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Bible Commentaries

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible
Genesis 41

 

 

Verses 1-57

- Joseph Was Exalted

1. יאר ye'or “river, canal,” mostly applied to the Nile. Some suppose the word to be Coptic.

2. אחוּ 'āchû “sedge, reed-grass, marsh-grass.” This word is probably Coptic.

8. חרטמים charṭumı̂ym ἐξηγηταὶ exēgētai ἱερογραμματεῖς hierogrammateis “sacred scribes, hieroglyphs.” חרט chereṭ “stylus,” a graving tool.

43. אברך 'abrēk “bend the knee.” In this sense it is put for הברך habrēk imperative hiphil of ברך bārak Those who take the word to be Coptic render it variously - “bow all, bow the head, cast thyself down.”

45. פענח צפנת tsāpenat -pa‛nēach Tsaphenath-pa‹neach, in the Septuagint ψονθομ-φανήχ Psonthom -Fanēch “Revelator occulti,” Kimchi. This is founded on an attempted Hebrew derivation. Σωτήρ κόσμου Sōtēr kosmou in Oxford MS., “servator mundi,” Jerome. These point to a Coptic origin. Recent Egyptologists give P-sont-em-ph-anh, “the-salvation-of-the-life or world.” This is a high-flowing title, in keeping with Eastern phraseology. אסנת 'âsnath Asenath, perhaps belonging to Neith, or worshipper of Neith, a goddess corresponding to Athene of the Greeks. פוטי פרע pôṭı̂y -pera‛ Potiphera‹, seems to be a variation of פוטיפר Pôṭı̂yphar Potiphar Genesis 37:36. אן 'ôn or און 'ôn On =Oein, “light, sun;” on the monuments TA-RA, “house of the sun.” ביתשׁמשׁ bêyth shemesh Jeremiah 43:13, Heliopolis, north of Memphis, on the east bank of the Nile.

51. מנשׁה menasheh Menasheh, “causing to forget.”

52. אפרים 'eprâyı̂m Ephraim, “double fruit.”

Here we have the double dream of Pharaoh interpreted by Joseph, in consequence of which he is elevated over all the land of Egypt.

Genesis 41:1-8

The dreams are recited. “By the river.” In the dream Pharaoh supposes himself on the banks of the Nile. “On rite green.” The original word denotes the reed, or marsh grass, on the banks of the Nile. The cow is a very significant emblem of fruitful nature among the Egyptians, the hieroglyphic symbol of the earth and of agriculture; and the form in which Isis the goddess of the earth was adored. “Dreamed a second time.” The repetition is designed to confirm the warning given, as Joseph afterward explains Genesis 41:32. Corn (grain) is the natural emblem of fertility and nurture. “Blasted with the east wind The east wind”. The east wind is any wind coming from the east of the meridian, and may be a southeast or a northeast, as well as a direct east. The Hebrews were accustomed to speak only of the four winds, and, therefore, must have used the name of each with great latitude. The blasting wind in Egypt is said to be usually from the southeast. “And, behold, it was a dream.” The impression was so distinct as to be taken for the reality, until he awoke and perceived that it was only a dream. “His spirit was troubled.” Like the officers in the prison Genesis 40:6, he could not get rid of the feeling that the twofold dream portended some momentous event. “The scribes” - the hieroglyphs, who belonged to the priestly caste, and whose primary business was to make hieroglyphic and other inscriptions; while they were accustomed to consult the stars, interpret dreams, practise soothsaying, and pursue the other occult arts. The sages; whose chief business was the cultivation of the various arts above mentioned, while the engraving or inscribing department strictly belonged to the hieroglyphs or scribes. “His dream;” the twofold dream. “Interpreted them” - the two dreams.

Genesis 41:9-13

The chief butler now calls Joseph to mind, and mentions his gift to Pharaoh. “My sins.” His offence against Pharaoh. His ingratitude in forgetting Joseph for two years does not perhaps occur to him as a sin. “A Hebrew lad.” The Egyptians were evidently well acquainted with the Hebrew race, at a time when Israel had only a family. “Him he hanged.” The phrase is worthy of note, as a specimen of pithy brevioquence. Him he declared that the dream foreboded that Pharaoh would hang.

Genesis 41:14-24

Pharaoh sends for Joseph, who is hastily brought from the prison. “He shaved.” The Egyptians were accustomed to shave the head and beard, except in times of mourning (Herod. 2:32). “Canst hear a dream to interpret it” - needest only to hear in order to interpret it. “Not I God shall answer.” According to his uniform habit Joseph ascribes the gift that is in him to God. “To the peace of Pharaoh” - so that Pharaoh may reap the advantage. In form. This takes the place of “in look,” in the former account. Other slight variations in the terms occur. “And they went into them” - into their stomachs.

Genesis 41:25-36

Joseph now proceeds to interpret the dream, and offer counsel suitable to the emergency. “What the God is about to do.” The God, the one true, living, eternal God, in opposition to all false gods. “And because the dream was repeated.” This is explained to denote the certainty and immediateness of the event. The beautiful elucidation of the dream needs no comment. Joseph now naturally passes from the interpreter to the adviser. He is all himself on this critical occasion. His presence of mind never forsakes him. The openness of heart and readiness of speech, for which he was early distinguished, now stand him in good stead. His thorough self-command arises from spontaneously throwing himself, with all his heart, into the great national emergency which is before his mind. And his native simplicity of heart, practical good sense, anti force of character break forth into unasked, but not unaccepted counsel. “A man discreet” - intelligent, capable of understanding the occasion; wise, prudent, capable of acting accordingly. “Let Pharaoh proceed” - take the following steps: “Take the fifth” of the produce of the land. “Under the hand of Pharaoh.” Under his supreme control.

The measures here suggested to Pharaoh were, we must suppose in conformity with the civil institutions of the country. Thee exaction of a fifth, or two tithes, during the period of plenty, may have been an extraordinary measure, which the absolute power of the monarch enabled him to enforce for the public safety. The sovereign was probably dependent for his revenues on the produce of the crown lands, certain taxes on exports or imports, and occasional gifts or forced contributions from his subjects. This extraordinary fifth was, probably, of the last description, and was fully warranted by the coming emergency. The “gathering up of all the food” may imply that, in addition to the fifth, large purchases of corn were made by the government out of the surplus produce of the country.

Genesis 41:37-46

Pharaoh approves of his counsel, and selects him as “the discreet and wise man” for carrying it into effect. “In whom is the Spirit of God.” He acknowledges the gift that is in Joseph to be from God. “All my people behave” - dispose or order their conduct, a special meaning of this word, which usually signifies to kiss. “His ring.” His signet-ring gave Joseph the delegated power of the sovereign, and constituted him his prime minister or grand vizier. “Vestures of fine linen.” Egypt was celebrated for its flax, and for the fineness of its textures. The priests were arrayed in official robes of linen, and no man was allowed to enter a temple in a woolen garment (Herodotus ii. 37,81). “A gold chain about his neck.” This was a badge of office worn in Egypt by the judge and the prime minister. It had a similar use in Persia and Babylonia Daniel 5:7. “The second chariot.” Egypt was noted for chariots, both for peaceful and for warlike purposes (Herodotus ii. 108). The second in the public procession was assigned to Joseph. “Bow the knee.” The various explications of this proclamation agree in denoting a form of obeisance, with which Joseph was to be honored. I am Pharaoh, the king Genesis 12:15. “Without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot.” Thou art next to me, and without thee no man shall act or move. “Zaphenath-paneah.” Pharaoh designates him the preserver of life, as the interpreter of the dream and the proposer of the plan by which the country was saved from famine. He thus naturalizes him so far as to render his civil status compatible with his official rank. “Asenath.” The priests were the highest and most privileged class in Egypt. Intermarriage with this caste at once determined the social position of the wonderous foreigner. His father-in-law was priest of On, a city dedicated to the worship of the sun.

With our Western and modern habit we may at the first glance be surprised to find a stranger of a despised race suddenly elevated to the second place in the kingdom. But in ancient and Eastern governments, which were of a despotic character, such changes, depending on the will of the sovereign, were by no means unusual. Secondly, the conviction that “the Spirit of God was in” the mysterious stranger, was sufficient to overbear all opposing feelings or customs. And, lastly, it was assumed and acted on, as a self-evident fact, that the illustrious stranger could have no possible objection to be incorporated into the most ancient of nations, and allied with its noblest families. We may imagine that Joseph would find an insuperable difficulty in becoming a citizen of Egypt or a son-in-law of the priest of the sun. But we should not forget that the world was yet too young to have arrived at the rigid and sharplydefined systems of polytheism or allotheism to which we are accustomed. Some gray streaks of a pure monotheism, of the knowledge of the one true God, still gleamed across the sky of human memory. Some faint traces of one common brotherhood among mankind still lingered in the recollections of the past. The Pharaoh of Abraham‘s day feels the power of him whose name is Yahweh Genesis 12:17. Abimelek acknowledges the God of Abraham and Isaac Genesis 20:3-7; Genesis 21:22-23; Genesis 26:28-29. And while Joseph is frank and faithful in acknowledging the true God before the king of Egypt, Pharaoh himself is not slow to recognize the man in whom the Spirit of God is. Having experienced the omniscience and omnipotence of Joseph‘s God, he was prepared, no doubt, not only himself to offer him such adoration as he was accustomed to pay to his national gods, but also to allow Joseph full liberty to worship the God of his fathers, and to bring up his family in that faith.

Joseph was now in his thirtieth year, and had consequently been thirteen years in Egypt, most part of which interval he had probably spent in prison. This was the age for manly service Numbers 4:3. He immediately enters upon his office.

Genesis 41:47-49

The fulfillment of the dream here commences. “By handfuls.” Not in single stalks or grains, but in handfuls compared with the former yield. It is probable that a fifth of the present unprecedented yield was sufficient for the sustenance of the inhabitants. Another fifth was rendered to the government, and the remaining three fifths were stored up or sold to the state or the foreign broker at a low price. “He left numbering because there was no number.” This denotes that the store was immense, and not perhaps that modes of expressing the number failed.

Genesis 41:50-52

Two sons were born to Joseph during the seven years of plenty. “Menasseh.” God made him forget his toil and his father‘s house. Neither absolutely. He remembered his toils in the very utterance of this sentence. And he tenderly and intensely remembered his father‘s house. But he is grateful to God, who builds him a home, with all its soothing joys, even in the land of his exile. His heart again responds to long untasted joys. “Fruitful in the land of my affliction.” It is still, we perceive, the land of his affliction. But why does no message go from Joseph to his mourning father? For many reasons. First, he does not know the state of things at home. Secondly, he may not wish to open up the dark and bloody treachery of his brothers to his aged parent. But, thirdly, he bears in mind those early dreams of his childhood. All his subsequent experience has confirmed him in the belief that they will one day be fulfilled. But that fulfillment implies the submission not only of his brothers, but of his father. This is too delicate a matter for him to interfere in. He will leave it entirely to the all-wise providence of his God to bring about that strange issue. Joseph, therefore, is true to his life-long character. He leaves all in the hand of God, and awaits in anxious, but silent hope, the days when he will see his father and his brethren.

Genesis 41:53-57

The commencement and the extent of the famine are now noted. “As Joseph had said.” The fulfillment is as perfect in the one part as in the other. “In all the lands” - all the lands adjacent to Egypt; such as Arabia and Palestine. The word all in popular discourse is taken in a relative sense, to be ascertained by the context. We are not aware that this famine was felt beyond the distance of Hebron. “Go unto Joseph” Pharaoh has had reason to trust Joseph more and more, and now he adheres to his purpose of sending his people to him. “All the face of the land of Egypt.” “And Joseph opened all places in which there was food” - all the stores in every city. “And sold unto Mizaim.” The stores under Pharaoh‘s hand were public property, obtained either by lawful taxation or by purchase. It was a great public benefit to sell this grain, that had been providently kept in store, at a moderate price, and thus preserve the lives of a nation during a seven years‘ famine. “All the land.” This is to be understood of the countries in the neighborhood of Egypt. Famines in these countries were not unusual. We have read already of two famines in Palestine that did not extend to Egypt Genesis 12:10; Genesis 26:1.

The fertility of Egypt depends on the rise of the waters of the Nile to a certain point, at which they will reach all the country. If it fall short of that point, there will be a deficiency in the crops proportioned to the deficiency in the rise. The rise of the Nile depends on the tropical rains by which the lake is supplied from which it flows. These rains depend on the clouds wafted by the winds from the basin of the Mediterranean Sea. The amount of these piles of vapor will depend on the access and strength of the solar heat producing evaporation from the surface of that inland sea. The same cause, therefore, may withhold rain from central Africa, and from all the lands that are watered from the Mediterranean. The duration of the extraordinary plenty was indeed wonderful. But such periods of excess are generally followed by corresponding periods of deficiency over the same area. This prepares the way for the arrival of Joseph‘s kindred in Egypt.

 


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Bibliography Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Genesis 41:4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/genesis-41.html. 1870.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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