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Pharaoh's Dreams and Their Interpretation. - Two full years afterwards ( ימים accus. “in days,” as in Genesis 29:14) Pharaoh had a dream. He was standing by the Nile, and saw seven fine fat cows ascend from the Nile and feed in the Nile-grass ( אחוּ an Egyptian word); and behind them seven others, ugly (according to Genesis 41:19, unparalleled in their ugliness), lean ( בּשׂר דּקּות “thin in flesh,” for which we find in Genesis 41:19 דּלּות “fallen away,” and בּשׂר רקּות withered in flesh, fleshless), which placed themselves beside those fat ones on the brink of the Nile and devoured them, without there being any effect to show that they had eaten them. He then awoke, but fell asleep again and had a second, similar dream: seven fat (Genesis 41:22, full) and fine ears grew upon one blade, and were swallowed up by seven thin (Genesis 41:23, “and hardened”) ones, which were blasted by the east wind ( קדים i.e., the S.E. wind, Chamsin, from the desert of Arabia).
“ Then Pharaoh awoke, and behold it was a dream.” The dream was so like reality, that in was only when he woke that he perceived it was a dream.
Being troubled about this double dream, Pharaoh sent the next morning for all the scribes and wise men of Egypt, to have it interpreted. חרטתּים , from חרט a stylus (pencil), and the ίερογραμματεῖς , men of the priestly caste, who occupied themselves with the sacred arts and sciences of the Egyptians, the hieroglyphic writings, astrology, the interpretation of dreams, the foretelling of events, magic, and conjuring, and who were regarded as the possessors of secret arts (vid., Exodus 7:11) and the wise men of the nation. But not one of these could interpret it, although the clue to the interpretation was to be found in the religious symbols of Egypt. For the cow was the symbol of Isis, the goddess of the all-sustaining earth, and in the hieroglyphics it represented the earth, agriculture, and food; and the Nile, by its overflowing, was the source of the fertility of the land. But however simple the explanation of the fat and lean cows ascending out of the Nile appears to be, it is “the fate of the wisdom of this world, that where it suffices it is compelled to be silent. For it belongs to the government of God to close the lips of the eloquent, and take away the understanding of the aged (Job 12:20).” Baumgarten.
In this dilemma the head cup-bearer thought of Joseph; and calling to mind his offence against the king (Genesis 40:1), and his ingratitude to Joseph (Genesis 40:23), he related to the king how Joseph had explained their dreams to him and the chief baker in the prison, and how entirely the interpretation had come true.
Pharaoh immediately sent for Joseph. As quickly as possible he was fetched from the prison; and after shaving the hair of his head and beard, and changing his clothes, as the customs of Egypt required (see Hengst. Egypt and the Books of Moses, p. 30), he went in to the king. On the king's saying to him, “ I have heard of thee ( עליך de te ), thou hearest a dream to interpret it, ” - i.e., thou only needest to hear a dream, and thou canst at once interpret it - Joseph replied, “ Not I ( בּלעדי , lit., “not so far as me,” this is not in my power, vid., Genesis 14:24), God will answer Pharaoh's good, ” i.e., what shall profit Pharaoh; just as in Genesis 40:8 he had pointed the two prisoners away from himself to God. Pharaoh then related his double dream (Genesis 41:17-Jeremiah :), and Joseph gave the interpretation (Genesis 41:25-Jonah :): “ The dream of Pharaoh is one (i.e., the two dreams have the same meaning); God hath showed Pharaoh what He is about to do.” The seven cows and seven ears of corn were seven years, the fat ones very fertile years of superabundance, the lean ones very barren years of famine; the latter would follow the former over the whole land of Egypt, so that the years of famine would leave no trace of the seven fruitful years; and, “ for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice ” (i.e., so far as this fact is concerned, it signifies) “ that the thing is firmly resolved by God, and God will quickly carry it out.” In the confidence of this interpretation which looked forward over fourteen years, the divinely enlightened seer's glance was clearly manifested, and could not fail to make an impression upon the king, when contrasted with the perplexity of the Egyptian augurs and wise men. Joseph followed up his interpretation by the advice (Genesis 41:33-Zephaniah :), that Pharaoh should “look out ( ירא ) a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt;” and cause יעשׂה ) that in the seven years of superabundance he should raise fifths ( חמּשׁ ), i.e., the fifth part of the harvest, through overseers, and have the corn, or the stores of food ( אכל ), laid up in the cities “under the hand of the king,” i.e., by royal authority and direction, as food for the land for the seven years of famine, that it might not perish through famine.
Joseph's Promotion. - This counsel pleased Pharaoh and all his servants, so that he said to them, “ Shall we find a man like this one, in whom the Spirit of God is?” “The Spirit of Elohim,” i.e., the spirit of supernatural insight and wisdom. He then placed Joseph over his house, and over all Egypt; in other words, he chose him as hid grand vizier, saying to him, “ After God hath showed thee all this, there is none discreet and wise as thou.” ישּׁק על־פּיך , “ according to thy mouth (i.e., command, Genesis 45:21) shall my whole people arrange itself.” נשׁק does not mean to kiss ( Rabb., Ges., etc.), for על נשׁק is not Hebrew, and kissing the mouth was not customary as an act of homage, but “to dispose, arrange one's self” ( ordine disposuit). “ Only in the throne will I be greater than thou.”
As an installation in this post of honour, the king handed him his signet-ring, the seal which the grand vizier or prime minister wore, to give authority to the royal edicts (Esther 3:10), clothed him in a byssus dress ( שׁשׁ , fine muslin or white cotton fabric),
(Note: See my Bibl. Antiquities, §17, 5. The reference, no doubt, is to the ἐσθῆτα λινέην , worn by the Egyptian priests, which was not made of linen, but of the frutex quem aliqui gossipion vocant, plures xylon et ideo LINA inde facta xylina. Nec ulla sunt eis candore mollitiave praeferenda. - Vestes inde sacerdotibus Aegypti gratissimae . Plin. h.n. xix. 1.)
and put upon his neck the golden chain, which was usually worn in Egypt as a mark of distinction, as the Egyptian monuments show (Hgst. pp. 30, 31).
He then had him driven in the second chariot, the chariot which followed immediately upon the king's state-carriage; that is to say, he directed a solemn procession to be made through the city, in which they (heralds) cried before him אברך (i.e., bow down), - an Egyptian word, which has been pointed by the Masorites according to the Hiphil or Aphel of בּרך . In Coptic it is abork, projicere, with the signs of the imperative and the second person. Thus he placed him over all Egypt. ונתון inf. absol. as a continuation of the finite verb (vid., Exodus 8:11; Leviticus 25:14, etc.).
“ I am Pharaoh, ” he said to him, “ and without thee shall no man lift his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt; ” i.e., I am the actual king, and thou, the next to me, shalt rule over all my people.
But in order that Joseph might be perfectly naturalized, the king gave him an Egyptian name, Zaphnath-Paaneah, and married him to Asenath, the daughter of Potipherah, the priest at On. The name Zaphnath-Paaneah (a form adapted to the Hebrew, for Ψονθομφανήχ lxx; according to a Greek scholium, σωτὴρ κόσμον , “ salvator mundi ” ( Jerome), answers to the Coptic P-sote-m-ph-eneh, - P the article, sote salvation, m the sign of the genitive, ph the article, and eneh the world (lit., aetas, seculum ); or perhaps more correctly, according to Rosellini and more recent Egyptologists, to the Coptic P-sont-em-ph-anh, i.e., sustentator vitae , support or sustainer of life, with reference to the call entrusted to him by God.
(Note: Luther in his version, “privy councillor,” follows the rabbinical explanation, which was already to be found in Josephus ( Ant. ii. 6, 1): κρυπτῶν εὑρετής , from צפנת צפנות occulta , and פענח revelator.)
Asenath, Ἀσενέθ (lxx), possibly connected with the name Neith, the Egyptian Pallas. Poti-Phera, Πετεφρῆ (lxx), a Coptic name signifying ille qui solis est , consecrated to the sun ( φρη with the aspirated article signifies the sun in Memphitic). On was the popular name for Heliopolis ( Ἡλιούπολις , lxx), and according to Cyrill. Alex. and Hosea 5:8 signifies the sun; whilst the name upon the monuments is ta-Râ or pa-Râ, house of the sun ( Brugsch, Reisebericht, p. 50). From a very early date there was a celebrated temple of the sun here, with a learned priesthood, which held the first place among the priests' colleges of Egypt ( Herod. 2, 3; Hengst. pp. 32ff.). This promotion of Joseph, from the position of a Hebrew slave pining in prison to the highest post of honour in the Egyptian kingdom, is perfectly conceivable, on the one hand, from the great importance attached in ancient times to the interpretation of dreams and to all occult science, especially among the Egyptians, and on the other hand, from the despotic form of government in the East; but the miraculous power of God is to be seen in the fact, that God endowed Joseph with the gift of infallible interpretation, and so ordered the circumstances that this gift opened the way for him to occupy that position in which he became the preserver, not of Egypt alone, but of his own family also. And the same hand of God, by which he had been so highly exalted after deep degradation, preserved him in his lofty post of honour from sinking into the heathenism of Egypt; although, by his alliance with the daughter of a priest of the sun, the most distinguished caste in the land, he had fully entered into the national associations and customs of the land.
Joseph was 30 years old when he stood before Pharaoh, and went out from him and passed through all the land of Egypt, i.e., when he took possession of his office; consequently he had been in Egypt for 13 years as a slave, and at least three years in prison.
For the seven years of superabundance the land bore לקמצים , in full hands or bundles; and Joseph gathered all the provisional store of these years (i.e., the fifth part of the produce, which was levied) into the cities. “The food of the field of the city, which was round about it, he brought into the midst of it;” i.e., he provided granaries in the towns, in which the corn of the whole surrounding country was stored. In this manner he collected as much corn “as the sand of the sea,” until he left off reckoning the quantity, or calculating the number of bushels, which the monuments prove to have been the usual mode adopted (vid., Hengst. p. 36).
During the fruitful years two sons were born to Joseph. The first-born he named Manasseh, i.e., causing to forget; “ for, he said, God hath made me forget all my toil and all my father's house ( נשּׁני , an Aram. Piel form, for נשּׁני , on account of the resemblance in sound to מנשּׁה ).” Haec pia est, ac sancta gratiarum actio, quod Deus oblivisci eum fecit pristinas omnes areumnas: sed nullus honor tanti esse debuit, ut desiderium et memoriam paternae domus ex animo deponeret ( Calvin). But the true answer to that question, whether it was a Christian boast for him to make, that he had forgotten father and mother, is given by Luther: “I see that God would take away the reliance which I placed upon my father; for God is a jealous God, and will not suffer the heart to have any other foundation to rely upon, but Him alone.” This also meets the objection raised by Theodoret, why Joseph did not inform his father of his life and promotion, but allowed so may years to pass away, until he was led to do so at last in consequence of the arrival of his brothers. The reason of this forgetfulness and silence can only be found in the fact, that through the wondrous alteration in his condition he had been led to see, that he was brought to Egypt according to the counsel of God, and was redeemed by God from slavery and prison, and had been exalted by Him to be lord over Egypt; so that, knowing he was in the hand of God, the firmness of his faith led him to renounce all wilful interference with the purposes of God, which pointed to a still broader and more glorious goal ( Baumgarten, Delitzsch).
The second son he named Ephraim, i.e., double-fruitfulness; “ for God hath made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” Even after his elevation Egypt still continued the land of affliction, so that in this word we may see one trace of a longing for the promised land.
When the years of scarcity commenced, at the close of the years of plenty, the famine spread over all (the neighbouring) lands; only in Egypt was there bread. As the famine increased in the land, and the people cried to Pharaoh for bread, he directed them to Joseph, who “opened all in which was” (bread), i.e., all the granaries, and sold corn ( שׁבר , denom. from שׁבר , signifies to trade in corn, to buy and sell corn) to the Egyptians, and (as the writer adds, with a view to what follows) to all the world ( כּל־הארץ , Genesis 41:57), that came thither to buy corn, because the famine was great on every hand. - Years of famine have frequently fallen, like this one, upon Egypt, and the neighbouring countries to the north. The cause of this is to be seen in the fact, that the overflowing of the Nile, to which Egypt is indebted for its fertility, is produced by torrents of rain falling in the alpine regions of Abyssinia, which proceed from clouds formed in the Mediterranean and carried thither by the wind; consequently it has a common origin with the rains of Palestine (see the proofs in Hengst. pp. 37ff.).
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Genesis 41". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12