Genesis 39:1 - 41:36
POTIPHAR BUYS JOSEPH GENESIS Genesis
||If I looked into Egyptian
history would I find information about Joseph and Israel?
(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.
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.
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
||"The Lord was with
||"The Lord was with
||"The Lord made all that
he did to prosper"
OVER HIS HOUSE
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.
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
JOSEPH FRAMED - CAST INTO PRISON
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
THAT CAN INTERPRET IT
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’.
NOT INTERPRETATIONS BELONG TO GOD
In other words it may be that God who sent the dreams will give
me the interpretation of them
IS THE INTERPRETATION OF IT
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."
ON ME…MAKE MENTION OF ME...BRING ME OUT
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.
INTERPRETATION WAS GOOD
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.
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.
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
THE SECOND TIME
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.
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
In any case, the repetition of the same theme with different
figures greatly impressed Pharaoh.
THE MAGICIANS OF EGYPT, AND ALL THE
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.
DO REMEMBER MY FAULTS THIS DAY
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.
JOSEPH RELEASED FROM
PRISON...INTERPRETS PHARAOH’S DREAM Genesis
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
"Joseph, His Youth"