Well thank you for once again joining me in this verse-by-verse Bible study as we continue in our study of the book of Genesis, I’m Randy Duncan, and this episode we will be covering chapter 41, which at 57 verses, is the second longest chapter in Genesis.
Now as a quick recap, in the last episode, we discussed Joseph interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker. We saw that both interpretations predicted exactly what actually came to pass, with the cupbearer being restored to Pharaoh’s service, while the baker was executed. And we also discussed that once he was released from prison, the cupbearer completely forgot about Joseph, leaving him behind to continue languishing in prison. And so, we pick up the action here in chapter 41, beginning with verses 1-8 which read…
1 After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, 2 and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows, attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. 3 And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. 4 And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows. And Pharaoh awoke. 5 And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. 6 And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. 7 And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump, full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. 8 So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh.
So, this whole scene takes place a full two years after Joseph interpreted the dreams of the cupbearer and baker. So even though the only thing Joseph asked of the cupbearer was to remember him when he was released, it has now been two years that the cupbearer has forgotten him, leaving him in prison. Two more full years of affliction and wrongful imprisonment
But Pharaoh’s dreams take place as he is standing by the Nile River. Now this is an important detail, because the Nile River was the source of Egypt’s entire economy and sustenance. It was the source of Egypt’s power and fertility and life, and also, by extension, Pharaoh’s. And so, I will come back to this here if a few verses
But in short, Pharaoh’s dream sees seven ugly and thin cows come up out of the Nile River and devour the seven attractive and plump cows. His second dream is similar, but instead of cows, it is regarding ears of grain. Seven plump and good ears of grain are swallowed up by seven ears of thin and blighted ears of grain.
And Pharaoh is troubled because of these dreams. His spirit was troubled. In fact, these verses imply that Pharaoh spent a sleepless night, anxiously awaiting the next morning.
Now in the ancient near east, royal dreams were believed to indicate a special bond between God and the king. And so, it should really alert us here when we see that Pharaoh is deeply troubled,
Verses 9-13 continue…9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “I remember my offenses today. 10 When Pharaoh was angry with his servants and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, 11 we dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own interpretation. 12 A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. 13 And as he interpreted to us, so it came about. I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.” (Or as we discussed last time, impaled)
So finally, after two full years, the cupbearer remembers Joseph! Funny how he remembers him when it is convenient, when he may have something in the way of service to offer Pharaoh. When he says, “I remember my offenses today”, that is actually better translated as “I must make mention” … of my offenses”. And the form used here is plural, because by not telling Pharaoh about Joseph, he has wronged both Joseph and Pharaoh
But he goes on to recount his story, telling Pharaoh that when Pharaoh had cast him and the baker into prison, and they had both dreamed their dreams, that there was a young Hebrew in prison who interpreted their dreams, and each man’s dreams interpretation came about just as he said it would.
So, upon hearing this, Pharaoh, who is apparently desperate at this point, sends for Joseph, and in verses 14-24, we read of Pharaoh explaining his problem and recounting his dream to Joseph.
14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” 16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” 17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Behold, in my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile. 18 Seven cows, plump and attractive, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. 19 Seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and thin, such as I had never seen in all the land of Egypt. 20 And the thin, ugly cows ate up the first seven plump cows, 21 but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had eaten them, for they were still as ugly as at the beginning. Then I awoke. 22 I also saw in my dream seven ears growing on one stalk, full and good. 23 Seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouted after them, 24 and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears. And I told it to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me.”
So, Pharaoh hears from his trusted cupbearer the story of Joseph, and so he sends for him, which clearly demonstrates how troubled and desperate he was. And in the Hebrew, the verbs that are used imply that this was swift, performed with a sense of urgency and stress that was created when Pharaoh’s wishes are to be satisfied
So, they have Joseph cleaned-up. He shaves and puts on new clothes. Now when it says “he shaved”, it most likely means that he would have shaved his face and his head. For hygienic reasons, Egyptians were typically clean shaven, both their face and their head. And to make him presentable to Pharaoh, he shaves and is given appropriate clothing to wear before Pharaoh.
It’s interesting that clothing has been a prominent theme in Joseph’s misfortunes so far, beginning with his coat of many colors, or, special tunic, that his father Jacob had made for him. Then his tunic that was taken by Potiphar’s wife, who then accused him of attempted rape, which landed him in prison. But now here, he changes into new clothes, which will sort of symbolize his changing of social status, as the process of his liberation now begins
Now Joseph’s situation is very similar to Daniel’s while in Nebuchadnezzar’s court, with the contests pitting Daniel against the Babylonian wise men interpreting dreams. And in both cases, we see that God’s power triumphs, no the world’s power
But when Joseph arrives, Pharaoh wastes no time, getting straight to the point. He says, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Straight to the point! No welcome, thanks for coming, good to see you, how’s your stay in prison been? nothing.
But Joseph responds by telling Pharaoh that he cannot, he doesn’t have the ability to do that, but it is God who provides the interpretation! Now, try and put yourself in Joseph’s shoes here for a moment. Everything he’s been through! And now, out of nowhere, he is cleaned up and rushed in to stand in front of Pharaoh! How nervous would you have been?? And if you could have managed to speak without stuttering and stammering out of fear, how tempted would you have been to paint the picture as though you had the ability, and could be of service to Pharaoh if only you were released from prison? IOW, yes, Pharaoh, I can. And I could be of service to you if I weren’t still rotting away, wrongfully locked away in this dungeon!
But that’s not what Joseph does or says. Once again, he speaks the truth. Not intimidated in the presence of Pharaoh and all the officials. He tells Pharaoh that only God can interpret dreams. But then assures Pharaoh that God will provide an interpretation. He says that “God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer”. Now that does not mean God will necessarily provide an answer that Pharaoh wants to hear. The Hebrew literally translates as saying. “God will answer the peace/well-being of Pharaoh, meaning that God will provide an answer that brings peace to Pharaoh.
And so, Pharaoh goes on to describe his dreams, and he recounts both of them to Joseph. The seven plump and attractive cows are devoured by these thin and ugly cows, such as he had never seen before. And then the seven full and good ears being swallowed up by the thin and withered ears.
And Joseph responds in verses 25-32, which read, …25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. 27 The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine. 28 It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, 30 but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, 31 and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe. 32 And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about.
So, keep in mind here, that in both dreams, the fat is devoured by the lean. And Joseph once again doesn’t beat around the bush. He doesn’t try to flatter Pharaoh and tell him what he thinks he wants to hear. It would be tempting to provide Pharaoh with an interpretation that told him that all would be well in the kingdom, and how great Pharaoh was. But just as he did with the cupbearer and baker, he first credits God for the interpretation, not taking the credit for himself, but then he simply lays it out. He doesn’t seem to be nervous or anxious in telling Pharaoh that after seven years of plenty, there will be a severe famine in the land.
And although this may appear fairly straightforward, keep in mind that in the Ancient Near East, the Pharaoh’s were like gods, and the success of agriculture and the kingdom was a reflection of how pleased the gods were with Pharaoh. And so, any bad news reflected poorly on Pharaoh and his relationship to these gods. That’s why the magicians would typically provide Pharaoh with very flattering interpretations. And Pharaoh sees through the flattering of the magicians of his court. He is no fool. He realizes something is different about these dreams, and so he is unsatisfied with their attempts to simply flatter him.
So, Joseph is treading on thin ice here. Very few people in the world would have had the courage to just give it to him straight. But that’s exactly what Joseph does. And in fact, this scene is the first clash recorded in the Bible between pagan magic and the will of God. But guess who will win? And there’s a lesson here; You cannot thwart the will of God. And this same motif, or theme, will show up again between Moses and another Pharaoh, and between Daniel and the magicians in Babylon.

In verse 31, where Joseph says that “and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow”, Joseph is saying that the years of plenty and all the food will literally be unknown, because all of the food normally set aside will be completely used up, completely wiped out, because the famine will be so severe.
Now when Joseph explains to Pharaoh that “And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about.”, The Hebrew phrase used there literally means that “it is established beyond a shadow of a doubt”. And not only that, but the first seven-year cycle of plenty will begin at once.
But Joseph doesn’t stop there. He actually takes a huge risk by offering pharaoh some unsolicited advice and counsel. Verses 33-36 continue…33 Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. 35 And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”
So, Joseph transitions here from just interpreting the dream like he was asked to do, to now offering up unsolicited advice to the most powerful person on the planet. This took guts! This is a very risky move. I mean, there is no guarantee at all of how pharaoh would react to a Hebrew prisoner suggesting how he ought to run his empire! Remember pharaohs were like gods in the Ancient Near East
But Joseph’s approach here is very tactful. Notice how he says “Let pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers of the land”, meaning, “let pharaoh set up, under the authority of pharaoh”. IOW, the credit for the idea would go to Pharaoh, and it would be established under the authority of Pharaoh. That way, there is no danger in Pharaoh thinking this would be the creation of some other potentially threatening ruling power.
But Joseph’s suggestion and advice also shows his care and concern for the well-being of the Egyptian people as a whole. He is making suggestions to help save them and help alleviate their suffering during the famine.
Joseph suggests that pharaoh take ⅕ (20%) of the produce of the land during the years of plenty, and store them up under the authority of Pharaoh. This food would then act as a reserve during the seven years of famine. And in this way, pharaoh could prevent the people from starving during the famine that was to come.
And so, his approach and suggestion to pharaoh is threefold. First, select a wise man as a vizier, which is a high-ranking political advisor, or prime minister, to oversee the entire operation. Second, appoint local overseers. Third, establish a national rationing system that would collect 20% as reserves.
So how does Pharoah respond? Verses 37-45 tell us. 37 This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. 38 And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” 39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. 43 And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” Thus, he set him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” 45 And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphar, priest of On. So, Joseph went out over the land of Egypt.
So, Pharaoh likes the idea. The Hebrew literally means that “it was good in the eyes of Pharaoh”. And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God? His question here is rhetorical, because, of course they couldn’t.
In fact, Pharaoh actually says, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are”. Joseph has just, in a sense, defeated Egypt’s best wise men and magicians, and Pharaoh recognizes God at work in Joseph. This is reminiscent of what Belshazzar says about Daniel, when he says “I have heard about you, that you have the spirit of the gods in you, and that illumination, knowledge, and extraordinary wisdom are to be found in you
Then Pharaoh says something incredible, he tells Joseph, “You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you. I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Incredible! In the span of 13 years, Joseph goes from a slave to a prisoner to second in command of Egypt.
So, Pharaoh sets up Joseph as a vizier, second in command over all the land of Egypt. His position is basically like a prime minister. Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand. Now this transfer of the ring bearing the royal seal from Pharaoh to Joseph signals the delegation of authority. This signet would have also been necessary in order for Joseph to conduct business in Pharaoh’s name. The design of the signet featured the name of Pharaoh in traditional hieroglyphic characters
And by doing so, it would have carried the seal of Pharaoh, so that when it was pressed down into hot wax, for example, it would have left the imprint or impression of that seal, and so acted like the signature of the pharaoh. IOW, Joseph had the power to validate documents in Pharaoh’s name
In addition to the ring, Pharaoh dresses him in garments of fine linen. And so, we see once again the theme of Joseph’s clothing coming into play. From his coat of many colors, to being stripped of his coat, to once again rising in power in Potiphar’s house, to being once again stripped and thrown into prison by Potiphar’s wife seizing his coat, then being brought before Pharaoh after changing into appropriate clothing, to now, finally being dressed in clothing of fine linen by Pharaoh himself.
Pharaoh once again stresses Joseph’s new position by saying to him, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt”. And so just in case you missed it the first time, Joseph is now the #2 leader in all of Egypt, answering only to Pharaoh himself.
Pharaoh also goes so far as to change Joseph’s name. He changes it to Zaphenath-paneah. So, Pharaoh gives Joseph an Egyptian name to go along with his new position and new identity in Egypt. This name likely means “interpreter of dreams” or “revealer of hidden things”.
Joseph’s role in Egypt is now like that of Daniel in Babylon. In fact, it’s interesting that they both are given pagan names, both rise to the position of prime minister, or second most powerful position in the land, but neither accepts that county’s pagan religion.
Finally, Pharaoh gives Joseph in marriage to Asenath, the daughter of Potiphar, priest of On. Now On was located just seven miles from modern-day Cairo, and was the cultic center for the sun-god Ra. The high priest of On held the title “Greatest of the Seers”, which means that Joseph married into the elite of Egyptian nobility. He is now in the circle of the most powerful priestly families in Egypt. And from here, Joseph begins to go out over all the land.
Verses 46-49 continue…46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt. 47 During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, 48 and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. 49 And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured.
So, we read that Joseph was 30 years old when Pharaoh made him prime minister over all of Egypt. He was 17 when he was sold into slavery by his brothers, which means 13 years have now passed. As I mentioned in the last episode, we are not certain how many of those years were spent running Potiphar’s house, and how many were spent in prison
Now as we have gone along in the story of Joseph, I have tried to point out some ways Joseph pre-figures, or foreshadows, Jesus. Well, here is another one. How old is Joseph when he begins his new position ruling over Egypt? 30. How old was Jesus when he began his ministry? 30
But Joseph goes out, throughout all the land of Egypt, and begins overseeing the tax collections on field produce, and then stores this grain to be used during the seven years of famine. Joseph holds the well-known Egyptian office of “Overseer of the Granaries of Upper and Lower Egypt”, whose duties were to collect the tax payments on field produce, the storage of an adequate supply of food in years of plenty, and then the distribution of food during years of famine
We continue with verses 50-52…50 Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphar priest of On, bore them to him. 51 Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” 52 The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
Now these three verses simply record the birth of Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Now these two sons will come into play later on, when Jacob blesses his sons on his deathbed. But for now, the main callout is simply what Joseph named each of the boys. The names of both of the sons praise God, first for his preservation, and then for his blessing. The names celebrate Joseph’s new life
Manasseh is derived from a word meaning “forget”, And as Joseph says, God has made him forget about all the troubles and sorrows of his father’s household, and his 13 years of captivity, and so he praises God for delivering him from all of the sorrow and pain he has endured.
Ephraim is derived from a word meaning “made me fruitful”, just as Joseph says here, and it refers to abundant prosperity. But one thing to notice here; Joseph gives his sons Hebrew names, not Egyptian names. He has forgotten the suffering and sorrow, but not his father’s house. Not his roots, or his upbringing or his God.
Joseph had to figure out how to handle imperial power, power of the world, and learn to balance that with the presence of God. We could take a lesson from Joseph here, in learning that power is dangerous, but not necessarily evil. It depends on how a person uses it. Abraham Lincoln has often been credited with saying that “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”.
But now the seven years of famine begin, and we pick it up in verses 53-55…53 The seven years of plenty that occurred in the land of Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. 55 When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do.”
So now that Egypt has enjoyed seven years of abundance, the time has come for the seven years of famine. Notice that the famine is not limited to just Egypt. It says there was famine in all lands. This is an important detail, because this is what will drive Joseph’s family to Egypt in search of bread.
Just an interesting fact, but almost all of Egypt receives less than one inch of rainfall per year! Egypt’s economy was almost entirely dependent on the annual flooding of the Nile River for its agriculture needs. And in these ancient times, Egypt had constructed an elaborate series of artificially constructed irrigation works that controlled the distribution of those flood waters. Normally, the floods come with incredible regularity such that the Egyptians could count them. But not during these seven years. And with no water, no bread.
And as the famine takes its toll, the people begin to cry out to Pharaoh for bread. And what does Pharaoh say? Go see Joseph! And whatever he tells you to do, do it! Interesting. So, when they ran out of bread, pharaoh tells them to do whatever Joseph says. It reminds me of the wedding in Canaan, the site of Jesus’ first miracle, when they ran out of wine, Mary tells them to do whatever Jesus tells you to do. How many of us need to take that same advice today? Go to Jesus, and whatever he tells you to do, do it!
And so, closing out this chapter with the last two verses, we read…56 So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57 Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.
So, God has now sent both the forerunner, Joseph, and the famine, into Egypt. And so now the stage has been set for the move of the covenant family into Egypt.
So, we see the famine spreading and growing worse, and so Joseph opens up the storehouses where he had stored grain during the years of abundance, and he begins selling it to the Egyptians. But the last verse also mentions that the famine was widespread, because people from all around came to Egypt to buy grain. Again, this is why we see Joseph’s family come to Egypt in the next chapter.
Interesting, Joseph is the one who has the bread. And so here is yet another parallel with Jesus. Jesus said “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger”.
And BTW, as I have mentioned in the last couple of episodes a few parallels between Joseph and Jesus, don’t forget that Jesus’ earthly father was also named Joseph.
It’s worth pointing out the obvious here. The salvation of Egypt, of that entire land and people, depended on one descendent of the patriarchs. Sound familiar? If it doesn’t, let me help. Just as the salvation of that world depended on one person, so does the salvation of the whole world depend on another single descendent of the patriarchs, Jesus!
Just like Joseph was betrayed by those who should have loved him, sold for pieces of silver, wrongfully taken prisoner, so was Jesus. But just as Joseph rose again to power, so did Jesus.
And what Joseph accomplished was truly incredible. Saving an entire country, and more, from starving, saving their bodies and their lives. But you need to keep these similarities in their proper perspective. Because whereas Joseph saved lives, Jesus saves souls!