9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “I remember my offenses today. 10 When Pharaoh was angry with his servants and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, 11 we dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own interpretation. 12 A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. 13 And as he interpreted to us, so it came about. I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.”
14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” 16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” 17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Behold, in my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile. 18 Seven cows, plump and attractive, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. 19 Seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and thin, such as I had never seen in all the land of Egypt. 20 And the thin, ugly cows ate up the first seven plump cows, 21 but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had eaten them, for they were still as ugly as at the beginning. Then I awoke. 22 I also saw in my dream seven ears growing on one stalk, full and good. 23 Seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouted after them, 24 and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears. And I told it 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 revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. 27 The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine. 28 It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, 30 but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, 31 and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe. 32 And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. 33 Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. 35 And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.” – Genesis 41:9-36 ESV
For two years, the cupbearer to Pharaoh had managed to enjoy his plush life as an official in the royal court. His brief stint in the royal prison was a long-forgotten memory. But as he enjoyed the comforts that came with his restored position as a personal advisor to Pharaoh, his former cellmate, Joseph, remained in prison, serving time for a crime he had not committed. But while Joseph was innocent, the cupbearer was guilty of having reneged on his promise to bring Joseph’s predicament to Pharaoh’s attention. It simply slipped his mind – for two long years.
But then God intervened, yet again. But this time, rather than focusing His attention on the prison where Joseph languished in relative anonymity, God invaded the royal sanctity of the royal palace and the mind of Pharaoh himself. Yahweh went straight to the top of the Egyptian corporate ladder, using the most powerful man in the land to accomplish His divine will. Pharaoh experienced a pair of dreams that seemed to contain ominous portents of future destruction, but he could find no one in his royal court to explain their meaning. This self-proclaimed deity was powerless to solve the riddle of his perplexing visions.
The failure of Pharaoh’s wise men and magicians to provide him with a meaning to the dreams must have left the entire royal court in a state of panic. After all, Pharaoh was not averse to imprisoning those who displeased him, a fact the cupbearer knew all too well. Pharaoh’s dreams had turned life in the royal court into a virtual nightmare, as everyone anxiously waited to see if his anger would cause heads would roll and the prison population to swell. And the thought of returning to prison must have jogged the cupbearer’s memory because he suddenly recalled the commitment he had made to Joseph.
Suddenly recalling Joseph’s successful interpretation of his own dream, the cupbearer realized the solution to Pharaoh’s problem might be right under his nose – in his royal prison. So, utilizing his intimate access to Pharaoh as the royal cupbearer, he decided to risk his master’s wrath and share the story of his encounter with the young Hebrew prisoner.
“We told him our dreams, and he told us what each of our dreams meant. And everything happened just as he had predicted. I was restored to my position as cup-bearer, and the chief baker was executed and impaled on a pole.” – Genesis 41:12-13 NLT
This news must have thrilled Pharaoh because he immediately ordered that Joseph be released from prison and brought to the royal palace. One can only imagine what Joseph must have thought when the royal guards showed up and led him away to the palace. His mind must have reeled as he considered the meaning behind this sudden change in his circumstances. He had no way of knowing what awaited him, but perhaps he wondered whether the cupbearer had finally decided to honor his commitment. But as Joseph bathed, shaved, and put on the clean robes he had been provided, his heart must have raced as he considered what was about to happen.
Eventually, Joseph found himself standing before the most powerful man in all of Egypt. Just moments earlier, this young Hebrew boy had been a common criminal serving out his sentence in a dank prison, but now he found himself in the royal palace staring into the face of Pharaoh. All of this must have been a shock to his senses and left him wondering what God might be doing. But he soon had his answer.
Pharaoh wasted no time in revealing the reason for Joseph’s appearance in the royal court. He was there to interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams. But Joseph appears to have been unphased by the seriousness of the moment or the celebrity status of his royal host. Upon discovering the nature of Pharaoh’s request, Joseph confidently replied, “It is beyond my power to do this,…But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease” (Genesis 41:16 NLT).
Joseph wasn’t star-struck and showed no signs of fear or intimidation. He comes across as someone who felt comfortable in his own skin and confident in the sovereignty of his God. A smile must have come across his face as he heard Pharaoh say, “I had a dream last night, and no one here can tell me what it means” (Genesis 41:15 NLT). He knew from personal experience that this statement was not true. Interpreting dreams was his specialty – with God’s help. So, Joseph listened intently as Pharaoh shared the content of his dreams. Then, as he had done before, Joseph responded without a moment’s hesitation or deliberation.
“Both of Pharaoh’s dreams mean the same thing. God is telling Pharaoh in advance what he is about to do.” – Genesis 41:25 NLT
Joseph didn’t stop to consider the content of his message or the status of his audience. He simply shared the meaning that God had given him. Pharaoh’s two dreams had one interpretation that led to a single conclusion: Things were about to get difficult in the land of Egypt. Joseph informed Pharaoh and his court that God had decreed a seven-year period of plenty to be followed by a second seven years of devastating drought. There was going to be a catastrophic loss of livestock and grain in the land of Egypt that would lead to starvation and loss of life.
You can almost hear the gasps from the dignitaries in the room as Joseph shares this less-than-encouraging news. While Pharaoh had probably assumed that the negative nature of his dreams was not a harbinger of good things to come, it’s likely that this interpretation was not what he had been expecting. And, to make matters worse, Joseph explained that the two dreams with one interpretation were a sign that “these events have been decreed by God, and he will soon make them happen” (Genesis 41:32 NLT).
It’s important to remember that the Egyptians had a pantheon of gods they worshiped and Yahweh was not among them. So, when Joseph referred to אֱלֹהִים (‘ĕlōhîm), this was not a deity with whom they were particularly familiar. This Hebrew term for God was a somewhat generic word that could be used to refer to judges, rulers, or gods in general. But, for Joseph, it was a reference to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was informing Pharaoh that the one true God was about to bring enact His sovereign will over the nation of Egypt, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop Him.
But Joseph inform Pharaoh that there was a way to prepare for the inevitable. While there was nothing he could do to thwart God’s will, he could take steps to prevent the complete annihilation of his people. It seems obvious that, along with the interpretation, God had given Joseph the step-by-step plans he shared with Pharaoh. And Joseph faithfully conveyed the details of God’s sovereign strategy for Egypt’s survival, warning Pharaoh to follow them to the letter, “Otherwise this famine will destroy the land” (Genesis 41:36 NLT).
But what Joseph didn’t know was that he would be the one to make it all happen. God had chosen him to be the “intelligent and wise man” (Genesis 41:33 NLT), whom Pharaoh would place in charge of the entire land of Egypt. Joseph was not just the messenger, but he was also to be the deliverer. Little did he know that he was about to move from the prison to the palace, from the role of a lowly servant to the position of a sovereign ruler over all the land of Egypt. And it was all part of God’s preordained plan. The sovereign God of the universe was about to do something that neither Pharaoh nor Joseph could have ever imagined.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.