Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 6th, 2023
the First Week of Advent
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 41

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-8

Genesis 41:1-8

Pharaoh dreamed

Pharaoh’s dream





Pharaoh’s dream and its interpretation


1. The long waiting of Joseph before he attained his emancipation.

2. The wisdom of this delay in respect of Joseph’s circumstances.

3. Pharaoh’s prophetic dream.

4. The chief butler’s forgetfulness.


1. The graceful way in which Joseph refers all to God.

2. Joseph’s calmness, produced by the consciousness of God’s presence.

3. Joseph’s plan in the interpretation of the dream. It was simply a providential foresight for the future. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

The dream of Pharaoh

1. The dream was formed of elements with which the dreamer was somewhat familiar.

2. The dream was a Divine communication to the mind of a heathen.

3. The dream brought trouble into the heart of a monarch.

4. The dream could only be interpreted by a devout Theist.

THE REVOLUTIONS OF PROVIDENCE. Alternations mark the earthly history of the human world.

1. They tend to promote our spiritual discipline.

2. They remind us of the activity of God.

3. They tend to inspire us with a sense of our dependence upon


4. This method tends, moreover, to give a meaning to the Bible.

5. This method often prepares the mind to receive the truths of the Bible.


1. It invested Joseph with a chastened humility of soul.

2. It enabled Joseph to solve the distressing inquiries of the monarch.

3. It exalted Joseph to supremacy in the kingdom.

THE DUTY OF RULERS. They should be--

1. Philanthropic.

2. Forecasting.

3. Economical.


1. How great is the Governor of the world.

2. How worthless the world is without religion.

3. How important to be in fellowship with the great God. (Homilist.)

An episode in a nation’s history

Imperfect as human monarchs are, and sometimes corrupt, they are beneficial to society. A government must be very rotten if it is not better than anarchy. Hence, for the most part, God designs to act through kings, and permits them to be His ministers. God has a secret to make known to Egypt, viz., tidings of approaching scarcity; and since Pharaoh is on the throne, the communication shall be made to him.


1. A dream is enough to terrify him. Yet is not this cowardly? Why should the great Pharaoh be alarmed by a night-vision? Has he not an enormous army at his back? Ah, verily, there is another Power, active, mightier, more august, hedging him on every side! What if this strange Power should be unfriendly! No wonder that Pharaoh’s knees tremble. He is like a fly upon the unseen mechanism of the universe. He is but a waif upon the stormy Atlantic. What is this all-surrounding Power? Possibly it may be God!

2. Further, he is a very dependent man. He cannot do without astrologers, magicians, butlers, and bakers. No; it would not do for the king to be independent. The temptation to play the tyrant would be irresistible. He is only one part of the social system, though it may be the most prominent.

3. The king is dependent upon the most obscure in his kingdom. On an imprisoned slave Pharaoh and all Egypt have to depend. Verily nobleness and worth may be found in the lowliest lot!


1. Joseph’s first utterance was to acknowledge God. In substance he says, “I am powerless; God can meet the case.” Hers was a great opportunity for ostentation, self-display. His bearing is calm, princely, royal. Of himself he can do nothing; but he has brought the true God into court, and “with God nothing is impossible.”

2. This was an act of heroic faith. Joseph stood alone in that awestruck assembly. Magnates, officers, stewards, magicians, all were worshippers of Egypt’s countless idols. To disparage the ancient idols, powerful for long ages, were perilous to a young man and a foreigner.


1. It is clear that Joseph was master of the situation. Etymologically, the word king means “the man that knows.” It was this that made Elijah great and powerful in the face of idolatrous Israel. This gave Daniel sovereign influence in the Chaldean court. This made Luther a monarch among men. “Them that honour Me, I will honour.”

2. For this royal position Joseph had been skilfully trained.

THE REAL KING IS SUPREME IN EVERY EMERGENCY. Most sailors can steer the ship in fine weather; it requires a real pilot to steer safely through a storm. Pharaoh might do well enough at the helm of affairs, so long as harvests were copious, and the nation was well fed. But in presence of a night-vision, Pharaoh lost his balance; in presence of a famine, Pharaoh was staggered. (J. Dickerson Davies, M. A.)

Kine and corn

THE VICISSITUDES OF LIFE. Prosperity and adversity succeed each other. Life generally is as variable as an April day. If a man has seven years of uninterrupted happiness, he must not expect that it will continue much longer. The most prosperous men are liable to surprises. Families that have for years been free from sickness or bereavemant may suddenly be overshadowed by the angel of death. Hopes may be blighted when they are near fulfilment, and pleasure may be followed by severe and protracted trial.

THE OVER-RULING PROVIDENCE OF GOD. Whatever may be the opinions held by some, we say unhesitatingly that God has the affairs of all nations and of all men under His immediate control; that He gives or withholds, as seemeth good unto Him, but always in a way consistent with human freedom. And He invites our confidence.

THE DUTY OF USING THE PRESENT WELL. Although we are not to be overanxious about the future, we are not to disregard it altogether. We cannot tell what demands may be made upon our resources. We must provide, as far as possible, against sickness and adversity. We must not ignore the claims of others. (F. J. Austin.)

A perplexing dream

This dream will appear to many but a jumble of incoherent ideas, which no wise man would retain in his memory. What other man ever thought, even in a dream, of kine, or of ears of corn, eating one another? Yet it is certain that this dream came from God, and that it was an intimation of future events, of exceedingly important consequence, both to the Egyptian nation, and to all the neighboring nations, and even to the church of God. “God’s ways are not as our ways,” nor ought we to measure His providential administration by our own rules. He discovers His mind in the manner best fitted to serve His purpose. It was not the will of God that Pharaoh should understand his own dream, till it was explained by a heaven-taught interpreter. If the meaning had been so plain, that it could have been explained by the wise men of Egypt, the design for which it was sent to Pharaoh would not have been gained. It was for Joseph’s sake, and for the sake of his father’s house, that Pharaoh dreamed, and that his dream required such an interpreter as Joseph. There are dreams and visions recorded in many places of the Bible, that appear to our narrow minds as dark as this dream of Pharaoh. God hath His reasons for choosing to deliver many parts of his mind in dark figures, which we would need a Joseph to interpret. But to allege that any part of Scripture ought to have been plainer than it is, would be daringly presumptuous. Every part of it was dictated to the holy men of God by that wisdom which cannot err. Every censure of the Divine wisdom must he folly and blasphemy. The darkest portion of Scripture was not written in vain. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Importance attached to dreams

It cannot be surprising that men in all ages and countries should have attached a great importance to dreams. When the functions of the soul seem fettered, and the images of the mind appear dissolved in floating phantoms, it was thought that the direct interference of the Deity alone could give strength and direction to the relaxed faculties; that if in such a state distinct and clearly circumscribed forms were perceived, they must have a higher tendency; and that their meaning is as mysterious as their origin is supernatural. Eastern nations especially, endowed as they are with a luxurious imagination, and carried away by a love of symbolism, searched the import of dreams with eager and serious anxiety. The Egyptians and Chaldeans were foremost in the cultivation of this branch of knowledge; they developed the explanation of dreams into a complete science; the interpreters of dreams were held in the most distinguished honour; they were regarded as being favoured with the highest order of wisdom, and even with divine inspiration; they surrounded the throne of the king, accompanied the expedition of the general, and often exercised a decisive influence in the most important deliberations. But the Greeks and Romans were not less scrupulous in this respect. That dreams come from Jupiter, is a maxim already pronounced by Homer; but they were considered significant only if occurring in the last third of the night, when dawn is near; persons in distress or difficulties slept in temples, in the hope of obtaining prophetic dreams which might indicate the means of rescue; men afflicted with illness especially resorted to this expedient, in the belief that AEsculapius would reveal to them the proper remedies; and Alexander the Great actually fancied he saw, in a dream, the herb which cured the wound of Ptolemy, his friend and relation. But how deeply the faith in the reality of dreams were rooted among the ancient nations is manifest from She views entertained by the Hebrews on this subject. Dreams grew in importance among the Hebrews in the course of centuries, and after the Babylonian captivity they were classified in a complete system; they were regarded either as auspicious or ominous; harassing or frightful visions were expiated by fasts and prayer; and Philo wrote an elaborate treatise, in two books, to prove that dreams are sent by God. It could not fail, that these decided notions, on a subject so vague and uncertain, caused serious abuses, chiefly from two sides; from weak-minded dreamers, who were often tortured by visionary misfortunes, and from cunning interpreters, who knew how to take advantages of such imbecility; but sometimes, also, from wicked schemers, who made real or pretended dreams the pretext of base and selfish plans; as Flavius Josephus did, when, by treachery and cowardice, he saved his life by passing over into the camp of the enemies. Jesus Sirach, therefore, though acknowledging that some dreams are sent by God, censured severely the folly of attributing weight to all; he impressed upon his readers that many dreams are idle and empty, like the wind and the shadow, a delusion to the fool, and a phantom of deceitful hope; just as Artabanus had, long before, said to king Xerxes: “ The visions of dreams are not Divine; they most commonly hover around men respecting things which engaged their thoughts during the day”; although the superstition of his time is reflected in the legend which he narrated, how he yet was forced to acknowledge the awful sanctity of dreams. Nor has the interest in dreams ceased since that time; they have occupied the pen of many a modern psychologist; they have given rise to some of the most beautiful works, replete with profound thought and shrewd observation; and the peculiar mystery which surrounds those remarkable phenomena, too aerial to permit of the rigid analysis of the philosopher or the man of science, will always exercise an excusable charm over the human mind. (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)

Verses 9-13

Genesis 41:9-13

I do remember my faults this day

Pharaoh’s butler; or, The power of memory, association, and conscience


THE POWER OF MEMORY. “I do remember.” Memory, a faculty of mind, wonderful, varies in its strength and exercise, accompanied by pains as well as pleasures. The effect depends upon the state of the soul, and on the character of the things remembered, whether good or evil, painful or pleasant (see Job 21:6; Psalms 63:6; Psalms 77:3; Psalms 137:1; Ezekiel 16:61, Ephesians 2:11; Luke 16:25; Revelation 14:13.) Beware. Do some evil deed, commit some wrong against your neighbour or your God; and, try as you will, you cannot quite forget. Memory may slumber for a while, but will some day awake.

THE POWER OF ASSOCIATION. “This day.” Why then? For two years all had seemingly been forgotten. Now chord of association touched: Pharaoh’s dreams. This power is often appealed to in Scripture. Type, symbol, parable, all recognize, and receive much of their value from association. In the special case before us, behold the hand of God. The great designs of Providence are ripe for execution. Hence the butler is roused to action. It needs but a touch of association, and the long-forgotten promise is recalled. Joseph’s release immediately follows.

THE POWER OF CONSCIENCE. “My faults.” Mark the power conscience:

1. In exciting a sense of personal blameworthiness.

(1) Infidelity.

(2) Ingratitude.

2. In exciting a feeling of painful remorse.



(3)Atonement. (Homilist.)

Faults remembered

WE ARE ALL CHARGEABLE WITH FAULTS (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:12; Psalms 19:12; Psalms 143:2; James 3:2; 1 John 1:8; Romans 3:23). Yet “did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgot him.” It was forgetfulness most inexcusable; it was ingratitude most unkind I But what are our faults? We have offended, not the king of Egypt, but the King of kings, the King of heaven, the Greatest and Best of all beings. We have forgotten, not the son of Jacob, but the Son of God, the Lord of life and glory.


1. The evidence of this. Men have convictions of sin, but they stifle them.

2. The causes of this.

(1) Ignorance of the true nature and malignity of sin.

(2) Partiality to self, strengthened by the deceitfulness of the heart.

(3) The hurry of business.

(4) Elevation in worldly circumstances.

Various circumstances are adapted to REMIND US OF OUR FAULTS.

1. Providential occurrences. Some of these regard ourselves, the affliction of our persons, or our immediate connections. Other providential occurrences regard the condition of those about us: they strike our observation. We witness sometimes She difficulties in which others are involved; we think of what occasioned such difficulties, and are reminded of similar causes in ourselves, which might have produced similar effects.

2. The ministry of God’s Word.

When we are reminded of our faults we should be ready to confess 1 John 1:8-9). What, then, have we to confess to God? What are the faults which “this day” we remember? We must go to Him with all our faults, with all our follies, and with all the iniquity of our sin.

Confession of faults should always be attended with REAL AMENDMENT. (T. Kidd.)

Pharaoh’s butler

There are some truths in this verse which I wish you to understand and remember. I shall name and illustrate five of these.

THE POWER OF INGRATITUDE. Joseph’s request to the butler, and the butler’s reply. How easily he might have kept his promise I Have you been ungrateful to any one--parents, teachers, Jesus? If so, repent at once.

THE POWER OF MEMORY. As the bridge spans the river, so the butler’s memory went back over two years. He saw Joseph in prison and his broken promise. How kind God has been in giving us such a wonderful faculty! Use it well in connection with pure objects, good books, and godly persons. You will then have always excellent and instructive companions.

THE POWER OF A SINGLE EVENT. What caused the butler to remember Joseph? The king’s dream. How suggestive often are little things! A book, a portrait, a stone, a shoe.

THE POWER OF CONSCIENCE. The butler began to think about his faults.

THE POWER OF INTERCESSION. The butler interceded with the king for Joseph. This led to Joseph’s freedom and exaltation. Do not forget this. Act upon it. The good which you may secure for others in this way. (Homiletic Review.)

Have you forgotten Him?

No single power or faculty of man escaped damage at the Fall: while the affections were polluted, the will was made perverse, the judgment was shifted from its proper balance, and the memory lost much of its power and more of its integrity. Our memories, like ourselves, have done the things which they ought not to have done, and have left undone the things which they ought to have done, and there is no health in them. Among other things, it is not always easy to recollect our faults We have special and particular reasons for not wishing to be too often reminded of them. If, however, the grace of God has entered into a man he will pray that he may remember his faults, and he will ask grace that if he should forget any excellences which he once supposed he had, he may not forget his defects, his sins, his infirmities, and his transgressions, but may have them constantly before him, that he may be humbled by them and led to seek pardon for them and help to overcome them.

We shall first call your attention to the BUTLER’S FAULTS, for his faults are ours, only ours are on a larger scale: “I do remember my faults this day.” His particular fault was that he had forgotten Joseph; that, having promised to remember him when it should be well with him, he had altogether overlooked the circumstances which occurred in the prison, and had been enjoying himself, and leaving his friend to pine in obscurity.

1. Here, then, is the first fault--the butler had forgotten a friend. That is never a thing to be said in a man’s praise. We ought to write the deeds of friendship as much as possible in marble; and that man is unworthy of esteem who can readily forget favours received. As I never shall forget when, at the foot of the Cross, I saw the interpretation of all my inward griefs; when I looked up and saw the flowing of my Saviour’s precious blood, and had the great riddle all unriddled. My brethren, what a discovery was that when we learned the secret that we were to be saved not by what we were or were to be, but saved by what Christ had done for us I Happy day I we see Jesus as the cluster crushed until the heart’s blood flows, and can by faith go in unto the King, with Jesus Christ’s own precious blood and offer that, just as the butler stood before Pharaoh with the wine-cup in his hand, I bear a cup filled not with my blood, but His blood: not the blood from me as a cluster of the vine of earth, but the blood of Jesus as a cluster of heaven’s own vintage, pouring out its precious floods to make glad the heart of God and man.

2. Here lies our fault: that we have forgotten all this--not forgotten the fact, but forgotten to love Him who gave us that soul-comforting, heart-cheering interpretation.

3. We have not, however, quite done with the case of the butler and Joseph. The request which Joseph made of the butler was a very natural one. He said, “Think of me when it is well with thee.” He asked no hard, difficult, exacting favour, but simply, “Think of me, and speak to Pharaoh.” What the Saviour asks of us, His servants, is most natural and most simple, and quite as much for our good as it is for His glory. Among other things, He has said to all of you who love Him, “This do in remembrance of Me.”

4. I have stated the butler’s case, but I shall want to pause a minute or two over this head just to go into the reason of his fault. Why was it that he did not recollect Joseph? There is always a reason for everything, if we do but try to find out. He must have been swayed by one of the three reasons.

(1) Perhaps the butler was naturally ungrateful. We do not know, but that may have been the case: he may have been a person who could receive unbounded favours without a due sense of obligation. I trust that is not our case in the fullest and most unmitigated sense, but I am afraid we must all plead guilty in a measure.

(2) Perhaps, however, worldly care choked the memory. The chief butler had a great deal to do: he had many under-servants, and, having to wait in a palace, much care was required. He who serves a despot like the king of Egypt must be very particular in his service. It is very possible that the butler was so busy with his work and his gains, and looking after his fellow-servants and all that, that he forgot poor Joseph. Is it not very possible that this may be the case with us? We forget the Lord Jesus to whom we are bound by such ties, because our business is so large, our family so numerous, our cares so pressing, our bills and bonds so urgent, and even because perhaps our gains are so large.

(3) I am half ashamed to have to say one thing more. I am afraid that the butler forgot Joseph out of pride; because he had grown such a great man, and Joseph was in prison. I do not suppose that this operates with many of you, but I have known it with some professed believers. When they were little in Israel, when they first professed to have found peace, oh how they acknowledged Jesus! But they got on in the world and prospered, and then they could not worship among those poor people who were good enough for them once--they now drive to a more fashionable place of worship, where the Lord Jesus is seldom heard of. They feel themselves bound to get into a higher class of society, as they call it, and the poor despised cause of Jesus is beneath them, forgetting, as they foolishly do, that the day will come when Christ’s cause shall be uppermost; when the world shall go down and the faithful followers of the Lord Jesus shall ‘be peers and princes even in this world, and reign with Him; He being King of kings and Lord of lords, and they sitting upon His throne and sharing in His royal dignity. I hope none of you have forgotten Christ because of that.

The second point is this--WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES BROUGHT THE FAULT TO THE BUTLER’S MIND? The same circumstances which surround us this morning

1. First, he met with a person in the same condition as that in which he once was. King Pharaoh had dreamed a dream, and wished for an interpretation. Joseph could interpret; and the butler remembered his fault. Brothers and sisters in Christ, there are those in the world who are in the same state of mind as you were once in. They once loved sin and hated God, and were strangers and aliens from the commonwealth of Israel; but in some of them there has been the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit, and they have dreamed a dream. They are awakened, although not yet enlightened. Salvation is a riddle to them at present, and they want the interpretation. Do you not remember how the gospel was blessed to you? Do you not desire to send it to others? If you cannot preach yourself, will you not help me in my life-work of training others to preach Jesus?

2. The next thing that recalled the butler’s thought was this: he saw that many means had been used to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, but they had all failed. We read that Pharaoh sent for his wise men, but they could not interpret his dream. You are in a like case. Do not you feel a want, if you cannot go and preach yourselves, to help others to do so?

3. Then, again, if the butler could have known it, he had other motives for remembering Joseph. It was through Joseph that the whole land of Egypt was blessed. Joseph comes out of prison, and interprets the dream which God had given to the head of the state, and that interpretation preserved all Egypt, yea, and all other nations during seven years of dearth. Only Joseph could do it. Oh, brethren, you know that it is only Jesus who is the balm of Gilead, for the wounds of this poor dying world. You know that there is nothing which can bless our land, and all other lands, like the Cross of Jesus Christ.

4. Once more, surely the butler would have remembered Joseph had he known to what an exaltation Joseph would be brought. Think of the splendour which yet wilt surround our Lord Jesus I He shall come, beloved, He shall come in the chariots of salvation. The day draweth nigh when all things shall be put under Him. Kings shall yield their crowns to His superior sway, and whole sheaves of sceptres, plucked from tyrants’ hands, shall be gathered beneath His arm. You by testifying of Him are promoting the extension of His kingdom, and doing the best that in you lies to gather together the scattered who are to be the jewels of His crown.

In the “last place, I have some few things to say by way of COMMENDATION OF THE BUTLER’S REMEMBRANCE. It is a pity he forgot Joseph, but it is a great blessing that he did not always forget him. It is a sad thing that you and I should have done so little; it is a mercy that there is time left for us to do more.

1. I like the butler’s remembrance, first of all, because it was very humbling to him.

2. I commend his remembrance for another thing, namely, that it was so personal. “I do remember my faults this day.” What capital memories we have for treasuring up other people’s faults, for once let us keep to ourselves. Let the confession begin with the minister. “I do remember my faults this day.”

3. The best part of it, perhaps, was the practical nature of the confession. The moment he remembered his fault, he redressed it as far as he could, Now, dear friends, if you recollect your fault to the Lord Jesus, may you have grace not to fall into it again! If you have not spoken for Him, speak to-day. If you have not given to His cause, give now I If you have not devoted yourselves as you ought to have done to the promotion of His kingdom, do it now. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Confession of sin difficult

Many years ago, a minister put up for the night with a man who was supposed to possess but little of what people call “common sense.” Just as he was about to retire for rest, the man said: “ Tell me, sir, what three words in the English language it is the most difficult to pronounce?” “I don’t know that I can,” was the reply. “Well,” said the man, “I’ll give you till to-morrow morning to answer me.” The minister thought no more of the question till it was proposed to him again in the morning, when he carelessly said he had not thought of it. “Then,” said the man, “I will tell you. They are--I am wrong.”

Verses 14-16

Genesis 41:14-16

Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph

Joseph summoned into Pharaoh’s presence


HIS LONG WAITING FOR NOTICE AND DELIVERANCE. The religious mind will see in this the wisdom of God.

1. In regard to the education of character.

2. In its adaptation to the circumstances of the individual.

3. In its elevation above all human infirmities.

THE MANIFEST HAND OF GOD IN IT. It was wisely ordered that Joseph should be under no obligation to Pharaoh for his deliverance. It is for his own sake that Pharaoh sends for Joseph. The chief butler was suffered to forget his friend, the prophet of his deliverance, and was forced to remember him only by circumstances. To neither of them was Joseph indebted. Thus it was God’s design that the chosen family should be under obligations to none. Their calling was to impart blessings to mankind, and not to receive.


1. His simplicity of character. He makes no long speech. He does not use the opportunity to glorify himself, or to plead for liberty and reward. His manner was dignified and respectful, yet marked by great openness and simplicity of character. Joseph is the same in the palace or in the prison.

2. His humility. He indulged in no spirit of boasting, though this compliment from the king would have tempted weaker men to be vain and proud (Genesis 41:15). Joseph never forgot his character as a witness for God.

3. His calmness. He was conscious of God’s presence and of his own integrity, so he could afford to be calm before the rulers of this world.

4. His kindly consideration for others. Pharaoh might have reason for the worst fears when he heard of the interpretation of the baker’s dream. Though a king he was not exempt from the common evils of human nature; nor from death--the chief calamity. But Joseph hastens to remove all fear of an unfavourable interpretation from his mind, by assuring him that the future had in it nothing but what would make for the peace of Pharaoh. (T. H.Leale.)

The turning-point in Joseph’s career

It is a very difficult thing to let patience have her perfect work. Who has not felt again and again the truth of the proverb, Hope deferred maketh the heart sick?

This sickness would, no doubt, again and again be felt by Joseph, when his patience was so long and so severely tried.

Look now at the means by which the deliverance of Joseph was brought about.

The perplexity of Pharaoh would only be increased by the inability of his wise men to resolve his doubts.

Look now at Joseph’s introduction to Pharaoh.

See now what Joseph did, after interpreting Pharaoh’s dream. He did not stop there. He suggested the practical use to be made of the Divine revelation which was now granted. (C. Overton.)

The prime minister


1. The elevation was unanimous. The imprisoned Hebrew had surprised king and statesmen with his high and noble qualities. By subtle methods God moved their hearts, and in a short hour Joseph was raised from prison to the highest pinnacle of power.

2. His main recommendation was spiritual Pharaoh recognized him at once as a man in whom dwelt the Spirit of God. The power of the Spirit is available for any emergency.

3. He was entrusted with supreme authority. Such was the high estimate of Joseph, created in all minds, that they felt he was worthy of the largest trust. They could trust him as they trusted the law of gravitation. A Christian will never abuse his power. Now, Joseph’s early dreams begin to be realized.


1. It was transparent with honesty. Looking down into the clear waters of an Italian lake at night, you may see every star of heaven faithfully reflected; so, looking into Joseph’s character, every grace and virtue of heaven seemed there to shine. His mind was the mirror of an honest purpose.

2. It was a character marked by energy. Indolence, so common among Orientals, found no place in him. Soon as duty was discovered, it was discharged.

3. He was as religious in prosperity as in adversity. This is solid worth; this is rare piety. That tree is well-rooted which, can bear the scorching heat of summer, as well as the cold blast of a winter’s storm; so that man’s soul is well-rooted in God who is as prayerful in a mansion as he was in a prison. When children were born in Joseph’s house the God of his fathers was not forgotten.


1. Joseph was a great economist. In His administration God is a great economist, and Joseph followed God. Our spiritual riches should supply the lack in others.

2. Joseph was a man of order. Nothing was left at haphazard. In an enterprise so vast order was essential to success.

3. Joseph’s policy turned disaster into blessings. In Potiphar’s house, and in the State prison, Joseph had been learning daily the kind of administration prevalent in Egypt. His vigorous mind detected its weak points. He saw how easily discontent and sedition might arise; he saw where corruption and misrule crept in. And now he found an opportunity for applying a remedy. As the Prime Minister for Pharaoh, he made the sceptre of the king everywhere more powerful. (J. Dickerson Davies, M. A.)

Great changes in life

There are great changes in life. Some of our lives amount to a succession of rapid changes; and it takes a man of some moral nerve and stamina to stand the violent alternations of fortune. Some men cannot bear promotion. It is dangerous to send little boats far out into the sea. Some men are clever, sharp, natty, precise, wonderfully well informed, newspaper fed and fattened, and yet, if you were to increase their wages just a pound a week, they would lose their heads. That is a most marvellous thing, and yet nobody ever thought he would lose his head with such an increase of fortune. But it is a simple fact, that some men could not bear to step out of a dungeon into a palace: it would kill them. What helps a man to bear these changes of fortune, whether they be down or up? God-He can give a man gracefulness of mien when he has to walk down, and God can give him enhanced princely dignity when he has to walk up; a right moral condition, a right state of heart, the power of putting a proper valuation upon prisons and palaces, gold and dross. Nothing but such moral rectitude can give a man security amidst all the changes of fortune or position in life. His information will not do it; his genius will not do it. Nothing will do it but a Divine state of heart. It is beautiful to talk to a man who has such a state of heart, when great changes and wonderful surprises come upon him--when Pharaohs send for him in haste. It is always a good and stimulating thing to talk to a great man, a great nature, a man that has some completeness about him. It must be always a very ticklish, delicate, and unpleasant thing to talk to snobs and shams and well-tailored mushrooms; but a noble thing to talk to a noble man, who knows what prison life is, who knows what hardness of life is, and that has some notion of how to behave himself even when the greatest personages require his attendance. Few men could have borne this change. None of us can bear the great changes of life with calmness, fortitude, dignity, except we be rightly established in things that are Divine and everlasting. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Verses 17-32

Genesis 41:17-32

Behold there come seven years of great plenty

Joseph as a prophet

In interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph shows himself a true prophet of the Lord.

He has all the marks of those who are called to reveal the Divine mind to man.

BOLDNESS. The true prophet has no fear of man. He speaks the word which God hath given him, regardless of consequences He is ready to reprove even kings--to utter truths, however unwelcome. It required some courage to enter upon the perilous task of announcing to this Egyptian despot famine of seven years. But Joseph had all the boldness of a man who felt that he was inspired by God.

DIRECTNESS. Joseph spoke out at once, without any hesitation. There was no shuffling to gain time; no muttering--no incantations, after the manner of heathen oracles and prophets. This simple and clear directness is the special characteristic of Holy Scriptures; and by which they are distinguished from the literature of the world, which upon the deepest and most concerning questions never reaches a stable conclusion.

POSITIVENESS. Joseph’s interpretation was throughout explicit and clear. There are no signs of doubt or misgiving. This Divine certainty is the common mark of all God’s prophets. (T. H. Leale.)

Verses 33-36

Genesis 41:33-36

Let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn

Joseph as the adviser of Pharaoh


HIS PRESENCE OF MIND. Equal to the situation.




Providence for the future

1. His wisdom and prudential sagacity in counsel. The interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams was from God. Joseph knew it to be so. He had, therefore, the most assured and unshaken confidence of the correspondence of the coming facts with the Divine pre-intimation; and in this confidence he tenders his advice to the king, in the prospect of what was before him, without hesitation. The word of the God of truth is always sure. The counsel of Joseph was obviously wise and excellent. Like many similar counsels, it commends itself, when suggested, to instant approbation, while yet to many minds it might not at once occur. How very difficult it is, both in public and in private life, to get men to judge and to act with single-eyed simplicity, according to the real merits of measures, when these measures happen not to be their own! If they chance to originate with political opponents--or, in more private life, with those who are not in the number of their friends--how difficult it is to get them treated with fairness! Another important practical lesson is suggested by the counsel of Joseph: the general lesson of providence for the future. This is a duty incumbent on all. It is virtuous prudence; the “prudence which forseeth the evil and hideth itself.” The remark has a special bearing on the labouring classes of the community. This laying up for the time of scarcity bore a close resemblance to the principle of friendly societies and provident or savings banks. There is such perpetual alteration and exchange of conditions, that no man can say with certainty to-day what his own circumstances, or those of any other person, may be to-morrow.

1. There may, surely, be providence, without over-anxiety.

2. But surely there may be providence, without covetousness.

3. The duty of providence, then, must not be an excuse for refusing the claims of benevolence.

There may be scriptural providence, without cold-hearted and close-handed selfishness. (R. Wardlaw, M. A.)

Providence and forethought

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth,” says our Lord, “where moth and rust do corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” But this rule is not intended to prohibit us from providing in the time of plenty for a time of scarcity, as far as it can be done without neglecting the necessary duties of charity and piety, according to our circumstances. The poor ought not to want what their present necessities demand; but a provident care, in public governors, to guard against the mischiefs of famine, is requisite, chiefly for the sake of the lower ranks in society. If the superfluous produce of the earth had been given to the poor in the years of plenty, they must have been starved in the time of famine. No liberality to the poor ever deserved greater praise than Joseph’s care to secure needful supplies both to the poor and rich. It was well ordered ‘by the providence of God, for the safety of the people, that the years of famine were preceded by the years of plenty. If the seven years of famine had come before the years of plenty, few men would have been left to enjoy them. But from the years of plenty a sufficiency could be reserved to maintain life with comfort in the years of famine. (G. Lawson, D. D.)


1. Seek from above wisdom and prudence for the discreet guidance of all your own affairs, and of those of others still more especially, when they are entrusted to your management. “The Lord giveth wisdom.”

2. Be thankful for the blessings of plenty and of freedom, in the measure in which providence has, in this favoured land, seen meet to bestow them.

3. The marvellous and lamentable difference between the manner in which mankind in general are affected by what relates to the life of the body and what relates to the life of the soul--to temporal and to eternal interests. Oh, how much in earnest about “the life that now is”--and about the means of its sustenance and prolongation, though it can last at the longest but for a few years, and, even in the midst of the abundance of all that is fitted to support it, may not last a few days. (R. Wardlaw, D. D,)

Storing harvests against famine years

Mr. Scarlett Campbell has contributed some information concerning the mastery of famine conditions in Bohemia in the years 1770-71, which may illustrate the plan which Joseph recommended to the King of Egypt. In those years the Bohemian harvests totally failed, and over a million human beings died of hunger. In order to prevent such a catastrophe in the future, a law was made, obliging every commune to keep a large store of corn, each landowner being obliged to contribute a certain quantity; in times of scarcity he could borrow corn from the public granary, but had to pay it back after the ensuing harvest. This system was kept in force till within a few years ago, but, owing to the introduction of roads and railways, it is no longer necessary. (Things not Generally Known.)

Verses 37-45

Genesis 41:37-45

Pharaoh said unto his servants: Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?


Pharaoh and Joseph

In examining this narrative we find a most remarkable parallel in the relations of Joseph and Pharaoh to the relations of Christ and the sinner.

Following this line of thought, then, we notice PHARAOH AS REPRESENTING THE MAN OF THE WORLD DISCOVERING HIS NEED. Not one is there but sees that his resources are sure to vanish at some future day and leave him poverty-stricken and famine-pinched. What were the millions of Vanderbilt as he lay in the agonies of an apoplectic stroke? The day is coming when the man of largest wealth, of greatest intellect, of supremest power, shall be like a great steamer adrift in mid-ocean with its shaft broken, rolling in the trough of the sea and signalling for help.


1. Joseph was a man in whom was the Spirit of God. Joseph was remarkably free from selfishness: he was not plotting for his own advancement. He was pure, controlled by the Spirit.

2. Joseph was a man who was discreet and wise.

3. Now, to trace our parallel, the qualities which distinguished Joseph are pre-eminently those which make Christ the one above all others to whom men turn for help. His character is beyond reproach. The Spirit of God is in him. He impresses the world with his purity, his unselfishness, his sinlessness, his inspiration. He is manifestly the messenger of God to men. He knows just what to do in the awful emergency in which we are placed. He inspires confidence in his wisdom as never has another.

Following the parallel, notice THE SUPREME AUTHORITY WHICH PHARAOH GAVE TO JOSEPH. Our relation to Christ is not one of abject dependence; it is not slavish; it is more like that of Pharaoh to Joseph: one of dignity, of co-operation. We yield to Christ because He has a right to be supreme; because He can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We do not lose our individuals. We do not yield the dignity of the individual choice. Sometimes children travel by express. They are labelled with a suitable tag; are cared for, fed, and sent along as merchandize would be; have no care, or responsibility, or duty. Not so do we pass on through life to heaven. There are those, indeed, who think that, having been once properly labelled by church membership, they have nothing further to do, but that the church or the clergy will assume all responsibility and guarantee them heaven. But such is not the gospel scheme. With our own clear understanding and deliberate decision, we step on board the gospel train and trust our Conductor. He knows best. He tells us what to do, and we intelligently and gladly do it.

Another parallel is found in THE EXALTATION OF JOSEPH. (A. P. Foster, D. D.)

Joseph, the wise ruler


1. Natural ability.

2. The ability to bear up under troubles.

3. Inspired wisdom.


1. It was characterized by a wise economy.

2. It was characterized by a wise method.

Frugality was to be enforced by lawful means. The amount received as taxes and purchased at a fair price, was not to be given away, but must be sold again. The nation must protect itself against the free expenditures of its citizens. The government, notwithstanding its despotism, was made the servant of the people. And Joseph and his officers, scattered over all the empire, outgeneraled all the ignorance of the realm. For this he was as truly inspired as ever was Isaiah. (D. O. Mears.)

Pharaoh accepts Joseph’s advice

In which he shows--


1. In acting upon the best advice he had.

2. In choosing a fit man for the crisis.

3. In removing all social disabilities from this foreigner. New name. Marriage with daughter of priest of Ori.

II. HIS PIETY. (T. H. Leale.)

Joseph’s exaltation


1. A true basis of merit (Genesis 41:38; see Numbers 27:18; Da Acts 6:5; Acts 11:24).

2. A natural fruit of godliness (Genesis 41:39; see John 14:26; Ac 1 John 2:20).

3. A grand field of usefulness (Genesis 41:40; see 2 Samuel 23:3; Psalms 105:21; Matthew 25:21; Acts 7:10).

1. “Can we find such a one as this?”

(1) High qualifications needed;

(2) High qualifications found.

2. “God hath showed thee all this.”

(1) A Divine Teacher;

(2) A Susceptible pupil;

(3) A blessed result.

3. “Only in the throne will I be greater than thou.”

(1) Extensive jurisdiction allotted.

(2) Supreme jurisdiction reserved.

(a) Joseph’s sway

(b) Pharaoh’s reservation


1. The royal ring (Genesis 41:42; see Esther 3:10; Esther 8:2; Luke 4:22).

2. The royal robe (Genesis 41:42; see 1 Chronicles 15:27; Esther 8:15; Ezekiel 16:10; Revelation 19:14.

3. The royal rule (verse 44).

1. “Ring, . . . vestures,. . . chain chariot.”

(1) Symbols of royalty;

(2) Symbols of honour;

(3) Symbols of authority.

2. “He set him over all the land of Egypt.”

(1) To rule it;

(2) To save it

(a) To gather in its plenty;

(b) To support it in its poverty.

3. “I am Pharaoh.”

(1) Sovereignty recognized;

(2) Sovereignty asserted;

3. Sovereignty delegated.


1. Planning the work (verse 45).

2. Gathering the food (verse 48).

3. Providing for emergency. (American Sunday School Times.)

From prison to palace

Joseph’s elevation is A CONCRETE INSTANCE OF THE GREAT DOCTRINE OF PROVIDENCE WHICH RUNS THROUGH THE WHOLE OLD TESTAMENT. We may almost take this history as a type of the ideal history of the good man as set forth there, and as a shadowy anticipation, therefore, at once of the fortunes of Israel as a nation, and of his course who is the realized ideal of the Old Testament righteous man, and of Israel. A late psalm (Psalms 105:1-45) gives the key-note when it says “Until the time that his word came: the word of the Lord tried him.” No man’s freedom is interfered with, and yet all is carried out according to the plan in the mind of the great Architect. Thus God builds in silence, using even sins and follies. “I girded thee, though thou hast not known Me.” Not less clearly do we learn the uses of adversity, and see the law working which leads men into the pit, that they may there learn lessons which shall serve them on the heights, and that their lives may be manifestly ordered by God. The steel out of which God forges His polished shafts has to be

“Heated hot with hopes and fears,

And plunged in baths of hissing tears,

And battered with the shocks of doom,”

before it is ready for His service. So, in the apparent remoteness and real presence of God’s guiding hand in the moulding of the separate deeds into a whole, in the leading of His servant through suffering to authority, and making the sorrow, like emery-paper, the occasion of bringing out a finer polish, this history embodies God’s law of dealing with men.

This history points the lesson THAT THE BEST WAY TO BE FIT FOR, AND SO TO GET INTO, A WIDER SPHERE, IS TO FILL A NARROWER AS WELL AS WE CAN. Joseph served his apprenticeship to governing a nation in governing Potiphar’s house and the prison. The capacities tested and strengthened on the lower level are promoted to the higher. With many exceptions, no doubt, where pretenders are taken to be adepts, and modest merit is overlooked, still, on the whole, this is the law by which position and influence are allotted. The tools do, on the average, come to the hand that can use them.

We may learn, too, THAT THE MEANING OF ELEVATION IS SERVICE. Foolish ambition looks up and covets the outside trappings; a true man thinks of duty, not of show, and finds that every crown is a crown of thorns, and that place and influence only mean heavy responsibility and endless work, mostly repaid with thanklessness.

This story teaches us, too, THE PLACE OF RELIGION IN COMMON LIFE. It is possible to keep up unbroken communion with God amid the roar of the busy street, as in the inmost corner of his secret place. The communion which expresses itself in the continual reference of all common actions to his will, and is fed by constant realizing of his help; and by lowly dependence on him for strength to do the prosaic tasks of business or statesmanship, is as real as that which gazes in absorbed contemplation on his beauty. True, the former will never be realized unless there is much of the latter. Joseph would not have been able to hold by God, when he was busy in the storehouses, if he had not held much intercourse with him in the blessed quiet of the prison. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Joseph’s promotion in Egypt





Joseph, the wise ruler



1. The trust now committed to Joseph was vast in its responsibility.

2. The manner in which he met the responsibility, and performed his official duty, proves him to have been as well qualified in mental ability as he was in moral character.

(1) He gave personal attention to his duty.

(2) He wisely prepared, during the years of plenty, for the years of want.

JOSEPH’S RECOGNITION OF GOD IN HIS HOME-LIFE. Seen in names of sons. Lessons:

1. If children of God, we should learn from Joseph’s promotion not to be discouraged under any circumstances.

2. The personal attention of Joseph to his onerous and important duty, and his wisdom in organising his work, contain very wholesome and timely lessons for the young men of to-day.

3. Joseph’s recognition of God in his home, in the very flush of abundant prosperity and honour, not only reveals the beautiful symmetry of his character, but proves that neither positions of honour, nor the accumulation of wealth, need dim the light of piety or interrupt our relations with God. (D. G. Hughes, M. A.)

Pharaoh’s prime minister



1. He informs Pharaoh that the dreams were

(1) A warning;

(2) A benevolent warning.

2. He advises the king

(1)to choose a discreet man to undertake the special management of the measures which must be taken in view of the threatened period of “scarcity”;

(2) To make provision for one-fifth part o the land to be “taken up” (i.e., handed over to the king for “governmental” use);

(3) To store up the produce of the plentiful years that it might be in readiness for the coming time of dearth.


1. Patience of hope.

2. Assurance of hope. We may always--we should always--look forward confidently to the fulfilment of God’s promises which “ exceed all that we can desire.” (W. S. Smith, B. D.)

Joseph’s exaltation

THE FORGOTTEN PRISONER. Forgotten by man, but remembered by God. While the butler was forgetting, God was thinking about Joseph, and so ordering events that even the forgetful butler should be presently of use.

THE TROUBLED MONARCH. Even king’s have their troubles. It is often true that uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Joseph in prison, and Daniel in the lion’s den, more to be envied than Pharaoh and Dairus. Pharaoh’s visions. Both different in machinery, but evidently the same in meaning. The great magicians, &c., summoned. Their wisdom is perfect folly. They knew not the mind of God. Could not explain visions that came from a Deity they did not serve.

THE EXALTED CAPTIVE. Joseph’s advice sounds wise and prudent in the ears of Pharaoh. Learn:

1. To remember those who have benefited us.

2. Jesus the great deliverer of the prisoner.

3. Let us prepare to enter the presence of the great King.

4. There is a palace in heaven for all who love, serve, and trust

God. (J. C. Gray.)

Governor of Egypt

The position given to Joseph in the Egyptian Empire was one seldom attained by foreigners, however distinguished. Still, an old papyrus relating to the story of Saneha tells of a similar exception. Joseph, as first officer under the king, was “Tare,” chief of the entire administration. It is probable that he bore the title so often found on the Egyptian monuments, where the rank claimed by this dignitary is “the leader of the Lords of South and North; the second after the king in the vestibule of the palace.” The position of tare was usually bestowed on a chief priest, hereditary prince, or even on one of the sons of the reigning monarch, and was eagerly sought after as long as it existed. The duties and powers of the office varied during different dynasties. In the so-called Old Empire (beginning about 2800 B.C.), as well as the Middle Empire (beginning about 2100 B.C.), and during the New Empire (beginning about 1530 B.C.), the tare-or governor, as we may call him--was also at the head of the department of justice, holding the office of supreme judge. Imitating their sublime pattern, Thor, the god of wisdom, who was believed to be the governor under the sun-god Ra, as they were under the Pharaoh, these earthly lords ruled “with wisdom and mild heart.” “They gave laws, promoted subordinates, set up boundary stones, and settled the disputes of their officers They made all people walk in their light, satisfied the whole land, proved themselves men of probity in both countries, and witnesses as true as the god Thor.” Indeed, the respect felt for these governors and supreme judges of the Pharaoh’s was so great that the blessing, “life, health, and happiness,” usually uttered by the Egyptians in connection with the royal and princely names, was often added to the name of the governor. No one was allowed to address the governor directly, but was permitted to speak or to lay a letter before him. During the middle Empire, the unity of the state was weakened, and a number of smaller states were organized under the control of independent monarchs. “The governor under the god Horus” took this opportunity to extend his authority, and frequently held what formally had but occasionally been allowed, the office of lord-high treasurer, and sometimes in addition, what became the rule under the New Empire, the office of commander of the royal chief town. As treasurer, the governor was often described on the monuments as “principal of the silver magazine,” or “chief of the corn-houses”--titles which describe two most important positions From what we can learn from the record in Genesis, we may believe that Joseph united in himself the three offices of governor, supreme judge, and the lord-high treasurer. Soon after his investiture, Joseph rode publicly in the second royal chariot (Genesis 41:43), that the people might see him and show their respect. He doubtless wore all the insignia of his high position: rich garments, the golden chain, ring, and sceptre, and ostrich feather, so frequently represented on the monuments. How such a pageant appeared as that in which he was now the central figure, is well illustrated by an old Egyptian picture in the tomb of Mry-Ra at Tell el Amarna. This picture represents King Chueneten paying a visit to his god Ra. His majesty reclines in an elegant chariot drawn by richly comparisoned horses. Two heralds run before him swinging wands, to make a way through the curious crowds which press on to see the monarch. To the right and left, servants can be seen, scarcely able to keep up with the fiery stallions. The royal personage himself is attended on each side by his body-guard, with their standards, behind whom, in carriages, ride high officials, in richly coloured dresses. Directly behind the king’s chariot rides the queen, and after her the little princesses, two together in one chariot. The elder governs the horses, which are decked with beautiful tufts of feathers, while the younger clings lovingly to her sister. Six court chariots filled with ladies, and as many more on each side occupied by chamberlains, close the procession. On the right and left of the entire party, servants swing their staffs. (Prof. Hilprecht.)

The secret of Joseph’s elevation

The way of preferment is never permanently closed against any man. If one does not--as the phrase is--get on in life, it is not his circumstances but himself that is to blame. Occasionally, indeed, there may come reverses of fortune for which he cannot be held responsible, but the man who is always out at elbows and unfortunate must have something amiss in himself. Either he has not fitted himself to take advantage of his opportunities, or there is a leak somewhere in his character, through which his energies and abilities are drained off into useless or expensive directions. In the England of to-day, and especially in these United States, no man needs be for ever a hewer of wood era drawer of water; and though sudden elevations like this of Joseph are not common in these days, yet there are men continually appearing among us who have come up from obscurity as great of Joseph’s to a position just as exalted as that which he ultimately reached. Both of our martyr-presidents may be referred to as cases in point. Let young men, therefore, be encouraged. Do not sink into despair; do not imagine that the world is in league against you; but “ learn to labour and to wait.” Two things especially you ought to bear in mind: first, that the true way to rise to a higher position is to fill well the lower which you already occupy. To borrow here from Thomas Binney: “Remember that to do as well as ever you can what happens to be the only thing within your power to do, is the best and surest preparation for higher service. Should things go against you, never give way to debilitating depression, but be hopeful, brave, courageous, careful not to waste in vain and unavailing regret the power you will need for endurance and endeavour. Learn well your business, whatever it be; make the best of every opportunity for acquiring any sort of knowledge that may enlarge your acquaintance with the business in general, and enable you to take advantage of any offer or opening that may come.” Then, again, take note that piety is no hindrance to the right sort of success. Joseph did not hide his allegiance to God or his faith in God, and these even commended him to Pharaoh. So there are many heads of great establishments or corporations in the world who, though they care nothing for religion themselves, would prefer that their trusted servants should be godly men. Sometimes, no doubt, inflexible adherence to the right and the true may cost a man his place, even as here resistance to temptation sent Joseph for awhile to prison; but in the end I do not think that any man ever lost by his religion, provided his religion was the real thing, and not a make-believe. It may lengthen the road a little; it may add to the difficulties of the journey; it may take him through some very dark passages, but it will lead him generally at last to honour and influence; for “godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” But there is a success higher and better than that of outward position and wealth, and even when riches are not gained that is always attainable. You cannot all become millionaires, or merchant princes, or political leaders, or governors of states, or presidents of the Republic--that is an impossibility; but you can all be good and noble men, if you will. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Joseph’s qualification for ruling

Joseph was inspired in the highest and truest sense. Not only was he spiritually gifted to rule the nation, but he had also that higher gift which enabled him to refer the lower gift to God. Now there are three things required to fit a man to rule: intellectual power, a sense of dependence upon God, and unselfishness. All these were combined in Joseph; we are told that there “ was none so discreet and wise as he.” In the interpretation that he gave to Pharaoh’s dreams we see how he referred all to God; his unselfishness we see in his forgiveness of his brethren. Without these qualities there can be no real rule; for it is these which make up saintliness, and saintliness alone fits a man to rule perfectly. But saintliness in the sense we use it must take in intellectual power. For mere spiritual goodness alone does not make a good ruler. Eli was a good man, he had the two latter qualities which go to make up a ruler; but he was wanting in the first, he was a weak man, and this it was which caused such troubles to his country. But it is a mistake still greater to suppose that intellectual power alone qualifies for rule. There must also be moral goodness and unselfishness. These are the qualities which clarify the intellect and purify the character. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

High endowments qualify for respect

Does any man appear plainly to have the Spirit of Cod enlightening his mind and sanctifying his heart? He is entitled to our warm regard as a member of that body of which Christ is the Head. Is a man furnished by the Spirit of God with endowments that eminently qualify him for service to his fellow-men, whether in the Church or State? He is entitled to a degree of respect proportioned to the gifts which he hath received. Office-bearers in the Church are to be chosen out of those whom the Spirit of God hath qualified for public usefulness. No man is called to fill any office in the house of God for which he is not fitted by the Divine Spirit. And none are fit to serve their generation by public offices in the state, unless the Spirit of God has adorned them with endowments suited to the stations which they are called to occupy. Although Cyrus was a heathen, he received from the Spirit of God those extraordinary qualifications by which he was enabled to accomplish the subversion of Babylon, that he might let go God’s captives and build His temple. That great prince was the Lord’s anointed at a time when he did not know the Lord (Isaiah 45:1; Isaiah 45:5). “Can we find such a man as this, aman in whom the Spirit of God is?” What had Joseph that he had not received? There was none like him in the land, because the Spirit of God had communicated to him an uncommon measure of wisdom. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Ability discovered

In 1831 there was a musical society in Milan which was preparing to bring out Haydn’s “Creation,” when all of a sudden the maestro in charge took fright at the difficulty of his task, and laid down his baton. One Massini, a singing teacher, who was to direct the choral part, said to the committee, “I know but one man here who can help us out of our plight.” “Who is he?” said Count Borromeo, the president. “His name is Verdi, and he reads the most puzzling scores at sight,” was Massini’s answer. “Well,” said the count, “send for him.” Massini obeyed, and Verdi soon made his appearance. He was handed the score of “The Creation,” and he undertook to direct the performance. Rehearsals commenced, and the final rendering of the oratorio was set down as most creditable to all concerned. From that time Verdi’s reputation was assured. (One Thousand New lllustrations.)

Leaders of men

The greatest part of men live by faith in powerful men. A small number of individuals lead the human race. (Vinet.)

Egyptian-fine linen

It is generally supposed that the “ fine linen” of Scripture must have been very coarse in comparison with that now produced from our looms. There is, however, no sufficient ground for such a supposition. Sir Gardener Wilkinson says: “The fine texture of the Egyptian linen is fully proved by its transparency, as represented in the paintings (where the lines of the body are often seen through the drapery), and by the statements of ancient writers, sacred as well as profane; and by the wonderful texture of a piece found near Memphis, part of which is in my possession. In general quality it is equal to the finest now made; and, for the evenness of the threads, without knot or break, it is far superior to any modern manufacture. It has in the inch 540 threads, or 270 double threads in the warp, and 110 in the woof. Pliny mentions four kinds of linen particularly noted in Egypt--the Tanitic, the Pelusiac, the Butiric, and the Tentyritic; and the same fineness of texture was extended to the nets of Egypt, which were so delicate that they could pass through a man’s ring, and a single person could carry a sufficient number of them to surround a whole wood. (Things Not Generally Known.)

Verse 45

Genesis 41:45

Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnath-paaneah

Joseph’s new name

Besides other marks of honour, Joseph received a new name from the king--analogous to those which Daniel and his friends received, in a later age, from Nebuchadnezzar, and having some special appropriateness to the work which be was to perform.

Different explanations have been given of its meaning. Some, like those who drew up the marginal readings of our Bible, understand by it “a revealer of secrets,” but others, viewing the term as really an Egyptian word in Hebrew letters, have put it back again into its Egyptian form, getting, according to Brugsch, the meaning, “the governor of the abode of him who lives”; or, according to Canon Cooke, whose dissertation in the “Speaker’s Commentary” on the Egyptian words in the Pentateuch is of very great value, “the food of life,” or “the food of the living.” I am, of course, incompetent to judge between these scholars, but I wish you to note, as a mark of the age of this history, that we have here imbedded in the Hebrew text Egyptian words in Hebrew letters, to which, in this ]ate day, our Egyptologists, who have learned the language from the inscriptions on the monuments, are able to give very definite and intelligible translations--a fact which scarcely comports with the notion now so popular with some, that this book is only a production of a very late date, composed, perhaps, eight hundred years after the events. But similar conformation of the age of this record may be found in the description of Joseph’s investiture with office as compared with the representation of such ceremonies found upon the monuments. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Joseph’s adoption of Egyptian manners

A question may arise in reference to the complete adoption by Joseph of Egyptian manners. His name is changed. According to the high authority of Brugsch, his new name means “governor of the district of the dwelling-place of the living one,” and thus includes as one of its elements the name of an Egyptian god, Ankh, worshipped at Pithom. Other Egyptian scholars, however, render it “storehouse of the house of life.” But, in any case, the Egyptian name implies a complete identification with Egypt. His marriage to the daughter of a priest may not have involved adoption into the sacerdotal caste, nor participation in idolatrous worship, but is another mark, at least, of naturalization. It is difficult to recognize a son of Abraham in Pharaoh’s minister; and his action sounds unpleasantly like that of the unworthy Englishmen whom one hears of in the Turkish service, with “pasha” at their names. But we may easily exaggerate the extent of Joseph’s assimilation, and overrate the sharpness of the separation between that generation of the sons of the promise and the rest of the world. The Pharaoh with whom Joseph had to do was not a full-blooded Egyptian; and his predecessors, at all events, were not orthodox worshippers, according to Egyptian standards. He appears in Genesis 41:38 as recognizing one God; and we know that, in the opinion of competent authorities, the religion of Egypt had a monotheistic basis beneath all “ the wood, hay, stubble” of legend and animal worship. Possibly we may see in this Hyksos king another instance, like those of Abimeleeh of Gerar and Melchizedek of Salem, which widens our conceptions of the extent of the early faith in one supreme God, and surprises with twinkling light where we had thought darkness reigned; but, whether this be so or no, Joseph did not give up his religion because he became an Egyptian in name, and married an Egyptian wife. The old faith in the Divine promise to his fathers lived on in his heart, and flamed out at last when he “gave commandment concerning his bones.” So he teaches us the lesson of willing co-operation, so far as may be, in the charities and duties of life, with those who do not share our faith, and shows us that the firmer our hold of the truth and promise of God, the more safe and obligatory is it to become “ all things to all men,” that we may by all means help and “save some.” No doubt that principle is often abused, and made an excuse for unhallowed mingling with the world; but it is a true principle for all that; and as long as Christian people seek to assimilate themselves to others, and to establish friendly relations for unselfish ends, and not from cowardice or a sneaking wish to be of the world, after all no harm will come of it. “Ye are the salt of the earth.” Salt must be rubbed into the substance which it is to preserve from putrefaction. So Christian men are to go among those whom they would save; and remember that a greater than Joseph was called “a Friend of publicans and sinners.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Verses 46-52

Genesis 41:46-52

And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt

Joseph advanced to power


THE RIPENESS OF HIS AGE AND EXPERIENCE. Providence, which prepares events, also prepares men for them.

THE PRACTICAL CHARACTER OF HIS MIND. Not puffed up by pride. At once betakes himself to business.


1. He desires to forget all that is evil in the past.

2. He is thankful for present mercies. (T. H. Leale.)


1. “Joseph went out over the land of Egypt.”

(1) The man;

(2) The land;

(3) The outgoing. Went out--

(a) To survey the field;

(b) To organize the work;

(c) To initiate his gatherings.

2. The earth brought forth by handfuls.”

(1) To fulfil Joseph’s interpretation;

(2) To fill Joseph’s granaries;

(3) To feed Joseph’s dependants.

(4) To honour Joseph’s God.

3. “Laid up the food in the cities.”

(1) Food abundant;

(2)Food gathered;

(3)Food garnered;

(4)Food convenient. (American Sunday School Times.)

Joseph’s stewardship in Egypt


1. In his superintending the work personally.

2. In his sparing no trouble in the execution of the work.

3. In the regard he paid to justice.


1. Inasmuch as he commenced it without delay.

2. Inasmuch as he persevered to the end.

3. Inasmuch as his arrangements answered the best purpose.


1. It conferred incalculable benefits on his fellow-creatures.

2. He gained the approbation of the king. (J. Jones.)

The in-gathering

What a busy scene must the valley of the Nile have presented at the time of harvest! Multitudes would be engaged, in the very first year of plenty, under Joseph’s direction, in gathering in the abundant crops, and in storing such of the produce of the country as was not required for immediate consumption. The process of cutting the corn, and depositing it in granaries, is exhibited on the monuments. “Wheat,” says Wilkinson, “was cut in five, barley in four months. The wheat, as at the present day, was bearded, and the same varieties, doubtless, existed in ancient as in modern times; among which may be mentioned the seven-eared quality mentioned in Pharaoh’s dream. It was cropped a little below the ear with a toothed sickle, and carried to the threshing floor in wicker baskets upon asses, or in rope nets, the gleaners following to collect the fallen ears in hand baskets.” It was threshed out by oxen, the peasants who superintended them relieving their toil by singing songs, one of which Champollion found in a tomb at Eilethya, written in hieroglyphics, to the following effect:

“Thresh for yourselves,

Thresh for yourselves;
O oxen, thresh for yourselves,
O oxen, thresh for yourselves;
Measure for yourselves,

Measure for your masters.”

The granaries are likewise frequently represented on the monuments. They appear to have been public buildings, usually of vast extent, and divided into vaults, some of which had arched roofs. Immediately at the entrance was a room in which the corn was deposited when brought from the threshing floor, h flight of Steps led to the vault, whither it was carried, in baskets, on men’s shoulders. (Thornley Smith.)

Verses 51-52

Genesis 41:51-52

Manasseh: for God, said he, hath made me forget

Memorial names



1. A blessed oblivion.

2. A rich fruitfulness (Genesis 41:52).


The names of Joseph’s children

His attitude towards God and his own family was disclosed in the names which he gave to his children. In giving names which had a meaning at all, and not merely a taking sound, he showed that he understood, as well he might, that every human life has a significance and expresses some principle or fact. And in giving names which recorded his acknowledgment of God’s goodness, he showed that prosperity had as little influence as adversity to move him from His allegiance to the God of his fathers. His first son he called Manasseh, “Making to forget,” “for God,” said he, “hath made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house”--not as if he were now so abundantly satisfied in Egypt that the thought of his father’s house was blotted from his mind, but only that in this child the keen longings he had felt for kindred and home were somewhat alleviated. He again found an object for his strong family affection. The void in his heart he had so long felt was filled by the little babe. A new home was begun around him. But this new affection would not weaken, though it would alter the character of his love for his father and brethren. The birth of this child would really be a new tie to the land from which he had been stolen. For, however ready men are to spend their own life in foreign service, you see them wishing that their children should spend their days among the scenes with which their own childhood was familiar. In the naming of his second son Ephraim he recognizes that God hag made him fruitful in the most unlikely way. He does not leave it to us to interpret his life, but records what he himself saw in it. It has been said: “To get at the truth of any history is good; but a man’s own history--when he reads that truly,. . . and knows what he is about and has beenabout, it is a Bible to him.” And now that Joseph, from the height he had reached, could look back on the way by which he had been led to it, he cordially approved of all that God had done. There was no resentment, no murmuring. He would often find himself looking back and thinking, Had I found my brothers where I thought they were, had the pit not been on the caravan-road, had the merchants not come up so opportunely, had I not been sold at all or to some other master, had I not been imprisoned, or had I been put in another ward--had any one of the many slender links in the chain of my career been absent, how different might my present state have been. How plainly I now see that all those sad mishaps that crushed my hopes and tortured my spirit were steps in the only conceivable path to my present position. Many a man has added his signature to this acknowledgment of Joseph’s, and confessed a Providence guiding his life and working out good for him through injuries and sorrows, as well as through honours, marriages, births. As in the heat of summer it is difficult to recall the sensation of winter’s bitter cold, so the fruitless and barren periods of a man’s life are sometimes quite obliterated from his memory. God has it in His power to raise a man higher above the level of ordinary happiness than ever he has sunk below it; and as winter and springtime, when the seed is sown, are stormy and bleak and gusty, so in human life seed-time is not bright as summer nor cheerful as autumn; and yet it is then, when all the earth lies bare and will yield us nothing, that the precious seed is sown; and when we confidently commit our labour or patience of to-day to God, the land of our affliction, now bare and desolate, will certainly wave for us, as it has waved for others, with rich produce whitened to the harvest. There is no doubt, then, that Joseph had learned to recognize the providence of God as a most important factor in his life. And the man who does so gains for his character all the strength and resolution that come with a capacity for waiting. He saw most legibly written oh his own life that God is never in a hurry. And for the resolute adherence to his seven years’ policy such a belief was most necessary. (M. Dods, D. D.)

Joseph’s recognition of God in all things

We too commonly look no farther than the instruments employed by Providence in conferring upon us the benefits which we enjoy, or in inflicting the evils we suffer. But Joseph saw that all his adversities and all his prosperity came from God. He was grateful to Pharaoh, but he was grateful chiefly to God, for the happy change in his condition. “God hath made me to forget all my toil, and all my father’s house.” It was God that brought him into Egypt. It was by Divine permission that he was for many years confined within the walls of a prison. It was God that brought him out of it, and advanced him to the dignity and power which he now possessed. All things are of God. If we do not refer the happy changes in our condition to His good providence, we lose the benefit and pleasure of them, and cannot be sensible to the duties which our Benefactor requires to testify our gratitude. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Misery banished

Joseph called his first-born son Manasseh, because God had made him to forget all his toil. He did not mean that the remembrance of his toil was obliterated from his mind. His mention of it when he gave a name to his son was a proof that in one sense he still remembered it. It was his duty to remember it. How could he have retained just impressions of the Divine goodness if he had forgotten the evils from which he was delivered I If we must forget none of God’s benefits, we must forget none of those evils from which we have been relieved by His gracious providence. But Joseph, in another sense, forgot his misery. He remembered it as waters that pass away, and leave no trace behind. There is a bitter remembrance of our affliction and misery, and of the wormwood and the gall of our affliction. This is banished by Divine providence when it saves us from all distresses; but it gives place to pleasant remembrance of them, in a contrast to that happiness by which they are succeeded. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Joseph’s faithfulness

He had formerly been like the heath in the desert, but now he was like a tree planted by the rivers of water, which brings forth abundance of fruit, and whose leaf does not wither. This happy change he ascribes to the Divine goodness. When changes and war are against us, we must be dumb, not opening our mouth, for it is God that does it. When changes are in our favour, our mouths ought to be opened to the praises of Him who turns the shadow of death into the morning, and makes the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose. Joseph was fruitful in comfort, in good works, in children. He had, indeed, at this time only two children, but might expect that a troop was coming; and although that hope was uncertain, he was thankful for what God had already given him. Perhaps it was by a Divine suggestion that the name Ephraim was given to Joseph’s second son, rather than his first. Joseph, as far as we know, had no more children of his own body: but he was fruitful in his remote progeny, especially by Ephraim. “Joseph was a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well, whose branches run over the wall.” Manasseh was great, but truly Ephraim was greater than he; for the horns of Joseph were like the horns of an unicorn, and they were the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they were the thousands of Manasseh. Where was it that Joseph became fruitful? Not in the land of his nativity, but in the land of his affliction. And all his afflictions wrought together under the all-wise providence of God to bring about his exaltation. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Significance of the names Joseph gave his children

Two sons were born to Joseph during the seven years of plenty. Manasseh: God made him forget his toil and his father’s house. Neither absolutely. He remembered his toils in the very utterance of this sentence. And he tenderly and intensely remembered his father’s house. But he is grateful to God, who builds him a home, with all its soothing joys, even in the land of his exile. His heart again responds to long untasted joys. “Fruitful in the land of my affliction.” It is still, we perceive, the land of his affliction. By why does no message go from Joseph to his mourning father? For many reasons. First, he does not know the state of things at home. Secondly, he may not wish to open up the dark and bloody treachery of his brothers to his aged parent. But, thirdly, he bears in mind those early dreams of his childhood. All his subsequent experience has confirmed him in the belief that they will one day be fulfilled. But that fulfilment implies the submission, not only of his brothers, but of his father. This is too delicate a matter for him to interfere in. He will leave it entirely to the all-wise providence of his God to bring about that strange issue. Joseph, therefore, is true to his life-long character. He leaves all in the hand of God, and awaits in anxious, but silent hope the days when he will see his father and his brethren. (Prof. J. G. Murphy.)

Use of troubles

"When in Amsterdam, Holland, last summer,” says a traveller, “I was much interested in a visit we made to a place then famous for polishing diamonds. We saw the men engaged in the work. When a diamond is found it is rough and dark like a common pebble. It takes a long time to polish it, and it is very hard work. It is held by means of a piece of metal close to the surface of a large wheel, which is kept going round. Fine diamond dust is put on this wheel, nothing else being hard enough to polish the diamond. And this work is kept on for months and sometimes several years before it is finished. And if a diamond is intended for a king, then the greater time and trouble are spent upon it.” Jesus calls His people His jewels. To fit them for beautifying His crown, they must be polished like diamonds, and He makes use of the troubles He sends to polish His jewels. (Old Testament Anecdotes.)

Verses 53-57

Genesis 41:53-57

Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians

The seven years of famine



1. It showed great prudence and skill.

2. It showed a spirit of dependence upon God.

3. It was the exhibition of a character worthy of the highest confidence.


1. How quickly adversity awaits upon prosperity.

2. What an advantage to have a true and powerful friend in the day of calamity.

3. God often brings about His purposes of love and mercy by affliction. (T. H. Leale.)

Joseph opening the storehouses


1. The king was only to be approached through Joseph (Genesis 41:55). So with Jesus (John 14:6).

2. The king commanded that Joseph should be obeyed (Genesis 41:55; see John 5:23).

3. In all the land no other could open a storehouse save Joseph (see John 3:35).


1. He planned the storehouses, and was justly appointed to control them (Genesis 41:33-36; Genesis 41:38).

2. He carried out the storage, and so proved himself practical as well as inventive (Genesis 41:49).

3. He did it on a noble scale (Genesis 41:49).

4. He had wisdom to distribute well (see Colossians 1:9; John 1:16).


1. For this purpose he filled them. Grace is meant to be used.

2. To have kept them closed would have been no gain to him.

3. He opened them at a fit time (Genesis 41:55-56).

4. He kept them open while the famine lasted.

JOSEPH OPENED THE STOREHOUSE TO ALL COMERS. Yet Joseph did but sell, while Jesus gives without money.

JOSEPH ACQUIRED POSSESSION OF ALL EGYPT FOR THE KING. Full submission and consecration are the grand result of infinite love. (C. H.Spurgeon.)


1. Providence puts an end to plenty at His will, however sensual men think not of it.

2. The fruitfulest land becometh barren if God speak the word; even Egypt.

3. Periods of full conditions are observable by men; God’s Spirit notes them (Genesis 41:54).

4. In the design of Providence, wants succeed plenty at the heels.

5. Entrance of dearth, though grievous, yet may make but small impression on souls.

6. Not a word of God falleth to the ground, but as He saith, so it is.

7. Providence orders lands for scarcity as well as plenty.

8. God can give bread to Egypt when He denieth it to other nations for His own ends (Genesis 41:54). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. Providence orders some countries to depend on others for their sustenance.

2. Wants make nations stoop and seek about for the support of life.

3. Grace can make poor captives become preservers of nations.

4. Sore plagues may be made to make men inquire after and prize abused mercies.

5. General judgments are sent to manifest God’s special ends of grace to His (Genesis 41:57). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Egypt’s indebtedness to Joseph

Egypt’s indebtedness to Joseph was, in fact, twofold. In the first place he succeeded in doing what many strong governments have failed to do: he enabled a large population to survive a long and severe famine. Even with all modern facilities for transport and for making the abundance of remote countries available for times of scarcity, it has not always been found possible to save our own fellow-subjects from starvation. In a prolonged famine which occurred in Egypt during the middle ages, the inhabitants, reduced to the unnatural habits which are the most painful feature of such times, not only ate their own dead, but kidnapped the living on the streets of Cairo and consumed them in secret. One of the most touching memorials of the famine with which Joseph had to deal is found in a sepulchral inscription in Arabia. A flood of rain laid bare a tomb in which lay a woman having on her person a profusion of jewels which represented a very large value. At her head stood a coffer filled with treasure, and a tablet with this inscription: “In Thy name, O God, the God of Himyar, I, Tayar, the daughter of Dzu Shefar, sent my steward to Joseph, and he delaying to return to me, I sent my handmaid with a measure of silver to bring me back a measure of flour; and not being able to procure it, I sent her with a measure of gold; and not being able to procure it, I sent her with a measure of pearls; and not being able to procure it, I commanded them to be ground; and finding no profit in them, I am shut up here.” If this inscription is genuine--and there seems no reason to call it in question--it shows that there is no exaggeration in the statement of our narrator that the famine was very grievous in other lands as well as Egypt. And, whether genuine or not, one cannot but admire the grim humour of the starving woman getting herself buried in the jewels which had suddenly dropped to less than the value of a loaf of bread. But besides being indebted to Joseph for their preservation, the Egyptians owed to him an extension of their influence; for, as all the lands round about became dependent on Egypt for provision, they must have contracted a respect for the Egyptian administration. They must also have added greatly to Egypt’s wealth, and during those years of constant traffic many commercial connections must have been formed which in future years would be of untold value to Egypt. But, above all, the permanent alterations made by Joseph on their tenure of land, and on their places of abode, may have convinced the most sagacious of the Egyptians that it was well for them that their money had failed, and that they had been compelled to yield themselves unconditionally into the hands of this remarkable ruler. It is the mark of a competent statesman that he makes temporary distress the occasion for permanent benefit; and from the confidence Joseph won with the people, there seems every reason to believe that the permanent alterations he introduced were considered as beneficial as certainly they were bold. And for our own spiritual uses it is this point which seems chiefly important. In Joseph is illustrated the principle that, in order to the attainment of certain blessings, unconditional submission to God’s delegate is required. (M. Doris, D. D.)

Christ’s storehouse

William Bridge says: There is enough in Jesus Christ to serve us all. If two, or six, or twenty men be athirst, and they go to drink out of a bottle, while one is drinking, the other envies, because he thinks there will not be enough for him too; but if a hundred be athirst, and go to the river, while one is drinking, the other envies not, because there is enough to serve them all.”

Riches in Christ

Dr. Conyers was for some years a preacher before he had felt the power of the gospel. As he was reading his Greek Testament he came to Ephesians 3:8 : “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” “Riches of Christ!” said he to himself;” ‘Unsearchable riches of Christ!’ What have I preached of these? What do I know of these?” Under the blessing of the Spirit of God he was thus awakened to a new life and a new ministry. Are there not some yet living who might put to their own consciences similar questions? (C. H.Spurgeon.)

Spiritual blessings by Christ

All the spiritual blessings wherewith the Church is enriched are in and by Christ. The apostle instances some of the choicest (Ephesians 1:3). Our election is by Him (Genesis 41:4). Our adoption is by Him (Genesis 41:5). Our redemption and remission of sins are both through Him. All the gracious transactions between God and His people are through Christ. God loves us through Christ; He hears our prayers through Christ; He forgives us all our sins through Christ. Through Christ He justifies us; through Christ He sanctifies us; through Christ Pie upholds us; through Christ He perfects us. All His relations to us are through Christ; all we have is from Christ; all we expect to have hangs upon Him. He is the golden hinge upon which all our salvation turns. (Ralph Robinson.)

Christ the only source of supply

If any of the people of Egypt had refused to go to Joseph, they would have despised not Joseph only, but the king, and would have deserved to be denied that sustenance which he only could give them. Are not the despisers of our great Redeemer in like manner despisers of His Father, who has set Him as His King upon the holy hill of Zion?. . . If Joseph had thrown open his storehouses before the Egyptians felt the pressure of hunger, they might soon have wasted the fruits of his prudent care . . . Hunger, though very unpleasant, is often more useful than fulness of bread. They were very willing to give the price demanded for their food as long as their money lasted. What is the reason why so many are unwilling to come and receive wine and milk without money and without price? They feel no appetite for it. They are not sensible of their need of it. (George Lawson, D. D.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 41". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/genesis-41.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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