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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Genesis 41

CHAP. XLI.

Joseph interprets the dreams of Pharaoh, and advises him concerning the seven years of plenty. Pharaoh constitutes Joseph governor of AEgypt, and gives him a wife, by whom he has two sons. The seven years of plenty pass, and the famine begins.

Before Christ 1717.

Verse 1

Genesis 41:1. At the end of two full years i.e.. Two years after the event recorded in the former chapter, God was pleased to send Pharaoh a prophetic dream, the scene of which was on the banks of the river Nile, to which AEgypt owed all its fertility: and consequently nothing could be represented with more propriety.

Verse 6

Genesis 41:6. Blasted with the east wind To this wind, Bishop Patrick observes, is ascribed in Scripture all the mischiefs done to corn or fruit, by blasting, smutting, mildews, locusts, &c. Exodus 10:13-15.Psalms 78:26; Psalms 78:26. Ezekiel 17:10. Jonah 4:8. It is more pernicious, in AEgygt than in other places, because it comes through the parched desarts of Arabia. Thevenot, in his Travels, (part I. book ii. c. 34.) gives an account that, in the year 1658, two thousand men were destroyed in a night: by one of these blasting winds: and the same author says (ch. 80) that "these unwholesome winds blow about Grand Cairo fifty days together from the beginning of April, filling all around with suffocating dust."

Verse 8

Genesis 41:8. His spirit was troubled; and he sent The peculiarity of the dreams made a strong impression upon Pharaoh's spirit; and, desirous to be satisfied with respect to their meaning, he sent for all those whose province and profession it was to interpret dreams; but he inquired of them in vain; the rules of their art failed them—they could not interpret the dreams: whence it seems to follow, that God was pleased to reserve in his own power the interpretation of particular dreams; or, possibly, these magicians, &c. were mere pretenders, and easily baffled, when the Almighty thought fit to elude their little skill. See Dan. ch. 2: As the magicians and wise men were not able to interpret Pharaoh's dream, so neither, I conceive, were they able to interpret those of the butler and baker. See note on Gen 41:5 in the foregoing chapter.

The magician חרטמים chartumim, a kind of conjurers among the AEgyptians and Babylonians; properly, I apprehend, such as pretended to supernatural performances by the means of talismans, which were "magical figures cut or engraved with superstitious observations on the characterisms and configurations of the heavens, to which some astrologers have attributed wonderful virtues particularly that of calling down celestial influence." So the Hebrew word חרטם is a compound of חרט to engrave, and אטם to close, stop up, from the supposed virtue of these talismanic engravings, to release the confined influences of the heavens, planets, &c. See Dan 1:20 and Parkhurst.

Wise men The AEgyptians gave the name of wise men to those whom the Greeks afterwards called more modestly philosophers, or lovers of wisdom. Before Greece became the nurse of arts and sciences, men came from every part to learn philosophy in the school of the AEgyptian priests, who had very generally a great reputation for wisdom. They tell us, that their kings enjoined them chiefly two things—the worship of GOD, and the study of wisdom; that, renouncing all other employments and all secular concerns, they passed their whole life in the contemplation of divine things. They always appeared with a grave demeanor, a composed walk, a fixed attention, laughed seldom, had always their hands folded in their habits, and were very much attached to the customs of their country; they gave their nights to study and the contemplation of the stars, or to self-purification, and their days to the worship of their gods, in honour of whom they sung hymns four times a day: all the time which remained from these occupations was employed, in the study of arithmetic and geometry. Such, according to Porphyry, were the wise men of AEgypt.

REFLECTIONS.—When Joseph began to despair of his friend at court, to cease from man, and to trust wholly in God, then was his deliverance about to be accomplished. Two long years had he lain in the house of his prison without any relief from his expected friend, when God worked not only for his enlargement but his preferment. Pharaoh's dreams trouble him. Though strange the rovings of his fancy, he felt an impression which he could not get rid of; the remembrance was strong upon his mind, but the magicians were called in vain to give the interpretation. Note; (1.) The nature of dreams is among the secret things. Though not utterly to be overlooked, they are not superstitiously to be attended to. (2.) When patience hath had her perfect work, God can easily furnish the means for the deliverance of his servants.

Verse 9

Genesis 41:9. I do remember my faults That is, "my ingratitude in forgetting and neglecting a person who gave me great comfort in my affliction, and foretold my advancement when confined in the prison."

Verse 13

Genesis 41:13. Me he, &c.— See note on Gen 41:21 ch. 40:

Verse 14

Genesis 41:14. Dungeon, &c.— See ch. 40: Genesis 41:15. Joseph put off his garments and habit of mourning, such as became and were expressive of his afflicted state, and appeared in a proper dress before the king. The AEgyptians never shaved or cut their hair in times of public or private distress; on other occasions they were remarkably clean and exact in their dress.

Verse 16

Genesis 41:16. And Joseph answered, &c.— With pious modesty Joseph answers the king, in almost the same terms which Daniel afterwards used, who was influenced by the same pious and holy principles. See Daniel 2:28. He elevates the monarch's mind to the first cause of the dreams which so troubled him, and engages his attention by causing him to hope that he should give him an answer, of which God himself was the Author: it is not in me; God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace. "I have no more skill than those already consulted; from God alone the interpretation must proceed; and He, I trust, will give a favourable one to your dreams."

REFLECTIONS.—Pharaoh's dreams remind the butler of his obligations. Hereupon,

1. He acknowledges his faults, partly in so long forgetting Joseph, and partly perhaps as a compliment to Pharaoh's clemency in forgiving him. He then proceeds to give the character of Joseph, and mentions the experience he had of his sagacity and wisdom. Note; (1.) It is good to remember our sins, when God hath forgiven and forgotten them. (2.) If we have been negligent of our duty, it is time to remember, and return to it. Better late than never. (3.) God's Providence orders all in the best time and manner for his people. Joseph's preferment in some measure depended on this delay.

2. We have Pharaoh's haste to have Joseph's interpretation. A dream had brought him a slave into AEgypt,and now a dream carries him into the king's presence and favour.
3. Joseph's humble reply to Pharaoh's question. He ascribes the power to God, and wishes, as if bred a courtier, (for true religion breeds genuine courtesy,) Pharaoh's peace and prosperity in the interpretation. Note; Great gifts must be adorned with deep humility; then only are they truly amiable and excellent.

Verse 18

Genesis 41:18. And, behold, there came, &c.— "Phantasms in dreams," says Bishop Warburton, "were superstitiously thought to be symbolical: God, therefore, when it was his good pleasure to send dreams to Pharaoh, made two well-known symbols the foundation of them; and this, doubtless, in order to engage the dreamer's more serious attention. But then, to confound the AEgyptian oneirocritics or interpreters of dreams, these dreams were so circumstanced with matters foreign to the principles of their art, that there was need of a truly divine interpreter.—Pharaoh had two dreams, one of seven kine, the other of seven ears of corn. Both these phantasms were symbols of AEgypt; the ears denoting its distinguished fertility, the kine its great tutelary patroness Isis. Pharaoh knew thus much without an interpreter; and hence arose his solicitude and anxiety to understand the rest, as a matter that concerned the public; accordingly, when Joseph came to decypher these dreams, he does not tell the king that the two sevens denoted seven years in AEgypt, but simply seven years."

Verse 21

Genesis 41:21. When they had eaten, &c.— It would be difficult to give a more lively idea of the extreme horrors of famine, than that which arises from this picture; the kine which devoured the others, without losing any thing of their ill favour, is the most expressive emblem of that dreadful judgment.

Verse 32

Genesis 41:32. And for that the dream was doubled, &c.— We may remark here, 1st, That Joseph informs Pharaoh his dream was doubled, both for the fuller confirmation of the certainty, and the speedy execution of the event foretold: 2ndly, and which is the most essential, Both here, and in the foregoing discourse, Genesis 41:25; Genesis 41:28. he directs Pharaoh to look upon God as the Author of these events; for such fertility, and such famine, did not proceed from mere natural causes, but from the Providence of that All-wise Being, who presides over and directs the springs of nature's operations. The natural cause of plenty, and famine, in AEgypt, is ascribed to the Nile; for when that river, in its annual overflowings, rises only twelve cubits, a famine ensues; when thirteen, great scarcity; when fourteen, they have a good year; when fifteen, a very good; and, if it rises to sixteen cubits, they have luxuriant plenty. See Pliny, lib. 5: cap. 9. Now that this river should overflow so largely for seven years together, as to make vast plenty; and then, for the next seven years, not overflow its banks at all, or so little, as to make a long and grievous famine, could be ascribed to nothing but an extraordinary interposition of Providence. We may add, that such an event, lying out of the common course of nature; could only be foretold by supernatural assistance.

REFLECTIONS.—Pharaoh relates, and Joseph interprets to his full satisfaction. The dreams are one, to confirm the certainty of their fulfilment. They predict seven years of plenty, and seven years of famine which should succeed them, famine so severe as should consume the whole produce of the former years. Note; 1. The greatest plenty is often succeeded by the greatest penury; careful economy therefore is wise and prudent. 2. All our worldly comforts are like the abundance of AEgypt; the evil days come, when we shall no longer have pleasure in them. How solicitous should we then be to secure a more enduring portion. 3. What God hath decreed, will shortly come to pass; for time is swift, and death and eternity near, even at the door.

Verse 33

Genesis 41:33. Now therefore let Pharaoh, &c.— It was the Spirit of God, and not his own ambition, which inspired Joseph to give this counsel to Pharaoh. He was ignorant himself whom GOD would destine to the charge; and how could he flatter himself that he should be elevated to such a station, who came out of prison, and was among the AEgyptians only as an obscure man, sold as a common slave? In following ages, the Romans created a magistrate upon this model, under the title of praefectus annonae, whose business it was to supply the city with provisions. A terrible famine occasioned that appointment; L. Minutius was the first who held the office, which afterwards became so considerable, that Pompey the Great, when he was loaded with honours, thought this not beneath him.

Verse 34

Genesis 41:34. Officers, &c.— The Hebrew signifies, literally, overseers. The Hebrew פקיד pekid, as the Greek επισκοπος, whence we have formed our English word bishop, is a man who has a charge or office, for any business, civil, military, or ecclesiastic.

Fifth part of the land That is, the fifth part of the fruits of the earth, or rather of the corn, which grew during the years of plenty. It has been asked, why a fifth part? why not half, since there were to be as many years of famine as of abundance? To which it may be replied, that in time of famine men live more frugally; that many persons, after the king's example, might fill their own granaries; that even, in those years of greatest famine, something might be sown, at least near the banks of the Nile; that a fifth part of the extraordinary abundance in those seven years, might be equal to a half of the ordinary produce; and that a tenth part being the tribute paid to kings in many countries, and most probably here, Joseph proposed only to double this impost during the years of extraordinary abundance, when the fifth part was not more to the people, than the tenth in other years; or, which is rather to be supposed from a good king and a good counsellor, he might propose to buy as much more as was the tribute, which might be done at an easy rate, when plenty made corn cheap.

Verse 35

Genesis 41:35. Let them That is, the overseers gather all the food; that is, all the fifth part appropriated to the king, of the following good years, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh; that is, in granaries appointed for that purpose in every city, and to be under the immediate power and direction of the king.

Verse 37

Genesis 41:37. The thing was good, &c.— Though a young man, and a stranger, Joseph had already rendered himself conspicuous by his explication of the dreams of the officers of Pharaoh in prison; and now, not only his exposition of the figures which Pharaoh saw in his dream, was so natural, that it was apt to beget belief; but his advice was so judicious and sensible, that there is no wonder Pharaoh, as well as his servants, was disposed to receive it: besides, ought we not to believe, that he who sent such extraordinary dreams to Pharaoh, disposed his mind also to receive the interpretation with a deep sense of its truth?

Verse 38

Genesis 41:38. In whom the Spirit of God is The original is, the Spirit of the Aleim. I cannot conceive any foundation for Le Clerc's interpretation, who would have us believe that Pharaoh speaks the language of an idolater, ascribing Joseph's wisdom to magic, or a familiarity with his idol gods; for, granting (which cannot be absolutely proved) that Pharaoh and his people worshipped a plurality of gods, yet we cannot doubt that they acknowledged one Superior Deity; and therefore it seems reasonable to put the most favourable construction on his words; especially since, in the following verse, the verb, with which aleim is joined, is in the singular number. The Chaldee renders the passage, "can we find such a man, in whom is the spirit of prophecy, from the face of God?"

Verse 40

Genesis 41:40. Shalt be over my house Be the chief minister of my court, Psalms 105:21. He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his substance. And according to thy word, conformably to thy orders, shall all my people be ruled. The Hebrew is, according to thy word shall my people kiss; that is; they shall pay thee that submission and obedience of which the kiss was a token. See Psalms 2:12. 1Ki 19:18. 1Sa 10:1 and in this sense it is taken by the LXX, the Samaritan, the Vulgate, and others. Some good critics prefer another translation, which appears to them more suitable to the conjuncture, and not less literal: all my people shall be nourished from thy mouth, i.e.. shall receive their nourishment by thy word or commandment. Houbigant renders it, ex tuis imperiis populus meus pendebit, my people shall hang or depend upon thy orders. The Eastern customs confirm the first interpretation; for they kiss what comes from the hand of a superior. So Dr. Pococke,* when he describes the AEgyptian compliments, tells us, that upon their taking any thing from the hand of a superior, or which is sent from such a one, they kiss it, and, as the highest mark of respect, put it to their forehead. But this is not peculiar to that country; for the editor of the Ruins of Balbec observed, that an Arab governor of that city respectfully applied the firman of the grand signior, which was presented to him when he and his fellow-travellers first waited on him, to his forehead, and then kissed it, declaring himself the sultan's slave's slave.

* Travels, vol. I. p. 182.

Verse 42

Genesis 41:42. Pharaoh took off his ring Thus he invested him with authority; for rings were anciently worn by princes, not by way of ornament only, but as a badge of their imperial dignity; and, as the royal signets, they descended to their successors. Thus Alexander, when he found himself dying, took off his ring, and gave it to Perdiccas, thus pointing him out for his successor. See Esther 3:10; Esther 8:2. Vossius says, that Pharaoh gave this ring, both in token of the dignity to which he preferred Joseph, and that he might seal letters and patents in the king's name. The vesture of fine linen, wherewith he arrayed him, was also a token of his exaltation, such linen being then only worn by princes, and people of the greatest distinction.

Verse 43

Genesis 41:43. Ride in the second chariot That is, in the chariot royal, which belonged to the first person in the kingdom, after the monarch himself. Thus Darius made his mother Sysigambis ride in the chariot next himself.

Bow the knee There have been various opinions concerning the Hebrew word אברךֶ abrac, here rendered bow the knee: but it seems very naturally and easily derived from ברךֶ barec, to bless, in word and deed, spoken of God to man, or of superiors to inferiors. As a noun, berec is the knee, from the strength and firmness of that part of the body: hence, feeble or bending knees are frequently mentioned in Scripture as marks of extreme weakness: and because the posture of kneeling was used on a religious account, hence brec signified to bless, as man doth God, or an inferior his superior; and therefore, to bow the knee, is emblematically to ascribe strength and liability to him, and to do him all homage, and pay him all honour. See Parkhurst.

Verse 44

Genesis 41:44. I am Pharaoh That is, I reserve to myself only the title of Pharaoh or King; thou shalt possess the whole power; or, rather, I am Pharaoh; I retain the dignity, and first place, as king; thou shalt be absolute and independent of all others but me. Some understand it as an oath; so true as I am Pharaoh, I swear by my name and my sceptre.

Verse 45

Genesis 41:45. Zaphnath-paaneah The most probable interpretation of these words, is the revealer of secrets: the Chaldee targum has it, the man to whom secrets are revealed. And of the Greek versions cited in the Hexapla, one renders the words, a man that knoweth secrets; another, one to whom futurity is revealed; and a third, one to whom God hath revealed hidden things. St. Jerome asserts, that it signifies no less than the Saviour of the world; salvatorem mundi, as the Vulgate has it. Houbigant, who understands the Hebrew at least better, renders it arcanorum explanatorem, an explainer of secrets. It was a custom among the Eastern monarchs, to give new names to such foreigners as were inrolled among their subjects: thus did the king of Babylon to Daniel and his associates. It is usual with the Mogul, at this very day, when he invests a person with an office, to give him a name significant of some quality belonging to him.

Asenath, the daughter of Poti-pherah A different person from Potiphar, though some have strangely confounded them. This person was priest of On, or Heliopolis, a city in the eastern part of AEgypt, situated between the Nile and the Arabian gulph, in the land of Goshen. An annual festival was celebrated here in honour of the sun, whence it was called by the Greeks heliopolis, that is, the city of the sun. It is thought to be the same with that which is called Aven, Eze 30:17 and Ir-heres, Isaiah 19:18 a name of the like import, though we render it, the city of destruction: at present it is called Damietta. "Antiquity celebrates On, or Heliopolis," says Bishop Warburton, "as a nursery of the most learned and wise colleges of priests. Strabo tells us, they were famed for their skill in astronomy; and what more probable, than that the priests of the sun would devote themselves to the study of that system over which this god was supposed to preside. Pharaoh, therefore, consulted Joseph's interest in this match; for the administration being in the hands of the priests, they would hardly have borne with Joseph, a stranger, had he not thus been joined in alliance with them." See Warb. Div. Leg.

Priest of On The Hebrew word rendered priest, signifies also a prince; one who ministers or presides either in things sacred or civil. In the former sense it occurs, ch. Genesis 14:18. (Melchizedek priest of the most high GOD) and in various other places. In the other sense it occurs, 1 Chronicles 18:17. The sons of David were chief about the king, that is, they were his principal officers of state, as it is explained 2 Samuel 8:18. Anciently the priests were the premiers of all AEgypt, and the kings themselves were taken from their order. Shuckford infers, from this passage, that the AEgyptians at this time could not be very [or, universally] corrupt in their religion, or Joseph would not have married into the family of one of their priests, which coincides with a sentiment we have before advanced on Genesis 41:38. The authors of the Universal History observe, that as it is not likely that Joseph should so soon have forgotten his religion as to have married the daughter of an uncircumcised person, whether prince or priest, on the one hand; and, on the other, Poti-pherah could not but be desirous to purchase so advantageous an alliance at any rate; this might have given the former a fair opportunity of introducing circumcision into the family of the latter: and thence by degrees among all the AEgyptian priests and laity.

Joseph went out That is, took a progress through the whole kingdom, to build his granaries, and appoint proper officers for the reception of the corn in every place.

REFLECTIONS.—1. Joseph adds his advice to his interpretation, evincing his consummate wisdom in both: to improve the years of plenty, and, under faithful inspectors, to lay up provision against the years of famine. Note; (1.) There is a day coming, against which we shall have abundant need to provide. All the grace we can get, will be no more than we shall need. (2.) Provision for approaching danger must be immediate. We, who have so little time to spend, have none to lose.

2. Pharaoh is highly pleased with the advice, and on the spot resolves to follow it. He extols the wisdom of Joseph, and from conviction of his interest with God and of the superiority of his genius, advances him to the honourable post of governor of the whole land. To him the trust is committed, to provide against the famine he predicts. He is solemnly installed. The ring from his finger, and his second chariot bestowed on Joseph, proclaim the favour of the king, and the dignity of the minister; while they cry before him, Bow the knee! And to all his other honours are added, a noble alliance with the daughter of Poti-pherah, and a new name, Zaphnath-paaneah, The revealer of secrets. What a change hath a day brought forth! the morning saw him a prisoner in distress; the noon beheld him apparelled as a king, and chief of all the land of AEgypt. Patient suffering will certainly one day thus be crowned with glory. Note; (1.) It is as honourable to the prince, as happy for the people, when those are preferred, in whom the Spirit of God is. (2.) Herein Joseph resembles the Lord of Glory: exalted from his prison of death to the right hand of God, the concerns of heaven and earth are entrusted to him alone; and angels, principalities, and powers bow before him.

Verse 46

Genesis 41:46. Joseph was thirty years old He was seventeen years old when he was sold into AEgypt, and consequently had been thirteen years in slavery when he stood before Pharaoh, an eastern phrase expressing his advancement; for the great counsellors and ministers alone were admitted into the interior parts of the eastern kings' palaces, to stand before them, Dan 1:19 and to see the king's face, Esther 1:14. The sacred historian remarks this, 1st, To make us sensible that the consummate wisdom of Joseph, at so early a period of life, was a work of the Holy Spirit: 2nd, To exalt the Divine Goodness, which recompensed the troubles he suffered for thirteen years, by a long prosperity of fourscore.

Verse 51

Genesis 41:51. Manasseh: for God, &c.— He gives the reason for calling his son Manasseh, or forgetting; because God, says he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house; that is, all my toil in my father's house: GOD hath defaced the remembrance of all the hardships I suffered from my brethren: "God did for certain purposes order it so," says Dr. Wall, "or else it might be counted a wonder, that in all this time he did not send to his father."

REFLECTIONS.—Joseph's diligence is as great as his wisdom. He is no sooner in office, than he executes the trust reposed in him. The more a statesman is distinguished, the more laborious should he be for the public good. God blesses him abundantly in his labour, and adds to the fruitfulness of the land, the fruitfulness of his house. Two sons are born; Manasseh, so called, because all his former toil and ill usage at home were forgotten; and Ephraim, because God had made him fruitful. Note; 1. It is well to acknowledge God in every gift. 2. Injuries cannot be too soon forgiven and forgotten.

Verse 54

Genesis 41:54. The dearth was in all lands It extended itself to Syria, to the land of Canaan; and, in general, throughout the neighbouring countries. When any thing spreads far and wide, it is said, in the language of almost all nations, to be propagated through the world, over all lands, or all the earth. Bishop Patrick thinks that a general drought was the cause of this famine.

In all the land of AEgypt there was bread Sufficient provisions of all kinds.

Verse 55

Genesis 41:55. When all the land of AEgypt was famished The people of AEgypt soon consumed their substance; avarice, most probably, inciting them, at first, to export much of their corn to other nations; or, certainly, as Joseph exacted only a fifth part, they had enough left to have maintained them much longer than the famine lasted, had they managed prudently. However, in their necessity they apply to Pharaoh, who commands them to repair to Joseph, in terms which seem to imply arbitrary power; and indeed Josephus informs us, in his book against Appian, that the AEgyptians do not appear to have enjoyed their liberty, in any passages, for one single day; no, not under their own princes. All nations in the first formation of governments were subject, it is thought, to the arbitrary rule of princes. So says Justin, lib. I. cap. 1. Principio rerum populus nullis legibus tenebatur, arbitria principum pro legibus erant. "In the beginning of things the people were held together by no laws; the will of princes was instead of laws," Plato, in his book of laws, gives the same account of the earliest ages. The testimony which this same Justin gives, lib. 36: cap. 2. though delivered by a heathen, and in a great degree not true, is yet so corroborative of the Scripture account, that it deserves attention: "Joseph," says he, "the youngest of his brethren, had a superiority of genius, which made them fear him, and fell him to foreign merchants, who carried him to AEgypt, where he practised the magic art with such success, as rendered him very dear to the king. He had a great sagacity in the explanation of prophecies and dreams; nor was there any thing so abstruse, either in divine or human knowledge, that he did not readily attain. He foretold a great dearth several years before it happened, and prevented a famine's falling upon AEgypt, by advising the king to publish a decree, requiring the people to make provision for divers years. His knowledge, in short, was so great, that the AEgyptians listened to the prophecies coming from his mouth, as if they had proceeded not from man, but from GOD himself."

REFLECTIONS.—Joseph's provident care is now sensibly felt. The countries around, under the scourge of famine as well as AEgypt, come to buy corn, and are referred to Joseph, whose management, no doubt, in the sale, was as just and equitable as his prudence in providing had been singular. Note; It is highly our duty in times of dearth to open our store-houses; and neither by a fictitious famine, nor an unreasonable price, to grind the faces of the poor.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 41". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/genesis-41.html. 1801-1803.