We ended the last chapter with the butler forgetting his promise to speak well of Joseph once he is freed. Two years go by, and then the Pharaoh has two dreams:

  1. He is standing by the Nile when seven fat cows come up out of the river. Seven more cows come out, but these are gaunt and thin. The thin cows eat the fat cows.
  2. There are seven plump ears of grain growing on a single stalk. Then, seven diseased ears grow and eat the good ones.

When Pharaoh (used as a personal name, which is rather awkward) wakes up, he called for all the magicians and wise men in Egypt to come and try to interpret his dreams, but none of them can do it. Then the chief butler, springing into action a mere two years late, announces that he met a pretty nifty dream interpreter while he was in prison.

Joseph Overseer of the Pharaoh's Granaries by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1874

Joseph Overseer of the Pharaoh’s Granaries by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1874

The Pharaoh sends for Joseph. After making sure to tell everyone that he is merely channelling God and not doing any magic on his own (a lovely contrast to the ‘false’ magicians of pagan Egypt mentioned earlier), he interprets the dreams. Both mean that there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, and that the duplication of the theme means that God really really means it. To get through the years of famine, Pharaoh should get himself a man who is “discreet and wise” and “set him over the land of Egypt” (Gen. 41:33) to store up food during the seven years of plenty. Surprise surprise, Pharaoh picks Joseph, saying: “you shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command’ only as regards the throne will I be greater than you” (Gen. 41:40).

Joseph gets renamed Zaphnath-Paaneah and is married to Asenath, daughter of Potiphera, priest of On (and presumably a different person from the Potiphar who originally bought Joseph). He and Asenath have two sons, named Manasseh and Ephraim.

As promised, Joseph works diligently during the years of plenty to put food away so that Egypt lives through the years of starvation comfortably. And since, “when all the land of Egypt was famished” and the people are crying for bread, Joseph “opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians” (Gen. 41:55-56), so it seems like he made a nice profit, too.

“Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth” (Gen. 41:57). This must have been quite the canoe trip for the native peoples in the Americas.

Speaking of which, this famine was sent by God (Gen. 41:25, 28, 32). It seems that this was done for no other purpose than to make Joseph successful. I don’t care how much he’s put away, he can’t feed the whole world (especially if he is selling it to farmers who are presumably making no income whatsoever for seven years). People are dying the world over from starvation just so that Joseph can get some garments of fine linen and a gold chain to wear around his neck (Gen. 41:42).

Incidentally, there are no records of a Joseph or a Zaphnath-Paaneah who saved the whole wide world from a famine; at least not that I’ve ever heard of. This seems like the kind of thing the historians would mention…