Genesis 41 – Big God, the Dream Master

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Today’s PassageGenesis 41

In Genesis 41, Pharaoh has a pair of troubling dreams and is in need of an interpreter. It’s Joseph’s time to shine! This is the Dream Master’s big moment! Except that, while I’ve been riffing on his brothers’ epithet for him, “the Lord of Dreams,” the Lord of Dreams isn’t really Joseph at all. It’s God.

And who would know better than Joseph where these insights come from? Repeatedly, he notes that he has no special gift; all he’s got is an omnipresent friend who knows a thing or two about dreams. We saw it yesterday when he told his two new companions, Pharaoh’s former cupbearer and baker, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (40:8) as they worried over the mysteries of their dreams. And today, when the cupbearer recommends Joseph to Pharaoh and the Egyptian monarch asks him to interpret his disquieting dreams, Joseph responds: “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (41:16). God holds the knowledge of what each dream means, and he’s quite capable of imparting that knowledge apart from Joseph. Joseph merely holds the privilege of passing the envelope from the King of Everything to the King of Egypt.

Pharaoh has two creepy dreams. In the first, seven fat cows are eaten by seven sickly cows, but the sickly cows don’t get any better for it; they remain ugly and lean. In the second, seven robust ears of grain grow on a single stalk, but they’re swallowed up by seven nasty and wind-blistered ears of grain. If you stop and consider the dreams for a moment, you can see why Pharaoh wakes up unsettled. Imagine a small herd of nasty and weak cows overpowering and devouring a stronger herd. Imagine herbivorous bovids, with teeth meant for grinding plant matter, tearing into each other’s flesh. And get yourself in a bronze-age agrarian mindset, where a bad harvest season means hunger and scarcity, jacked-up bread prices and desperate half-starved bandits. In ancient Egypt, stalks of unhealthy grain literally were the stuff of nightmares.

But God intends to shed some light on Pharaoh’s dreams and give him some peace of mind. When Joseph tells him, “God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (41:16), that last phrase is literally “an answer of peace.” Joseph tells Pharaoh that God’s elucidation of the dreams can bring him shalom: safety, wholeness, well-being. But the dreams reveal that famine lies ahead for Egypt; how is bad news an “answer of peace?’

Knowledge relieves the fear of the unknown. And when you see a bad situation coming, you can prepare for it; you’re not at the mercy of the unexpected. As Joseph explains: “Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has told to Pharaoh what He is about to do” (41:25). The cows and the grain are really just a single dream in two parts, with a single meaning. God is first giving Egypt seven years of prosperity before he brings the famine. With knowledge of the future, the nation can prepare for the lean times by storing up their surplus.

All Pharaoh needs is a competent administrator to oversee the collection, storage, and distribution of Egypt’s Rainy Day Fund (which is of course neither rainy nor a day nor a fund; it’s a Dry Seven-Years Food Reserve). Fortunately, he has just such a person in Joseph. Between his experience managing Potiphar’s assets and assisting the chief jailer in the prison, our guy knows a thing or two about getting things done. God provides the dream interpretations, but he’s also equipped Joseph for this opportunity through his his experiences.

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