17 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, In my dream, behold, I stood upon the bank of the river:

18 And, behold, there came up out of the river seven kine, fatfleshed and well favoured; and they fed in a meadow:

19 And, behold, seven other kine came up after them, poor and very ill favoured and leanfleshed, such as I never saw in all the land of Egypt for badness:

20 And the lean and the ill favoured kine did eat up the first seven fat kine:

21 And when they had eaten them up, it could not be known that they had eaten them; but they were still ill favoured, as at the beginning. So I awoke.

Pharaoh repeats his dream to Joseph, and in his recounting we gain a few new details. First of all, we learn that the ill cattle looked worse than any specimen Pharaoh had ever seen before. We will soon learn that these seven cattle represent a famine, and presumably it will also be worse than any other that had come before.

Another detail is that though the seven ill cattle consume the favorable, they somehow do not grow any fatter. They still appear as thin and sickly as before. This will also become a detail in Joseph’s interpretation, meaning that the bounty of the first seven years, if not carefully managed, will mean nothing when replaced by the seven years of famine. All the splendor will be consumed and more.

Something else that stands out to me in Pharaoh’s retelling is where he puts his focus. In the first account, given from a third-person, omniscient perspective, there was an equal amount of time describing the seven good cattle and the seven poor cattle. In Pharaoh’s recounting, though, there is far more emphasis on the sickly batch. Clearly their haunting visage made a deep and emotional impression on him, and he spends more than three times as many words discussing them as the fat ones!

However, the presence of the seven fat cattle was not given only as a point of contrast to the seven sickly. Each group represents an important message. And thankfully for Pharaoh, even though Joseph hears such a biased account of the dream, by the grace of God the significance of both halves is preserved in his interpretation.

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