Genesis 41: Pharaoh’s Dreams
We would do well to remember that modern social justice is not justice, in the same way that a truth is not the Truth.
This sidra (section) of Genesis begins the Torah portion Mikeitz (end), which takes its title from the phrase “And it came to pass at the end of two years”. While practically speaking mikeitz is used to denote the end of a period of time, by way of a remez (hint) it also infers the end, or last phase of the prophecy made to Avraham (Gen. 15:13-16) concerning the bondage and persecution of his progeny and ultimately, their freedom from slavery.
It is worth noting that verses 1-32 deal with the last of the three pairs of dreams in Joseph’s story. Each set of dreams acting as a stepping stone toward the fulfilment of God’s plan for Israel.
The events of this chapter begin two years after the release of the baker and cupbearer and bring the total years of Joseph’s imprisonment to 12 and his years in captivity to 13 (Genesis 37:2). Verse 46 tells us that Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh, making Jacob 120 years and Isaac 180 (Isaac died around this time) at the time of these events.
1Now it was at the end of two years, when Pharaoh (Great house) was dreaming, and hinei suddenly, there he was standing al upon (over, beside) ha-y’or the River (Nile).
Pharaoh was standing upon or over the River, a title used to describe the Nile. The Nile was deified in Egyptian culture and Pharaoh’s standing on or over it makes him (at least in his own mind) superior to it, a god in his own right, which we also know to be part of the spiritual belief system of the ancient Egyptians. Pharaohs were often considered to be gods, a god with us, in reality they were types of anti-messiah’s. As mentioned in previous articles, Pharaoh was a title rather than a proper noun.
All of Egypt was dependant on the Nile for its crops and water. The Nile symbolized prosperity and provision. Therefore, given its venerated status, Pharaoh could not help but be captivated by its prominent position in his dream.
2 Then hinei suddenly, there were seven cows, y’fot beautiful, healthy and at closer inspection, fat, and they grazed in the reeds.
There were seven cows, a number meaning completion, fullness etc. A number that would later become closely associated to Israel’s agricultural and social order. These cows were healthy (one of the meanings of yafeh) and were grazing in the reeds. The reeds grow at the edge of the Nile itself, which indicates that the Nile is the source of the cattle’s health and fatness. Practically speaking, the cattle of Egypt often submerge themselves in the Nile in order to get relief from the heat and from insects.
3 Then hinei suddenly, there were seven other cows coming up after them from ha-y’or the River (Nile), ugly and emaciated, and they stood beside the cows at the edge of ha-y’or the River (Nile). 4 Then the ugly emaciated cows ate the seven good-looking fat cows—and Pharaoh woke up.
As is often the case when dreams take a nasty turn, Pharaoh awoke abruptly and was probably unsettled for some time before going back to sleep. The eating of the fat cows seems symbolic of the fact that the seven full and complete good years would soon be forgotten by a full and complete (7), all consuming age of famine.
5 Then he slept and dreamed a second time: hinei suddenly, there were seven heads of grain ascending on a single stalk, b’riyot made fat and good. 6 Then hinei suddenly, there were seven heads of grain, thin and scorched by the east wind, sprouting up after them. 7 Then the seven thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven ears of grain that had been made plump and full. Then Pharaoh woke up—it was a dream.
The text infers that the seven thin heads of grain grew on the same single stalk. The use of the Hebrew echad (One, complex unity) regarding the stalk of the full heads of grain, is intended to unify the two weeks of years in order to connect them to the former dream.
Once again the years of famine swallow up all evidence of the years of abundance. Once again the seven that completes the prosperity also completes the poverty.
The phrase, “it was a dream” infers relief on Pharaoh’s part at the fact that he had woken from a vivid dream. Relief that turns to concern when he realizes that the dreams have some sense of the prophetic about them.
8 But in the morning he v’tipaem felt beaten and disturbed in ruachu his spirit. So he sent and called for the fortune-telling priests of mitzrayim (Egypt: double distress) and all its wise men and Pharaoh told them his dream. But no one could interpret them for Pharaoh.
The fortune-telling occultists of Egypt were part of her priesthood. It may be that the priest of On mentioned later in the text is one of those who was called upon. The wise men may or may not have been associated with the priesthood. Given the ongoing political struggles between the house of Pharaoh and the priesthood of Egypt, it is more likely that the wise men were men of logic and common wisdom rather than spiritualists like the fortune-telling priests.
As in the case of the cupbearer and baker, an attempt is made to interpret the dreams but to no avail. This may be the catalyst for the cupbearer’s pang of conscience. We also note the singular use in the phrase, “Pharaoh told them his dream” compared to the plural, “But no one could interpret them”. At this point it should be clear to all concerned that the dreams have a unified message, and yet, this seems to escape all the wise men and priests of Egypt. Though, it seems to have been established in Pharaoh’s mind. This is possibly why when Joseph later begins by establishing the fact that the dreams are echad (one), Pharaoh accepts what follows, having already concluded the same.
9 Then the prince of the cupbearers spoke with Pharaoh saying, “I am reminded of my sins today. 10 Pharaoh had been angry with his servants and put me in the custody of the house of the prince of the executioners—and with me, the prince of the bakers. 11 Then we each dreamed (firmly binding) a dream (firmly bound) on the same night, he and I, we both dreamed, yet each dream had its own interpretation. 12 Now there with us was a ga’ar Ivriy Hebrew youth—a slave belonging to the prince of the executioners. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams for us, each man’s dream he interpreted. 13 Then it came about, just as he interpreted for us, so it happened. I was restored to my position, but he was hung.
We could read the cupbearer’s confession as the result of a genuine pang of conscience or as an act of self-preservation. Either way the timing is in God’s hands and affords Joseph the perfect opportunity to bring glory to both the God of Israel and himself. One would have thought, given the Egyptian prejudice against the Hebrews, that the phrase “ga’ar Ivriy” Hebrew youth, coupled with the position of slave, would have given Pharaoh reason to pause. However, it seems, based on the following verse, that Pharaoh’s angst had grown so great that at this point he was willing to try anything.
14 Then Pharaoh sent and called for Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds). So they quickly fetched him from the ha’bor well/pit. He shaved, changed his clothes, and came to Pharaoh. 15 Then Pharaoh (Great house) said to Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds), “I dreamed (firmly binding thing) a dream (firmly bound thing) and there’s no one to interpret it. I heard about you—it’s said that you can listen to a dream to interpret it.”
Rosh Hashanah 10b says that Joseph was released 2230 years from creation on Rosh Hashanah (Yom Teruah: Day of Shofar blasts). If this is correct, Joseph was released at the beginning of what will later become known as the High Holy Days of Israel, which take place in the seventh month (Tishri, Beginning; The Sabbath Month) of the Hebrew Calendar, and include Yom Kippur (Day of Covering), Sukkot (shelters) and Shemini Atzeret (Eight Day).
This idea is significant because the number seven, which symbolizes completion, fullness and fulfilment, is a central element in the dreams of Pharaoh. Also, the month of Tishri is a month of new beginnings. These events are truly a new beginning for both Joseph and Israel (Jacob). And, in retrospect, the beginning of the end (all be it 400 years down the track) of Egypt’s domination over the Jewish people.
Note that Pharaoh is referring to the dreams as one dream but like the cupbearer and baker before him, he is using the doubling of the Hebrew chalom chalam’ti (Dreamed a dream). Thus the two become echad (one, complex unity).
16 Then Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) answered Pharaoh (Great house) saying, “apart from me. Elohiym (God, gods, Judge) will answer Pharaoh with shalom.”
In other words, “Without Elohiym’s help I’m not able to give a Divine answer, instead I defer to Him and He will answer you so as to bring shalom (peace, wholeness) to the turmoil of your heart and mind.” Like Daniel the prophet, Joseph ascribes his interpretive skill to God (Daniel 2:30).
“Those that honour Me, I will honour” -1 Samuel 2:30
17 So Pharaoh said to Yosef: “In my dream, hinei suddenly I was standing on the bank of ha-y’or the river (Nile). 18 And hinei behold, out of the river (Nile) seven cows were coming up, fat and beautiful, healthy, and they grazed in the reeds. 19 Then all of a sudden, there were seven other cows coming up after them, feeble, very ugly and emaciated. I’ve never seen cows this hideous in the whole land of Egypt. 20 Then the emaciated and ugly cows ate the first seven fat cows. 21 When they were devoured, one couldn’t tell that they had been devoured. Their appearance was as ugly as it was at first. Then I woke up. 22 Then I saw in my dream, there were seven heads of grain ascending on one (echad) stalk, full and good. 23 Then suddenly, there were seven heads of grain, dried up, thin, and scorched by the east wind, sprouting up after them. 24 Then the thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads of grain. So I told the fortune-telling priests, but no one could provide me with an explanation.”
While there are some subtle differences in the recapitulating of the dreams, all the main elements are present. It is possible that Pharaoh left out the fact that the scrawny cows came out of the Nile because the Nile was deified and from his perspective, only gave forth good things. However, this small detail does not mitigate the otherwise dark conclusion of the dreams.
The fact that Pharaoh mentions his disappointment only in the fortune-telling priests, may indicate one of two things: either he didn’t expect the wise men (who use logic) to understand what he considered to be metaphysical symbolism, or, he was intentionally belittling his priestly rivals. Whatever the reason, he was none the less concerned about the dreams and their meaning, and was determined to get an answer.
25 Then Yosef said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dream is echad (one). Elohiym (God, gods) has told Pharaoh what He is about to fashion. 26 The seven good cows: they are seven years. Also the seven heads of grain: they’re seven years. It is echad (one) dream. 27 The seven emaciated and ugly cows coming up after them: they’re seven years. Also the seven empty heads of grain scorched by the east wind: there will be seven years of famine. 28 He (Hoo) the word (Ha-d’var) which I conveyed by my words (d’vartiy) to Pharaoh already: Ha-Elohiym the God is about to fashion, that which he has shown to Pharaoh. 29 Seven years of abundance are about to come in the whole land of Egypt. 30 Then seven years of famine will come up after them and all the abundance in the land of Egypt will be forgotten and the famine will consume the land. 31 So the abundance in the land will be unknown because of the famine that follows, for it will be an exceedingly oppressive famine.
Joseph emphasises the unity of the dreams. The cows representing ploughing and sowing and the grain, reaping and harvesting (Arbanel). He first gives a concise overview.
Joseph infers that God has given this message to Pharaoh because it concerns the entire land that he has governance over. Joseph reasserts his own trust in God, repeating that God is about to fashion these things. Though the generic title Elohiym (God, gods, judges) is being used, as a Hebrew he can only be speaking of the Hebrew God, he is after all an imported slave who has little previous knowledge of Egypt’s deities.
Joseph begins with the issue of famine because Pharaoh is used to prosperous livestock and abundant grain harvests, but it is the latter part of the dream that has concerned him most and it is this that allows Joseph to capture and hold Pharaoh’s attention.
32 “Now as for repeating Pharaoh’s dream twice: it’s because the matter has been settled by Elohiym God and Elohiym God will quickly make it happen.
Joseph stresses the point that Elohiym is in control of both the dreams and the events that they predict. Elohiym (Joseph’s God) has firmly decided this and will make it happen very soon. Joseph, a slave, a despised Hebrew, speaks of an authority greater than the false man-god Pharaoh. Any other ruler might have had Joseph struck down for presuming to say such a thing but Pharaoh seems convinced that Joseph is his only means of escaping what is to come.
33 So now, let Pharaoh select a man discerning and wise and set him in authority over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh act by appointing administrators over the land and take a fifth portion from the land of Egypt during the seven years of abundance.
The man for the job will need to be discerning enough to coordinate the business and logistics of this undertaking and wise enough to know how to store and preserve the grain. A good job for one who has cared for flocks and harvested grain in the fields of Hebron nu.
The fifth portion is to be taken from the land, meaning a fifth of all the grain producing land would be farmed directly into Pharaoh’s storehouses. This would be in addition to the taxable produce of the land, which probably returned a tenth of all grain to Pharaoh’s storehouses every year.
35 Then let them gather all the food from these good years that are coming, and let them store up grain under Pharaoh’s hand as food for the cities, so they may preserve it.
This means that each city would have its own granaries in which to store its grain. These granaries would be controlled by those whom the man Pharaoh appointed would place in charge as overseers.
36 Let the food be held in reserve for the land for the seven years of famine that are coming upon the land of Egypt. Then the land will not be annihilated by the famine.”
Affirming his certain belief in the coming events, Joseph says, “the seven years of famine that are coming”.
37 Now the plan seemed good in the eyes of Pharaoh as well as all his servants. 38 Then Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can a man like this be found, one in whom is ruach Elohiym (God’s Spirit: spirit of the gods)?”
It is interesting to note that the plan seemed good not only to Pharaoh but also to his servants. One would have thought that a court of people who despised Hebrews and had just been one upped by a Hebrew slave, would be envious, hateful and disagreeable to Joseph’s interpretation and council. However, be it due to their fear of Pharaoh’s wrath or simply because they genuinely saw the wisdom in Joseph’s words, they were all convinced by him according to the will of God.
The name Elohiym, which denotes the attribute of Judgement, is used throughout this account. It is God the Judge who speaks this warning to Pharaoh, and it is the servant of YHVH the Merciful who brings Pharaoh the redemptive solution to the coming crisis. Whatever Pharaoh’s degree of spiritual understanding, he clearly believes that Joseph is a spiritually gifted man imbued with supernatural favour.
39 Then Pharaoh (Great house) said to Yosef, “Since Elohiym God has made all this known to you, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. 40 You! You will be over my house, and in addition all my people’s mouths will kiss you. Only in relation to the throne will I be greater than you.”
Egyptian law forbade the promoting of slaves into positions of authority. Thus Pharaoh’s edict was a controversial one. However, it’s clear that Pharaoh was convinced that Joseph was uniquely qualified for the job.
This rise to the position of Egypt’s second in command was the first stage of the final fulfilment of Joseph’s God given dream of ruling over Israel and the nations, as a type for the future Messiah.
41 Then Pharaoh said to Yosef, “See, I appoint you over the whole land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh removed his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, clothed him with fine linen garments, and put a chain of gold around his neck.
The ring was Pharaoh’s seal and meant that Joseph had authority to implement legislation and seal binding law in all Egypt. The fine garments of royalty represented Joseph’s authority over the land of Egypt, over the morning (Sun) and the evening (Moon) stars. This is in fulfilment of his second dream, which has multiple, far reaching and complex repercussions. In place of the garments he had lost, Joseph is given a garment of far greater authority. Though he has suffered great losses, he has, with God’s help, overcome adversity with his trust intact.
43 Then he had him ride in the chariot as second-in-command, the one that belonged to him, and they called out before him, “Av’reich Father King, Tender Father!” So he appointed him over the whole land of Mitzrayim (double distress) Egypt.
There are at least two possibilities for translating the composite Hebrew word Av’reich. First, Av means Father (in wisdom) and reich means tender (in years) [Midrash]. Second, and according to both Rashi and Onkelos, Av is the Hebrew for Father and reich is Aramaic for King. Both titles denote attributes of the God of Israel, our Father and King (Aveinu Melkeiynu). Therefore, to the Hebrew reader at least, Joseph is seen as a type for the Messiah (God with us). The Jewish Redeemer who will save from the nations those who submit to Him and then, will deliver, save and restore His entire people (12 tribes), the house of His father Jacob (Israel).
Onkelos paraphrases, “This is the father of the king”; which agrees with what Joseph himself says, that God had made him a father to Pharaoh (Gen. 45:8).
The Targum of Yonatan includes both meanings in its paraphrasing of this verse:
"This is the father of the king, who is great in wisdom, and tender in years:'' –Targum Yonatan
“let the father of the king live, who is great in wisdom, and tender in years:'' –Targum Yerushalayim
44 Pharaoh also said to Yosef, “I am Pharaoh, yet without your permission no one will lift up his hand or his foot in the whole land of Egypt.” 45 Then Pharaoh named Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) Tzafnat-paneach (treasury of glorious rest) and gave him As’nat (Belonging to the goddess Neit) daughter of Potipherah (He whom the Ra gave), kohen priest of On (Strength), as his wife. Then Yosef went out, in charge of the land of Egypt.
Both Rashi and Rashbam interpret Joseph’s new title as M’pareish Hatz’punot, meaning He who explains what is hidden.
“One to whom hidden things are revealed” – Onkelos
“A revealer of secrets” –Targum Yonatan
The latter part of Tzafnat-paneach is used only this once in Scripture, and Iben Ezra confesses his ignorance as to whether it is an Egyptian word or not. Some think the first part of the name is etymologically linked to the name of the Egyptian idol Baal Zephon (lord of the north: Exodus 14:2), and that, in this new name given to Joseph by Pharaoh, he has inserted the name of his god, just as Nebuchadnezzar did, when he gave new names to Daniel and his company (Daniel 1:7).
The Zohar explains that the name change was an instance of Divine Providence intended to help keep Joseph’s identity hidden from his family so that his dreams would be fulfilled.
Alshich suggests that Potipherah is the same as Potiphar and that therefore, Joseph is marrying his former master’s daughter and is thus vindicated from the false charge concerning Potiphar’s wife. However, if as many believe, Potiphar is a title rather than a personal noun, it is just as likely that the Potiphera of the priests of On is simply an equivalent position in the priesthood held by another individual altogether. This seems more likely in fact, given that the role of Prince of Executioners (Potiphar) is quite separate and distinct from that of priest.
As’nat the Egyptian (Double distress) becomes the mother of two of Israel’s greatest sons, the sons of promise, Ef’rayim (doubly fruitful) and M’nasheh (to forget trouble). Thus, out of double distress comes double blessing.
46 Now Yosef was 30 years old when he began serving as representative of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Yosef went out from Pharaoh’s presence and passed throughout the whole land of Egypt.
The age of thirty years is significant because it is believed to be Yeshua’s age when He began His public ministry and is known to be the age at which first century Jewish teachers and scribes were welcomed into positions of ministerial authority. Add to this the multiples of three (Unity of deity and completion of that which is firmly established) and ten (Fullness, completion, fruitfulness), and we see that Joseph is entering a season of completion and fullness according to the will of God. At thirty he has now been separated from his family for thirteen years (Gen. 37:2). A number that in Judaism represents the twelve tribes in union with the One God.
47 During the seven years of abundance, the land produced by the handfuls. 48 So he gathered all the food in the land of Egypt during the seven years, and put food in the cities; the food from the city fields surrounding the cities he put in each city. 49 So Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) stored up grain like the sand of the sea, vast amounts, until he stopped keeping record because it was beyond counting.
Once again Joseph’s name speaks forth his work and the blessing of God poured out on an undeserving people. Mercy adds.
The phrase, “By the handfuls” is an idiom signifying abundance.
50 Two sons also had been born to Yosef before the first year of famine came, born to him by As’nat (Belonging to the goddess Neit), daughter of Potipherah (He whom the Ra gave), kohen priest of On (Strength). 51 Yosef named his first-born M’nasheh (to forget trouble), “because Elohiym God has caused me to forget all my trouble and all my father’s house.” 52 And the second he named Ef’rayim (doubly fruitful), “because Elohiym God has made me fruitful in the land of my oppression.”
We are told that Joseph’s two sons are born to him, “before the first year of famine came”. Why? What difference does it make when they were born? In the birth of Joseph’s sons God has provided evidence in advance of the fruitfulness yet to come, so that during the coming years of famine (adversity), Joseph can look to the hope he has in HaShem. The sons are named both for the past faithfulness of God (M’nasheh) and for the future promises of God (Ef’rayim). There is a lesson here for every believer: God has given us a great hope in His Son Yeshua, a promise of eternal life, and we know this, that “God cannot lie”. Therefore, in adversity we should look to the sons who have been born to us in the former days, “Forgotten Trouble (Resurrection)” and “Future Double Fruitfulness (Eternal life)”, remembering that God has been faithful, that He is being faithful, and that He will faithfully complete the good work He has begun in us.
The continued use of Elohiym (Judge) reinforces the restorative justice shown to Joseph. As’nat, like Tamar, Rachav, and Ruth, has been grafted into the bloodline of Israel through a Redeemer (like Boaz), a man who is a type for the future Messiah and deliverer of humanity.
The fact that the boys were given Hebrew names infers As’nat’s conversion to Joseph’s faith, having been convinced of the truth of HaShem according to His providence and faithfulness to Joseph and Yaakov/Yisrael.
We bless our boys every Yom Shishi with the words, “May God make you like Ef’rayim and M’nasheh” (Gen. 48:20).
53 Then the seven years of abundance in the land of Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine started to come—just as Yosef had said. So there was famine in all the lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was bread. 55 When the whole land of Egypt suffered famine, the people cried out to Pharaoh for food, and Pharaoh said to all of Egypt, “Go to Yosef. Do whatever he tells you.” 56 The famine was over all the face of the earth, so Yosef opened up all the stores among them and sold grain to Egypt. Then the famine became severe in the land of Egypt. 57 Yet the whole world came to Egypt to buy grain—to Yosef—because the famine was severe in the whole world.
For all intents and purposes, Joseph had become the ruler of the known world. He had become father to Pharaoh (Gen. 45:8), and would soon be recognized as ruler over his brothers according to the will and plan of God for His people Israel.
© Yaakov Brown 2017
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Founder of the Beth Melekh International Messiah Following Jewish Community,