Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 41:25-28

25 And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, The dream of Pharaoh is one: God hath shewed Pharaoh what he is about to do.

26 The seven good kine are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one.

27 And the seven thin and ill favoured kine that came up after them are seven years; and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine.

28 This is the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh: What God is about to do he sheweth unto Pharaoh.

Yesterday I theorized that the one river and the one stalk from which the cattle and grain emerged was representative of God Himself. Joseph’s introductory statement that “God hath shewed Pharaoh what he is about to do,” seems to support that theory. God is the source of what is about transpire, the bounty and the deprivation, all are in His hand.

Joseph then proceeds to give a rapid identification for each of the separate parts of the dreams. The good cattle and grain are seven good years, the ill cattle and grain are seven years of famine. And now that he has defined all of the main players, he will drop the allegories, and plainly iterate exactly what is about to transpire.

And now that I look back to Joseph’s interpretations of the butler and baker’s dreams, this was the same method he took with them as well. First, he turned the symbols into their corresponding representations: “the three branches are three days,” and “the three branches are three days.” Then he dropped the similes and spoke in plain terms. “Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head, and restore thee unto thy place,” and “Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and shall hang thee on a tree.”

I had not noticed this pattern in Joseph’s dream-interpreting until now. This method seems effective at making sure that all of the dreamer’s questions will be answered. They will know why they saw what they saw, and they will know what it means.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 41:22-24

22 And I saw in my dream, and, behold, seven ears came up in one stalk, full and good:

23 And, behold, seven ears, withered, thin, and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them:

24 And the thin ears devoured the seven good ears: and I told this unto the magicians; but there was none that could declare it to me.

I mentioned last time that Pharaoh spent far more time describing the sickly cattle than the well ones, and he also spent far more time describing the first dream than he spends here on the second. Evidently the sight of cattle consuming their own kind made far more of an impression than withered stalks consuming healthy ones. But as we will soon find out, it is the dream of grain that is a closer representation of what will soon befall the land. The famine will presumably affect the crops first, and the creatures secondarily.

Something I missed in the first recounting of the dreams is that they show the seven goodly specimens emerge from one source. With the cattle the source was the river, and for the ears it was a single stalk. I don’t know what the significance of that singular source is. Perhaps it is representative of God, stating that He is personally sending these changes?

In any case, Pharaoh complains to Joseph a second time that none of his magicians were able to tell the meaning of these dreams, and at last we are about to hear Joseph’s answer.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 41:17-21

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.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 41:8

8 And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all the wise men thereof: and Pharaoh told them his dream; but there was none that could interpret them unto Pharaoh.

The very next morning Pharaoh is obsessed to know the meaning of his dreams. Note that he does not merely turn to whatever wise men or magicians are already in his court, right off the bat he wants to pull all of them in, throughout the entire kingdom!

And what an opportunity this would have created for these mystics. What better way to prove yourself, to show that you are the master of your craft? Here are all of your competitors gathered in one place and all of them stumped by the same dream. Surely if you could provide the proper interpretation, you would be the undisputed greatest of them all!

Except that not even a single one of them manages to do it! It’s the greatest opportunity of their lives and none of them can seize the moment. Perhaps they were too afraid to just make it up, to employ whatever trickery they used on their typical clients. If they did, and it was found out, then they would face the wrath of the most powerful man in the land!

The problem for all these mystics was that their power was likely based in smoke and mirrors, or chance and delusion. Maybe they were observant enough to find connections that most people missed, but this dream defied even the most imaginative of human intellects. Clearly the dream is foretelling something ominous, but the exact details of what are impossible to tell. No man could do it by his power alone.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 41:5-7

5 And he slept and dreamed the second time: and, behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good.

6 And, behold, seven thin ears and blasted with the east wind sprung up after them.

7 And the seven thin ears devoured the seven rank and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, behold, it was a dream.

Pharaoh’s dream about the cows was unsettling enough, but when he fell asleep again the theme was repeated a second time, now with stalks of corn. This doubling of dreams is a pattern in the story of Joseph. It began with Joseph having two dreams about how his family would come to make obeisance to him. It continued with the baker and the butler each having a thematically similar dream in the prison. And now the Pharaoh’s dreams are doubled as well.

One reason for the doubling of these messages might be to ensure the recipient will recognize them as being from God. One stray dream might just be a random imagination of the mind, but the same idea being repeated in different representations suggests a conscious, deliberate mind behind it all.

In Pharaoh’s second dream he again has a resource, this time corn, coming rich and full in the number of seven. Then, as with the cattle, seven poor representations of the crop rise and consume the first. Specifically, we are told that the poor ears of corn are blasted by the “east wind,” which is an expression that shows up a few times in the Bible, used to denote ruin and famine.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 41:1-4

1 And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed: and, behold, he stood by the river.

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

3 And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river, ill favoured and leanfleshed; and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river.

4 And the ill favoured and leanfleshed kine did eat up the seven well favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke.

I mentioned earlier that the each of the dreams Joseph had to interpret would be more inscrutable than the last. And indeed, it is extremely difficult to tell what specifically this dream of Pharaoh could possibly be about. Really only one thing is perfectly clear in it: that it is foretelling something ominous.

Something good arises from the stream, but then something evil emerges and consumes the good. It is abundantly clear why a person would be troubled by such a vision. Some doom is being forewarned, and to not know its interpretation means that one will be left helpless against it.

But there does seem to be a pattern to how Joseph interprets these dreams. Key elements in all three of the visions have been numbers and subjects (three vines, three baskets, seven cattle), where the vision takes place (in Pharaoh’s presence, upon the head, by the river), and what is happening to the subject (given in a cup, eaten by birds, feasting and being consumed). Something symbolized by a river, something symbolized by cattle, something bad happening to them, and something to do with the number seven…. Vague and foreboding.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 40:9-13

9 And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, In my dream, behold, a vine was before me;

10 And in the vine were three branches: and it was as though it budded, and her blossoms shot forth; and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes:

11 And Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand: and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.

12 And Joseph said unto him, This is the interpretation of it: The three branches are three days:

13 Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head, and restore thee unto thy place: and thou shalt deliver Pharaoh’s cup into his hand, after the former manner when thou wast his butler.

There are all manner of positive signifiers in the chief butler’s dream. For starters there is new life: a budding vine with blossoms growing, and clusters that bring forth good grapes. There is no mention of death or decay, and no ominous sigil. Then there is the other good sign of turning the grapes into wine, and giving that wine to Pharaoh. This clearly represents him being returned to a position of trust with his former master. For if a ruler will receive a drink of another man, that means he trusts that other man to have not poisoned it!

And so, frankly, the interpretation of this dream seems fairly obvious. As we will see, though, this is the first in a procession of three dreams brought to Joseph, and each is more inscrutable than the last. One might accuse Joseph of simply making the obvious connection in this dream, but the interpretation he is about to give to the baker and afterwards to the Pharaoh will be far more impressive.

In any case, Joseph does not only give the basic interpretation to the butler, but he also even elaborates on the finer details, such as how the three branches represent three days’ time before Pharaoh will elevate the man. That is a boldly specific declaration, but as we will see, he is exactly right in it.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 40:5-8

5 And they dreamed a dream both of them, each man his dream in one night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, which were bound in the prison.

6 And Joseph came in unto them in the morning, and looked upon them, and, behold, they were sad.

7 And he asked Pharaoh’s officers that were with him in the ward of his lord’s house, saying, Wherefore look ye so sadly to day?

8 And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you.

Joseph was an attentive servant, and paused to ask the men under his care what the cause of their sadness was. As soon as he heard that they had strange, uninterpreted dreams, he immediately offered to translate the visions for them.

Frankly I envy his confidence in the matter. In my own path of discipleship I often feel anxious about my spiritual “performance.” I strain to bear my testimony better, to discern another’s feelings more deeply, to magnify God’s light more brightly. Just a couple days ago I had a spiritual conversation with a brother, and I found myself racking my brain, trying to come up with something insightful and meaningful to say, like I had an obligation to provide something of substance.

And the thing is, I know perfectly well that I’m doing this wrong. I know that I need to surrender making it my work and let it be His work. I need to stop worrying about whether I can come up with the right answer and leave it up to Him to provide it instead. Or leave it up to Him to not provide the right answer, and in that case not feel like I have to fill that void with myself.

I imagine Joseph was able to speak with confidence because he really knew that “interpretations belong to God,” and thus there was no pressure on him to personally rack his brain and figure out the correct meaning. God would provide it…. Or maybe He wouldn’t. Joseph didn’t actually promise that he would be able to provide an answer or not, just that he was willing to listen to the dreams and then listen for whether God had anything to say on the matter. And that was enough.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 37:9-10

9 And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.

10 And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?

I wanted to look at Joseph’s second dream a little more before moving on. I mentioned yesterday that Jacob interpreted the sun and moon and stars in Joseph’s dream as representing Jacob, Rachel, and all of Joseph’s brothers. And if this interpretation is correct, then the doubling of Joseph’s dreams, first with the sheaves of wheat and second with the heavenly bodies, likely signified the two times his family would make special obeisance to him. The dream with only the eleven sheaves would be indicating the first time that Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt, asking for grain, and bowing before Joseph. This second dream with the stars and the sun and the moon would be indicating later when Joseph had revealed his identity and all the household came to live under Joseph’s protection.

But that being said, I’m not entirely sure that Jacob was correct in his interpretation. The fact that he says “I and thy mother” seems to suggest that this dream was given when Rachel was still alive. But by the time that Joseph came into power his mother was long since dead. Rachel was never present to see, and make obeisance, to Joseph as an Egyptian prince. Perhaps the sun and the moon could instead represent the two nations who depended on Joseph for survival: Egypt and Israel.

Of course, that other interpretation depends entirely on whether Rachel was still alive at this point or not. We know that she died during the birth of Benjamin, but we do not know how old Joseph was when his younger brother was born. Is it possible he never knew the boy before he was sold off to Egypt? If that were the case, then eleven stars would have seemed strange to the family, as Joseph would have only had ten brothers so far.

Which perhaps means that Benjamin was already born, Rachel had already passed away, and if the sun and moon really did signify Jacob and Rachel showing reverence to their son, perhaps it was meant in a spiritual sense instead of physical.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 37:9-11

9 And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.

10 And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?

11 And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying.

It is interesting that after such a poor reception to his first dream Joseph felt compelled to share this second one as well. Perhaps he was too naïve to realize the vexation it would stir up. Or maybe he fully knew the drama that would be caused, but the dream came with a God-given need to share it. Certainly Noah knew that his calls to repentance would not be received cheerfully, but he still was called to foretell the flood.

It is understandable that Joseph’s brothers would feel poorly about these dreams, but the retaliation they exercised on him was completely inexcusable. If they thought he was a fool or a liar they could have dismissed him out of hand, but the fact that they contemplated murder and sold him into slavery shows that they felt threatened. No doubt they knew in their hearts that he was more worthy than they, but they sought to remove him instead of improving themselves.

Of note in Joseph’s dream is that this one not only shows Joseph’s brothers making obeisance to him, represented by the eleven stars, but also two others represented by the sun and the moon. Jacob interpreted the sun and the moon as being himself and Joseph’s mother, and took offense to that. But unlike Joseph’s brothers, we hear that he “observed the saying,” which suggests that even though he disliked the message, he recognized it was from God and had respect to it.