Genesis 41:1-36 Joseph Interprets The Pharaoh’s Dreams.
It is interesting that in the events previous with the butler and baker, and now with Pharaoh himself, Joseph is not the dreamer, but rather, he is the interpreter. In the biblical corpus concerning revelations, dreams do not rank as highly as those who can interpret them, unless the “dream,” if one may call it such, is to be found in the council presence of the LORD God, the prerequisite for a true prophet. This is not unlike the gift of tongues, which ranks below that of the prophet, for tongues must also be interpreted for anyone to understand. As Joseph said in the previous context – “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (40:8b) The “two full years” of verse 1, is likely two full years after the restoration of the chief butler – the immediately preceding verse. This was how long the butler forgot him, probably because he didn’t want Pharaoh to know that he got his dream interpretation from a man thrown in prison accused of trying to rape the wife of his servant Potiphar.
In Pharaoh’s dream (vv. 2-4), seven fat cows symbolize seven years of plenty, and the seven gaunt cows that followed were seven lean years which would eat up everything gained in the first seven. So Joseph’s advice was to store enough in the first seven years to keep everyone alive in the seven lean years. From this dream we see that Joseph was not only gifted in interpreting dreams, but also in offering sage advice based on his interpretations. The fact that the Pharaoh had a second dream about heads of grain (vv. 5-7), was as Joseph said, “because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass” (v. 32). Again we see the principle of two or three witnesses with regards to the word of the LORD, which always concerns matters of life and death. The Magicians and so-called wise men could not interpret his dreams (v. 8 Cf. vv. 17-24). Finally the butler acknowledges his fault in not speaking of Joseph sooner (v. 9).
The butler told the Pharaoh about a Hebrew man named Joseph who had interpreted his dream two years ago, the interpretations which came true (vv. 10-13). So the Pharaoh sent for Joseph (v. 14a), but after living in a dungeon, Joseph had to shave and change his clothes, so he could answer the call from God to the Pharaoh (vv. 14-15). In his previous state the Pharaoh may not have recognized him as the man put in prison accused of raping his servant Potiphar’s wife. The Pharaoh simply wanted him for his perceived dream interpreting ability, but as Joseph said to him, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace” (v. 16 Cf. II Cor. 3:4-5). Why would Joseph say “peace” before he heard the dream? Perhaps it was the peace of hearing the truth. Then, without any apparent hesitation, after the Pharaoh relayed the dream, Joseph said, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do” (v. 25).
Seven years of plenty, would have enough surplus for the seven lean years, but only if the Pharaoh followed Joseph’s advice (vv. 26-31). Joseph was not the kind of man to put himself forward, but he did advise the Pharaoh to “select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt” (v.33). Here we see another example of Joseph going beyond simply interpreting the Pharaoh’s dream, to giving wise counsel on what to do given what would take place. Like any good leader, Joseph proposes that this man appoint officers over the land, under the authority of the Pharaoh, to assist in the administration of the nation’s affairs, in particular to start preparing in the years of plenty to have enough for the nation to survive when the years of famine came (vv. 34-36 Cf. 47:13ff.). “Neither Pharaoh nor his officials were in control; God and his servant were in charge, as they would be centuries later in the time of Moses (Ex. 7:1-5).” (NGSB. 75) It is ironic that Egypt should be saved by the God of a Hebrew.