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Genesis 41:1. Pharaoh dreamed. See on Isaiah 4:2. Whatever be the pleas of atheism and materialism against dreams of a prophetic character, it is evident enough from the gentile mythology, and from profane history, that they were fully accredited by the best and wisest of men. Cicero dreamed that while wandering in a solitary place, and much depressed in spirit, C. Marius came to him, and asked, why are you so dejected? To whom he replied, “It is because I have been unjustly driven out of my native country.” De Devinat. lib. 1. Now, this dream came out when Clodius, in the forty ninth year of his age, banished him from Rome. In Josephus, and in Plutarch, we have many dreams of a very striking nature. It is no way credible that a poor Hebrew servant could have been elevated, as Joseph was, without a special interposition of providence.
Genesis 41:2. The river favoured kine. The Nile, as Pliny correctly states, rises often twelve cubits and sometimes thirteen, or 24 feet, which usually indicates great plenty. The kine then fed in pastures adjacent, and at a distance not only in the Delta, but on the west of the river, which is now a desert of sands, blown in clouds by the western winds.
Genesis 41:8. His spirit was troubled. Two dreams so much alike, and so deeply impressed on his mind, very sensibly affected him. Magicians, that is, wise men, astrologers, philosophers, naturalists, and diviners. The priests of the nation were generally included under these names.
Genesis 41:16. It is not in me. Joseph here ascribes to God the whole glory of his wisdom and skill; he saw God’s hand in this dream, and was confident of the answer.
Genesis 41:25 . The dream of Pharaoh is one. It was repeated in the corn, and in the kine, or heifers, to show that the famine would affect both man and beast.
Genesis 41:34. The fifth part. The tenth part is supposed to have been due to Pharaoh; now the earth bringing forth double, this proportion, Joseph saw, would be sufficient for times of scarcity.
Genesis 41:35. Lay up corn. Granaries are among the wisest precautions of society, where a country, like Africa, is so variable in its seasons. Had this been a general practice, myriads of Ham’s race might have been saved from perishing of hunger.
Genesis 41:38. The Spirit of God. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is gradually unfolded from the beginning. Genesis 1:2; Genesis 6:3. The Holy Spirit inspires, teaches and guides; for futurity is to him without a veil.
Genesis 41:42. Pharaoh took off his ring. How much preferable were these honours to all the seductions of uncleanness he had so lately escaped; and oh how happy shall that soul be, how highly honoured of the King of glory, when by the grace of God, he shall have overcome the beguiling snares of vice.
Genesis 41:43. Bow the knee. אברךְ Abrac, which in hiphil is to bow the knee. Critics lose their way in the etymon of this word, by confounding it with ab, a father. Many towns in a low situation have the same root in their name; as Abraconium, a town situate on a river in Turcomania, Abraconis in the same province, Abrante on the right shore of the Tagus, and Abrambou on the river Volta, lat. 7, on the gold coast. The French abas, and the verb, to abate, seem to resolve themselves into the same primitive.
Genesis 41:44. Pharaoh, the name of all the Egyptian kings for 1400 years. The name of Ptolemy was the next in succession.
Genesis 41:45. Zaphnath-paaneah. Most critics interpret this name, a revealer of secrets, others an interpreter of dreams, and a few, a saviour of the land. It is much to be regretted that they have varied so much in giving the import of Hebrew names; but this being an Egyptian name, it has not been well understood. One well acquainted with Egyptian literature reads it, “the first of lords.” Priest of On; that is, Heliopolis, or the city of the sun, two or three leagues north east of Cairo. The celebrated obelisk was there, which reflected the solar rays. Joseph being ennobled by Pharaoh, became by this marriage ennobled in his connections. Perhaps this priest was pious, if we may so speak, where partial idolatry existed, as was the case with the adjacent priests of Midian. And if marriage so much augmented the happiness of the holy patriarchs and prophets, why should Rome deny it to her priests? Three of the apostles, as Eusebius states, were married. It is true, that those who first planted christianity were for the most part single, because of their mission, and because of their incessant persecutions. But why should a voluntary sacrifice for the glory of the work be unnaturally imposed on the best of men in the time of peace? What political good has accrued to Spain, or any other nation, by the celibacy of the priests? See on Exodus 1:11.
What a reverse of fortune did this afflicted man experience, and in a single day. What an elevation from the dungeon to the right hand of Pharaoh: not to destroy nations, but to preserve life. How astonishingly did the long dark and lowering clouds brighten all at once. With what admiration could he now review a well connected chain of vast events! He would see first of all, God’s design to afflict a voluptuous age with famine, and to instruct them anew in the belief of his particular providence: for man, carnal and brutish man, is apt to regard the succession of fruitful seasons merely as a well constructed machine which moves without a mover. He stops at nature, rests in second causes, nor looks so high as nature’s God. With this view the Lord caused abundance to overflow the land, as the waters of the Nile, and that for seven successive years. He then gave repose to nature, and famine ensued. The nations almost perished, who did not discern his way, and provide for future wants.
Joseph could now trace also the mysterious steps which had led him to his elevated station. He could now see the whole chain extended, and strange to say, the foulest of crimes as well as the greatest of virtues alike contributing to fulfil the designs of providence, and to prepare for the Messiah’s coming and kingdom. He saw God’s hand in permitting him to remain seventeen years with his father, till he had become acquainted with the maxims and religion of the patriarchs. He saw next the honour of his dreams provoking the envy and hatred of his brethren, and providence availing itself of their hatred, of his mistress’s temptations, of his master’s anger, of the butler’s ingratitude, and lastly of Pharaoh’s dreams to accomplish its wise designs. What a chain: and God is seen in every link! How grateful would he now be for each of his calamities. The wheel which had hurled him into the dirt of the dungeon, next elevated him to the verge of the throne, after he had been qualified by reflection and solitude for the greatness of such a change. Let us learn not to be discouraged when we suffer in a righteous cause. God’s eye is over us, his way is perfect, and whenever we are permitted to review his designs, our souls shall cordially approve of all the bitter he has poured into our cup. In a word, suffering virtue and innocence oppressed can have no finer model nor stronger example of support, than is here presented in the patriarch Joseph. We may farther observe, that if wisdom and virtue exalt an individual, it is singularly happy for a nation when the throne is surrounded by men of integrity and sound wisdom. The wicked are kept in awe by their controul: and the country rises to distinction among the nations, by the superiority of its wisdom and the vigour of its operation.
The subject strongly recommends all young men to study the character of Joseph, with a view to learn the importance of early piety. By this he became a prophet before he was seventeen years of age. By piety he acquired the first place in his father’s affections, escaped the most dangerous snares of vice, and supported his great afflictions. By piety he was raised to the right hand of Pharaoh, and we may add, to the right hand of God; for he died in the faith, giving commandment concerning his bones. He lived to see both his dreams accomplished, and to tell every future age, that they who trust in the Lord shall never be confounded.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 41". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11