Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
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.”
Joseph gives to Pharaoh the meaning of his dreams. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And Joseph said unto Pharaoh (the inability of the magicians to read the dream of Pharaoh was the best proof that Joseph spoke from inspiration), The dream of Pharaoh is one (i.e. the two dreams have the same significance): God hath showed Pharaoh what he is about to do (literally, what the Elohim is doing, i.e. is about to do, he causeth to be seen by Pharaoh).
Proceeding with the interpretation of the dream, Joseph explains to Pharaoh that the seven good kine and the seven full ears point to a succession of seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt which were already coming (Genesis 41:29), after which there should arise seven years of famine, in which all the plenty should be forgotten in the land, and the famine should consume, or make an end of, the land (Genesis 41:30), and the plenty should not be known in the land by reason of (literally, from the face of, used of the efficient cause of anything, hence on account of) that famine following—literally, the famine, that one, after (things have happened) so; adding (Genesis 41:32), And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice (literally, and as for the doubling of the dream to Pharaoh twice); it is because the thing is established by God,—literally, the word(or thing spoken of) is firmly fixed, i.e. certainly decreed, by the Elohim—and God will shortly bring it to pass—literally, and hastening (is) the Elohim to do it.
One of the things we might learn from Joseph, as it is a theme throughout his story in Genesis, relates to dreams and their interpretations. We have mentioned throughout that the dreams associated with Joseph always happen in pairs. He tells Pharaoh in verse 32 the deeper meaning of this doubling:
32 And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about.
Does this mean that God might send a single dream as a warning because a thing might not be set in stone? Should we always wait on a second dream as confirmation of prophecy – if we assume we are receiving a prophecy in that way?
The text here does not clarify completely. The text does clarify that dream propehcies work in this way for Joseph.
Continuing on with The Pulpit Commentaries:
Now therefore (adds Joseph, passing on to suggest measures suitable to meet the extraordinary emergency predicted) let Pharaoh look out a man discreet (נָבוֹן, niph. part. of בִּין, intelligent, discerning), and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers (literally, let him set overseers, פְקִדִים, from פָּקַד, to look after, in hiph. to cause to look after) over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt—literally, let him fifth the land, i.e. levy. a tax upon its produce to that extent (LXX; Vulgate), which was double the annual impost exacted from Egyptian farmers, but which the unprecedented fertility of the soil enabled them to bear without complaint, if, indeed, adequate compensation was not given for the second tenth (Rosenmüller)—in the Seven plenteous years. Diodorus mentions the payment of a fifth in productive years as a primitive custom. And let them (the officers) gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and lot them keep feed in the cities (or, food in the cities, and let them keep it). And that food shall be for store (literally, something deposited) to the land against the seven years of famine, which shall be in the land of Egypt; that the land perish not through the famine—literally; and the land (i.e. the people of the land) shall not be cut off in, or by, the famine.
Joseph gives Pharaoh counsel concerning how he might deal with the abundance and then famine which are coming. The note above discusses the historical and practical history of the 1/5th mentioned.
Ellicott’s Bible Commentary also mentions the fifth:
(34) Take up the fifth part of the land.—Heb., let him fifth the land, that is, exact a fifth part of the produce. It has been supposed that it had been usual in Egypt to pay to the king a tithe of the crop, and the doubling of the impost would not press very heavily on the people in these years of extraordinary abundance. As the reason of the enactment would be made known, it would also induce all careful people to store up a portion of their own superabundance for future need. Subsequently, a fifth of the produce was fixed by Joseph permanently as the king’s rent.
As mentioned above, Joseph represents a very particular type of prophet – one who does his work via the interpretation of dreams (both his own and the dreams of others.) An article at thetorah.com, titled “Joseph: The Making of a Prophet” can be read HERE, and I will include an excerpt below:
The Torah is silent about the nature of Joseph’s dreams: What do they mean? Do they come from God? This ambiguity is part of the literary artistry of the story, which relates Joseph’s “coming of age” as a prophet.
God’s Relationship with Joseph and Vice Versa
The Torah’s narratives are not considered prophetic literature. Nevertheless, Abraham is called a prophet (Gen 20:7), and God speaks to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob on more than one occasion, making promises to them about their futures and the future of their offspring. The Joseph stories seem even less like prophetic literature: although Joseph has dreams that seem prophetic in the sense that they are fulfilled, God does not speak to Joseph explicitly concerning the meaning of these dreams.
Joseph’s story can be contrasted with the narratives of Abraham, Jacob, or Moses, where God delivers clear messages to the stories’ protagonists, informing them of his plans or of a planned reward for faithful service. This explicit contact between the deity and the prophet appears in many other biblical narratives as well, such as God speaking with Joshua (Josh 6:2), Gideon (Judg 6:14), Samuel (1 Samuel 3:4-14), or Elijah (1 Kings 19:15).
Contact between God and a person is even clearer in prophetic call narratives, in which God explicitly appoints a prophet and tells him his mission, such as Isaiah 6, Jeremiah 1, and Ezekiel 1. But our story is different: God never speaks with Joseph, never tells him the meaning of the dreams, or what God’s purpose was in choosing Joseph to be a leader.
Dreams: A Form of ANE Wisdom
In the ancient Near East, interpreting dreams was a specialized field of knowledge or wisdom, and thus, Joseph’s abilities place him squarely in the position of a wise man, albeit of a specialized type. This wisdom aspect of dream interpretation is apparent in the accounts of the dreams of the ministers and Pharaoh, in which Joseph repeatedly emphasizes how his abilities are a gift from God.
First, when the baker and wine-steward tell him they had disturbing dreams, Joseph responds:
בראשית מ:ח …וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם יוֹסֵף הֲלוֹא לֵאלֹהִים פִּתְרֹנִים סַפְּרוּ נָא לִי.
Gen 40:8 …So Joseph said to them, “Surely God can interpret! Tell me [your dreams].”
Then again, when Pharaoh calls Joseph and requests an interpretation of his dreams:
בראשית מא:טו וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל יוֹסֵף חֲלוֹם חָלַמְתִּי וּפֹתֵר אֵין אֹתוֹ וַאֲנִי שָׁמַעְתִּי עָלֶיךָ לֵאמֹר תִּשְׁמַע חֲלוֹם לִפְתֹּר אֹתוֹ. מא:טז וַיַּעַן יוֹסֵף אֶת פַּרְעֹה לֵאמֹר בִּלְעָדָי אֱלֹהִים יַעֲנֶה אֶת שְׁלוֹם פַּרְעֹה.
Gen 41:15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it. Now I have heard it said of you that for you to hear a dream is to tell its meaning.” 41:16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, “Not I! God will see to Pharaoh’s welfare.”
Pharaoh, subsequently, adopts Joseph’s discourse and declares Joseph to be the consummate wise man:
בראשית מא:לט וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל יוֹסֵף אַחֲרֵי הוֹדִיעַ אֱלֹהִים אוֹתְךָ אֶת כָּל זֹאת אֵין נָבוֹן וְחָכָם כָּמוֹךָ.
Gen 41:39 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is none so discerning and wise as you…”
Dreams: Riddles for Wise Men
Moshe Weinfeld, although admitting that the story functions on both the natural and divine levels, declares that the dream sections of the Joseph story should be read as purely wisdom in character:
…דווקא במקומות שניכר בהם שיתוף עם סיפורי האבות, כגון בעניין החלומות בולט השוני בין סיפורי האבות לסיפורי יוסף. חלומותיהם של האבות הם נבואיים, האל מתקלה לפניהם ומודיע להם במישרין את דבריו או את הבטחותיו…
…Precisely in places in which [the Joseph story] has themes in common with the patriarchal stories, such as the matter of dreams, do the differences between the patriarchal stories and the Joseph story stand out. The dreams of the patriarchs are prophetic. God appears before them and informs them directly of his words or promises…
לעומת זאת החלומות בסיפור יוסף, הן לחומותיו שלו והן אלה של פרעה ושריו, הם בבחינת חידות שיש לפתרן בכוח חוכמה ותבונה, הגם שתכונות אלה הן מתת שהעניק אותה האל (מ:ח, מא:טז, כה, לט).
In contrast, the dreams in the Joseph story, whether his dreams or the dreams of Pharaoh and his ministers, are essentially riddles that must be solved through the power of wisdom and insight, even if such abilities are gifts granted [to Joseph] by God (40:8; 41:16, 25, 39).
For Weinfeld, the dreams in the Joseph story, including his own dreams, are riddles that need to be solved by a shrewd mind and are not part of the theological message of the story that God is behind the scenes pulling the strings.
I definitely recommend reading the entire article. I will mention more again after the next post regarding Joseph and dreaming.
Joseph’s dream interpretations landed him in slavery at the hands of his brothers. Joseph’s dream interpretations are just about to elevate him to near the top of Egypt.