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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 41

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-8


Genesis 41:1. The river.] So the Nile is called, by way of emphasis in the Old Testament when the scene is laid in Egypt.

Genesis 41:6. Blasted with the east wind.] “The east wind here is the Chamsia from the south-east or desert of Arabia. It withers every green thing if it continues to blow any time,”—(Jacobus.)—

Genesis 41:8. The magicians.] “The scribes, the hieroglyphs, who belonged to the priestly caste, and whose primary business was to make hieroglyphic and other inscriptions; while they were wont to consult the stars, interpret dreams, practise sooth-saying, and pursue the other occult arts. The wise men. 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.”—(Murphy)—



Pharaoh’s dream illustrates the following principles and truths:—

I. That apparently insignificant events may often grow into an important part of the world’s history. Who would have thought, before the event, that this strange dream would have had any important bearing on the history of the world! Yet we know that it stands connected with the highest interests of the human race. It led to the preservation of Israel and of Egypt. It educated the people of God for the peculiar position which they were to occupy in the history of redemption. The links of the chain were these: It was not God’s will that Pharaoh should understand his dream till it was explained to him by a heaven-taught interpreter. Had the meaning of it been so clear that the wise men of Egypt could not have failed to interpret it, the very purpose for which the dream was granted would have been defeated. Then Joseph comes to the front, and is found to be the man for the times. Both the Egyptians and the Israelites by his means are preserved. A position and persistent endurance are thus given to that family out of which redemption is to spring.

II. That God chooses the instruments of revelation according to His own good pleasure. Israel, of old, was the chosen home of revelation, yet God sometimes made known His will to men of other nations. Pharaoh’s dream was certainly prophetic, and there is no question but that dreams like this have been vouchsafed to many outside the chosen family. God gave this dream to a heathen man. Even the possession of the gift of prophecy does not of necessity imply superior religious knowledge, or the holiness of the prophet’s character. Balaam had the gift of prophecy, and spake the words of God, as well as Isaiah. There may be gifts where there are few or no graces. This heathen king is made to serve God by becoming an unconscious and unwilling instrument of His will. (Proverbs 21:1.) Such were the high priests in the days of our Lord.

III. That God can suddenly arrest the attention of those who are the farthest removed from every earthly fear. Pharaoh was absolute lord of the nation, yet “his spirit was troubled.” The common people were superstitious in regard to dreams and omens, but his princely education would surely place him above the credulous fears of the vulgar! Yet, God suddenly arrests the attention of this man by a remarkable dream. Pharaoh could afford to laugh at vulgar prejudices and superstitions, but now strange misgivings and terrors from, he knows not whence, arise within him. Thus there is a power above us which can tame the greatest of earth’s sons. Think of the courage and daring of Nebuchadnezzar, yet God could make him afraid like a grasshopper by the visions which he had upon his bed.


Genesis 41:1. Two years of imprisonment will appear a much longer time to one who has not learned to bear the evils of life with an uncommon degree of fortitude. In fact, it is not so much the intenseness of our trials as the duration of them that is the greatest test of our patience. Even those who have been taught of God are strongly tempted under long-continued afflictions to weary of the Lord’s correction.—(Bush.)

Joseph’s exaltation was 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 special providence. 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 education of the people of God by means of the fundamental principle: through humiliation to exaltation. 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.—(Lange.)

Whom God means to raise to honour, He suffers to remain, for a time, under the cross.—(Cramer.)

Genesis 41:2. 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.—(Murphy.)

Genesis 41:3-4. These, by their leanness, portended drought and dearth, though they came up out of Nilus also. This river, when it overflows unto twelve cubits’ height only, causeth famine; when to thirteen, scarcity; when to fourteen, cheerfulness; when to fifteen, affluence; when to sixteen, abundance, as Pliny tells us.—(Trapp.)

Genesis 41:5-7. 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 south-east wind, however, is frequent. (Hengstenberg.)

Genesis 41:8. The wisdom that God reveals excels that of the world; therefore the latter is to be confounded by the former. (Romans 8:28.)—(Starke.)

Unlike the wise men of Babylon, whom Nebuchadnezzar summoned to his aid on a like occasion, and who confidently promised to unravel the king’s dream as soon as it was made known to them, the magicians of Egypt, when Pharaoh’s dream was rehearsed in their ears, did not pretend to know the meaning of it. All their combined wisdom durst not pretend to penetrate the secrets of Divine Providence to which it referred. God, by His overruling influence upon their minds, constrained them to acknowledge their ignorance:—(Bush.)

Verses 9-16


Genesis 41:14. He shaved himself and changed his raiment.] “The fact of Joseph having shaved himself is in striking accord with the Egyptian custom, which was to let the beard and hair grow in mourning only—otherwise most scrupulously shaving; whereas the Hebrews cultivated the hair and beard and shaved in token of mourning (see 2 Samuel 10:4-5; Isaiah 15:2; Jeremiah 16:6; Jeremiah 41:5; Amos 8:10), He changed his raiment, from the ordinary habit of the prison to that of ordinary life or even of festal rejoicing. The fact of his having it in his power to do so shews that he was not treated as ordinary prisoners are.” (See Genesis 39:22-23.)—(Alford.)—

Genesis 41:16. God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.] Heb. “God will answer as to the peace (or welfare) of Pharaoh.” The meaning is, that God will give an answer such as shall prove to be for the welfare of Pharaoh.—




I. His long waiting for notice and deliverance. For two long and weary years was Joseph lingering in that prison. He had to endure that trial of hope deferred that maketh the heart sick. The purest and wisest man in the land was shut up in a prison for two of the best years of his life. This seems to us a sad waste of power. But the religious mind will see in it the wisdom of God.

1. In regard to the education of character. The delays of Providence (as they seem to us) are part of our spiritual education. All this time, Joseph was learning God’s lessons. We require the teaching, not only of precepts, but also of events and trials. Joseph had faults of character to correct, much to unlearn; notoriously the spirit of censoriousness and pride. And two years were not too short a time to get the lessons of life’s true wisdom by heart. The wisdom of God in this painful chapter of Joseph’s history is also seen—

2. In its adaptation to the circumstances of the individual. During these two years of Joseph’s hard trial, events were not ripe for his deliverance. Divine Providence is not obliged to use forcing processes to precipitate events. Had Joseph been released before, he might have returned to his father’s house, or re-entered the service of Potiphar; and then in the natural course of things, how could Israel and Egypt have been preserved! The wisdom of God is yet further seen—

3. In its elevation above all human infirmities. God is not in haste to bring His work to its appointed end. Providence works by, what appear to us to be, slow methods. Short-sighted man must seize upon every tempting opportunity, but infinite wisdom knows no such infirmity. God allows those slowly to ripen whom He destines for a great work. Illustrated by the history of John the Baptist, who spent a life-time in the wilderness to prepare him for a brief ministry of a few months; and also by God’s own Son, who did not begin to preach the Gospel of the kingdom till He was thirty years old.

II. The manifest hand of God in it. Without doubt we have here the agency of man, and results which may be traced to the natural course of events. The chief butler suddenly remembers how Joseph interpreted his dream, and also that of his fellow-prisoner; and how remarkably the interpretation had been fulfilled. He mentions this extraordinary person to Pharaoh, who naturally sends for Joseph as the very man he wanted in his great perplexity. But we cannot here fail to see the manifest hand of God at work. It was God who sent this dream to Pharaoh, and it must follow that the interpreter of it must be divinely instructed. It was wisely ordered that Joseph should be under no obligation to Pharaoh for his deliverance. It is for his own sake that Pharaoh sends for Joseph. The chief butler was suffered to forget his friend, the prophet of his deliverance, and was forced to remember him only by circumstances. To neither of them was Joseph indebted. Thus it was God’s design that the chosen family should be under obligations to none. Their calling was to impart blessings to mankind, and not to receive.

III. His piety throughout the interview.

1. His simplicity of character. He makes no long speech. He does not use the opportunity to glorify himself, or to plead for liberty and reward. His manner was dignified and respectful, yet marked by great openness and simplicity of character. Joseph is the same in the palace or in the prison.

2. His humility. He indulged in no spirit of boasting, though this compliment from the king would have tempted weaker men to be vain and proud. (Genesis 41:15.) Joseph never forgot his character as a witness for God.

3. His calmness. He was conscious of God’s presence and of his own integrity, so he could afford to be calm before the rulers of this world.

4. His kindly consideration for others. Pharaoh might have reason for the worst fears when he heard of the interpretation of the baker’s dream. Though a king he was not exempt from the common evils of human nature; nor from death—the chief calamity. But Joseph hastens to remove all fear of an unfavourable interpretation from his mind, by assuring him that the future had in it nothing but what would make for the peace of Pharaoh. Thus Joseph combined faithfulness to God’s cause with kindness and consideration for man.


Genesis 41:9. He ought, indeed, to have remembered his fault against Joseph and against God, whose goodness he concealed when he ought to have published it. But this fault seems to have made little or no impression on his mind. His former faults he acknowledged in deference to the king.—(Bush.)

A right courtier’s speech! He so relates the history of his imprisonment that he takes all the blame thereof to himself; gives Pharaoh the full commendation of his justice and clemency. (Trapp.)

There is a morbid feeling which delights in railing against human nature; but there is a wiser lesson to be gained from this story than merely speaking of the butler’s ungratefulness. Consider, first, the suspense in which he was respecting his trial, and then the onerous duties that he had to perform. Then remember, too, that what Joseph did for him after all was not so much, it was merely the interpretation of his dream. The lesson that we draw from this is: In this world we do too little and we expect too much. We bless a poor man by giving to him, and we expect that we have made him our debtor for life. You fancy that the world has forgotten you. Reason with yourselves. For this world from which you expect so much, what have you done? And if you find that you have done little and received much, what marvel is it that you receive no more? The only marvel is that we have received so much.—(Robertson.)

The memory of the chief butler. Forgetfulness of the small—a sharp remembrance in the service of the great.—(Lange).

Genesis 41:10-13. He now recites the circumstances in which he became acquainted with Joseph, and his wonderful success in interpreting dreams. It is not so much to do Joseph a favour that he commends him as it is to raise himself in Pharaoh’s esteem.—(Jacobus.)

And he interpreted to us our dreams. And well you requited him! But better late than never, though a ready dispatch doubleth the benefit. Howbeit God had an overruling hand in it, for Joseph’s greatest good. He turneth the world’s ingratitude to the salvation of His servants.—(Trapp.)

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.—(Lange.)

Genesis 41:14. The word of the Lord had sufficiently tried Joseph. The mystery of Providence concerning him was now to be cleared up.

It is said of Mephibosheth, 2 Samuel 19:24, that he had not washed his clothes, nor washed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, from the time that David left Jerusalem, because of Absolom, till he returned again in peace to his father’s house. By like signs Joseph expressed his humiliation under those afflictions which Divine Providence had laid upon him. But now, when called before the king, he laid aside his mourning apparel, that he might appear with decency and due respect in the royal presence. Doubtless when he exchanged his prison garments for such as are worn in king’s palaces, his heart rejoiced less in the change of his circumstances, than in the favour of God, who had “put off his sackcloth, and girded him with gladness, to the end that his glory might sing praise to the Lord.”—(Bush.)

Genesis 41:15. Pharaoh desires to learn from Joseph. The highest in station must be ready to learn from the lowest. Wisdom is not to be despised because it has a humble dwelling in some obscure child of man.

A Christian is not to judge the gifts according to the person, but the persons according to the gifts.—(Cramer.)

Joseph had now an opportunity, which he did not suffer to pass unimproved, of shewing forth the superiority of his own God to the gods of Egypt, and of pouring contempt upon the boasted wisdom of the magicians.—(Bush.)

Genesis 41:16. No man is fit to declare the counsels of God who is not deeply sensible of his own unfitness without receiving light and help from above.—(Bush.)

Observe the graceful way in which Joseph refers all to God. He says, “It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” Observe also his calmness; this was produced by the consciousness of God’s presence. He was not there to consider what men would think of him; he felt that the gift was from God. It is only this feeling that can effectually crush the flutterings of vanity. “What hast thou,” says the Apostle, “that thou didst not receive?”—(Robertson.)

Verses 17-32


Genesis 41:32. The dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice.] This denotes the certainty and nearness of the event. (1 Kings 11:9; Job 33:14; Psalms 62:11.)—



In interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph shows himself a true prophet of the Lord. He has all the marks of those who are called to reveal the Divine mind to man.

I. Boldness. The true prophet has no fear of man. He speaks the word which God hath given him, regardless of consequences. He is ready to reprove even kings—to utter truths, however unwelcome. It required some courage to enter upon the perilous task of announcing to this Egyptian despot a famine of seven years. But Joseph had all the boldness of a man who felt that he was inspired by God.

II. Directness. Joseph spoke out at once, without any hesitation. There was no shuffling to gain time; no muttering—no incantations, after the manner of heathen oracles and prophets. This simple and clear directness is the special characteristic of Holy Scriptures; and by which they are distinguished from the literature of the world, which upon the deepest and most concerning questions never reaches a stable conclusion.

III. Positiveness. Joseph’s interpretation was throughout explicit and clear. There are no signs of doubt or misgiving. This Divine certainty is the common mark of all God’s prophets.


Genesis 41:17. Here begins Joseph’s rise. Being in prison, he struck not fire, though he had a good brain; but waited till it came down from heaven to him, first in the butler’s dream, and now in Pharaoh’s.—(Trapp.)

It was happy for Pharaoh and for Egypt that the magicians confessed their incapacity to interpret this dream. Had they pretended to give some meaning to it out of the imagination of their own hearts, it is probable that he would have rested satisfied with it, and sought no further. Consequently when the seven years of plenty came, the abundance might have been spent in dissipation, and no provision made against the long and terrible famine. But when he was convinced that the mind of God was not with the magicians, he was forced to seek for light where he could find it.—(Bush.)

Genesis 41:18-24. 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.—(Starke.)

Genesis 41:25-32. Joseph no doubt felt happy in seizing this opportunity to speak of his own God, the Ruler of the world, to Pharaoh, and particularly to proclaim His providence and foreknowledge. He knew that events would soon confirm his words, and that Pharaoh’s mind was already prepared to receive it.—(Bush).

Important truths are repeated in the Scriptures. God speaks once, yea, twice to man.
Joseph marks his God-consciousness more distinctly before Pharaoh, by saying Ha-Elohim, thus making Elohim concrete by means of the article.—(Lange.)

Verses 33-36


Genesis 41:34. Take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt.] Lay on a tax of a fifth of the produce. “The 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.”—(Murphy.) “The Egyptians were accustomed to a tax of a tenth in ordinary years, for the public granaries. The extra crop would enable them easily to double the tax or rent.”—(Jacobus.)—



The occasion was important and critical, but Joseph was quite himself. The marked and well-known features of his character are manifest.

I. His presence of mind. Joseph was not one of those men whose dull faculties move slowly and require a long time to rouse them to exertion. He was a man of energy and spirit, and of ready resource. He proved himself equal to this present situation by fearlessly offering advice which was at once rational and practical.

II. The kindness and openness of his nature. He wanted to preserve the country from a great calamity; and in all the simplicity of his heart offers this sound advice, not as one who merely wished to be officious, but as one who could sympathise with the sorrows of others.

III. His self-command. He is not embarrased nor over-awed by the situation in which he suddenly found himself placed. He allows himself to think soberly.

IV. His practical good sense. He does not show any fanaticism by taking refuge in a presumptuous dependence upon Providence, but imparts counsels worthy of a great statesman who has the interests of his country at heart. He counsels that excellent prudence which provides for the future. Pharaoh was to lay up, in the time of plenty, for the time of famine. Joseph’s practical good sense is especially seen when he advises his king to chose a man for the times. In great crises of human affairs one wise and strong director is needed. It is those great men who have proved their sufficiency for the times that make history. The qualities of such a man are—

1. That he should be discreet. He should be intelligent and capable of understanding the signs of the times. He must be able to distinguish things that differ, to resist the temptation of what is merely plausible, to look fairly and every side of him and to point out the more excellent way.

2. That he should be wise. He should be a prudent man, one who was capable of using his knowledge rightly, that prudence which foreseeth the evil and hides itself in the impregnable fortress of wisdom. He should be a man of action as well as of thought and of knowledge. Such a man was Joseph, a man truly raised up for the times. He had no interested designs. He did not, like Haman, give advice merely to recommend himself. His only aim was the good of his country and the glory of his God.


Genesis 41:33-36. The good counsel which Joseph adds to the interpretation of the dream makes the answer of God an answer of peace, and not of evil. It may be justly questioned whether Pharaoh would have made any good improvement of his dreams if Joseph had merely interpreted them, without speaking of the use that ought to be made of the Divine discovery. God reveals nothing before it happens without some good end in view. The intention of prophecies concerning judgments to come is to excite those threatened with them to take proper measures for averting them. The grand purpose of God in Pharaoh’s dreams was not to gratify a vain curiosity about the future, but to procure deliverance and honour to Joseph, and to preserve Egypt, and the family of Jacob, and the countries around from destruction.—(Bush.)

One practical inference is to be drawn from this history, the same that was taught by our Master in the parable of the unjust steward. He commended the unjust steward because he had done wisely; he was wiser in his generation than the children of light; he had used his opportunity. Our Redeemer tells us that where he gained we fail; we have our advantages, and we, the children of light neglect to use them for the future. The same lesson is taught by Joseph’s history. To us, the years in which we are living are those of plenty, abundance of spiritual instruction; but the years of dearth will come. Blessed is the man who shall use the present well. Blessed is he who makes use of the present opportunity, who is using the present in acquiring spiritual strength. Blessed is he who is laying up for himself, while on earth, a treasure in the heavens which shall never fail.—(Robertson.)

The counsel of Joseph stands good both in regard to earthly and heavenly things; and is all the more necessary, for men generally make a bad use of abundance.

Verses 37-45


Genesis 41:40. According unto thy word shall all my people be ruled.] “Some of the Hebraists (e.g., Gesenius, Knobel) render it ‘on thy mouth shall my people kiss,’ and interpret it of the kiss of homage. But most of the others believe the meaning to be as in the text, objecting that the kiss of homage was reserved for princes.”—(Alford.)—

Genesis 41:42. His ring.] Joseph is appointed grand vizier by giving him the signet ring of the monarch. (Esther 3:10; Esther 8:2.) Vestures of fine linen.] The priesthood, which was the foremost caste of Egypt, wore only linen and cotton garments; and no man was allowed to enter a temple in a woollen garment (Herod. ii. 37, 81). A gold chain about his neck.] The Egyptian monuments and wall-paintings show that the gold chain was worn by persons of distinction. It was especially the badge of office worn by the judge and the prime minister. This was also the custom in Persia and Babylonia. (Daniel 5:7.)—

Genesis 41:43. And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had.] The second state chariot in the public procession. Herodotus tells us that Egypt was noted for chariots both for peaceful and for warlike purposes. (Herod. ii. 108.) They cried before him. The heralds, whose office it was to prepare the way for the royal procession. Bow the knee. “Some render the word, ‘Father, of the king,’ others, Bow the knee. But it is rather an Egyptian word and not Hebrew, and means, Cast yourselves down—do homage.”—(Jacobus.)—

Genesis 41:45. Zaphnath-paaneah.] His elevation is denoted by a new name (Genesis 17:5; Daniel 1:7), which means, Preserver of life. Jerome interpreted it in the Vulgate Salvator Mundi (Saviour of the world). Poti-pherah. “He who is of the sun,” There was a temple of the sun at On, which was the popular name for Heliopolis, meaning the house or city of the sun. It is called Aven (Exodus 30:17), and Bethshemesh (Jeremiah 43:13).—



In which he shows:—

I. His wisdom and prudence.

1. In acting upon the best evidence he had. The interpretation seemed to be clear and just; the course advised, reasonable. Pharaoh did not wait for a demonstrated certainty; but seeing that the next step before him was clear, he took that step. This is just our position with regard to the will and and purpose of God as revealed in the Bible. The Bible speaks to us of many things which now we cannot prove. We have to believe much upon evidence which our reason might persuade us is inconclusive, but which faith teaches us to receive. We are told of a time in which we may lay up for the future, and it is our wisdom to make that provision while we have opportunity. The message of Joseph carried with it the conviction of truth. So does the message of the Bible. To the Christian, faith is the verification of the invisible.

2. In choosing a fit man for the crisis. Everything now pointed to Joseph as the right man for the times. Pharaoh appeals to his courtiers as to whether it was not the wisest course to appoint Joseph at the head of affairs. They make no answer; as they were, perhaps, a little jealous of this foreigner, like as the Babylonish nobles were towards Daniel. And Pharaoh also shows his prudence in removing all social disabilities from this foreigner. He asserts his own authority as the fountain of rank. (Genesis 41:40-41; Genesis 41:44.) He invests Joseph with the symbols and array of dignity and honour. (Genesis 41:42-43.) He naturalizes him by giving him a new name, and so removing Egyptian prejudices. Joseph was fitly named, “the salvation of life,” for he was in very deed the preserver of life, the salvation of his country. This new name would tend to exalt the character of Joseph in the eyes of all the people. Joseph’s social standing was further assured by his marriage with the daughter of the priest of On. (Genesis 41:45.) The priests of Egypt were the highest class in the State, the landed aristocracy. They attended, and even controlled the kings. Besides, Joseph’s father-in-law was the chief priest of On—the royal city. By marriage into this high caste Joseph’s social position was at once determined and secured.

II. His piety. When we speak of Pharaoh’s piety, it is not intended that it should be reckoned by our modern Christian standard. God accepts according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not. Surely it was a heaven-taught instinct which led Pharaoh to recognise the spirit of God in Joseph. He believed that he had before him a man who enjoyed intercourse with God, and who was inspired by Him. (Genesis 41:38-39.) And his conviction of the Godlike character and calling of Joseph was stronger than the tyranny of any feelings bred by a sense of propriety, or by the stern law of custom. It required strong principle to overcome national prejudices and the rigour of social order. But Pharaoh braved all consequences, so convinced was he that Joseph was a man taught of God. Even this promoting of Joseph’s alliance with the daughter of the priest of the sun does not forbid us to believe in the piety of Pharaoh. For in all this idolatry there can be discovered some lingering traces of the one true God. The world was then too young to have arrived at a rigid and sharply-defined distinction between polytheism and monotheism. The Pharaoh of Abraham’s day feels the power of Him whose name is Jehovah. (Genesis 12:7.) Abimelech acknowledges the God of Abraham and Isaac. (Genesis 20:3-7; Genesis 21:22-23; Genesis 26:28-29.) Joseph had mentioned the true God to Pharaoh, and this was not without its blessed effect. Joseph was permitted to worship the God of his fathers, and we have reason to believe that Pharaoh, to some extent, entered into the spirit of that worship. “In the account of Pharaoh’s dealings with Joseph, the Egyptian monarch appears to have acted with the strictest honesty and integrity, and as a reward he was supernaturally apprised of the famine which should come upon his land. When he exclaims concerning Joseph, ‘Can we find such a man as this, a man in whom the spirit of the Lord is?’ he seems to have been actuated by a spirit of real piety. Hard it would be, indeed, to question the salvability of a monarch who could come to this pious resolution, which is recorded in Genesis 41:39. There are frequent allusions in Scripture to the tenderness with which God treated the heathen nations who beheld His judgments on the Israelites. (Ezekiel 20:5-10.) This tenderness towards the Egyptians and other heathen nations, can be explained only on a desire not to aggravate their sins, and this affords us no slight ground for our general argument. “In whose sight I made myself known unto them (the heathen), by bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 41:9.) “I will be sanctified in you before the heathen.” (Genesis 41:41.)—(GrinfieldOn the Salvability of the Heathen.”)


Genesis 41:37-38. Can we find such a man as this? Hence some collect that Joseph preached many more things to the king, of God, His power, providence, goodness, etc., than are here recorded; and was therefore so admired, and advanced to the office of teaching his senators wisdom. “To bind his princes to his soul, and make wise his elders” (Psalms 105:22), as the original hath it.—Trapp.

It is a sign of great wisdom to be able to give the best counsel; but it is a sign of wisdom also to be able to appreciate such counsel when it is given, and to be ready to follow it. Pharaoh was sensible that a divine person or a divine influence had enlightened Joseph’s mind and given him this extraordinary knowledge. His proposal therefore, to honour Joseph was a virtual honouring of the God whom he served. His affairs, he was convinced, would be most likely to prosper in the hands of a a man whom God loved and taught.—(Bush.)

Genesis 41:39. 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.—(Lange.)

Joseph honoured God before Pharaoh, and God honoured Joseph in the sight of Pharaoh. A little time ago he was traduced as one of the vilest of men; now the king honours him as a man of incomparable worth. We may learn from this not to be greatly dejected by reproach, nor puffed up by praise. The best of men have passed through good report and evil report.—(Bush.)

Genesis 41:40. They that bestow places of charge in Church or commonwealth upon undeserving persons, for by-respects, shall have Pharaoh to rise up in judgment against them.—(Trapp.)

Genesis 41:41-45. Behold one hour hath changed his fetters into a chain of gold, his rags into fine linen, his stocks into a chariot, his jail into a palace; Potiphar’s captive into his master’s lord; the noise of his chains into Abrech. He, whose chastity refused the wanton allurements of the wife of Potiphar, had now given him to his wife the daughter of Potipherah. Humility goes before honour; serving and suffering are the best tutors to government. How well are God’s children paid for their patience! How happy are the issues of the faithful! Never any man repented him of the advancement of a good man.—(Bp. Hall.)

Verses 46-52


Genesis 41:47. By handfuls.] “Not in single stalks or grains, but in handfuls compared with the former yield.”—(Murphy)

Genesis 41:51. Manasseh.] That is, causing to forget.

Genesis 41:52. Ephraim.] That is, fruitful.



In his new condition of dignity and honour, the following facts and characteristics are to be noted:—

I. The ripeness of his age and experience. He was now thirty years of age (Genesis 41:46), the age which was appointed for entering the priesthood, and in general, for manly service. (Numbers 4:3.) He had now lived for thirteen years in Egypt, and a considerable portion of that time was spent in prison. We are reminded that this was the age when the New Testament Joseph entered upon His ministry of love and mercy. (Luke 3:23). Thus slowly and carefully does God prepare His servants for their great work. Even the Son of Man thought it meet to observe this propriety, and to endure this discipline. He, too, obeyed the law of growth, and waited His time. What a rebuke to those who are in haste to thrust their unripe fruit upon the world! Joseph was of ripe age and experience when he took upon him this office as a ruler of Egypt. That Providence which prepares events also prepares men for them.

II. The practical character of his mind. Joseph, though so suddenly and remarkably raised, is not puffed up with pride. He does not spend his time in self-admiration, nor go about to display his greatness, but at once betakes himself to business. And, first of all, with great sagacity he endeavours to obtain some knowledge of the area over which his work is to spread. He takes a general survey of the country. (Genesis 41:46.) Then, having thus ascertained the extent of his work, he puts his plan into execution energetically, and without delay. (Genesis 41:48-49.) It was the grace of God that kept him above every temptation to pride and vain glory, and it was the same grace that gave him this sense of duty and obligation, and also this power to bring his knowledge and convictions to good effect.

III. The cheerful and hopeful character of his piety. In this time of his prosperity, two sons are born to him. (Genesis 41:51-52.) Their names are significant of his remembrance of God’s goodness and of his cheerful hope for the future.

1. He desires to forget all that is evil in the past. “God hath made me to forget all my toil and all my father’s house.” He does not mean to say that he forgot absolutely, for he remembers them in these very words. But so far as they had been a source of sorrow and affliction to him, he remembers them no more. He is willing to forget the cruel treatment of his brethren. Love covers up and hides out of the willing sight of the mind all that is evil in the past. But Joseph still cherishes the better feelings of former days. Filial affection was still strong in his breast; but he was content, for the present, to cherish it in secret and to await the unfolding of Providence.

2. He is thankful for present mercies. “God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.” His true home, after all, was in Canaan. Egypt is the land of his affliction, but even there God had made him fruitful and blessed him. He is thankful for the past with all its sorrow, and awaits with cheerful hope the promised mercies of his God. Above all he fails not to remember the Divine source of all his good.


Genesis 41:46. Thirty years old. This is mentioned, to show what wonderful graces he had attained at those years; what rare endowments both of piety and policy.—(Trapp.)

He made no sinecure of his office. He was, and he felt himself to be, exalted to power for the good and safety of the people, and he entered at once upon the active discharge of the duties of his station.—(Bush.)

New honours impose and demand new obligations.

Genesis 41:47-49. Pharaoh hath not more preferred Joseph, than Joseph hath enriched Pharaoh; if Joseph had not ruled, Egypt and all the bordering nations had perished. The providence of so faithful an officer hath both given the Egyptians their lives, and the money, cattle, lands, bodies of the Egyptians to Pharaoh. The subjects owe to him their lives; the king, his subjects and his dominions. The bounty of God made Joseph able to give more than he received.—(Bp. Hall.)

Joseph’s plan was simply a prudential foresight of the future. This prudence is a Christian virtue. It is such a virtue only so far as it has no reference to self. If we save in one thing only to spend in another, it may be a virtue, but certainly it is not a Christian one; that alone is Christian which is done for the sake of others. Thus, if we retrench our expenses in order to have more to bestow on others, it is Christian. Thus did Joseph. His economy was all for the sake of others.—(Robertson.)

The saving hand is full and beneficent; the squandering hand is not only empty, but unjust.—(Lange.)

Genesis 41:51. 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.—(Murphy.)

How could he have retained just impressions of the Divine goodness if he had forgotten the evils from which he was delivered? But in another sense he forgets his misery. He did not so cherish the recollection as to allow it to embitter his present enjoyment. The painful remembrance of the past was expelled from his mind when his adversity was changed into prosperity.—(Bush.)

Genesis 41:52. He had formerly been like a heath in the desert; but now he was like a tree planted by the rivers of water, which brings forth abundance of fruit, and whose leaf does not wither. (Genesis 49:22.)—(Bush.)

But why does no message go from Joseph to his mourning father? For many reasons.

1. He does not know the state of things at home.
2. He may not wish to open up the dark and bloody treachery of his brothers to his aged parent. But,
3. 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 fulfilment implies not only the submission 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.—(Murphy).

In all Joseph’s conduct we can discover a mournful longing after Canaan, deep indications that, after all, his true home was not in Egypt.

Verses 53-57



I. Joseph’s administration.

1. It showed great prudence and skill. During the years of plenty he laid up for the years of famine. He was the prudent man that forseeth the evil. The time of plenty was the time of political and social salvation, and Joseph used it well. He did his work systematically and thoroughly. (Genesis 41:48). Consequently he has plenty of bread for the people throughout the years of famine. The policy of selling the corn, instead of giving it, was both good and wise. The people would thus have the motive for exertion, and at the same time be able to maintain the dignity of, at least, a nominal purchase.

2. It showed a spirit of dependence upon God. The meaning of the dream was given to Joseph by the inspiration of God, and he had faith that God would carry out His own word.

3. It was the exhibition of a character worthy of the highest confidence. Pharaoh could only say to the Egyptians: “Go unto Joseph, what he saith to you, do.” Both intellectual and spiritual qualities are required in a true ruler of men, and with both, in a remarkable degree, Joseph was endowed. A pious disposition, modest and retiring graces of character may adorn obscure lives, but he who has to deal much with mankind, and to take a position of command and influence in this world’s business, must possess the wisdom of the serpent as well as the harmlessness of the dove. Mere piety by itself is not sufficient. Eli was a good, but a weak man, and therefore unfit to guide and command others. The power of intellect alone may be a power for evil, but combined with piety towards God it is a power for good.

II. Lessons. There are useful and important lessons to be learned from Joseph’s administration during these seven years of famine.

1. How quickly adversity waits upon prosperity! It is thus in the experience of individual lives. God hath set one over against the other. Blessings grow out of our afflictions, and also afflictions grow out of our blessings. A man may live many years in prosperity, and rejoice in them all; “yet let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many.” (Ecclesiastes 11:7.)

2. What an advantage to have a true and powerful friend in the day of calamity! This Joseph was the temporal saviour of his country, and of many surrounding nations. All stores were laid up with him, and their administration committed to him alone. We have a Saviour and Deliverer from greater evils than those which fell upon Egypt, even Jesus in whom all fulness dwells, and to whom all are invited to go who are perishing for lack of the bread of life.

3. God often brings about His purposes of love and mercy by affliction. His beneficent purposes concerning nations, families, individuals. God is represented as “calling” for a famine, and “breaking the whole staff of bread.” (Psalms 105:16.) He “called” for it that He might bring Jacob and his whole family into Egypt, and thus prepare those great events which were at length to bring his first begotten into the world for the salvation of mankind.


Genesis 41:53. When the people heard that the days of plenteousness were to be seven years, thousands would no doubt be strongly tempted to say to their souls, “Eat, drink, and be merry; to-morrow shall be as this day, and so shall the next and many following days and years be, and much more abundantly.” But the day of prosperity was now at an end, and the days of adversity had arrived. The end of all the changing things in this world of change will soon come, and then the beginning of them will appear like yesterday when it is past. “A perpetuity of bliss is bliss,” and that only.—(Bush.)

Genesis 41:54. The evils threatened by God will fall heavily upon those who use not the proper means for averting them. Joseph could look forward with a steady eye, and without terror, to the days of famine, which came at the time specified, and were as grievous as he had predicted. When they came he knew that his wisdom would be acknowledged by all the land of Egypt, and by all the people of the surrounding countries.—(Bush.)

Good Jacob is pinched with the common famine. No piety can exempt us from the evils of neighbourhood. No man can tell, by outward events, which is the patriarch, and which the Canaanite.—(Bp. Hall.)

Genesis 41:55. If any of the people had refused to go to Joseph, they would have despised not Joseph only, but the king who had clothed him with power. And are not the despisers of our great Redeemer in like manner despisers of His Father, who has set Him as King in His holy hill of Zion? If we need food for our souls, to whom are we to have recourse but to Jesus, whom God has appointed as the sole dispenser of that bread which nourisheth unto everlasting life? Those who will not come to Him for the bread of life are despisers of their own mercies.—(Bush.)

Genesis 41:56. Joseph did not throw open his storehouses until the people felt the pressure of hunger, else they would have wasted the fruits of his provident care. God reserves the blessings of His salvation until we feel the want of them.

Genesis 41:57. All that a man hath will he give for his life, and for those things that are necessary to preserve life. He will travel into the most distant regions rather than perish with hunger in the land of his nativity. Why, then, do men grudge a little labour, or a little expense, for what is no less necessary for our souls, than the bread that perisheth is for our bodies?—(Bush.)

Joseph is now filling up his generation work in useful and important labours; and like a true son of Abraham, he is blessed and made a blessing. Yet it was in the midst of this career of activity that his father Jacob said with a deep sigh, Joseph is not! What a large portion of our troubles would subside, if we knew but the whole truth!—(Fuller.)


Genesis 41:54. In all 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.”—(Murphy.)

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 41". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/genesis-41.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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