this Pharaoh.

Opinions include: 1. Osirtasen I, founder of the 18th Dynasty; 2. Assa or Assia, fifth king of the 15th Dynasty of the Hyksos Kings; 3. Thothmes III, of the 18th Dynasty; 4. Rameses III, king of Memphis, of the 12th Dynasty; 5. Apophis, a king of the Hyksos ynasty (accepted by many Green authorities as the patron of Joseph). In the "Speaker’s Commentary," Vol. I, Canon Cook offers as a very probable conjecture that Amenemha III, the last of the 12th Dynasty, was the Pharaoh of Joseph’s time. This seems to be more in keeping with historical facts than any of the other suggested kings.

Two full years passed following the birthday celebration which brought the release and restoration of the chief butler. Joseph remained a prisoner, forgotten by the one who had promised to be his benefactor. But God was at work during this time. Once again, two dreams figure prominently in the history of Joseph This time the dreams were Pharaoh’s. Both were particularly vivid, and disturbing to the king.

In the first dream, Pharaoh stood by "the river," the Nile. This river was sacred to the Egyptians. They worshipped it as a life-giving goddess. Its annual inundation’s brought moisture and nutrients to the land, and meant life to the crops. The seven "kine" or heifers symbolize the earth, agriculture, and the life-giving food which the land supplied. These thriving cows fed in the lush reed grass which abounded along the Nile. But these cows were consumed by the seven lank, starved cows which likewise came up from the river.

In the second dream, Pharaoh saw an incredibly fruitful stalk of corn (wheat) that produced seven bountiful ears. Historians reveal the important place which wheat held among the ancient Egyptians. Inscriptions and paintings depict some of the Pharaohs as harvesting and offering wheat in sacrifice to the gods. Like the Nile and the cattle, wheat was sacred to the Egyptians. The full ears of grain were utterly consumed by seven thin ears of grain which were blasted by a hot, dry east wind.

The text implies that the first dream perplexed Pharaoh. But when the second dream occurred on the following night, he really got concerned. He sent for the royal magicians and "wise men." The magicians were those sacred scribes who belonged to the priestly caste and were skilled in making and deciphering hieroglyphics. The "wise men" were those endowed with capability of judgment. They were skilled in the arts and sciences, and the interpretation of dreams. None of these dignitaries was able to give Pharaoh a satisfactory interpretation of his troublesome dreams. Likely they tried, for they were subject to the king’s command. This reminds us that God’s will is not known by the wisdom of this world, but by the power of His Spirit.

Verses 9-13

Verses 9-13:

Pharaoh had the power of life and death over his subjects. When he was upset, the entire court was troubled. Thus the perplexity of Pharaoh over his dreams spread to his courtiers. Suddenly the chief butler remembered his own dream and that of the chief baker, two years earlier. He hastened to inform Pharaoh of the Hebrew prisoner who had correctly interpreted them.

This illustrates a principle relevant to every age. Godly Christians may be ignored and forgotten by the world and its rulers. But when the time of crisis comes, when there is perplexity and the world’s wise can offer no solutions, the world’s mighty often turn to those who have communication with God and know His will.

Verses 14-24

Verses 14-24:

Pharaoh accepted the chief butler’s suggestion. He sent for Joseph to be brought quickly from the prison. In keeping with Egyptian custom, Joseph shaved and changed his clothing. The men of Egypt shaved their head as well as their beard.

When Joseph stood before him, Pharaoh told him that none of his magicians or wise men could interpret his dream. He demanded to know if Joseph could do so. Joseph quickly informed him that the power of interpretation was not in him but in Elohim, who would "answer the peace of Pharaoh," literally would tell him what would be for Pharaoh’s welfare.

Pharaoh told to Joseph his two dreams. He then repeated that none of those in his court who were skilled in occult practices could give him any idea of the interpretation. This experience confirms the folly of seeking wisdom and guidance in life by consulting fortune tellers, astrologers, palm readers, "spiritual advisors," mediums, psychics, or any other occult practitioners. It is true that such as these may be able to predict future events with remarkable accuracy. But the test for prophecy leaves no margin for error. If any part of a prediction, prophecy, or interpretation is inaccurate, it is not of God but of Satan (De 18:21, 22). God demands the death penalty for those who engage in occult practices (Ex 22:18). He forbids His people to have anything to do with the occult in any way (De 18:10-12; Le 26, 31; 1Co 5:10, 11; 10:14; 1Jo 5:21).

Verses 25-36

Verses 25-36:

God does on occasion reveal His will even to pagan rulers (Da 2; 41; Pr 21:1). But He does so in such a way that these pagan rulers require guidance from His men in order to understand it.

Joseph quickly explained the meaning of Pharaoh’s dreams. The two were in reality one, with the same message. The message was repeated in order to emphasize this importance.

Beginning immediately, there would be seven years of incredible plenty in the land of Egypt. These would be followed by seven years of extreme famine, a famine so intense that it would wipe out even the memory of the bountiful years.

Joseph had a true servant’s spirit. He was interested in making prosperous those in authority over him. This is evident in his service first to Potiphar, then to the warden of the prison. Now, he offered a three-part plan, designed to provide for the years ahead. He recommended that Pharaoh:

1. Appoint an officer to be over the entire land, to administer plans to meet the coming crisis.

2. Levy a 20% national tax on all the produce of the land for the seven years of plenty. Deputy tax officers would be appointed to collect and administer this tax.

3. Institute a plan to store the surplus crops in certain designated cities, for use when the years of famine should come.

This was a simple but sensible plan. Its source was much higher than the ingenuity of man. Joseph feared (reverenced) Jehovah, and because of this he had wisdom greater than others (Pr 1:7; 9:10; Ps 111:10). "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him" (Psalms 15:4). This principle is valid today. One who fears (reverences, obeys) the Lord has an unfailing source of wisdom, which enables him to deal successfully with every circumstance in life (Pr 3:5-18). Jas 1:5 tells how one may obtain that wisdom.

Verses 37-45

Verses 37-45:

Joseph’s advice was pleasing to Pharaoh and his ministers. They saw in him a spirit of wisdom which could only come from a higher power. The phrase "Spirit of God" does not necessarily mean they recognized the True God and His Holy Spirit. By Ruach Elohim, Pharaoh understood the wisdom and intelligence of a deity, (see Nu 27:18; Job 32:8; Pr 2:6; Da 4:8, 18). The Egyptians were polytheistic, and likely recognized Joseph’s God as but one of many deities.

Pharaoh was evidently a wise ruler. He recognized in Joseph the character traits needed for successful execution of the plans called for by his dream. He appointed Joseph to this position, and named him as Egypt’s chief administrative officer, second to authority only to himself. As symbols of this authority Pharaoh conferred on Joseph:

1. The royal ring, which was a signet-ring. Among discoveries in the ruins of ancient Nineveh is an impression of a seal from a metallic finger-ring, two inches long by one inch wide, which bears the titles, name, and image of Pharaoh Sabaco. It was likely such a signet-ring that Pharaoh placed on Joseph’s finger. It was the symbol of Pharaoh’s authority, which Joseph would now administer.

2. Vestures (clothing) of fine linen, byssos, which was the material used in making the garments of the priestly caste.

3. A neck chain (collar) of fine gold, a royal ornament worn by nobility.

4. The honor of riding in the second chariot, immediately behind the king, in all processions. Criers went before him, ordering all the people to "bow the knee" or do obeisance to Joseph, as the king’s representative.

Various paintings, carvings, and monuments extant in Egypt portray these things as typical of Egyptian custom of that time.

Pharaoh gave to Joseph an Egyptian name: Zaphnath-paaneah, meaning "the supporter of life," or "the savior of the world." This name reflected Joseph’s role as the one who would provide for deliverance from the coming famine.

Pharaoh completed Joseph’s naturalization and investiture by giving him an Egyptian wife: Asenath, "she who is of Neith," the goddness of wisdom. She was the daughter of Poti-pherah, whose name means "dedicated to the sun." He was the chief priest of the ancient religious and political capital, On, the "City of the Sun." It was customary that the chief of the priesthood be selected from among the nearest relatives of Pharaoh.

The elevation of a Hebrew prisoner to the position of second in command is not an extra-ordinary event in Egyptian history. Numerous incidents similar to this may be found in the historical record. One Egyptian king made the son of a mason his own son-in-law. What is extra-ordinary is the working of Divine Providence to bring together all the events in the precise time and order, to accomplish God’s purpose in it all.

Verses 46-52

Verses 46-52:

Joseph began his administrative duties. The land yielded crops in great abundance. The levies were collected and deposited in the storage facilities in the various appointed cities. So excessive were the collections that the officials in charge ceased to keep a record of the amounts involved.

God blessed Joseph with two sons, born during the years of abundance. He gave to these sons Hebrew names. This shows that his faith in Jehovah had not dimmed even though he was surrounded by the idolatry and luxury and power of Egypt. It is far more difficult to retain one’s faith in the midst of prosperity than in times of adversity.

Joseph named his first son Manasseh, which means "forgetting," because "God, said he, hath made me forget" his trials and his father’s house. This was only relatively true, for subsequent events showed he still retained fond memories of his younger brother and his father. In giving him this son, God compensated Joseph for the loss of his own family by building a house for him.

His second son Joseph named Ephraim, meaning "double fruitfulness." The reason for this name: "God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction." In Egypt Joseph had found position, power, wealth, and family. But Egypt was still the "land of affliction," not of joy. His heart was ever in the Land which Jehovah had promised to his fathers and his posterity.

Verses 53-57

Verses 53-57:

The seven years of abundance ended, and the years of famine began, just as God had revealed by Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream. The "dearth" or famine extended "in all lands," or the adjoining countries including Palestine. When the famine began to be felt in Egypt and the people cried out to Pharaoh for food, he instructed them to go to Joseph and follow his orders. Joseph then ordered the storage magazines to be opened for the beginning of the sale of food-grains to the people.

Word circulated among the surrounding countries that there was food-grain available for sale in Egypt. People came from far and near to buy, because the famine that blasted Egypt also prevailed in all the neighboring countries.

God vindicated His word in a most dramatic way. And His plan and purpose for the Chosen People moved along right on schedule.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Genesis 41". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/genesis-41.html. 1985.
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