Joseph explains the king's dreams
Hungry cows in a king’s nightmare1 Two years later Pharaoh had a dream. He saw himself standing beside the Nile River. 2 Suddenly, seven cows—healthy and well-fed—walked right up out of the Nile. They started to graze in the marshland grass beside the river. 3 Then seven more cows followed them up out of the Nile. But these cows looked sick and horribly skinny. They stood beside the healthy cows. 4 The sick, skinny cows ate the healthy, well-fed cows. That’s when Pharaoh woke up.
5 He fell back to sleep again and had a second dream. Suddenly, seven plump and beautiful heads of grain popped out on a single stalk. 6 But after that, seven more heads of grain suddenly sprouted—thin and scorched dry by the blistering wind from the eastern desert. 7 The thin heads of grain swallowed down the plump ones. Pharaoh woke up and realized it was a dream.
8 The dreams worried him. He called a meeting of magicians along with the smartest men in Egypt. Pharaoh told everyone his dreams, but no one could explain what they meant.
9 Pharaoh’s top wine steward said, “I just remembered something I should have told you a long time ago. 10 Pharaoh got angry with some of his servants, me and the baker included. He had the two of us arrested and put in prison, in his bodyguard commander’s custody. 11 The baker and I had a dream on the same night. Each dream had its own meaning. 12 A young Hebrew was with us there in prison. He was a servant of the commander of the bodyguard. We told him what we had dreamed, and he told us what those dreams meant. 13 He said our dreams predicted what was going to happen to us. What he said would happen to each of us is exactly what did happen: I got my job back, and the baker got hanged.”
Joseph released from prison14 Pharaoh ordered Joseph brought to him. Servants of the king quickly got Joseph. They gave him time to shave and change his clothes. Then they brought him to Pharaoh. 15 Pharaoh told Joseph, “I had a dream, but no one could tell me what it means. I have heard that you can explain the meaning a dream.”
16 Joseph told Pharaoh, “I’m not the one who can do that. God is. God will tell you what you need to hear.” 17 Pharaoh told Joseph about his dream. “I dreamed I was standing on the bank of the Nile. 18 Suddenly, seven cows well-fed and healthy walked up out of the Nile. They started to graze in the marshland grass. 19 Then seven more cows walked out of the river. These cows looked terrible and malnourished. I have never seen anything so terrible anywhere in Egypt. 20 The skinny, unhealthy cows ate the seven well-fed cows. 21 But even after eating these cows, you couldn’t tell they had eaten anything. They looked just as starved as before. That’s when I woke up.
22 I also saw in a dream seven heads of grain—rich and healthy—growing on a single stalk. 23 Seven more heads of grain sprouted, but these were shriveled and skinny, scorched by the winds of the eastern desert. 24 The skinny heads of grain swallowed up the seven good ears. When I told this dream to my wisest men, not one of them could tell me what it meant.”
25 Joseph said, “Pharaoh’s two dreams are really just one dream. They both mean the same thing. God is telling Pharaoh what God is about to do. 26 The seven healthy cows represent seven years. So do the seven good heads of grain. These two dreams are clues about the same thing.
27 The seven skinny and terrible looking cows that came next represent seven more years—but these are years of drought. The seven shriveled heads of grain scorched by the east desert wind represent the same thing, seven years of drought. 28 What I have told Pharaoh is the truth. God has shown the king what he is about to do.
29 Look, Egypt is about to enjoy seven years of bumper crops and prosperity. 30 But after that, seven years of drought. Everything gained during the seven-year stretch of prosperity will be lost when drought consumes the land of Egypt. 31 Because of the drought, which will be severe, people will forget the seven years of prosperity. 32 The fact that Pharaoh had the same dream twice means something, too. It means God already has it on his calendar, and it’s going to happen soon.
33 Pharaoh should appoint someone to govern Egypt during this time—a wise man who has a good sense of judgment. 34 Pharaoh should also appoint regional supervisors to manage the land. Pharaoh should tax the people 20 percent of what their farms produce during the seven years of bumper crops. 35 Have the supervisors gather all this food during the seven years of prosperity. They can transport this grain and store it in cities under Pharaoh’s control, where the grain can be guarded. 36 Hold that food in reserve. It will feed the people during the seven years of drought and will keep them from starving.” 37 Joseph’s proposal sounded solid to Pharaoh and his officials.
Joseph: Egypt’s new governor38 Pharaoh told his officials, “Could we ever hope to find a man better suited for the job than Joseph—a man who’s in touch with a divine spirit?” 39 Pharaoh told Joseph, “Since God has told all of this to you, there’s no one any wiser or with better judgment than you. 40 I’m putting you in charge of my kingdom. My people will do whatever you tell them to do. No one but me will have more authority than you.”
41 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “It’s official. You are the governor of Egypt.” 42 Pharaoh took off his signet ring that he used to press his sign onto royal documents. He put it on Joseph’s hand. Then he gave Joseph regal clothes made of elegant linen. And he draped a gold necklace around Joseph’s neck.
43 Pharaoh let Joseph ride in his second royal chariot, which was usually reserved for the king. As Joseph rode this chariot among the people, others would cry out, “Kneel!” By doing all of this, Pharaoh was making it clear to everyone that he had put Joseph in charge of governing the nation.
44 Pharaoh said, “I am Pharaoh and I want you to know something. Without your permission, no one in Egypt will be allowed to do so much as lift a hand or take a step.”
Joseph's new name: Lifegiver45 Pharaoh gave Joseph a new name: Lifegiver. The king also gave him a wife: Asenath. She was the daughter of Potiphera, priest of the city of On. Joseph took charge of governing Egypt. 46 Joseph was 30 years old when the king made him governor of Egypt. Joseph left the 0palace and traveled throughout Egypt, inspecting the land.
47 During the seven prosperous years Joseph had predicted, the land produced bumper crops. 48 Joseph collected all of the taxed crops during the seven years and stored them in cities closest to the farms. 49 Joseph managed to store up so much grain that it became too much to count, like sand of the sea. So he stopped counting.
Joseph becomes a daddy50 Before the first year of drought hit, Joseph had two sons. Their mother was Asenath, daughter of Potiphera the priest at On. 51 Joseph named his oldest son Forgotten. He said he did this because, “God has helped me forget my troubles and all the bad things that happened to me because of my family.” 52 Joseph named his second son Productive. He said he did this because, “God has made me fruitful and successful in what was supposed to be a land of misery and hardship.”
53 When the seven years of bumper crops ended, 54 and the seven years of drought started, as Joseph had predicted, drought struck the entire region. But throughout Egypt, there was plenty of bread.
55 When people in Egypt got hungry, all they had to do was to ask Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh told them, “Talk to Joseph. Do whatever he tells you to do.”
56 Once the drought spread everywhere, Joseph opened the granaries and started selling grain back to the Egyptians. The drought was severe even in Egypt. 57 People from countries all over came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph—the drought was that widespread.
Zaphenath-paneah in Hebrew. Other possible meanings: God speaks and lives; Source of nourishment for life.
Also known as Heliopolis.
Manasseh in Hebrew.
Ephraim in Hebrew.
The king of Egypt has two nightmares that Joseph says came from God. Joseph says God is warning the king that Egypt will experience seven years of bumper crops followed by seven years of drought. This is not the first time the Genesis writer has said God spoke to people who did not believe in him. What do you think this says about God?
After interpreting the king’s two dreams, Joseph gets promoted from prisoner to palace official. It’s not entirely clear what his job is. Based on what you know of Joseph’s story, do you think Joseph was more like one of many vice presidents who reports to a CEO, or was he the one and only second-in-command to the king?
Joseph in charge of the grain supply clearly comes out on the side of the king by tossing the entire burden of the drought on the backs of the people. This one-time slave turns Egypt into a nation of slaves who are beholden to their king for everything. Joseph starts by taxing the people 20 percent of their harvest, which he will warehouse so he can sell it back to the people when the drought comes. That means they will be buying back their own grain. When they run out of money, they will sell off their livestock to the king, and they’ll eventually sell their land, too. After that, they’ll work as serfs for the king. What do you think about that plan?
The king is elated at Joseph’s plan—an indication that the king is not insane. The king rewards Joseph in a slew of ways. If you had to place the gifts the king gave Joseph in order of importance, what do you think would be the top three?
- Signet ring (41:42)
- Fine linen clothing
- Gold chain around his neck
- Chariot reserved for the king’s second-in-command (41:43)
- Egyptians have to kneel for him.
- He gets a new Egyptian name: Zaphenath-paneah (41:45).
—He gets a wife, daughter of a prestigious priest.
Free and in a position of power, Joseph made no move to go home and see his father—for nine years. It was only about a 10-day trip, some 200 miles (320 km). Joseph was 30 years old when he came to power. And he was 39 years old when his brothers finally came to buy grain from him during the second year of the drought. Why do you think Joseph didn’t bother to go home?
Throughout the Middle East there are legends of a seven-year drought. One such legend is chiseled into a granite stone in Egypt. Do you think information like this does anything to encourage people to believe the Bible story about the seven-year drought?
LIFE APPLICATION. Some people might say Joseph went a little overboard in trying to please his boss. He dumped quite a burden on the backs of the Egyptian people. What do you think would be a modern-day Christian approach to the same problem? How could we get a nation of people through seven years of bumper crops followed by seven years of drought without making the rich richer and the poor poorer?
LIFE APPLICATION. As impressed as Egypt’s king was with Joseph’s ability to interpret the two dreams, he seemed even more in awe at Joseph’s ability to think ahead. People today seem to have trouble planning ahead for themselves, whether it has to do with money for retirement, a place to live that doesn’t have two flights of stairs, and money in reserve for assisted living. What makes it so hard to plan ahead?