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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 41

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

Verses 1-57


Joseph remained in prison two full years longer, a further time of learning in humiliation the practical lesson of self-discipline. But he was under God's eye, and at the right time God sent two dreams to Pharaoh of such a character that he was greatly stirred by them. No doubt he had had many other dreams, but these were so outstanding that he could not ignore them.

In the first dream seven cows came up out of the Nile river, beautiful and well nourished, and were feeding in the meadow. Then seven other cows came up undernourished and ugly, and these ate up the well nourished cows (v.4). The second dream did not come until he had wakened and then went to sleep again. Then he saw seven ears of gain come on a single stalk, plump and good. Following them were seven others ears thin and scorched by the east wind; and the bad ears swallowed up the good ones (vs.5-7).

There was such a similarity in the dreams that Pharaoh knew they were intended to convey some meaning. In the morning he was troubled because of them. He therefore called the magicians and wise men of Egypt, but none of them could suggest any interpretation of the dream (v.8). Only then did the cupbearer wake up to the realization of his own indifference to Joseph. He told Pharaoh that while he was a prison he and the chief bake had had dreams that distressed them until a young man in the prison, a Hebrews, had interpreted their dreams, and his interpretation proved perfectly correct in each case (vs.9-13).

In this history of the imprisonment of Joseph and the butler and the baker, God was working graciously behind the scenes to both bring Joseph out of prison and to exalt him in a way that would have naturally been unthinkable for a Hebrew. Pharaoh sent for Joseph immediately, and he came shaved and with a change of clothing. Nothing was said about the reason for which he was put in prison. So far as the record goes, he was never cleared of the charge that was falsely brought against him. He evidently left this in the hand of God, who knows how to care for His servant's reputation.

Pharaoh then told Joseph that he had been unable to find anyone who could interpret a dream for him, but has heard that Joseph is able to do this (v.15). Joseph fully disclaims any personal ability or gift for this, telling Pharaoh rather that it is God only who can give the answer, but indicating also that God would give him an answer of peace. This simple confidence in God was the secret of Joseph's receiving such revelations from Him.

Pharaoh then tells Joseph his dreams, adding to what we have read in verses 2-7 the interesting fact that after the seven thin, ugly cows had eaten the seven well nourished ones, the thin ones remained just as this as before (v.21).

Without hesitation Joseph interpreted the dream for Pharaoh, saying, "The dream of Pharaoh is one," that is, the second dream was simply a confirmation of the first. God was showing Pharaoh beforehand what He was going to do in Egypt. The seven cows signified seven years, and the seven good ears of grain signified seven years. Similarly, the seven ugly cows and the seven parched ears of grain each signified seven years (vs.26-27). God had chosen to reveal to an Egyptian king what He purposed to do. The well fed cows and the good ears of grain indicated that there would be seven years of abundant produce through all the land of Egypt, while the lean cows and the thin ears of grain were prophetic of seven years of famine to follow. Then because of the severity of the famine the good years would be forgotten as though eaten up by the bad years with no helpful result (vs.29-31). God does such things as this with the object of awakening people to realize that their blessing does not depend on circumstances, but on the God who brings about every circumstance.

The fact that the second dream was a confirmation of the first indicated that the matter was fully established by God and that He would quickly accomplish His purpose.

Joseph then gave Pharaoh some sound advice as to how to prepare for the future. He must appoint a wise, dependable man to manage the great work of gathering produce into storehouses throughout the land of Egypt. This would require many to help. During the even years of plenty, they would require only one-fifth of the produce of the land to be kept for the future (vs.33-36). The abundance of the first seven years must have been great. Often when people are greatly blessed they do not consider wisely what the future may hold. After they have squandered the large amount the Lord has given them, they find that the lean years come unexpectedly and they are not prepared. Similarly, when a nation has lived lavishly it is likely that a recession will strike and the whole atmosphere is filled with bitter complaining. Through such things God speaks loudly to men.


The interpretation of the dream was so simple and appropriate that Pharaoh had no difficulty in believing Joseph and therefore in approving of his advice. But not only this, he realized that Joseph was the very man who was qualified for the great work of supervising the storing of Egypt's produce. It was evident to him that the Spirit of God was in Joseph, and since God had revealed the interpretation of the dream to him, then there was no-one so discerning and wise as he (vs.37-39). 1 Corinthians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 2:15 tells us, "he who is spiritual judges all things," that is, he judges in the sense of discerning. Not only does he discern spiritual things, but he discerns rightly temporal matters better than any unbeliever does, simply because God is the Creator of material things just as well as things that are spiritual.

Thus God used the imprisonment of Joseph as a step toward a far higher dignity than he had enjoyed in the house of Potiphar. He is set over the house of Pharaoh. By Joseph's word all the people of Egypt were to be ruled. Pharaoh would of course not give his throne to Joseph, but would depend on Joseph to be the administrator of all his affairs. The dignity of Pharaoh's position remained, but he gave authority into Joseph's hand (v.40). There is an analogy here. God remains always in the dignity of eternal glory, yet He has given His beloved son the place of supreme authority over His creation.

Announcing Joseph as Ruler, Pharaoh even gave him his own ring, clothed him with fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck (v.42). In all of this Joseph is typical of the Lord Jesus exalted to the right hand of God. The ring, having no end, speaks of His eternal identification with God, the fine linen reminding us of the perfect purity of His Manhood (Revelation 19:8). The golden chain pictures His unity with the Father in His Godhead glory.

Then Pharaoh give Joseph the honor of riding in his second chariot and having heralds calling on the people to "bow the knee" (v.43). This surely reminds us ofPhilippians 2:9-10; Philippians 2:9-10, "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow."

"Pharaoh also said to Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man may lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt." This was an imperial decree, just as God has decreed by the honor of His own name that without Christ there is no true work (the hand) or walk (the foot) in all the world.

Pharaoh gave Joseph the name of Zaphnaph-paaneah, which means in Coptic language "revealer of secrets," but in Egyptian, "Savior of the world" (v.45). both are appropriate as applying to Christ, for He has revealed the Father and the Father's counsels, and by virtue of His great sacrifice on Calvary He is indeed the Savior of the world. As to the wife Joseph was given, Asenath, we are told almost nothing, except that she was a daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. But she is typical of the church, a Gentile bride, being united to the Lord Jesus at a time when He has been rejected by Israel.

At this time we are told Joseph's age was 30 years (v.46), the same as that of the Lord Jesus when He began His public ministry (Luke 3:23). Thus his combined time as a slave and in prison was 13 years. Now he goes out throughout all the land of Egypt, to supervise the organization of plans to gather in to many storage places the tremendous amount of grain that was only one-fifth of the super abundance that was yielded during the fruitful first seven years (vs.47-48). The amount was so great that it was found impossible to compute it (v.49).

During the seven plentiful years two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath, the first named Manasseh (v.51), which means "forgetting," for, as he says, "God has made me to forget all my trouble and all my father's household." This is typical of the truth of Christianity: it makes us forget the first creation with its natural relationships and its vexatious trials. But this is because it introduced something better, the new creation, of which Christ is the Head. This is involved in the name of Joseph's second son, Ephraim, which means "fruitful" (v.52), for only in new creation is there true fruitfulness for God. Manasseh therefore implies the negative side of the truth, Ephraim the positive. Even in the land of Joseph's affliction God had made him fruitful. thus today, when affliction is to be expected by the Christian, he is already the subject of new creation, and is therefore fitted to bear fruit for God.

The seven years of plenty come to an end, as God had forewarned by Joseph. The famine came, not only to Egypt, but to other countries also. But Egypt alone had prepared for the famine (v.54).

The people of Egypt appeal to Pharaoh for food, and he tells them, "Go to Joseph: whatever he says to you do" (v.58). How clear is the lesson here for ourselves today. The father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14). Therefore He directs us all to the Lord Jesus as the One appointed to care for our needs. Joseph opened all the storehouses of Egypt (v.56), just as the Lord Jesus has opened the storehouses of heaven by virtue of His great sacrifice of Calvary, for the blessing of those who have found themselves reduced to spiritual poverty. One great contrast, however; is that the Lord Jesus gives freely, "without money and without price." People from all countries came to Egypt in order to buy food (v.57). The grace of God in Christ is available for all the nations today, at a time when the whole world is in a state of spiritual famine.

In such a history we are privileged to see that the wheels of God's government, though turning slowly and deliberately, are perfectly directed to accomplish marvelous results that will display the greatness of His wisdom and His grace throughout eternity. The history itself is wonderful history of the coming of the Lord Jesus, His rejection by His own brethren, His suffering among Gentiles, but His eventual recognition and exaltation while still His brethren, the Jewish nation, are in a state of unbelief that will require a spiritual famine to eventually awaken them to a deep need that will lead to an unexpected and marvelous revelation of their Messiah, with its abounding blessing.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Genesis 41". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/genesis-41.html. 1897-1910.
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