Exposition of Genesis: Volumes 1 and 2
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5. Joseph’s Exaltation (41:1-57)

For the third time dreams figure prominently in the history of Joseph. Yet really none of these dreams, except perhaps the first set, were primarily for Joseph. Joseph’s connection with them was primarily that of interpreter, after his own first set of dreams had been interpreted by his own father. Since then it was chiefly for the sake of others that these dreams were granted. There may be truth in Dod’s suggestion: "If these men were to receive any knowledge beyond what their own unaided efforts could attain, they must be taught in a language they understood." Men like Jacob and Joseph could receive revelation perhaps by a word or in a vision, but not Pharaoh and his courtiers.

1-4. And it happened at the expiration of two years that Pharaoh was dreaming, and, lo, he was standing by the side of the Nile; and, lo, from the Nile there were coming up seven beautiful fat cows, and they grazed among the reeds. And, lo, seven other cows were coming up after them from the Nile, ugly and skinny, and took their place by the side of the first cows by the bank of the Nile. And the ugly looking and skinny cows ate up the seven beautiful fat cows. Then Pharaoh awoke.

Two full years elapse before the case of Joseph comes to Pharaoh’s attention. Shenatháyim alone means "two years." The added expression yamim, "days," on the one hand, seems to indicate that it was "two whole years" (Meek); but on the other, it almost seems as if the expression recalls how Joseph was by this time eagerly counting the days. The two nouns are not in construct relationship but purely appositional as is often the case with terms of weight and measure (K. S. 333 e).

Pharaoh "was dreaming" (cholem); the participle implies that after idle dreaming had been going on for a time, the dream suddenly took very tangible shape. What he became definitely aware of is drawn to our attention by a hinneh, "lo." He himself was standing by the Nile. The Hebrew says ’al ("over") because the bank is always higher than the stream. Ye’or, a form in which, apparently, an Egyptian and an Assyrian root blend, standing in reference to Egyptian surroundings, always refers to "the River" of Egypt, i. e. the Nile. A participle like cholem may be used in place of a finite verb in the past tense also (K. S. 238 b).

2. Again the participle lets the scene progressively re-enact itself— ’oloth —"they were coming up." Apparently, these cows left nothing to be desired: they were "beautiful" and "fat" —the Hebrew expressively says "fat of flesh." The "reeds" in which they graze are ‘achû, a distinctly Egyptian word. The scene could hardly be more characteristically Egyptian. In "beautiful of appearance" —"appearance" (mar’eh) is an accusative of specification.

3. The second seven cows are in every way the opposite of the first: "ugly and skinny" —daqqôth basar, "beaten, or thin of flesh." Watha’amóvdhnah ="and they stood" —we render they "took their place." Apparently, the two groups of seven each first appear side by side for a while in order to make the contrast between them forcibly apparent. But as to their origin in the dream it is noteworthy that both groups come from the same river.

4. Cow eating up cow is the strange thing that now follows; and yet in a dream such an occurrence is entirely of the type that might be expected. Still that part of the dream was so utterly strange as to startle Pharaoh into a waking state.

5-8. And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time: and, lo, there were seven ears of grain coming up on one stalk, plump and nice; and, lo, seven ears, thin and blasted by the east wind, were sprouting up after them; and the seven thin ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, lo, it was a dream. And it came to pass in the morning that his mind was wrought up and he sent and summoned all the magicians of Egypt and all her sages, and Pharaoh told them his dream. But there was no man who could furnish an interpretation for Pharaoh.

The second dream is as distinctly Egyptian as the first, at least, objects familiar to the Egyptian are involved. Egypt was known as the granary of the ancient world. Seven ears on a stalk were not at all uncommon. These seen in the dream were so "plump" (literally: "fat") that it was a pleasure to behold them: they were "nice" (literally "good," tobh).

6. The seven lean ears have the same word applied to them that was used in reference to the cows, daqqoth, "thin." In addition, as they were developing in their wretched state, apparently the withering "east wind," qadhim —for Egypt more usually a southeast wind—had blasted what little remained. This wretched wind, called to this day chamsin, utterly wilts all green things upon which it blows. Since these last seven ears are not said to have come upon a single stalk, the implication is that each grew on its own stalk. In shedhuphoth qadhim, "blasted of the east wind," a genitive construction replaces the construction which offers an active subject (K. S. 336 n). On this "east wind" see Hos. 13:15; Jer. 18:17; cf. also Jonah 4:8.

7. The lean "swallow up" the plump. We interpret that to mean more than that in their weedlike growth they crowded out and smothered the plump, as Strack suggests. The "thin" were too "blasted" for that. Grotesque as dreams are, this one actually showed the one group swallowing up the other, an act in itself as unnatural as that cows should turn carnivorous. The uniqueness of the scene again startles the king awake. The remark, "lo, it was a dream," leads us to conclude that, as often happens, the dream had been so realistic that for a time the king had almost believed that it was an actual occurrence, even though his reason was protesting at its impossibility.

8. The resultant impression is so strong that even on the next morning Pharaoh’s mind (Hebrew: "spirit") was still "wrought up." Unable to decipher his dreams, he calls upon the chartumîm, the men versed in deciphering hieroglyphics, wherefore the Septuagint describes them as ierogrammateiv, "men versed in the sacred writings." No doubt they also cultivated arts such as astrology. The root as such means one who wields a writing instrument, Griffelfuehrer (K. W.). "Magician" seems to cover the case most nearly. To these are added the sages (chakhamîm, "wise men"). They hear the double dream and find themselves unable to interpret it: ’en pother’otham —"there was not an interpreter of them." The suffix on "his dream" is singular, treating both dreams as one.

We must admire the honesty of these men. To offer some makeshift interpretation would seemingly have been so easy. Perhaps they were entirely conscientious: their science offered them no clue; they admitted it. Yet the whole thing seemed so very obvious, as has often been pointed out. The part that the Nile plays in at least the first dream is too evident to demand explanation. Let Dods tell the rest of the story: "The cow also was reverenced as the symbol of the earth’s productive power. If then—God wished to show to Pharaoh that seven years of plenty were approaching, this announcement could hardly have been made plainer in the language of dreams than by showing to Pharaoh seven wellfavoured kine coming up out of the bountiful river to feed on the meadow made richly green by its water." Apparently, the hand of God was upon the interpreters, making their own devices of no effect, in order that the revelation might come by His own chosen instrument.

9-13. And the chief of the butlers spoke to Pharaoh saying: My sins do I for one call to mind this day. Pharaoh was angry at bis servants and put me under guard in the house of the chief of the bodyguard, both me and the chief of the bakers, And we dreamed a dream in one night, both I and he, each man dreaming according to the particular interpretation of his own dream. And there, with us, was a Hebrew lad, a servant of the captain of the bodyguard; and we told him, and he furnished us with an interpretation of our dreams; he interpreted for each man as his dream demanded. And it came to pass that everything turned out as he interpreted for us: me he restored to my position, and him he let be hanged.

The chief of the butlers could hardly have forgotten Joseph under these circumstances. The sequence of thought in what he says regarding Pharaoh’s anger leads us to believe that his word "my sins" (chata’ay), A.V., "my faults," is only a reference to his own misdeeds over against the king and does not mean that he remembers how shabbily he treated Joseph in not pleading his cause. To him Joseph is the Hebrew prison-slave; he himself, however, is the noble courtier. Then follows his story how Joseph had furnished an entirely reliable interpretation to clear up the butler’s great perplexity, and how the interpretation furnished to the baker had also proved correct. The details are explained in the preceding chapter.

In v. 11, in nachalmah the ending ah with waw conversive is quite the exception (G. K. 49e and K. S. 200). In v. 12’ébhedh lesar —"a servant of the captain," because the intention is to leave the first noun indefinite, therefore le in the construct relationship (K. S. 280 l). "To each one," ’îsh, furnishes an instance of a casus pendens, the noun standing as an absolute rather than as a dative as the construction demands (G. K. 139 c). "Me he restored" —of course, "I was restored," etc.

14-16. And Pharaoh sent and let Joseph be summoned and brought in haste from the prison; and he let himself be shaved and provided with a change of garments, and he came to Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Joseph: I have dreamed a dream and no man can interpret it. Now I for my part have heard about thee that for thee to hear a dream is to interpret it. But Joseph answered Pharaoh: Not at all! God will give Pharaoh a favourable answer.

Pharaoh’s need is urgent: it matters little who will furnish the interpretation. The utmost of meticulous cleanliness was essential for those who were to be presented to the Pharaoh. Consequently also the shaved head as well as the shaved body would present rather a delay in this instance. Besides, adequate raiment had to be provided for such a presentation. Several of the verbs used refer to what was ordered to be done rather than to what the subject executed in person. Wayyiqra’," and he called" —"he let Joseph be summoned," and in reference to Joseph waygalach, "and he shaved" —"he let himself be shaved," and the next verb: "he let himself be provided with a change of raiment." For this impecunious prisoner would hardly have had the proper shaving utensils or a change of raiment.

15. Very concisely Pharaoh formulates the problem which led to this unceremonious summons of Joseph. Equally concise is Pharaoh’s statement concerning the report he has heard about Joseph. To lend the needed dignity to his urgent presentation of the case, Pharaoh refers to his royal person with emphasis: "I for my part have heard," ’anî shamá’ti. What he has heard is really: "thou hearest a dream to interpret it." That must mean: "for thee to hear a dream is to interpret it." That clearly claims unfailing ability to cope with all dreams. "The Hebrew subordinates the emphatic clause where we would subordinate the condition" (Skinner).

16. Joseph’s reply is usually given too much emphasis in its first part; bil’adhay is not: "it is not in me" (A.V.), nor really quite as we have rendered, "not at all" (B D B), nor yet as Luther rendered: das stehet bei mir nicht. For the word means: "quite apart from me." Certainly Joseph is disclaiming unfailing ability to interpret. We believe that, roughly paraphrased, the remark means: "leave me aside for the present," and it is followed at once by a statement that lodges all power and all honor with God—here ’elohim, for Pharaoh had no acquaintance with Yahweh. Yet the implication of the brief but courteous reply is that God will use Joseph as the medium for his revelation. We may well be astounded at the downright honesty which refuses to profit even in an emergency by a slight distortion of the truth. As far as Joseph was concerned, absolute truthfulness in guarding God’s honor was far more important than personal advantage. After twelve years and more of injustice Joseph’s first consideration is not deliverance but to take care that his relation to his God be entirely upright. In the original "a favourable answer" is an "answer of peace," or more literally: "God will answer the peace of Pharaoh," i. e., that which will be conducive to Pharaoh’s well-being. Note also the tactful courtesy of Joseph’s reply: he does not by unwarranted claims take advantage of a situation that might make him appear a great expert and all the court magicians poor bunglers—an attitude that would have antagonized these courtiers.

17-24. And Pharaoh spake unto Joseph: In my dream, lo, I was standing on the bank of the Nile; and, lo, from the Nile there were coming up seven cows, fat and beautiful, and they grazed among the reeds. And, lo, seven other cows were coming up after them, thin, very ugly and poor looking—I never saw such poor specimens in all the land of Egypt—and the skinny, ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows; and they went down into the midst of them and it was not to be noticed that they had gone down into the midst of them; and they looked just as bad as they had before. Then I awoke. And I noticed in my dream, and, lo, seven ears of grain were coming up on one stalk, plump and good; and, lo, seven ears of grain, hard and dry, and blasted by the east wind, were sprouting up after them. And the thin ears swallowed up the good ears. Now I have spoken to the magicians, and there is not a man that can enlighten me.

Pharaoh is so vitally interested in what seems a matter of great importance to him, that he retells his dreams himself. Everything is as true to life as it can be. You would expect the major terms used to be the same as those found in the first account. You would expect some points to be stressed a bit more: the account has not been rehearsed so frequently as to become, utterly stereotyped. On the face of it, it would appear ridiculous to attribute an account that varied slightly from the first account to a different source, as ridiculous, we say, as it would be unnatural to have both accounts entirely the same. First the poor cows are merely "ugly and skinny"; now they are "thin, very ugly and poor looking." Besides, further reflection on the whole dream has now led him to remark: "I never saw such poor specimens in all the land of Egypt." In the first recital the latter seven merely ate the former seven. Now he recalls "that they went down into the midst of them and it was not to be noticed that they had gone down into the midst of them; and they looked just as bad as they had before." But who would venture to put the second recital at variance with the first? Even Skinner says: "The slight differences in phraseology are due to the literary instinct for variety." Though we believe our explanation to be far more natural, we are surprised that the tendency to set source, so called, at variance with source does not control all critics here.

Similar minor differences appear in reference to the second recital of the second dream. After it has been given, the king, impatient for a solution, summarizes very briefly, concluding: "there is not a man that can enlighten me" —Hebrew: "there is not a one telling (maggidh) me."

In v. 21qirbénnah really has a plural suffix (G. K. 91 f) and mar’êhen, all appearances to the contrary, a singular one (G. K. 99 ss). In v. 22 Wa’e’re’ is rather an unusual form for the first person (G. K. 75 o p). In v. 23 the masculine suffix on ’ach(ch)arêhem, being the one more frequently used, has displaced the feminine (G. K. 135 o).

25-32. Then Joseph said to Pharaoh: Pharaoh’s dream is but one; God has made known to Pharaoh that which He is about to do: The seven good cows stand for seven years, and the seven good ears stand for seven years—the dream has one meaning. The seven skinny and ugly cows coming up after them, they also stand for seven years; and the seven ears, empty and blasted by the east wind, mean: there will be seven years of famine. This then is the thing that I told Pharaoh: God has showed Pharaoh what He is about to do. See, seven years are about to come—great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. After these shall arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty in the land of Egypt shall be forgotten, and the famine shall consume the land. And it shall not be known that there was plenty, because of the ensuing famine. For it shall be extremely grievous. As far as the fact is concerned that the dream came twice to Pharaoh, this signifies that the matter is fully determined by God, and that God will carry it out promptly.

With deft skill and with the sure touch of one who knows, Joseph interprets as God reveals it to him. Though nothing is said under this head, it seems too obvious for words specifically to recount how one, who had ascribed all ability to God, first made his earnest silent prayer to God for help. Then comes the swift unravelling of the tangled skein. First: the two dreams have the same interpretation; there is really only one dream. Secondly: God is revealing to Pharaoh what He is about to do (’oseh is future, G. K. 116d).

26. "The seven good cows stand for seven years" —the adjective tobhoth has the article, because the numeral "seven" made the preceding noun definite (K. S. 334 v) —"and the seven good ears stand for seven years." This clinches the point that the dual dream has a unit meaning. This was the one difficulty—seven cows = seven years—which had barricaded the approach to the whole interpretation. With this key item clear, everything literally falls into its proper place. The seven skinny cows must be years, too, and bad ones—that is to say "seven years of famine." At once all difficulties are removed, and the interpretation may proceed to clinch all vital points. Once again Joseph repeats the fundamental point of view which should govern the entire approach: "God has showed Pharaoh what He is about to do." Hû’ haddabhar reaches back to 25b, which is almost entirely identical with 28 b. Joseph’s life and his thinking are theocentric. These dreams are centred in God’s merciful kindness; Pharaoh should gratefully record that fact.

29. The inference to be drawn from the above premises is that a first heptad of years is coming—"great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt" "plenty" stands in apposition to the "seven years," Related to one another, the seven famine years shall make the years of plenty "to be forgotten" —they "shall consume the land" —"it shall not be known that there was plenty" ("known’" in the sense of "realized"). Since a needed warning is involved, Joseph summarizes in respect to the famine: "it shall be extremely grievous."

32. Now the last essential fact: the repetition of the dream points to the fact that the events revealed will come to pass at once. "The matter is fully determined by God." It is not contingent upon the possible outcome of other matters that are still pending. Besides, "God will carry it out promptly" (Hebrew: "God is making haste in reference to the doing"). The opening clause of this verse in literal translation runs thus: "and upon (’al) double occurrence (hishshanôth) of the dream to Pharaoh" (is built the fact that) "the matter is fully determined" (K. S. 403 f).

One is amazed how this man Joseph, inspired by God, cuts through the Gordian knot. Every Egyptian magician must have been convinced of the correctness of the interpretation and have marvelled that so obvious a solution did not occur to him. Here the contrast between the certainty of divinely given truth and the unreliability of human thoughts is demonstrated with unusual clearness.

33-36. And now let Pharaoh pick a man who is shrewd and wise and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh act and appoint administrators over the land and let him take a fifth part of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven years of plenty. And let them gather all the food of these seven good years that are about to come, and let them heap up the grain under Pharaoh’s hand for food in the cities and let them guard it there. And this food shall be for a deposit for the land during the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt. Then the land will not be ruined by the famine.

The Spirit of God did more than merely enable Joseph to interpret the king’s dreams; he enabled him to furnish a comprehensive plan to meet this unusual emergency. This plan is as masterful as was the interpretation that preceded. First, a chief administrator is needed. He must have two qualifications: he must be "shrewd and wise." "Shrewd" —nabhôn, from the root bîn = "to have insight." He must, therefore, be a man who has keen insight into the situation and its needs. But the capacity for acting constructively in a way to meet these needs is covered by chakham, "wise," which always implies constructive capacity.

34. Joseph’s energetic counsel tended toward instantaneous action. So sure was he of the correctness of the interpretation and of the need of action. Therefore ya’aseh, optative—let Pharaoh "act." Even as there was need of centralized authority to meet the emergency (v. 33), so there was need of "sub-administrators" (peqidîm —"appointees") over portions of the land, whose business would primarily be to chimmesh, "fifth," the land, i. e., "take a fifth part of the produce." "A fifth part" would, indeed, be a double tithe, but in years of plenty that would hardly count as a hardship. Had this surplus not been gathered, it might largely have been wasted by careless management. A further likelihood is that Pharaoh will have secured this surplus by purchase not by merely impounding it. The low prices of bumper crop years will have made greater purchases possible. In no event need the charge of harshness be laid against Joseph’s plan as outlined. The jussive ya’aseh is without the usual apocopation ya’as.

35. The grain thus gathered is usually called ’okhel, "food," for from that point of view it is usually considered. Once in this verse bar, "grain," is used. "Food" may, of course, include everything that could have been preserved. In the last analysis Pharaoh is to have complete control as the words "under Pharaoh’s hand" (i. e., by his authority) indicate. Observe how well co-ordinated this plan is and yet how simple in all its parts. The "cities" are indicated as the logical centre for storage of the grain. Besides, provision is to be made properly to "guard" (shamar) this food after it has been laid up. So, then, when the inevitable famine comes, the land will not "be ruined" (tikkareth —"cut off" —A.V. "perish").

We feel rather keenly that Joseph never for a moment thought of himself as a possible candidate for head administrator. Verse 16 shows how little Joseph thought of turning the situation to his own advantage. How utterly unreasonable for one who had never held an office of state, who, besides, was a foreigner and still almost smelled of the prison whence he had been brought—for such a one to anticipate immediate advancement to a position second only to that of Pharaoh! The last few years had stifled all ambitions to hold a prominent position. Joseph would have considered himself fortunate indeed merely to be set at liberty.

37-41. And the proposition appealed to Pharaoh and to all his courtiers, and Pharaoh said to his courtiers: Shall we find a man with the Spirit of God like this man? Then Pharaoh said to Joseph: Seeing that God has revealed all this to thee, there is no man as shrewd and wise as thou art. Thou shalt be over my house, and all my people shall be entirely obedient to thee. Only in the matter of the throne shall I be greater than thou art. Besides, Pharaoh said to Joseph: See, I have set thee over the entire land of Egypt.

37. Joseph’s lucid plan meets with immediate approval by Pharaoh and his courtiers. Its merits kept suggesting themselves so forcibly upon this group, which a moment before was so entirely at a loss, that the next suggestion of Pharaoh also meets with the full approval of all. The thought that stands out in reference to Joseph is that he has "God’s Spirit" (ru’ach ‘elohîm), The Egyptians still had so much spiritual discernment as to be able to see that a supernatural element had been involved in this interpretation. Pharaoh senses that this same element as a divine equipment will be essential to carry out a plan of such magnitude as the one Joseph just outlined. Nimtsa’ is not potential, "can" or "could we find" but a plain future: "shall we find" (K. S. 187). Apparently, there was a measure of the knowledge and fear of God still left to the Egyptians at this point in history.

39. Pharaoh reasons quite cogently: the God who revealed the dream and this excellent plan to you would very likely equip you to carry it out rather than any other man. He observes in Joseph both shrewdness and wisdom. Joseph’s prompt response arouses a kindred prompt resolution in Pharaoh. Using his power as supreme ruler, he appoints Joseph over his "house" first of all. When we consider the importance of the major-domus of the Merovingians or of the officials of Israel’s court bearing practically the same name (cf. 1 Kings 4:6; 16:9; Isa. 22:15), we see that the position was easily as influential as that of a secretary of state. Joseph’s position in reference to the people is also defined at once: "all my people shall be entirely obedient to thee," Hebrew: "they shall hang upon thy mouth" (nashaq —"cling to," "attach oneself to" —and so "be entirely obedient" vollkommen gehorchen —K. W.). Apparently, the verb is not as doubtful as some claim, and the rendering of the Septuagint gives a good lead—upacousetai. Still Pharaoh will be the supreme ruler; yet he graciously states the case as much in Joseph’s favour as possible: "only in the matter of the throne (hakkisse’— accussative of specification) shall I be greater than thou art." The additional statement rounds out the broad scope of Joseph’s authority in reference to the land as a whole: "I have set thee over the entire land of Egypt."

Only a man like Joseph, schooled by adversity and sorrow, could meet a sudden elevation like this without pride and self-exaltation. His rigorous training enabled him to encounter success without succumbing to its blandishments.

42-45. And Pharaoh removed the signet ring from his finger and put it upon Joseph’s finger and clad him in linen robes and put a golden chain around his neck, and had him ride in his second chariot, and men cried out before him: Bow the knee. So he was set over the entire land of Egypt. And Pharaoh said to Joseph: I am Pharaoh; but without thy permission not a man shall move hand or foot in all the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah, and gave him a wife Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. And Joseph went forth throughout the land of Egypt.

Everything has a strictly Egyptian colouring: "signet ring," "linen robes," "golden chain," "chariot." The students of Egyptiology are wont to point out these details. The "signet ring" (taba’ath from taba’," to sink down," viz., into the clay upon which the signature is affixed) gives its possessor authority to sign documents with the equivalent of royal authority. Robes of "linen" (shesh =byssus, the characteristic fine linen of the Egyptians) were considered the most elegant. The "golden chain" seems to have been a rather general symbol of authority—especially in the XVIII and XIX dynasty (Procksch). The "second chariot" must have been a vehicle sufficiently splendid to be recognized as second only to Pharaoh’s. So all the outward trappings of authority are provided by Pharaoh himself. The last step taken serves to introduce Joseph formally to the people at large. The word cried out before Joseph’s chariot was ’abhrekh. This word has caused much difficulty. Perhaps it was intended to remind the Hebrew of the root barakh, "to bow the knee," and it may have ranked as a kind of Aphel form. Popular etymology may have put some such meanings upon it. This view is reflected in our versions. Luther, however, attempts an unetymological interpretation, guessing at the second half of the word after he removes ’abh which may mean "father" —dies ist des Landes Vater. B D B lists no less than seven attempted explanations. K. W. offers pass auf, "look out" —which seems rather inadequate. "Bow the knee" seems to fit the needs of the case most aptly. Nathôn, absolute infinitive, continues the sequence after the finite verb (G. K. 113 z).

44. The king’s word, "I am Pharaoh," is best understood if one recalls the exalted reverence that was shown to such rulers in days of old. Meek seeks to express the thought by rendering: "Although I continue as Pharaoh, yet, etc." The king is telling Joseph that there can be no thought of his ranking as high as does the king, but he tells it very considerately; he practically appoints Joseph dictator: "without thy permission (Hebrew: apart from thee) not a man shall move hand or foot in all the land of Egypt" —an effective hyperbole.

45. Now Joseph has everything except the requisite social standing. This is provided by egyptianizing his name and giving him an Egyptian wife of priestly extraction. "Zaphenath-paneah" may mean "abundance of life" (K. W.), although the consonants are usually construed to mean, "the god speaks and he lives" (B D B and K. W.) — not in a monotheistic sense. "Asenath" appears to mean "the one belonging to Neith" (a goddess of the Egyptians). "Potiphera" is said to mean: "he whom Ra (the sun god) gave." The city "On" was the well-known centre of worship of the sun god, Ra. Of course, the Potiphar of chapter 39 is quite distinct from this Potiphera. In any case, much as the Egyptians may have felt an aversion to foreigners, yet to be introduced to one under such auspicious circumstances, to one who besides has contracted so favourable a matrimonial alliance, ought to cancel all prejudice. Students of Egyptian history tell us besides of certain periods where even the reserved and superior Egyptians were possessed of a strange mania for foreign innovations and customs. The last statement is quite in place: "Joseph went forth throughout the land of Egypt" on an initial tour of inspection. Only by securing adequate firsthand information would Joseph be able to estimate rightly the problems involved in his gigantic task. Alterations of the text like: "His fame spread throughout the land of Egypt" (Meek) are without warrant.

46-49. Joseph was a man of thirty years when he entered the service of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. So Joseph went out from Pharaoh’s presence and traversed, the whole land of Egypt. During the seven years of plenty the land produced bumper crops. And he gathered all the food of the seven years which came in the land of Egypt, and put this food into cities, and he put into each city the food from the fields round about. And Joseph heaped up grain like the sand of the sea, exceedingly much, until men left off counting; they could not keep count of it.

At such an important juncture in Joseph’s life the reader naturally grows desirous of knowing just how old this food administrator was, and the writer meets this legitimate desire by telling him. Critics do not concede such flexibility of style and ascribe all such data to the fictitious P. However, if the picture is to be complete and the measure of favour that God grants is to be rightly evaluated, we practically need to know that these high honors and responsibilities were laid upon one so young—thirty years old. The expression "stand before the face of," ’amadh liphney, means to "serve one" or here "enter the service," not merely "to stand before," which here at least would be an empty designation. Nor does the next verse merely duplicate 45 b. The verb is different, ’abhar, "traverse," and the territory covered is greater, "all the land of Egypt." So after Joseph’s first trips of exploration and investigation there followed extensive journeys leaving no part of the land untouched.

47. What Joseph so confidently foretold actually happened: the land produced liqmatsîm, "with full hands," i. e., "bumper crops." The very practical plan was followed of gathering the abundance found round about the individual cities into these cities. The amount laid up in reserve must have seemed needlessly abundant. Ultimately those entrusted with keeping the records lost count of what reserves they actually had. Perhaps arithmetic had not advanced sufficiently to deal with such enormous totals.

50-52. And two sons were born to Joseph before the year of famine came, sons whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, bore to him. And Joseph called the name of the first-born Manasseh, for God has caused me to forget all about my toil and my father’s house. And the name of the second he called Ephraim, for God has made me fruitful in the land of my misery.

The birth of Joseph’s sons is set down as a matter of record as to how and when these two fathers of future tribes came into being, and also to give an indication how Joseph, the man of faith, viewed these tokens of divine favour. The name of the mother is again recorded so that we may take note how in an age of grievous irregularities Joseph remained faithful to the patriarchal standards of monogamous marriage, from which ideal only Abraham and Jacob had departed, and that under very unusual circumstances. Menasseh, as a verbal form, means "making to forget," as the explanatory word following also indicates (nashshánî, an unusual Piel form for nishshánî, G. K. 52 m). Though the statement is absolute: "God caused me to forget all about my toil and my father’s house," there can be no doubt about it that Joseph means: the sting is gone out of the remembrance. "God". (’Elohîm) is said to have wrought this, for it is ’Elohîm who is the mighty Ruler of the world and who disposes of the things in it according to His pleasure. ’Ephraim means "double fruit" (K. W.). God had made his life "fruitful," i. e., exceedingly successful in a land where he had previously seen only "misery."

53-57. And there came to an end the seven years of plenty which had been in the land of Egypt; and the seven years of famine began to come, just as Joseph had said, and there was a famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. And when all the land of Egypt suffered hunger, the people cried out unto Pharaoh for bread, and Pharaoh said to all Egypt: Go to Joseph; all that he saith to you, do it. And the famine spread over the whole face of the land. So Joseph threw open all that was in it and started to sell grain to the Egyptians; and yet the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. And the whole earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was so strong over the whole earth.

Joseph’s prediction was not only relatively true: things developed "just as he had said." The king and the nation must have relied implicitly on this infallible guide in these days. But the famine was of broader scope than merely to involve Egypt: "there was famine in all lands." Divine providence made these two famines to be coincident, the one in Egypt, due to the failure of the annual inundation of the Nile, the one throughout Syria, due to lack of rain, no doubt. For though here we read "in all lands" and in v. 57 "over the whole earth," we hardly believe that this is to be regarded literally. An intentional hyperbole is used. The lands beyond Syria and the Mediterranean litoral are hardly under consideration, because distance forbade attempts to get grain from Egypt on the part of those living in Mesopotamia and beyond. Yet, on the other hand, we do not deny the possibility of a world-wide famine at this time.

By way of explanation let this be said. The Nile owes its regular overflow partly to the torrential rains in Abyssinia, partly to the steady volume of water maintained by the White Nile, which carries off the melted snows from the high peaks of Central Africa. Occasionally, however, the channel of the White Nile grows choked with a sedge called sud. This takes place in the marsh lands of the Sudan. As a result the waters of the Nile lose themselves in these marshes till the river has cleared a new channel. This is usually regarded as the correct explanation for the failure of the inundations of the Nile, which, by the way, are not so very uncommon. Whitelaw records a similar case; he says:" —the most complete parallel to Joseph’s famine was that which occurred in A. D. 1064-1071, in the reign of Fatimee Khaleefeh, Eh Mustansir-b-rllâh, when the people ate corpses and animals that died of themselves."

55. When the famine begins to be acute, the people naturally appeal to Pharaoh first. His confidence in Joseph is so complete that he directs the people to him and enjoins complete conformity to whatever plan Joseph puts into operation. Either Pharaoh was weak and recognized that Joseph had greater administrative capacities than he himself did; or else Pharaoh was discreet in recognizing superior capacity coupled with a rare measure of providential guidance. Joseph, however, waited until the famine had spread "over the whole face of the land." Even the ample stores which he had gathered needed husbanding. When the need became imperative, "Joseph threw open (yiphtach —"open") all that was in it." Bahem, "in them," correctly refers to the plural "faces of" (peney) of the preceding clause. English demands the translation "in it:" The text is not confused; neither is there "a slight discrepancy" between v. 54 and v. 55 (no lack of bread vs. they are famishing). The solution is immediately apparent: Joseph was controlling the surplus very strictly; consequently people had to suffer a bit of hunger so as not ultimately to die of hunger. For though the sale of grain had started, "yet the famine was severe in the land of Egypt."

57. Now the narrative definitely prepares the way for the following chapter, for when Jacob’s sons come to Egypt for grain, they are merely one of many groups coming on the same mission.

It seems difficult to determine whether the famine of Joseph’s day is mentioned in the monuments. Kyle, The Deciding Voice of the Monuments, p. 225f., claims to have found the evidence. K. C. questions the validity of Kyle’s conclusions.

The analysis of this chapter according to so-called sources offers no new problem and nothing substantial or constructive.


The chief difficulty confronting the preacher on a chapter such as this is its bulk. Clearly it would be improper to take anything less than what ends with v. 45 and still have a complete unit. Yet forty-five verses certainly comprise more of a text than any man could treat adequately. Yet since the facts of the story are well known on every hand and since the section beginning at v. 25 gives an adequate summary of the double dream, it would seem entirely satisfactory to take v. 25-45 as one piece and treat it under some such head as "The Exaltation of Joseph." Exaltation was the thing for which Joseph had been in process of preparation for the past twenty years. Yet two extremes should be avoided in the use of this text. Steer safely between the extravagant opinion which guarantees similar deliverance to all who are brought low, and, on the other hand, the attitude of unbelief which despondently says: I am brought so low that even God cannot raise me up. In the practical application God’s power to do as much for any man, as He did for Joseph, should be stressed. Then v. 46-57 presents a good basis for treating the subject "Successfully Encountering Prosperity." For to cope with prosperity may be more difficult than to cope with poverty. Joseph (v. 51 and 52) recognized the mighty hand of God as being the only power that sustained him.

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