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Bible Commentaries

Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 41

Verses 1-57

The Dreams of Pharaoh and the Advancement of Joseph

1. Pharaoh] It is believed that a dynasty of Asiatic (perhaps Bedouin) conquerors, known as the Hyksôs or Shepherd kings, were now in power in Egypt. Their rule lasted for 500 years, until 1700 or 1600 b.c., when a native Nubian dynasty from Thebes expelled the invaders. The court was at Zoan on the eastern frontier of Egypt. The elevation of Joseph to an almost royal position, and the welcome extended to his kinsmen, were natural at the hands of a dynasty who were Asiatic like himself, but very improbable had a native dynasty who hated foreigners been in power: see on Exodus 1:8.

1. The river] Heb. Yeor, i.e. the Nile. As is generally known, the fertility of Egypt depends entirely upon the amount of water which overflows the banks when the Nile is at its highest. Without that river the land would be a desert, the rainfall being extremely slight.

In recent years great improvements have been made for maintaining the water at a normal height always. Large ’barrages’ or dams have been erected at Assouan, by the island of Philoe, for this purpose. The artificial irrigation of Egypt is alluded to in Deuteronomy 11:10, where see note.

2, 3. The seven well favoured kine] coming up out of the Nile signified an abundant over-flow for seven years and consequent plenty for Egypt, but the ill favoured ones the reverse.

Meadow] RV ’reed grass’ which grows by the Nile.

5. Seven ears.. upon one stalk] This many-eared wheat is still grown in Egypt. Specimens have been found in mummy cases of very early periods.

6. The east wind] the parching SE. wind from the desert; see on Exodus 10:21.

8. Magicians] RM ’sacred scribes.’ They were the literary caste of Egypt, writing the hieroglyphics, or sacred writings, and learned in the interpretation of dreams and astrology. They attended at the Court of the Pharaohs, and their duty was ’to guide every act of the king’s life, and to interpret the will of the gods as shown in visions, omens, or signs in the heavens. They did not affect to speak by direct inspiration in giving their interpretations, but confined themselves to consulting the holy books and to performing magical rites ’(Geikie). See on Exodus 7:11.

14. He shaved himself] so as to be ceremonially clean in Pharaoh’s presence, a distinctively Egyptian trait. ’The Hebrews regarded their beard with peculiar pride, cultivated it with care, touched it at supplications, often swore by it, and deemed its mutilation an extreme ignominy: hence, in mourning, they shaved their beards and hair’ (Kalisch). The Egyptians, on the other hand, never allowed the hair to grow unless they were in mourning, or prisoners, or belonged to the poorer classes. To be shaved was regarded as essential to ceremonial purity, as well as to cleanliness: see on Exodus 8:16. The great beards and head-dresses with which Egyptian kings are represented on the monuments are artificial. There is an ancient Egyptian wig in the British Muséum, and the strap by which the beard was held on the chin may be observed on the monuments.

16. Render, ’It is not I but God who will answer what will profit Pharaoh.’

25. The dream of Pharaoh is one] i.e. both dreams have the same significance. The narrative here is a striking fulfilment of the words in Genesis 39:2, ’The Lord was with Joseph.’

34. Joseph’s suggestion was that a fifth part of the corn crop should be required of the people for the next seven years to be stored up by the government; this would keep a quantity in the. country which would otherwise have been sold to other lands. The corn tax was already an important part of Egyptian revenue, and its increase in years of such abundant plenty would be no hardship.

38. Pharaoh felt that Joseph’s wisdom had a divine source.

40. Pharaoh makes Joseph his grand vizier or prime minister, only reserving to himself the supreme authority.

42. Ring.. vestures.. chain] ’The speculative mind of the Oriental invests everything with a symbolical significance ’(Kalisch). The ring was Pharaoh’s signet or seal, showing that Joseph was invested with full power as to edicts and commands. The king and the priestly order only wore the finest linen vestures. The chain round the neck from which the scarabæus, or beetle, the emblem of immortality, was suspended, was also a mark of rank.

43. They cried] i.e. the grooms who ran before the chariot, as is done to the present day in Egypt. Bow the knee] Abrek, the word used here, is still the cry to the camel to kneel.

44. The exaltation of Joseph, who was a Hebrew, is less remarkable if the Pharaohs of this period were themselves of Asiatic descent. See on Genesis 41:1.

45. Zaphnaph-paaneah] meaning, perhaps, ’God, the Living One, has spoken.’ It is a word of Egyptian origin, but not found earlier than the 9th cent. b.c. Asenath] ’One belonging to the goddess Neith, the Egyptian Minerva, goddess of wisdom.’ Poti-pherah] ’One given by Ra the sun-god.’ On] or Heliopolis, ’city of the sun,’ was 7 m. NE. of Cairo. It was the centre of the sun (Ra) worship. A great granite obelisk of the twelfth dynasty is all that remains standing of the temple of the sun, but a similar monolith known as ’Cleopatra’s needle ’was brought from Alexandria to London in 1878, and erected on the Thames embankment. It had originally been one of the obelisks at Heliopolis. It is held that these obelisks were the symbol of Ra, the fertilising sun-god. In Jeremiah 43:13; On is called Beth-shemesh, ’house of the sun.’ This marriage, no doubt, exalted Joseph in the eyes of the Egyptians, but there is abundant evidence that he did not forsake the faith of his fathers on account of these new ties.

46. Thirty years old] he was seventeen when sold into Egypt (Genesis 37:2).

51, 52. Manasseh] ’causing to forget.’ Ephraim] ’fruitful.’ The first name suggests that Joseph felt in his present prosperity compensation for his early trials.

54. Seven years of dearth] A similar visitation took place between the years 1064-1071 a.d., and this also was caused through the failure of the Nile. There is a record on the monuments of a great famine in Egypt 3000 b.c. In Canaan such a scarcity would be due to insufficient rainfall.

56. Over all the face of the earth] an expression for the countries near Egypt, such as Arabia, Palestine, and parts of Africa. And Joseph opened all the storehouses] Dr. Brugsch has discovered a tomb at El-Kab with an inscription which very possibly refers to this famine. Its occupant seems to have been one of the distributors of corn during the famine years. The following extract refers to it: ’I collected the harvest, for I was a friend of the harvest god. I was watchful at the time of sowing, and now when a famine came lasting many years I issued corn to the city to each hungry person.’

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Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Genesis 41". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.