Genesis 40:1 - 42:24

Frank Binford Hole

The history of Joseph was introduced by the record of the two prophetic dreams that were granted to him. Chapter 40 puts on record two further dreams of a prophetic nature, and their fulfilment. Though not given to him, yet in the providence of God they had a very distinct effect upon his future.

Both the chief butler and the chief baker of Pharaoh had offended their lord. Nothing is stated as to the nature of their offence, but bearing in mind the fact of Pharaoh being of an alien race and therefore likely to fear an attempt upon his life by poison, it is not surprising that both the chief custodians of his drink and his food had fallen under suspicion. Pending a decision in the matter, they were confined in the same prison as Joseph, and put in his charge. The first link in the Divinely ordered chain of events was that Joseph should be put in the place where the king's prisoners were bound. The second was that in due season these two men should be placed there too.

The third was that both men in one night should have dreams of a peculiar nature and yet marked by certain resemblances, and the effect on their minds should be such as to make them look sad and attract the notice of Joseph. They felt that there must be a hidden meaning in their dreams and they desired an interpreter. Joseph's reply was virtually an offer to interpret, while he acknowledged that all power to do so came from God.

The butler told his dream. Its salient points were: (1) that the vine had three branches, which produced the ripe grapes; (2) that Pharaoh's cup was in his hand, so that he could press into it the ripe grapes; and (3) that the cup of grape juice passed into Pharaoh's hand. The interpretation was simple. Within three days Pharaoh would restore the butler to his place. Having declared this, Joseph very naturally asked the man to remember him when thus he was prospered, to the end that he might be taken out of prison.

Emboldened by this favourable interpretation, the baker told his dream. Its salient points were: (1) that the baskets of bakemeats were three; (2) that the baskets were on his head; and (3) that the bakemeats were devoured by birds and never reached Pharaoh. Again the interpretation was simple. Within three days Pharaoh would lift up his head, hanging him on a tree, so that the birds should devour his flesh. His dream had an exactly opposite meaning to that of the butler.

The event proved that Joseph's interpretations were given of God. Pharaoh's birthday was on the third day, and he acted as the dreams had indicated. Yet the chief butler in his renewed prosperity forgot about Joseph, and has become a standing monument of human ingratitude. Nevertheless, as we believe, the hand of God was over even this. Had the butler remembered, Joseph's deliverance from prison would have been the result of thankful and perhaps respectful human arrangement. God intended to take him out, reviving the butler's memory, in a far more striking way. And not only take him out but also exalt him above the chiefest of butlers and bakers. How God brought this to pass Genesis 41 reveals.

Again dreams enter into the story; this time in connection with Pharaoh himself. In our last article we spoke of five dreams but we should have been more correct had we said six, since, as it was with Joseph at the beginning so now, Pharaoh's dream was in duplicate. The general drift of both dreams was the same, and that both should have occurred in one night was very impressive. Sheep were not popular in Egypt and cattle provided the flesh food, and corn gave them their bread. The river Nile was the basis of the prosperity of both.

Pharaoh was troubled for he must have had a vague sense that evil was indicated in both these directions. The magicians and wise men of Egypt were helpless. Their evil trade depended upon their being able to prognosticate good things for the kings that they served (see 1 Kings 22) and evidently both dreams portended some kind of evil. In this predicament the memory of the chief butler revived and, remembering Joseph, he narrated to Pharaoh the wonderfully accurate way in which he had interpreted the dreams of both himself and the chief baker no less than two years before. What a test those two years must have been! No wonder it says of him in Psalm 105: 19, "The word of the Lord tried him." The word of the Lord by his dreams had indicated his future glory, but how long he had to wait for it. A trying experience indeed!

May we not see here a forecast of the fact that though the sufferings of the Christ are to be followed by His glory in public display, there is a period to elapse between, in the which He is hidden from the eyes of men: a period which is characterized as, "the patience of the Christ" (2 Thess. 3: 5, New Trans.) Thus it was in a small way with Joseph. He remained hidden and forgotten in the prison, and the affairs of Egypt moved on without him.

Now however his hour had struck. Desperately anxious to find out the meaning of his peculiar dreams, Pharaoh ordered Joseph to appear before him, and having prepared himself, Joseph did so. His answer to Pharaoh's enquiry reveals his simple confidence in God. He disclaimed any power or wisdom in himself but declared that God would give an answer of peace. It is a mark of a true servant of God to say, "It is not in me." The same spirit we see in Paul, "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves but our sufficiency is of God" (2 Cor. 3: 5).

Pharaoh, in recounting his dreams to Joseph, added one detail omitted in the earlier account. Having eaten the seven fat cattle the seven lean ones were just as bad as they were before. It is easy to see how this feature suited the interpretation which Joseph proceeded to give. The two dreams were but one in their significance, just as Joseph's two dreams were one in their meaning.

Again the dreams were prophetic. God was revealing what He was about to bring upon the land of Egypt. First, seven years of very great abundance, but these to be followed by seven years of grievous dearth and famine, both depending upon the waters of the Nile. At the end of the seven years of famine all the fatness of the good years would have disappeared. In the figurative language of the dream the seven lean cattle would be just as they were at the beginning. Moreover, the dream was doubled to Pharaoh that he might realize that the thing was determined, beyond any hope of revocation, and God would shortly bring it to pass.

Joseph not only interpreted the dreams but he indicated to Pharaoh what should be done since these things were impending, and that what was needed was the man of wisdom who should be entrusted with the carrying of them out. Joseph was really speaking on God's behalf and he indicated that on the human side all that was needed in the presence of these acts of God, was A MAN.

As a ruler of men, Pharaoh had doubtless acquired a measure of discernment, and he at once saw that in Joseph the man for this emergency was found. It was indeed the Spirit of God who was speaking and acting through Joseph, though Pharaoh, being an idolater, only thought of "the spirit of the gods." Still he recognized at once that here was superhuman wisdom and executive power. In result he straightway appointed Joseph as administrator of all Egypt with authority only second to his own.

Once more, in verse 42, Joseph's hand appears. Its power and skill had been manifested in Potiphar's house, in the ordinary affairs of life, and then later, amid scenes of much humiliation in the prison. Now amid the splendour of the palace, the ring from the very hand of Pharaoh (doubtless carrying the great seal of the kingdom) was placed upon the hand of Joseph. Power of a practically autocratic nature was his. Step by step he had gone down into the valley of humiliation. Now at one mighty bound he had ascended into power and glory. The typical nature of all this is very evident. In Philippians 2 we have detailed the downward steps of our blessed Lord, even to the death of the cross. But this is followed by one mighty uplifting to the glory, where to Him every knee will have to bow.

So, in verse 43 of our chapter, we see Joseph arrayed in fine linen, with a gold chain about his neck, in the second chariot of the kingdom, and "Bow the knee!" is the cry as he rides through the streets. Moreover a new name is given to him. It is said that Zaphnath-paaneah would have meaning whether it be read as Hebrew or as Egyptian. In the former it would mean "Revealer of secrets," in the latter, "Saviour of the world." We may happily accept both, and see in this double meaning a further type of the One whom we adore. In Him both revelation and redemption have reached their climax and full accomplishment, to our eternal blessing.

Then again, it was while Joseph was thus separated from his brethren and exalted among the Gentiles that a bride was given to him, and she was of Gentile stock. Two sons were born to him before the years of famine came, and while he was employed in collecting and laying up the produce of the seven years of plenty. The names of the sons are significant. Manasseh means "Forgetting," and Ephraim means "Fruitful." The name of the elder was negative in its bearing, for it commemorated the fact that he had been severed from all his old family associations, as well as the toil and sorrow of his early years. The name of the younger had a more positive significance, commemorating the fruitfulness that was produced from his former afflictions.

And so it has been with our Lord Jesus, only in a far larger and more striking way. His afflictions did not stop short of death itself, and out of His death springs eternal fruitfulness, as the Lord's own words, in John 12: 24, declare. Moreover that fruitfulness at the present time is being produced mainly among the Gentiles, while His links with Israel as a nation are broken. In our chapter we see a typical forecast of this great two-fold development. In Isaiah 49 we have it prophetically announced. It was declared that, even if Israel were not gathered, the Servant of the Lord would be glorious in the eyes of Jehovah, since the raising up of the tribes of Jacob was a light thing, and He was to be a light to the Gentiles and God's salvation to the ends of the earth. The historical fulfilment of both type and prophecy we find in the Acts of the Apostles.

The closing verses of Genesis 41 record the complete fulfilment of Pharaoh's dream. The resultant famine was of exceptional severity, extending over the habitable earth. When the people cried to Pharaoh for relief, his reply was simple: "Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do." We are immediately reminded of the words spoken by the mother of our Lord on the occasion of His first miracle, "Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it " (John 2: 5). Does a conscience-stricken sinner cry out today for salvation? The answer in three words is, "Go unto Jesus." All God's grace and bounty flows through Him.

The scene changes as we begin to read Genesis 42, and we are carried back to Canaan, to Jacob and to Joseph's brethren. He was now highly exalted among the Gentiles and acting as saviour of the world, but his brethren needed his bounty as much as others. They had, however, by their own wicked actions, shattered all the links that once bound them to him, and those links could not be rightly restored save by severe dealings of a nature very painful, yet calculated to work in them a real repentance. The terrible famine, whatever else it might do, was designed to play a part in bringing to pass that desirable end.

All his brethren except Benjamin were dispatched by Jacob to buy corn in Egypt, and in result we begin to see the fulfilment of Joseph's dreams. Joseph was the governor, and the brethren bowed down before him with their faces to the earth. They did not know him though he recognized them, and started at once to deal with them in such a way as to test them and arouse their consciences. Accusing them of being spies, he drew forth from them the family details he wanted, including mention of Benjamin and of himself; for he was the one who "is not." How mistaken they were in this! They were presently to discover that Joseph "IS," and that their very lives are in his hand. The careless world to-day acts as though Christ is not. They have yet to learn that He is the Master of their lives, for He is the great "I AM."

The men, however, were speaking the truth as far as they knew it, and their confession gave a good opportunity to put them to the test. Benjamin was a son of Rachel, as Joseph himself was, and therefore specially beloved of Jacob. He would demand that Benjamin should be taken from his father's side, and until he was produced, one of them should be held as a hostage. How would the brethren react to that?

The point of this struck home to the brethren. They had robbed their father of Joseph, and now he is to be deprived of the younger son on whom his affection was specially set. It stabbed their consciences into action, as we see in verses 21 and 22, and this was their first step in the right direction. Moreover it was the first indication to Joseph of a change taking place in them. He had spoken to them roughly, as indeed they deserved, and he understood their language, though they knew not the Egyptian dialect in which he spoke.

The effect upon Joseph of this first sign of repentance was very striking and beautiful. He turned from them and wept. They were evidently tears of thankfulness. Now we shall see, before we finish the story of Joseph, that no less than seven times is it recorded that he wept. Never once is it recorded that he wept for his own sorrows in the days of his affliction. Every occurrence was during the days of his glory, and was an expression of his love and interest in others.

His tears were not of the merely sentimental kind, as verse 24 shows. He did not allow his deep feelings to hinder his further action, still of a severe nature, for he had Simeon bound as a prisoner before their eyes. The workings of conscience, which lead to repentance, had only just begun and that work needed to be greatly deepened. Thus it is that God deals with us. He permits His hand of chastisement to be heavy upon us until the work is carried to a completion. Then afterward the blessing is reached.

We think then that we may speak of Joseph as the man of the mighty hand and of the tender heart. The power of his hand is emphasized in the earlier part of his history: the tenderness of his heart in the later part. But in both he is a fitting type of the Lord Jesus, in whom power and grace are perfectly blended, though not expressed in just the same order. His grace came fully into manifestation at His first advent, and of that grace we have received abundantly. We must wait until His second advent for the full display of His power.

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