Genesis 41:1-32

1 Then it came to pass, at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh had a dream; and behold, he stood by the river.

Suddenly there came up out of the river seven cows, fine looking and fat; and they fed in the meadow.

Then behold, seven other cows came up after them out of the river, ugly and gaunt, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the river.

And the ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven fine looking and fat cows. So Pharaoh awoke.

He slept and dreamed a second time; and suddenly seven heads of grain came up on one stalk, plump and good.

Then behold, seven thin heads, blighted by the east wind, sprang up after them.

And the seven thin heads devoured the seven plump and full heads. So Pharaoh awoke, and indeed, it was a dream.

Now it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them for Pharaoh.

Then the chief butler spoke to Pharaoh, saying: “I remember my faults this day.

10 When Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and put me in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, both me and the chief baker,

11 we each had a dream in one night, he and I. Each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream.

12 Now there was a young Hebrew man with us there, a servant of the captain of the guard. And we told him, and he interpreted our dreams for us; to each man he interpreted according to his own dream.

13 And it came to pass, just as he interpreted for us, so it happened. He restored me to my office, and he hanged him.”

14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; and he shaved, changed his clothing, and came to Pharaoh.

15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that you can understand a dream, to interpret it.”

16 So Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.”

17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph: “Behold, in my dream I stood on the bank of the river.

18 Suddenly seven cows came up out of the river, fine looking and fat; and they fed in the meadow.

19 Then behold, seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and gaunt, such ugliness as I have never seen in all the land of Egypt.

20 And the gaunt and ugly cows ate up the first seven, the fat cows.

21 When they had eaten them up, no one would have known that they had eaten them, for they were just as ugly as at the beginning. So I awoke.

22 Also I saw in my dream, and suddenly seven heads came up on one stalk, full and good.

23 Then behold, seven heads, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprang up after them.

24 And the thin heads devoured the seven good heads. So I told this to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me.”

25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do:

26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads are seven years; the dreams are one.

27 And the seven thin and ugly cows which came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty heads blighted by the east wind are seven years of famine.

28 This is the thing which I have spoken to Pharaoh. God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do.

29 Indeed seven years of great plenty will come throughout all the land of Egypt;

30 but after them seven years of famine will arise, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine will deplete the land.

31 So the plenty will not be known in the land because of the famine following, for it will be very severe.

32 And the dream was repeated to Pharaoh twice because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.

The cows (v.2) must have impressed Pharaoh especially in a religious sense, because the cow was the emblem of Isis, the revered Egyptian goddess of fertility. In the Egyptian “Book of the Dead,” the chief scripture of ancient Egypt, the god of vegetation and the nether world, Osiris, is represented as a great bull accompanied by seven cows.

The word used in the case of the cattle (akal) indicates the lean cattle actually chewed up the fat cattle. In the case of the grain the word is bala, indicating a process of swallowing, or engulfing. — Morris, pages 576-577


seven heads (v.5) — A species of wheat, which grows in Egypt, bears, when perfect, seven ears on one stalk as its natural conformation. It differs from ours in having a solid steam, or at least a stem full of pith, in order to yield sufficient nourishment and support to so great a weight as the ears — Treasury, page 29


east wind (v.6) — All the mischief done to corn or fruit by blasting, smutting, mildew, etc. are attributed to the east wind. In Egypt it is peculiarly destructive, because it comes through the parched deserts of Arabia, often destroying vast numbers of people. — Treasury, page 29.

shaved (v.14) — the first mention of shaving in the Bible

Joseph was in a prime position to bargain—for wealth, or at least his freedom. But he didn’t hesitate to give God all the credit  for his ability to interpret dreams (v.16). Joseph immediately assured Pharaoh, however, that God would interpret the dreams and that He had sent them intentionally to prepare Pharaoh for upcoming events.

When Pharaoh restated his dreams to Joseph, he added a few minor details. He said the lean cows were the ugliest he’d ever seen, and even after they at the seven fat cows, they remained as ugly (vs.19-21).

The fact that the dream had been given to Pharaoh twice was explained by [Joseph] to constitute firm assurance that God would indeed fulfill its predictions, and would do so beginning very soon. It is noteworthy that Joseph insisted, not less than four times, that all of this had come from God (vs. 16, 25, 28, 32). God had sent the dream, God had given the interpretation, and God would bring it all to pass. …

The two names for God are used quite selectively. Whenever Joseph was speaking to Egyptians about God, he used the name Elohim (“God”), as is befitting for those to whom God could be known only as a mighty Creator and Sovereign. Whenever the inspired writer of the narrative made comment about God’s dealing with Joseph, however, he used the covenant name, Jehovah (“LORD”), as this was the redemptive name by which He had made Himself specially known to the people of His peculiar promises. — Morris, pages 581-582.


God does not resolve Joseph’s personal situation—which is, after all, only one thread in a much larger tapestry depicting His solicitude for His people—until the end of two full years, at which time Pharaoh has two dreams that cause his spirit to be troubled. Since Pharaoh could find no one to interpret these dreams … the chief cupbearer (implicitly prompted by God) recalls Joseph and tells Pharaoh of his ability to accurately interpret dreams. Significantly, when Pharaoh summons Joseph and asks if he can truly interpret dreams, Joseph’s response—his first recorded words in two years—is, “it is not in me,” which Hebrew expression may be more literally translated, “(It is) apart from me”—i.e., “It has nothing to do with me.” Not only has Joseph not grown bitter after spending thirteen years (unjustly) as a slave and then prisoner, but his focus is in fact set squarely on God and His glory—a focus which was undoubtedly essential to staving off despair during those years. Indeed, at the first opportunity, Joseph unabashedly emphasizes the sovereignty (and hence glory) of God to Pharaoh himself—and without fawning, for he tells him that “God will respond to Pharaoh’s situation” (not “God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer,” as it is sometimes translated. Hebrew sh?l?m (generally signifying “peace” or “completeness”) is here intended in the sense of “situation” or “welfare,” the state of which is as yet unknown. — Wechsler, pages 254-255.

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