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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 41

Verse 1

THE DREAMS OF PHARAOH, Genesis 41:1-8.

1. Two full years Hebrews, two years of days . Comp . Genesis 29:14. This may mean two years from the date of Joseph’s imprisonment, or from the date of the butler’s release. More naturally it would mean the latter, as being the thing last mentioned.

The river Hebrews, היאר , the yeor, an Egyptian word, and used in the Pentateuch always of the Nile . It was suitable that the dream-vision of Pharaoh should be associated with the sacred river, which was to Egypt the source of fertility and life.

Verse 2

2. Seven well favoured kine Hebrews, seven heifers beautiful in appearance . “The Egyptians esteemed the cow above all other animals . It was sacred to Isis, (Herod . 2:41,) or rather to Athor, the Venus Genetrix of Egypt, and was looked on as a symbol of the earth and its cultivation and food . Hence it was very natural that in Pharaoh’s dream the fruitful and unfruitful years should be typified by well favoured and ill favoured kine . ” Speaker’s Com.

In a meadow Rather, in the marsh grass, ( אחו . )

The word is of Egyptian origin, and signifies, according to Gesenius, “marsh-grass, reeds, bulrushes, sedge, every thing which grows in wet grounds. The word was adopted not only into the Hebrew, but also into the Greek idiom of Alexandria.” The Sept. does not translate the word, but reads, εν τω αχει .

Verse 6

6. Blasted with the east wind The south-east wind, known as the Chamsin, which comes from the Arabian desert and blights all that it touches . These incidental notices of facts peculiar to Egypt evince the genuineness of this narrative .

Verse 8

8. Spirit was troubled The dream was sent of God, and designed to impress him deeply, that it might lead to the great provisions which followed . Compare the effect of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream . Daniel 2:1; Daniel 2:3.

All the magicians of Egypt Of whom there were many, and they very skilful. Comp. Exodus 7:11. The word rendered magicians ( חרשׂמים ) is usually understood of the sacred scribes, who were supposed to be conversant with all mystic arts, and able to unravel the secrets of men’s lives .

Wise men A more general term, denoting all those who were devoted to the study of science or philosophy. All these belonged to a regular order in Egypt, as in other Oriental kingdoms. Comp. Daniel 2:2; Daniel 2:48; Daniel 4:9; Daniel 5:11.

Verse 9

JOSEPH INTERPRETS PHARAOH’S DREAMS, Genesis 41:9-36.

9. My faults The sins which caused his imprisonment . The recital of the king’s dreams, and the inability of all the wise men to interpret them, cause the butler to remember his offences, his imprisonment, his dream, and all connected with it .

Verse 14

14. Brought him hastily Hebrews, caused him to run . Every thing was excitement about the royal household that day, and hence the haste .

Shaved According to Herodotus (ii, 36) the Egyptians never allowed their beards to grow, except while mourning for deceased relatives . The most recent researches into Egyptian archaeology confirm this statement . In order, therefore, to conform to the Egyptian ideas of propriety, Joseph was shaved in order to be presentable at the royal court .

Verse 15

15. Thou canst understand Literally, thou hearest a dream to interpret it .

Verse 16

16. God shall give… peace Literally, God shall answer the peace of Pharaoh . Joseph emphatically points out the divine and supernatural aspect of the dreams, and takes no glory to himself .

Verse 25

25. The dream… is one That is, the two dreams are really but one dream, and convey one great prophecy .

God hath showed The Hebrew here and in Genesis 41:28; Genesis 41:32 has the article before the name God . It is the one true God who thus graciously foretells to Pharaoh what he is about to do .

Verse 32

32. The dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice Here is incidentally given a principle of interpretation which may be profitable in the interpretation of prophecy . As God repeated the dream to Pharaoh under different symbols, so he gave through his prophets under various symbols the ideas of things that were future . So Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s vision of the beasts (Daniel 2:7) were one . So, doubtless, in the Apocalypse, many of the symbols, which have been explained as chronological and consecutive, are but different foreshadowings of the same thing. The repetition is but to show that the thing is established by God, and at the same time to deepen and intensify the impression.

Verse 33

33. Now therefore let Pharaoh “Joseph now naturally passes from the interpreter to the adviser . He is all himself on this critical occasion . His presence of mind never forsakes him . The openness of heart and readiness of speech for which he was early distinguished, now stand him in good stead . His thorough self-command arises from spontaneously throwing himself with all his heart into the great national emergency which is before his mind . And his native simplicity of heart, practical good sense, and force of character, break forth into unasked but not unaccepted counsel.” Murphy.

Verse 34

34. Take up the fifth part Hebrews, let him fifth the land of Egypt . Perhaps tithing the produce of the land for the king was already in practice, but Joseph advises that one-fifth of their annual produce be set apart, and saved for the time of famine .

Verse 36

36. That the land perish not That is, the inhabitants of the land .

Verse 38

JOSEPH MADE OVERSEER OF EGYPT, Gem 41:37-57 .

38. In whom the Spirit of God is Pharaoh recognises the message as from God, and Joseph as a man inspired by the Holy One .

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Verse 40

40. According unto thy word shall all my people be ruled This gives the general sense, and is substantially that of the ancient versions; but the word rendered ruled is the ordinary word for kissing, and modern exegetes disagree as to its meaning . Gesenius renders: Upon thy mouth shall all my people kiss . So also Knobel and Furst . Allusion would thus be made to the custom of expressing homage by throwing a kiss . Keil, however, denies that this was a customary form of showing homage, and takes the word נשׁק in the sense of disposing or arranging one’s self: According to thy mouth (that is, thy command, Genesis 45:21) shall my whole people arrange itself . The primary signification of נשׁק seems to be that of hanging upon or cleaving unto, (see Furst, Lex . ,) and perhaps the simpler meaning here is: upon thy mouth (that is, word of command) shall all my people hang . That is, they will cleave to thy orders and all thy utterances with the greatest respect and reverence .

Only in the throne Joseph is made the grand vizier, but Pharaoh retains all his essential royalty and kingly prerogatives.

Verse 42

42. Ring… fine linen… gold chain “Great importance was attached to the signet ring, which contained the owner’s name, and the impression of which was of the same validity as a written signature is among us . Hence the gift of this royal signet ring was a transfer of royal authority to Joseph . Thus Ahasuerus gave his ring to Haman, and the document which Haman signed with it was considered as coming from the king . Esther 3:10-12. The same ring was afterwards given to Mordecai, who used it in the same way . Esther 8:2; Esther 8:8; Esther 8:10. The value and importance attached to the signet ring are referred to in Jeremiah 22:24, and in Haggai 2:23. Some valuable specimens of ancient signet rings have been found by antiquarians . One of the most remarkable of these is now in the Abbott Collection of Egyptian Antiquities, in the Museum of the New York Historical Society . It is in most excellent preservation and of very high antiquity, bearing the name of Shoofoo, the Suphis of the Greeks, who reigned before the time of Joseph . It was found in a tomb at Ghizeh, and is of fine gold, weighing nearly three sovereigns . The fine (or, literally, white) linen robes were worn by the Egyptian priests, which fact has given some occasion to think that Joseph was received into the caste of priests, which was of the highest rank in Egypt, as it was the one to which the king himself belonged . The gold chain was another mark of distinction, since none but persons of high rank were permitted to wear such ornaments . There is in the Abbott Collection a gold necklace which has on it the name of Menes, the first Pharaoh of Egypt, and who reigned several hundred years before Shoofoo . The necklace has a pair of earrings to match . The signet and the necklace are, no doubt, similar in general appearance to those with which Joseph was invested.” FREEMAN’S Hand-Book of Bible Manners and Customs.

Verse 43

43. Second chariot Probably meaning the chariot second in majesty and splendour to that in which the king himself rode . In royal procession, Joseph would thus ride in the chariot which followed next after the king.

Bow the knee אברךְ . This seems to be equivalent to הברךְ , the Hiphil imperative of the Hebrew ברךְ , but most critics regard it as an Egyptian word . The Sept . renders it by κηρυξ , herald; the Targum makes it equivalent to אב רךְ , tender father; Syriac, father and ruler . Gesenius suggests, that though the word be of Egyptian origin, the Hebrew writer so changed and inflected it that it might have a Hebrew sound to be referred to a Hebrew etymology. Canon Cook, editor of the Speaker’s Commentary, in his essay on Egyptian words found in the Pentateuch, explains it as the emphatic imperative of a verb ab, which is a word specially used in public demonstrations of rejoicing, and to be understood as addressed by the people to Joseph, not as a word of command made to the people. אברךְ , abrech, would then mean rejoice, or all hail, after the manner and in the spirit of the French, vive le roi, or the English, long live the king . Accordingly we should render: And they (the people) cried before him, Hail to thee!

Verse 45

45. Zaphnath-paaneah An Egyptian name signifying bread of life, a most appropriate designation of Joseph, in his relation to the Egyptians . Others have explained the word as meaning, revealers of secrets, (Targ . , Syr . ,) saviour of the world, (Vulgate,) but the deciphering of the hieroglyphic inscriptions has led to the explanation first given above . See Cook’s Essay on Egyptian Words . The same writer explains Asenath to mean sacred to Neith, the Egyptian Athene, or Minerva; or perhaps a combination of Isis and Neith, names of two deities Isis-neith, a name very likely to be given to his daughter by an Egyptian priest . So also Potipherah is explained as meaning devoted to Ra, the sun god, a suitable name for the priest of On, or Heliopolis, the great city and seat of the worship of the sun . This city stood about two hours’ ride north-east of Cairo, and its site is now “marked by low mounds inclosing a space about three quarters of a mile in length, by half a mile in breadth; which was once occupied partly by houses and partly by the celebrated temple of the Sun. The solitary obelisk which still rises in the midst, is the sole remnant of the former splendours of the place. The Seventy translate the name On by Heliopolis, city of the sun; and the Hebrew prophet calls it in the same sense, Bethshemesh. Jeremiah 43:13. The city suffered greatly from the invasion of Cambyses; and in Strabo’s time it was a mass of splendid ruins . ” Robinson .

Verse 46

46. Thirty years old Accordingly Joseph had now been thirteen years in Egypt . Comp . Genesis 37:2.

Verse 51

51. Manasseh We must not construe this name and its signification so as to imply that Joseph allowed himself to forget, or desired to forget, his father’s house . He now came more and more to see how God had a hand in his exile, and was making all his labour and sorrow work for good . This was causing him to forget, that is, to overlook the dark side of his exile . But we should also note, that in giving Ephraim his name (Genesis 41:52) he calls Egypt “the land of my affliction,” as if he still felt that Egypt was not his proper home, and his interests were in the land of promise . Ephraim and Manasseh, though born of an Egyptian mother, became the heads of very prominent tribes in Israel .

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 41". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-41.html. 1874-1909.