Bible Commentaries
Genesis 41

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-57


Joseph the interpreter of Pharaoh’s dreams.

Genesis 41:1-57

1And it came to pass, at the end of two full years [lit., days], that Pharaoh dreamed; and, behold, he stood by the river. 2And, behold, there came up out of the river seven well-favoured kine, and fat-fleshed; and they fed in a meadow1 [bulrushes, the grass on the bank of the river]. 3And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river, ill-favoured 4and lean-fleshed, and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river. And the ill-favoured and lean-fleshed kine did eat up the seven well-favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke. 5And he slept and dreamed the second time; and, behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good. 6And, behold, seven thin ears, and blasted with the east wind, sprung up [in single stacks] after them. 7And the seven thin ears devoured the seven rank and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, behold, it was a dream. 8And it came to pass in the morning, that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians2 [scribes: skilled in hieroglyphics] of Egypt, and all the wise men [magicians] thereof; and Pharaoh told them his dreams; but there was none that could interpret them unto Pharaoh. 9Then spake the chief butler unto Pharaoh, saying, I do remember my faults this day. 10Pharaoh was wroth with his servants, and put me in ward in the captain of the guard’s house, both me and the chief baker; 11And we dreamed a dream in one night, I and he; we dreamed each man according to the interpretation of his dream. 12And 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. 13And it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was; me he restored unto mine office, and him he hanged. 14Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon [pit]; and he shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh. 15And 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. 16And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, It is not in me:3 God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace. 17And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, In my dream, behold, I stood upon the bank of the river; 18And, behold, there came up out of the river seven kine, fat-fleshed, and well-favoured; and they fed in a meadow; 19And, behold, seven other kine came up after them, poor, and very ill-favoured and lean-fleshed, such as I never saw in all the land of Egypt for badness; 20And the lean and the ill-favoured kine did eat up the first seven fat kine; 21And 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. 22And I saw in my dream, and, behold, seven ears came up in one stalk, full and good; 23And, behold, seven ears, withered, thin, and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them; 24And 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. 25And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, The dream of Pharaoh is one; God hath shewed Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26The seven good kine are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years; the dream is one. 27And the seven thin and ill-favoured kine, that came up after them, are seven years; and the seven empty ears, blasted with the east wind shall be 28seven years of famine. This is the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh; what God is about to do, he sheweth unto Pharaoh. 29Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt; 30And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land; 31And the plenty shall not be known in the land, by reason of that famine following; for it shall be very grievous. 32And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and 33God will shortly bring it to pass. Now, therefore, let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years. 35And let them gather [lay in store] all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. 36And that food shall be for store to the land against the seven years of famine, which shall be in the land of Egypt; that the land perish not through the famine. 37And the thing was good in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of all his servants. 38And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? 39And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art; 40Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled; only in the throne will I be greater than thou. 41And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt. 42And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain upon his neck; 43And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee;4 and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt. 44And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt. 45And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnath-paaneah5 [gave him the title of Savior of the world; preserver of life, &c.]; and he gave him to wife Asenath [consecrated to Neith (the Egyptian Minerva)], the daughter of Potipherah [same as Potiphar; near to the sun], priest of On [light: sun; Heliopolis]. And Joseph 46went out over all the land of Egypt. And Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt. 47And in the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth by handfuls [armful upon armful]. 48And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities; the food of the field which was round about every city, laid he up in the same. 49And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number. 50And unto Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came; which Asenath, the daughter of Poti-pherah, priest of On, bare unto him. 51And Joseph called the name of the first-born Manasseh [the one that causes to forget; viz., Jehovah]; For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house. 52And the name of the second called he Ephraim [Fürst: fruits; Delitzsch: double fruitfulness]; For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction. 53And the seven years of plenteousness that was in the land of Egypt were ended [וַתִּכְלֶינָה]. 54And the seven years of dearth began [וַתְחִלֶּינָה] to come, according as Joseph had said; and the 55dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. And when [also] all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do. And the famine was over all the face of the earth; And Joseph opened all the store-houses, and sold unto the Egyptians; 56and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt. 57And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands.


Contents of this section: The dreams of Pharaoh (Genesis 41:1-7); 2. The Egyptian interpreters of dreams and Joseph (Genesis 41:8-16); 3. The narration of the dreams and their interpretation (Genesis 41:17-32): 4. Joseph’s counsel in the employment of his interpretation; 5. Pharaoh’s consent and appointment of Joseph as overseer (Genesis 41:37-45); 6. Joseph’s management during the seven years of plenty, and God’s blessing him with children (Genesis 41:46-53); 7. The seven years of dearth, the famine, and the buying of the corn in Egypt (Genesis 41:54-57).


1.Genesis 41:1-7. The dreams of Pharaoh.—At the end of two years (ימים).—This shows Joseph’s long imprisonment.—By the river (Lange translates: By the Nile).—The Nile, as is well known, is the condition on which Egypt’s fruitfulness depends. Its overflowing fertilizes the soil, and when it does not occur, the crops fail.—Seven well-favored kine.—On the one hand was the male kine, a symbol of the Nile (Diod. Sic. i. 51), and especially sacred to their god Osiris, who invented agriculture (Diod. i. 21). The bullock was a symbol of Osiris, whose name was also given by the Egyptian priests to the Nile (Plutarch:De Iside, 33, 39, 43). On the other hand, the female kine, in the Egyptian symbolical language, was the symbol of the earth, of agriculture, and of the sustenance derived from it (Clemens Alex.Strom. v. p. 567). This agrees with the representation of Isis, who was worshipped as the goddess of the all-nourishing earth (Macrob. “Saturn,” i. 20), or of the earth fertilized by the Nile (Plutarch:De Iside, 38). The cow was specially sacred to her, and she was pictured with horns (Herod. ii. 41). Her symbol was the kine. “Isis was, at the same time, goddess of the moon which determined the year. In hieroglyphic writing, her picture denoted the year.” Knobel. Seven well-favored kine rising out of the Nile were, therefore, pictures of a seven-fold appearance of the soil made fruitful by the Nile.—Seven other kine came up, ill-favored.—Lit., thin (Genesis 41:19), lank, lean-fleshed. They follow these well-favored ones, and appear right by their side—a typical expression of the fact that the years of famine are to follow close upon the years of plenty.—And dreamed the second time.—“According to the ancient art of dream-interpretation, dreams that tare repeated within a short time have the same meaning; the repetition was to awake attention and secure confidence (Artemidorus:Oneirocrit. 4, 27). Knobel.—Seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk.—According to Knobel, the coming up upon one stalk is to denote the immediate connection of the respective heptades. But then the same thing would have been mentioned in respect to the seven thin ears. The plentiful branching of the principal stalk into separate spears and ears, is, however, an immediate appearance of fertility, whilst, on the contrary, the thin crop does not spread, but comes up in separate and slender stalks.—Blasted with the east wind.—With the southeast wind coming from the desert—the wind called chamsin.—It was a dream.—It was obvious to Pharaoh from both dreams that there was in them something very important; but the imagery had been so vivid that he awakes with conscious surprise at finding it a dream. Knobel: “A beautiful series of symbols: the Nile the source of fertility, cows as representing fertility itself, and ears of corn as the result.”

2.Genesis 41:8-16. The Egyptian interpreters of dreams, and Joseph.That his spirit was troubled (Comp. Daniel 2:2). There was something painful in the thought that though there was some evident monition to him as a sovereign, the interpretation was wanting; and the pictures were the more painful since their termination was apparently so terrible.—And called all the magicians.—The חרטמים from חֶרֶט, a writing stile, were the ἱερογραμματεῖς, belonging to the order of the priests, and occupied with the sacred sciences, such as hieroglyphical writing, astrology, dream-interpretation, fortune-telling, magic, and sorcery. They were regarded as possessors of the secret arts (Exodus 7:11), or, in other words, the philosophers, or wise men of the nation. Keil. More particularly concerning their magic art, see Knobel, p. 311. As interpreters of dreams the Egyptian priests are also mentioned by Tacitus: “Hist.” iv. 83. See Delitzsch, p. 544, and Hengstenberg.—But there was no one that could interpret them.—“Though the roots of the dream, and of its interpretation, were given in the religious symbolical science of Egypt,” as Keil remarks, they failed to find its meaning; but then ho calls to mind what Baumgarten says: “It is the doom of this world’s wisdom to be dumb where its knowledge might avail, or dependence is placed upon it (Job 12:20).” This incapacity, however, must naturally be increased in cases where the interpretation to be brought out is evidently of a fearful nature; for the heathen court-prophets were doubtless flatterers, too, just as afterwards the false prophets in the courts of the Jewish kings.—I do remember my fault.—The chief butler, too, is called to the council; for together with the magicians the wise men generally were summoned to attend. The declaration of the chief butler is referred, by Knobel and Keil, to his offence against the king (Genesis 40:1), and, at the same time, to his forgetfulness of Joseph (Gen 40:43). At all events, the unpleasant recollection of his former punishment was the principal cause.—And they brought him hastily.—A vivid representation of the turning of his fortune, caused by the rising court favor.—And he shaved himself.—Joseph met the excitement of his liberators with grace and dignity. “He changed his garments, as is done by one who is to participate in some sacred act (see Genesis 35:2). The Egyptians let the beard and hair grow, in mourning (Herod, ii. 36). So Joseph had done in the mournful time of his imprisonment. He observes the Egyptian custom. The Hebrews, on the other hand, cut off their hair and beard on such occasions.” Knobel. According to Wilkinson, the Egyptian painters represented with a beard any one whom they would designate as a man of low caste, or life.—To interpret it.—Pharaoh draws bold inferences from the statement of the chief butler, but in a manner perfectly consistent with that of a despot who is impatient to have his expectations realized. Not even, however, the flattering words of the king, can discompose Joseph. He gives God the glory (as in Genesis 40:8). But he also hopes for divine light, and courteously invites the king to narrate his dream.

3.Genesis 41:17-32. The narration of the dreams, and their interpretation. The narration agrees perfectly with the first statement, and it only brings out more distinctly the subjective truthfulness of the account, that the king, in the description of the ill-favored kine, mingles something of his own reflections.—What God is about to do he showeth unto Pharaoh.—Joseph puts in the front the religious bearing of the dream, and in this most successfully attains his aim. Whilst unhesitatingly professing his belief that these dreams came from God, he at the same time keeps in view the practical aspect. God would inform Pharaoh, through Joseph’s interpretation, what he intends to do, in order that the king may take measures accordingly. The certainty and clearness of the interpretation are to be so prominently manifested as to remove it far from comparison with any heathen oracles. Knobel will have it that the Elohist and the Jehovist assume here different positions in respect to dream-revelations.

4.Genesis 41:33-36. Joseph’s counsel in respect to the practical use of the interpretation. The candid advice of Joseph shows that his high gift did not intoxicate him; but rather, that he himself was greatly struck by the providence revealed in the dreams. It is a great delivery from a great and threatening destruction. The first demand is for a skilful overseer, with his subordinates. Then there is wanted the enactment of a law that the land shall be divided into five parts during the seven plenteous years; so that they were to give the fifth instead of the tithe (or tenth), as may have been customary; and that the royal storehouses should be built in the cities of the land, in order to be filled with corn. We have no right to say that Joseph meant in this to recommend himself. It would seem rather that he is so struck with the foresight of the great coming famine, that he cannot think of himself. Besides, the office which his counsel sketches is much less important than that which Pharaoh afterwards confers on him. There is still a great difference between a chief of the taxgatherers and a national prime minister.

5.Genesis 41:37-45. Pharaoh’s consent and Joseph’s appointment.—And the thing was good.—The correctness of the interpretation and the certainty of its fulfilment are both here presupposed. By the rules of Egyptian symbolism their correctness could not be questioned; their certainty, however, lay in the belief that the dreams of Pharaoh were sent by God. The stress, therefore, lies upon the approbation with which Joseph’s advice was received. And this was so conformable to the object in view, that even had the fulfilment been doubtful, it would have been a wise measure of political economy. But Pharaoh goes farther; from the divine illumination that appears in Joseph he concludes that he is just the man to carry out the plan.—Thou shalt be over my house.—What follows is the direct consequence: And according to thy word.—Knobel explains the Hebraism in this language (וְעַל פִּיךָ יִשַּׁק כָּל עַמִּי), lit., upon thy mouth every one of my people shall kiss), according to 1 Samuel 10:1 and Psalms 2:12, as referring to the custom of expressing homage by a kiss, or throwing the kiss with the hand. Keil disputes this on verbal grounds; but even if the language admits it idiomatically, such an act would not be appropriate in homage paid to princes. It would be better to give נשק here its primary significance: to attach, to unite oneself. So Joseph is nominated as Pharaoh’s Grand Vizier. Knobel infers from this that it is a Jehovistic insertion, and that, according to the Elohist, Joseph was made a state officer, and not a royal minister. Does he derive this from an acquaintance with the Egyptian state-calendar of those days? Before Pharaoh’s explanation (Genesis 41:41), Knobel’s twofold distinction of the highest dignities falls to the ground.—His ring from his hand.—After the concession of the dignity, he confers on him its insignia. The first is the seal-ring, “which the grand vizier or prime minister held, in order to affix it to the royal decrees (Esther 3:10; Esther 8:2).” Keil. So also was it among the Turks (Knobel, p. 314). The second is the white byssus-robe (made out of fine linen or cotton), worn by the priests, and by which he was elevated to a rank corresponding to the dignity of his office. The third mark of honor was a gold chain about his neck, to denote distinction, and as a special mark of the royal favor. “According to Ælian and Diodorus, it was the usual mark of distinction in the personal appearance of the judges, like the golden collar, as seen pictured upon the monuments.” Delitzsch. In this dignity Joseph is now to be presented to the people; the king, therefore, makes him ride in procession through the city, in his second chariot, i.e., in the one that came immediately after the royal chariot, and caused the customary announcement of the dignity conferred to be made by a herald. “The exclamation: אַבְרֵךְ i.e., bow down, is an Egyptian word formed from ברך by means of Masoretic vowels which make the Hiphil and Aphel conjugation.” Keil. Gerlach: Out of the, Coptic word “bow the head,” a Hebrew is made, bow the knee.—I am Pharaoh.—He again repeats the reservation of his royal dignity, but with the same definiteness he appoints him overseer of the whole land, with the consciousness that he was committing the salvation of his people to the favorite of Deity. Therefore he says: And without thee shall no man, etc.—Yet for the Egyptians’ sake he must be naturalized. Pharaoh, therefore, first gives him an Egyptian name (the Sept.: ψονθομφανήχ; for the various interpretations of which, see Keil, p. 256; Knobel, p. 314). Bunsen interprets it, creator of life. In its Hebrew transformation the word has been rendered revealer of secrets; Luther:secret counsel. In its stateliness the name is in accordance with the oriental feeling,—especially the Egyptian,—yet it simply expresses Pharaoh’s feeling acknowledgment that Joseph was a man sent by God, and bringing salvation. In him, first of all, was fulfilled the word of that prophecy: In thy seed shall the nations of the earth be blest. Next, the king gives to him an Egyptian wife, Asenath, the daughter of Potipheres (LXX, πεντεφρῆ, ille qui solis est), priest at On, which was the vernacular name for Heliopolis (LXX, ̔Ηλιούπολις, city of the sun). “This city of On (אוֹן, changed by Ezekiel, Ezekiel 30:17, derisively into אָוֶן) was a chief city, devoted to the worship of Ra, the sun-god.” Delitzsch. “According to Brugsch (‘Travels,’ etc.), its name upon the monuments was Ta-Râ, or Pa-Ra, house of the sun. Here, from the oldest times, has been a celebrated temple of the sun, with a company of learned priests, who took the first stand in the Egyptian colleges of priests (comp. Herod, ii. 3; Hengstenberg, p. 30).” Keil. The same remarks: “Such an extraordinary promotion of a slave-prisoner is to be explained from the high importance which antiquity, and especially Egyptian antiquity, ascribed to the interpretation of dreams, and to the occult sciences, as also from the despotic form of oriental governments.” As a parallel case, ho refers to Herod. ii. 121, where Rhampsinitus is represented as promoting the son of a mason to be his son-in-law, because, as “the Egyptians excelled all men, so this one excelled all the Egyptians themselves, in wisdom.” The priest rank was esteemed the highest in Egypt, as it was the caste to which the king himself belonged. Knobel (p. 315) attempts to do away the difficulty which this temple of On makes to the assumption that the Israelites were the same as the Hyksos, who are said to have destroyed the Egyptian temples. This ancient On was situated in lower Egypt, about two leagues northeast from the present city of Cairo. The situation of Heliopolis is marked by mounds of earth, now enclosing a flat piece of land, in the centre of which stands a solitary obelisk. In the vicinity is the city of Matarieh, with the well of the sun, and a sycamore-tree, under which, according to the tradition, the holy family is said to have rested.

6. Genesis 41:46-53. Joseph’s management of the harvest during the seven years of plenty, and his blessing of children.—And Joseph was thirty years old.—The summary account, Genesis 41:45, and Joseph went out, is here given more specifically. Knobel does not seem to know what to make of this mode of Biblical representation, in which it resumes a former assertion for the purpose of making specifications. He calls upon the reader to note “that this had been already said, Genesis 41:45.” As the dreams are fulfilled, so Joseph fulfils his calling. His mode of proceeding is clearly stated. In the cities of the different districts storehouses are built, in which is to be laid up the fifth part of the harvest.—Manasseh.—In this name is expressed the negative effect of his exaltation: God has freed him from the painful remembrance of his sufferings, and from all angry recollections of his father’s house. The name Ephraim expresses, on the contrary, the positive consequence. It is a double happiness on a dark foil, as though he had said: In the land of my wretchedness there is first, deliverance, second, a raising to honor.

7. The seven years of dearth, the famine, and the selling of the grain. On the frequent occurrence of famines in Egypt and the adjacent northern countries, see Keil, p. 258. For particulars see Hengstenberg, and extracts by Schröder, p. 590.—And all countries.—The countries adjacent to Egypt, and especially Palestine. Aside from the fact that Egypt, in early times, was a granary for the neighboring countries, and that they, therefore, suffered also from every famine that came upon it, it is a thing to be noticed that the rain-season of these lands, as well as the rising of the Nile, was conditioned on northern rainy winds.


1. Joseph’s exaltation: 1) Considered in itself. Grounded in his destiny. Accomplished by his innocent sufferings and his good conduct (Philippians 2:6). Carried out by God’s grace and wisdom as a divine miracle in his providentia specialissima. Its principal object the preservation of Israel and of many nations. Its further object, Israel’s education in Egypt. Its imperishable aim the glory of God, and the edification of the people of God by means of the fundamental principle: through humiliation to exaltation. 2) This exaltation, in its typical significance: the seal of Israel’s guidance in Egypt, of the guidance of all the faithful, of the guidance of Christ as the model of our divine instruction.

2. Joseph’s sufferings from his brethren so turned by God’s grace that they become sufferings for their own good. Thus Joseph’s sufferings become a turning-point between Abel’s blood crying for vengeance, and the death of Christ reconciling the world. The contrast here is no contradiction. The blood of Abel was crying for vengeance in no absolute or condemning sense, whilst, on the other hand, Christ’s reconciliation is connected with an inward and spiritual judgment. And thus, also, Joseph’s brethren were to be led through a hell of self-knowledge to peace of conscience, just as Joseph individually attained, by degrees, to a complete victory over himself.
3. Pharaoh’s dreams, like Nebuchadnezzar’s, became, through the divine providence, factors in the web of the world’s history. The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; as the rivers of water he turneth it (Proverbs 21:1). As the high priests (John 11:51) were to utter words of significance unconsciously, and unwillingly, so kings are made to serve God in acts having a significance beyond immediate intentions. Its roots, however, extended down into the dream of life. Gerlach calls attention to Nestor’s words concerning Agamemnon’s dream (Iliad, ii. 80). Heim (“Bible Hours”) is full on the same thought.

4. The memory of the chief butler. Forgetfulness of the small—a sharp remembrance in the service of the great. The memory as exercised in the service of God: forgetting all (that hinders)—remembering all (that promotes). The change from darkness to light, from night to day, in the landscape of history.
5. Joseph as opposed to the Egyptian interpreters of dreams, Moses as opposed to the Egyptian sorcerers, Christ as opposed to the Scribes and Pharisees, Paul as opposed to heresies, etc.; or, in other words, the contrast between divine wisdom and the wisdom of this world—a contrast that pervades all history.
6. God conducts every nation by its special characteristic, by its religious forms, according to the measure of piety that is in them. Thus he ruled the Egyptians through the night-life and the world of dreams.
7. The Egyptian symbolism in the dreams of Pharaoh. “These and similar thoughts, no doubt, occurred also to the Egyptian scribes, but Joseph’s divinely-sealed glance was necessary in assuming the responsibility of the fourteen years, as well as in the interpretation of the dreams, which afterwards appear very simple and obvious.” Delitzsch. The ethical point, that divine courage is necessary for prophecy, is not to be overlooked. It was a perilous undertaking to announce to the Egyptian despot a famine of seven years. It is not correct, as Knobel states, that among the Hebrews, false prophets alone referred to dreams; and still more groundless his allegation of a difference between the “Elohist” and the “Jehovist” in this respect. Roos speaks of the gift of interpreting dreams which Joseph possessed, as a gift of prophecy, inferior, however, to that manifested by Israel and Jacob when they blessed their sons. For the dream interpreter has a handle given to him by the dream; whilst in the case of Isaac, Jacob, and other prophets, everything is dependent on direct divine inspiration. But the prophets mentioned, even those that prophesied immediately, had historic points of departure and connection. We can only say, therefore, that there are different forms for the manifestation of the prophetic spirit. Divine certainty is the common mark of all.

8. The universalistic aspect of the Old Testament appears also from the fact that our narrative, without any reserve, informs us how pious Joseph becomes incorporated in the caste of Egyptian priests. “Jehovah’s religion,” says Delitzsch, “enters into Egyptian forms, in order to rule, without becoming lost in it. Strictly speaking, it was the assuming of Egyptian customs by one devoted to the religion of Jehovah. Compare the indulgence shown by Elisha to Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5:17-19).

9. Delitzsch: “How, then, asks Luther—how is it Christian in him to glory in having forgotten his father and his mother?” This, however, is not the case; for when Joseph speaks of having forgotten his father’s house, he has surely some memory of the injuries of his brethren, and the name Manasseh is to remind him constantly of this noble resolution to forget his wrongs. Luther thus answers his own question: He intended to say, I now see that God meant to take away from me the confidence which I had in my father; for he is a jealous God, and is not willing that the heart should have any other ground of rest than himself. “It is remarkable,” says Knobel (p. 288), “that Joseph gives no timely information of his existence, and of his exaltation, to a father who so loved him, and whom he so loved in turn, but permitted a series of years to pass, and even then was led to it by the coming of his brethren.” The proper solution of this scruple, already entertained by Theodoret, we find in Baumgarten. “With steadfast faith he renounced all self-acting in respect to God’s decree, which pointed to a further and more glorious aim. The first consequence to be traced was the verification of his prophecy, that his power might be placed on a stable foundation.” To this there must be added the consideration that Joseph could not make himself hastily known to his father without leading to the discovery of the guilt which weighed upon his brethren. A precipitate disclosure of this dark secret might, perhaps, ruin Jacob’s house irrecoverably. And, finally, it must be considered that Joseph, especially during the first years, had a call to active duties of the most stringent and pressing nature.—Schröder: Since Joseph first mentions his adversity (in the declaration respecting the name Manasseh), he must have referred to his father’s house only in its mournful reminiscence as the scene of his misery. In view of the present as something evidently controlled by God, his whole past vanishes away, as comparatively of no consequence. It is the confidence of rest in God’s providence. Calvin, it is true, imputes it to him as a sin; whilst Luther calls it a wonderful declaration. Afterwards, at Ephraim’s birth, as Schröder remarks, Joseph held in, so to speak, his former exuberance of joy. The words, in the land of my sorrows (meaning Egypt), reveal a mournful longing for Canaan.


See the Doctrinal and Ethical. Pharaoh’s character. A good king a blessing to his country. Pharaoh’s dream a mark of his care for his people, therefore, also of God’s care for him. Fruitful and unfruitful years; great means in the hand of God’s providence. Joseph’s deliverance beyond expectation: 1. Late beyond expectation; 2. early beyond expectation; 3. great beyond expectation; 4. entirely different from what he thought in his longing for home. Joseph’s deliverance and exaltation a typical order in God’s kingdom: 1. Every true exaltation presupposes a deliverance; 2. every true deliverance is followed by exaltation.—Joseph and the other personages in our narrative. Joseph the Hebrew slave standing in royal dignity before the throne of Pharaoh: a. In his quiet preparation for audience; b. in his humility and his faithful confidence; c. in his fearless interpretation of the dreams according to their truth; d. in his wise counsel. Joseph, like Moses, an Egyptian prince, and yet a prince in the kingdom of God.—Joseph’s political economy.—His economy on a grand scale the type of all lesser economies. Joseph and his sons.—The years of blessing.—God’s care for men through the commercial intercourse of different lands.—How sure the divine decrees! (the brethren of Joseph must come). Taube: Through humiliation to exaltation.—The history of Joseph’s exaltation: 1. When in the deep, how confidently may we suffer God to guide us; 2. when on the mount, how surely from the deep does the blessing draw its verification.

First Section (Genesis 41:1-7). Starke: (Plin.: “Hist.” v. 9). “There is famine in Egypt when the Nile rises only twelve ells; there is still suffering if it does not exceed thirteen; if it rises to fourteen, there is great rejoicing.”—Cramer: Whom God means to raise to honor, he suffers to remain, for a time, under the cross.—Schröder: At the expiration of two years of days.—Luther: Joseph, oppressed with cares, counted on his fingers all the hours, days, months, whilst deeply sighing for deliverance. For the anticipation of the future the soul of man shares with that of the animal, except that in the former, by its connection with spirit, or that higher principle which constitutes humanity, such a faculty becomes perceptible in dreams, whilst in the animal it is confined to the waking state (Schubert). The number seven represents the religious element in the case. The thin ears are said to be blasted with the east-wind, which, when directly east, occurs in Egypt as seldom as the directly west. The southeast wind, however, is frequent (Hengstenberg).

Second Section (Genesis 41:8-16). Starke: The wisdom that God reveals excels that of the world: therefore the latter is to be confounded by the former (Romans 8:28).—Cramer: A Christian is not to judge the gifts according to the person, but the persons according to the gifts, and must not be ashamed to learn even from the lowest. A Christian should study decorum towards all, especially towards those of high rank. Serving and suffering are the best tutors for those maturing for the ruler’s station (Psalms 113:7-8).—Hall: How are God’s children rewarded for their patience! How prosperous are their issues! A true Christian does not boast of the talents confided to him, but ascribes everything to God.

Third Section (Genesis 41:17-32). Starke: Bibl. Wirt.: Even to the heathen and to infidels, God sometimes reveals great and secret things, to the end that it may become known how his divine care and providence may be traced everywhere within and without the Church.—Cramer: When God repeats the same things to us, the repetition is not to be regarded as superfluous, but as an assurance that it will certainly come to pass. Schröder: In prison, and upon the throne, the same humility, the same joyous courage in God.—Joseph marks his God—consciousness more distinctly before Pharaoh, by saying Ha-Elohim, thus making Elohim concrete by means of the article.

Fourth Section (Genesis 41:33-36). Starke: Men generally make a bad use of abundance. The people, doubtless, imitated Joseph’s example, and provided for the future. Careful in earthly things—much more so in heavenly things. Schröder: God’s true prophets did not merely predict the future; they also announced means of relief against the approaching evil (Calvin).—He who takes counsel is the one to be helped (the same).

Fifth Section (Genesis 41:37-45). Starke: Cramer: “He that handles a matter wisely shall find good” (Proverbs 16:20).—[The Egyptian linen, on account of its snowy whiteness, and its great excellence, was so costly that it was thought equal to its weight in gold.]?—Schröder: The king’s conclusion shows how greatly Egypt esteemed the higher knowledge; since it confirms the opinion which made this nation so renowned for wisdom among the ancients.—Liberation was not Joseph’s only want when in prison; afterward, however, he received what he did not, at first, understand (Luther).

Sixth Section (Genesis 41:46-53). Starke: Wise rulers fill their granaries in time of famine, and thus teach prudence to the poor. The saving hand is full and beneficent; the squandering hand is not only empty, but unjust.—Schröder: Information from Hengstenberg on the monuments and tombs, serving to elucidate our narrative.—Schröder: Now is the time of exaltation, when he is to become the instrument of God’s great purposes (Krummacher).

Seventh Section (Genesis 41:54-57). Starke: Cramer: It is in accordance with Christian charity that the surplus of the one shall relieve the deficiency of the other. How gloriously does God compensate Joseph for his former unhappiness. (The hate of his brothers; the favor of the king; abuse and derision, reverence; imprisonment in a foreign land, exaltation; the work of a slave, the seal of the king; stripped of his coat of many colors, clothed in white vesture; iron bands, a golden chain.)


[1][Genesis 41:2.—אָחוּ. A pure Egyptian word, say most of the commentators and lexicographers; and yet no reason can be given why it is not, at the same time, Shemitic. Its occurrence, Job 8:11, is as good proof of the latter supposition, as Genesis 41:2 is of the former. The thing signified, a reedy pasture, was more common in Egypt than in Judea or Arabia, and, therefore, it became better known in the early Egyptian tongue. The same may be said of יְאֹר.—T. L.]

[2][Genesis 41:8.—חַרְטֻמֵּי . Here is a word used of a thing most peculiarly Egyptian, and yet there can hardly be a doubt of its root being Shemitic. It is from חֶרֶט, stylus, a writing or graving instrument. They were the sacred scribes. See Gesenius, and Bochart, Hieroz. ii. p. 408. Comp. חרץ.—T. L.]

[3][Genesis 41:16—בִּלְעָדָי: Beside me, or some one else than me. The LXX have rendered it, ἄνευ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ�, “as though they had read לֹא יֵעָנֶה,” says Rosenmüller. But there is no need of this to explain the interpretation. The LXX have given the general sense correctly, since there is a negative or excluding force in בלעדי. Not me—no one but God can answer to Pharaoh’s satisfaction. The famous Hebraico-Samaritan Codex has the negative particle, and there could not be a better proof of its having followed the LXX; keeping its apparent error without its general correctness in this passage.—T. L.]

[4][Genesis 41:43.—אַבְרֵךְ. It is not easy to see why there should have been so much pains to make out this to be a pure Egyptian word, or to deny its Shemitic origin. Some make it from OΥΒΕ ΡΕΧ, inclinate contra. See Jablonsky as cited by Rosenmüller. Others would make it equivalent to A—ΠPE—XEK, a rege cinctus. The word is almost identical with הַבְרֵךְ, the Hiphil imperative of ברך, and its Hebrew sense, bow the knee or kneel (just as we make the verb from the noun) would seem the meaning, of all others, best adapted to the context. The slight variation confirms this. Had it been simply dressing up a pure Egyptian word in a Hebrew form, there is no reason why the writer should not have employed the proper Hebrew Hiphil. The word at this time, doubtless, belonged to both languages, but its solemn and public pronunciation in the shouting procession made the narrator prefer to keep the broader Egyptian sound of א for ה.—T. L.]

[5][Genesis 41:45.—צָפְנַת פַּעְנֵחֵ, Zophnath-paeneah. This word is doubtless Egyptian, as there can nothing be made of it in Hebrew. LXX, Ψονθομφανήχ. The latter part of the compound is, doubtless, a Coptic word, equivalent to the Greek αἰών, and the whole is rendered caput seculi or mundi. Vulg., salvatorem mundi. It is worthy of note as showing, that at this early day, and in this early language, a time word (age, period, cycle, etc.) was used for world, like the later use of the Hebrew עוֹלָם, and of αἰών, for mundus in the New Testament.—T. L.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 41". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.