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 41:14-16

14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon: and he shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh. 

15 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I have dreamed a dream, and there is none that can interpret it: and I have heard say of thee, that thou canst understand a dream to interpret it.

16 And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.

Joseph is brought before the Pharaoh, though not before he is able to clean himself up and be made presentable. This, of course, is symbolic of the changing tides about to come into Joseph’s life. A fresh face and clean clothes are emblems of a life made new. Things will never be the same again for this young Hebrew.

I am impressed at Joseph’s immediate humility when he meets with Pharaoh. The first words out of his mouth are to correct the notion that he, himself, has any power to interpret dreams. What an opportunity it would be to claim all praise and glory for himself, to elevate himself over all these other soothsayers who failed.

But if Joseph were to seek his own glory, then would God have been willing to provide him the interpretation of the dream? Joseph keeps himself worthy by acknowledging the true source of power: God Himself. Thus, Joseph rightly places himself in the role of faithful servant, and that is exactly the role the Pharaoh needs him to assume for this interpretation to work.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 41:9-13

9 Then spake the chief butler unto Pharaoh, saying, I do remember my faults this day:

10 Pharaoh was wroth with his servants, and put me in ward in the captain of the guard’s house, both me and the chief baker:

11 And we dreamed a dream in one night, I and he; we dreamed each man according to the interpretation of his dream.

12 And there was there with us a young man, an Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams; to each man according to his dream he did interpret.

13 And it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was; me he restored unto mine office, and him he hanged.

At last the chief butler remembers poor Joseph in prison. Joseph might have wished that he remembered sooner, but if he had, then Joseph might have been exonerated and sent back home two years prior, meaning he wouldn’t have been present to interpret Pharaoh’s dream and save countless lives. In the end, it was all for the best, God had worked things so that Joseph could be where he needed to be, and when he needed to be there.

Also, I think it noteworthy that the butler does not remember Joseph until after all the other wise men have tried and failed to interpret the dream. What an excellent way to prove to Pharaoh that this problem is beyond ordinary man, and anyone who can solve it must be doing so thanks to a higher power. His belief that Joseph is connected to God is critical to his decision to elevate the young man to a ruler.

In the end, the chief butler finally makes it known that two years ago the Pharaoh once walked a foretold path, fulfilling a prophecy that he didn’t even know about. Here was a man who had already known the Pharaoh’s mind once, so perhaps he could know it again.

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 41:1

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

Two more years passed after the event of Joseph interpreting the dreams for the chief butler and baker, and all the while he was left stewing in jail. To me that seems long enough to give up hope that the chief butler would ever help Joseph to get out of jail.

We don’t hear anything about how Joseph conducted himself during all this time. Presumably he still retained his conscience, but I can’t help but wonder what state his heart was in. Did he ever have days of despair where he assumed that this imprisonment would never end?

Certainly we also have our difficult situations that we cannot see a way out of. We each have situations where every attempt to find deliverance is frustrated, until at last we accept that we have no control over the matter. Then we try to turn things over to God, but after a time of our prayers going unanswered we start to question whether even He will ever take this obstacle away. We start to surrender to the expectation that things will remain just as they are forever.

This is an extremely humbling, even heart-breaking, experience to pass through. We have an innate sense of justice inside of us, which cries out that everything should be brought to its rightful place. The innocent should be exonerated and the guilty condemned, that is the right and natural order of things, yet that isn’t what we see happening around us. It is a hard thing to maintain our sense of what the right and ordered world should be, while also submitting to the fact that that simply is not how things always are.

The nature of bubbles in water is to rise to the surface, but sometimes these pockets of air get caught on sunken debris and held down where they should not be. But even a pocket of air trapped for a hundred years never loses its true nature. When decay and currents finally clear away the obstacle, air will still rise to the top.

So it is meant to be for us. Justice may be frustrated for a time and our surroundings may not match our quality of character for a season; but whether in this life or the next, all will eventually be made right. Though it takes an act of God, the good will eventually rise and the evil will fall. As we will see soon, this is what happens for Joseph. He is trapped with no earthly hope of deliverance, and certainly for a longer period than he would have preferred, yet deliverance does occur.