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Genesis 39:1 - 41:36


Question:  If I looked into Egyptian history would I find information about Joseph and Israel?
Answer: No.
Why:  THE HYKSOS (Egyptian Hik Shasu), rulers of foreign lands, or of the lands of the nomads), a West Semitic (Canaanite, Amorite) people who ruled an empire embracing Syria and Palestine; called the Shepherd Kings by the Egyptian historian Manetho.

Around 1700 BC their use of a new weapon, the horse-drawn chariot, enabled them to conquer Egypt, where they ruled till about 1550 BC During their rule, which was more friendly to foreigners than were native Egyptian dynasties, Joseph came to Egypt and rose to the prime minister, bringing his father Jacob’s family to dwell in Goshen, near the Kyksos capital at Avaris in the Delta.
(The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary)

The city of Raamses had a more checkered history. At the time of the Hyksos conquest of Egypt this city was known as Tanis and was the capital of out of which the Hyksos ruled Egypt; but that was back in Joseph’s day. After the Hyksos were expelled from Egypt the city went to ruin, but Sethos I, the founder of the XIXth dynasty of Egypt, began the rebuilding of the site. His son Rameses II, who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus, completed the city and embellished it until he made it a fit metropolis from which he planned to rule the world. He called it Raames. Archaeology and our Old Testament Contemporaries Kelso Pages 32,34

When you consider how the Egyptians hated the Shepherd Kings, is it any wonder that all mention of them would be erased from existence along with Joseph and Israel existence in Egypt. By the way there was a woman Pharaoh who also is not listed in the kings of Egypt.

The narrative now returns to Joseph, upon whom it centers throughout most of the rest of the Book of Genesis. Chapter 37 had closed with a brief mention of the fact that he had been sold by the Midianites. The Egypt into which Joseph entered was, of course, a very ancient nation already. It was a highly civilized and organized empire, yet one which was polytheistic and immoral in its faith and practice. The records of Manetho, an Egyptian priest of the third century BC., constitute the most complete set of king lists. Manetho listed thirty-one dynasties (ruling families), giving the years of reign of each king within each dynasty.

    39:1     AN  EGYPTIAN

The story of Joseph took place during the reign of the Hyksos kings, the Bedouin conquerors of Egypt. Because of their Semitic origin that the rulers of Egypt in Joseph’s day treated the children of Israel so well when Jacob and his family moved to Egypt. The Hykos were expelled from Egypt prior to Moses’ time, so that the pharaoh of the new dynasty "knew not Joseph," and soon began to persecute these Hebrew "relatives" of the Hyksos. It is interesting that three times (verses 1,2,5) Potiphar is specifically called an "Egyptian" Pharaoh and most of the rulers of Egypt were themselves not Egyptians.

    39:2     THE  LORD  WAS  WITH  JOSEPH

Joseph was only a Hebrew, nomadic slave-boy. How the rich Egyptian household must have looked down on him with disgust! What intelligence and ability Joseph must have exhibited if he managed to gain the favor of the royal official who was an Egyptian. This was made possible only through God’s special assistance which Joseph proved worthy of receiving. This thought is emphasized in:

39:2 "The Lord was with Joseph" 
39:3 "The Lord was with him" 
39:3 "The Lord made all that he did to prosper" 


Joseph found such favor in the eyes of his master that he, at first, elevated him to the rank of personal valet ("he appointed him over his house") and subsequently made him administrator of his entire estate (4-5), giving him unlimited authority.

    39:6     HE  KNEW  NOT  AUGHT  HE  HAD

In other words, having him, he troubled himself about nothing, and left his affairs to the case of Joseph, except his food. The could not be left to a non-Egyptian; See Genesis 43:32


    39:7     CAST  HER  EYES  UPON  JOSEPH

Then came for him the decisive hour of temptation in the person of the mistress of the house. "Day after day" (v. 10) she perfected on Joseph the art of seduction. He refuses her: it would be a betrayal of her husband (v. 8), a crime against God (v. 9)! "On such a day" when she renewed her attempt, Joseph made the fatal mistake of remaining in the house although no one else was there (v. 11). The Torah rebukes Joseph for his oversight which had serious consequences for him.

    39:14     TO  MOCK  US

At that point, the passionate desire of Potiphar’s wife suddenly turned into the rage of a woman scorned. Knowing that her desire for Joseph was now completely impossible of fulfillment. Joseph’s garment (Hebrew beged, apparently a sort of long cloak or robe) was still in her hand. She knew it would be interpreted as evidence incriminating her unless she quickly took the initiative by accusing Joseph.

    39:19     HIS  WRATH  WAS  KINDLED

On hearing this story, Potiphar’s "wrath was kindled." If his wife’s story were true, he indeed would be fully justified in his wrath and in taking severe retaliation on Joseph. The severest penalty of the law (capital punishment) would be appropriate.

    39:20     THE  PRISON

Rather than having Joseph slain, he merely put him in that part of the prison reserved for political, rather than criminal, prisoners. It almost seems that Potiphar also knew both his wife and Joseph too well to really believe he had heard the whole story. Potiphar was forced to punish Joseph to keep up the pretense of protecting his honor.

THE  BUTLER’S  DREAM...THE  BAKER’S  DREAM    Genesis 40:1-23 

Joseph was seventeen years old when he was sent down into Egypt and thirty years old when he appeared before Pharaoh and was placed in charge of Egypt’s grain conservation program (Genesis 37:2; 41:46). Israel’s greatest king, David, was likewise thirty years old when he finally became king (II Samuel 5:4), even though he had been anointed when only a youth (I Samuel 16:11-13). Those who were trained from childhood to enter the Levitical service of the Lord around the tabernacle were nevertheless permitted to enter that service only when they reached thirty years of age (Numbers 4:46,47). Jesus Himself did not enter on His own public ministry until He was "about thirty years of age" (Luke 3:23, devoting His prior experience to the all-important purpose of "increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52).


The Egyptian court had a ‘scribe of the sideboard’ and a ‘superintendent of the bakehouse’. The chief butler of Pharaoh was the overseer of his vineyards and wine cellar, as well as his personal cupbearer, responsible to see that all drinks served the king were both safe and of best quality. Likewise the chief baker was responsible for the food which Pharaoh ate. It is said that both of these men were "officers," but again the word used is (as in the case of Potiphar) actually the Hebrew word for "eunuchs."

    40:3     PUT  THEM  IN  WARD

The record does not say for what offense the butler and baker had been imprisoned. Possibly a cache of poison had been discovered, under such circumstances that it appeared destined to reach Pharaoh by way of either his food or drink. When questioned about it, no doubt both the baker and butler had denied any responsibility for it; so Pharaoh, to be safe, threw them both into jail. Apparently an investigation into the problem which led to their imprisonment was proceeding in Pharaoh’s court, quite possibly under the direction of Potiphar himself (whose position would roughly correspond to that of chief of the security police). Probably the police investigation finally had come across firm evidence as to which of the two men was guilty, and the king was preparing to render a verdict.

THEY  DREAMED  A  DREAM  BOTH  OF  THEM    Genesis 40:5 

It is not evident in the case of the butler and baker as to exactly what the cause of their strange dreams may have been. Perhaps their own consciences, innocent in the one case and guilty in the other, cause them subconsciously to realize what their futures would be, and these thoughts were then reflected in their dreams. More likely, however, God Himself, possibly through angelic agents, led them to dream as they did, in order to give Joseph the opportunity to come to Pharaoh’s attention.


No professional interpreter was available, and they had in vain consulted others in the prison as to the possible meaning of their dreams. The interpreter was a professional man of importance in Egypt and in Babylon, belonging to the class of soothsayers, magicians and ‘wise men’.


In other words it may be that God who sent the dreams will give me the interpretation of them


In his dream, there had been a vine with three branches, so ordered that its "threeness" was a prominent feature. As he dreamed, he observed the branches budding, then blossoming, and finally bearing luscious bunches of grapes. The grapes were immediately ready for plucking, so the butler dreamed that he picked them and then pressed the grape juice from them into Pharaoh’s cup, which had mysteriously appeared in his hand. "The three branches are three days: Yet within three days shall Pharaoh life up thine head, and restore thee unto thy place."


Joseph also was innocent of any crime, just as the butler had been. He had been taken into slavery out of the land of the Hebrews, in the first place, and so was in Egypt not for some nefarious purpose of subversion or espionage, as his place in a political prison might have suggested, but because he had been stolen from his own people. He requested that the butler, once he was back in a position of influence at the court, intercede for him with Pharaoh. The butler no doubt promised to do this, but unfortunately soon forgot.


In his dream, he was carrying baskets of baked goods on his head to Pharaoh. Again there was a distinctive "threeness" about the dream, for there were three baskets. In the uppermost, exposed, basket, there were all kinds of "goodies," such as he hoped he would be able again to prepare for Pharaoh.. Unlike the butler, however, he never had opportunity actually to present them to Pharaoh. Alien creatures befouled them and to steal the good food. He had failed to provide protection against this, as the duties of his office required.

"The three baskets are three days: Yet within three days shall Pharaoh life up thy head from off thee, and shall hang thee on a tree; and the birds shall eat thy flesh from off thee." The baker had been found guilty, and would pay with his life. Some typological meanings, Butler’s grape juice (blood) Saved. Baker’s bakemeats (own works) Lost. Three days (Christ spent in the grave).

PHARAOH’S DREAM    Genesis 41:1-13 

As Joseph continued to languish in prison, especially after his experience with the chief butler which had seemed to offer some promise of his possible release, he must have become at least partly discouraged.

    41:1     TWO  FULL  YEARS

The significant dreams in Joseph’s experience seemed to come in pairs. First, he had two dreams himself; then two related dreams were experienced by the butler and baker; and now, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, had two dreams. These dreams occurred two full years after Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams of the butler and baker.

    41:2     THERE  CAME  UP  OUT  OF  THE  RIVER

One night Pharaoh was dreaming, apparently at first more or less without any particular theme, but then suddenly the dream became very vivid and impressive. He was standing by the River Nile when he saw, most amazingly, seven beautifully healthy, fat-fleshed cows coming up out of the river, and then grazing among the reeds along the flood plain. The cows 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.

As Pharaoh watched the seven well-favored cows, perhaps speaking to him of the great prosperity of the land over which he ruled, he saw seven ugly and thin-fleshed cows emerge from the river and stand beside the seven well-favored cows. Then, strangely and unexpectedly, the lean cows turned to the fat cows and proceeded to eat them up! Such a thing could happen only in a dream, and it was so startling that Pharaoh woke up. After wondering what it might have meant, he soon became drowsy and fell asleep again.


This time, he was out gazing at a grain field, such as was common throughout the fertile plains of Egypt. As he gazed, he saw a stalk of grain growing up. On the stalk, seven ears of grain (not "corn," in the modern American sense of "maize," but a form of wheat) grew plump and full.  Again, Pharaoh must have been impressed with the richness of Egypt, known to all as the granary of the ancient world.

    41:6     SEVEN  THIN  EARS

The violent winds from the eastern wilderness would wither almost any growing plant, and these ears of grain were hardened and thin, utterly inedible. Before Pharaoh’s startled gaze, the thin ears swallowed up the plump ears. The word used in the case of the cattle (Hebrew akal) indicates the lean cattle actually chewed up the fat cattle. In the case of the grain the Hebrew word is (bala). Indicating the process of swallowing, or engulfing.

In any case, the repetition of the same theme with different figures greatly impressed Pharaoh.


The double dream convinced him of its significance. The Hebrew verb for ‘was troubled’ suggests the violent beating of the heart in excitement. As soon as it was morning, Pharaoh sent for the most famous magicians and wise men of Egypt to interpret his dreams. He sensed that there was something ominous about the dreams, for had not the very symbols of the gods and the prosperity of the land of Egypt been destroyed before his eyes?

There was none that could interpret them unto Pharaoh. The complete failure of heathen magic is here contrasted with the perfect wisdom of the God-inspired Hebrew slave; See Exod. 7-9 and Daniel 2 and 5.


And then it was that the chief butler finally remembered Joseph! Knowing how remarkably Joseph had been able to interpret his own dream and that of the baker, with results which had been precisely fulfilled. Here was a man who had greater insight into the future than all the sages and interpreters of the land of Egypt. If Pharaoh really wanted to know the meaning of his dreams, he should by all means send for this young man, Joseph.


    41:14     HE  SHAVED  HIMSELF

The Egyptians, according to Herodotus, had extreme care for cleanliness, and thus the men would let their hair and beard grow only during periods of mourning. Joseph, therefore, had to allow himself to be shaved and also to be arrayed in clothing suitable for an appearance at court. All of this was done in haste, as Pharaoh was anxiously waiting.

    41:16     IT  IS  NOT  IN  ME

Joseph might well have felt very flattered, to be so addressed by none other than Pharaoh himself. Furthermore, he might have been tempted to bargain with Pharaoh. He could at least have extracted a promise for his freedom, and perhaps a considerable fee, in return for granting Pharaoh’s request. Instead, however, he quickly confessed that he himself had no prophetic ability at all.

If he had been successful at the understanding of dreams, it had been solely because of God, in whom he believed and who had delivered to him the meaning. Literally, his answer was that such insights were "altogether apart from me." Lest Pharaoh be too quickly dismayed, however, Joseph assured him that God Himself would indeed grant Pharaoh the meaning of the dreams.

    41:25     THE  DREAM  OF  PHARAOH  IS  ONE

Certain implications of the dream were, of course, almost self-evident: Egypt’s great prosperity in grain and cattle was surely going to be interrupted somehow. The "seven-ness" of the dreams, however, only Joseph could correctly interpret. This number represented a period of time, just as the "three-ness" of the dreams of the butler and baker had represented three days. In this case, however, there were seven years represented by the respective groups of seven.

    41:25     GOD  HATH  SHOWED  PHARAOH

The fact that the dream had been given to Pharaoh twice (just as Joseph’s much earlier dream had been repeated to him twice, with different figures) was explained by him 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 (verses 16,25,28,32). God had sent the dream, God had given the interpretation, and God would bring it all to pass.

    41:27     SEVEN  YEARS  OF  FAMINE

The seven healthy cattle, as well as the seven full ears of grain, represented seven wonderful years of full productivity and prosperity that were coming on the land of Egypt. The seven ugly cattle, as well as the seven thin ears, on the other hand, represented seven bitter years of famine that would follow on the years of plenty. The bad years, furthermore, would be so bad that the years of prosperity would be altogether forgotten. The famine would, Joseph said, "consume the land," and "be very grievous."

As an interesting and significant aside in this account, it is observed that the two names of 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 would be known only as mighty Creator and Sovereign (note Genesis 39:9; 40:8; 41:16,25,28,32). 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 (note Genesis 39:2,3,5,21,23). There is thus always a clear spiritual reason for the various uses of the two divine names.

Once Joseph had given the interpretation, everything seemed perfectly clear, both to Pharaoh and his courtiers, including those who had previously been unable to explain the dreams. God, however, had ordained even their own ignorance on these matters as a necessary part of the great plan He was now preparing to implement through Joseph and the children of Israel. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counselor?" (Romans 11:33,34).


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