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Top Ten Old Testament Stories: #4 Joseph and Pharaoh’s Dream
TIMING: The historical timing is controversial with multiple accounts:

The take home message is that Joseph went to Egypt around 1600 B.C. give or take a few hundred years.

REASON TO READ: The story of Joseph in Egypt marks a milestone in the story of the Hebrews in that it is the means by which Israel and his sons to go to Egypt, which is the prequel to their descendants’ Exodus with Moses.

BRIEF SUMMARY: Just as with Abraham, Joseph has many spiritually beneficial stories, starting from his birth Genesis 30 until the end of the book in Chapter 50. For our purposes here, we will focus on his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream in Chapter 41. Joseph had been put in jail for a crime he did not commit, and while he was in jail he had correctly interpreted dreams for the baker and the chief butler of Pharaoh. He had asked the chief butler to put a good word in for him with Pharaoh, but he had forgotten until Pharaoh had a dream that nobody could interpret. When the chief Butler told Pharaoh about him, they brought Joseph out of the dungeon and Pharaoh told him his dream:
"Behold, in my dream I stood on the bank of the river. Suddenly seven cows came up out of the river, fine looking and fat; and they fed in the meadow. 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. And the gaunt and ugly cows ate up the first seven, the fat cows. 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. Also I saw in my dream, and suddenly seven heads came up on one stalk, full and good. Then behold, seven heads, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprang up after them. And the thin heads devoured the seven good heads." (Genesis 41:17-24)

With God’s guidance and wisdom, Joseph explains to Pharaoh that the meaning of the dream is that there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, and to survive the seven years of famine, he recommended that Pharaoh "select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that are coming, and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. Then that food shall be as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt, that the land may not perish during the famine." (Genesis 41:33-36)

Pharaoh selected Joseph to be the overseer of this project and made him second in command over all the land of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. The seven years of plenty came, followed by seven years of famine, just as Joseph had discerned for Pharaoh.

HOW THIS FITS IN THE TOP TEN: Chronologically, the story of Joseph is in the top ten as a bridge between the story of Abraham, representing the period of the patriarchs, and the exodus out of Egypt into the wilderness. The story of Joseph getting betrayed by his brothers into slavery in Egypt gives the context of how he got there, and the story of Pharaoh’s dream is the means by which he gains prominence in Egypt and has the means to move his father and brothers to the land of Goshen. Collectively, the story of Joseph teaches us that God has a plan and, even when others are seeking to harm us, God can use this evil for your benefit and the benefit of those around you (Genesis 50:20).

From early on in his life, Joseph had a gift of prophetic dreams, which was one of the reasons that he had the envy of his brothers (Genesis 37).
This gift helped him gain the favor of his fellow prisoners, the chief butler and the chief baker, each of whom had dreams that Joseph correctly interpreted for them (Genesis 40). When Pharaoh had a dream that nobody could interpret for him, the chief butler remembered Joseph and his gift, which became the reason that he was, not only taken out of prison, but also became the second in command in the land of Egypt (Genesis 41). The same gift goes from giving him hardship, to helping people on a small scale, to gaining favor with Pharaoh and giving him a position of prominence. 
What this teaches us is that having a gift from God is not the be all and end all - it is the application of the gift and the situation that determines the effect of the gift on our life and the lives of those around us.

When we look at the role that Joseph plays in God’s plan of salvation, we see that the gift that God gave him played an essential role in that Divine Plan. Without that gift he would not have been as despised by his brothers, without that gift he would not have been released from prison and without that gift he would not have become second in command in Egypt. If it wasn’t for Joseph’s dream, the Israelites would have never gone to Egypt and we would not have a need for Moses to lead them out. In the next story we will talk more about Moses, and specifically about the crossing of the red sea as a type (see box) of the Christian baptism. For now, it suffices to say that the Israelites would not need deliverance from Egypt if Joseph didn’t bring them all to Egypt in the first place. God gave Joseph this gift as an invitation to be part of His plan, and it was up to Joseph to either accept the invitation or choose his own will over God’s will.
There are several points in Joseph’s story where he could have chosen his own comfort and well-being over the will of God. For all of us, we have powers that are given to us by God that have been categorized by the church fathers as the rational (logikon), irascible (thymikon), and appetitve (epithymetikon) that in and of themselves are neutral and become either a virtue if used for good or a vice if used for evil. If we are given a rational gift, like Joseph was given the interpretation of dreams, it is either manifested as the virtue of wisdom or the vice of “being a smarty pants.” If we are given the gift of an irascible temperament, this can be blessed by God to be a virtue such as courage, or if we lose control of our emotions it can manifest itself as rage, sorrow or cruelty. If we are predisposed to having an appetite for earthly things, we can be temperate and enjoy them as a blessing from God, or we can have them take control of us to become gluttony, addiction, fornication or other earthly desires.

Our predispositions themselves are neither good nor bad; if we participate with God in His plan, then it is His presence that blesses the qualities we have to make them gifts and virtues, as he did with Joseph.

In our society we are given the message that “you can always be more successful” and this message even comes from “Christian” sources that spread the heresy of the prosperity gospel. There is an overemphasis on worldly success being the indicator of God’s love. Unfortunately, Joseph is sometimes used as an example of the false statement that “if you do what God wants you to do then you will be successful in all that you do.” It sounds good. It is very appealing. It is what the disciples thought was the case when Christ was welcomed into Jerusalem like a king. We can’t spend too much time on this here, but we have to recognize that the success of Joseph was not a function of his gifts or his obedience, but rather as a necessary element of God’s ultimate plan of salvation for Israel and all of the human race.
Series Name: Top 10 Old Testament Stories

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