And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed . . .
Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon . . .
And Joseph said unto pharaoh, the dream of Pharaoh is one: God hath shewed Pharaoh what he is about to do.
Days stretched into weeks, and weeks into months, and the months multiplied themselves, after the king’s butler was taken from prison, but the release which Joseph expected did not come. The hope had grown strong within him that he would be set free to return to the land of Canaan and to his father’s house. Seeing the dreams of the butler and baker fulfilled before his eyes revived in his memory the dreams of his youth. Those dreams too, he realized now even more than at the time, were revelations from God. Yet they seemed impossible of fulfillment unless he would be left free to return to his brothers and father. The butler appeared to be the logical agent through whom such could be brought to pass. But God does not follow the plans of man. The butler, who figured so prominently in Joseph’s plan, was a mere man and not worthy of being trusted. Though he had promised, to ask favors of Pharaoh was too precarious a thing. Time and again he put it off until Joseph was all but forgotten. While he procrastinated, the months slipped by, and gradually and sadly the hopes of Joseph began to wane. God was teaching him. He was left with nothing more to do than to “wait on the Lord.” Only when he had learned that lesson would he be ready for what God had in store.
Two full years had passed by when Pharaoh dreamed dreams. In a sense these dreams were hardly extraordinary. The elements of the dreams were such as might be expected to appear in the undirected playing of Pharaoh’s mind during sleep. In the first dream, “There came up out of the river seven well favoured kine and fatfleshed; and they fed in a meadow. And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river, ill favoured and leanfleshed; and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river. And the ill favoured and leanfleshed kine did eat up the seven well favoured and fat kine.” The river here is the Nile upon which all of the fertility of Egypt was dependent. The cows were an almost sacred symbol of fertility. These were constantly on the minds of the Egyptians and that they should appear in the dream of Pharaoh was not at all unusual. That seven lean cows should eat seven fat cows is one of the strange quirks which are almost ordinary in everyone’s dreams. The same is true of the second dream. In that dream, “Seven ears of corn came up on one stalk, rank and good. And behold, seven thin ears and blasted with the east wind sprung up after them. And the seven thin ears devoured the seven rank and full ears.” Corn, or grain, was the chief crop of Egypt and an everyday concern. The east wind mentioned was a hot wilting breeze and an ever present danger for their crops. These were frequently on Pharaoh’s mind and could very normally appear in his dreams.
Nonetheless, from the moment that he awoke, Pharaoh could not think of these dreams as something normal. They were different from any that he had ever had. They were so extremely vivid. We read, “And Pharaoh awoke, and, behold, it was a dream.” He was startled and astonished to find himself lying in bed. He had none of that vague distant feeling toward what he had seen which often characterizes a dream. Even after he awoke, the image of those dreams stood out so vividly in his mind that he could hardly imagine that they had not been real. The dreams stood out in his memory so much like an actual experience that it frightened him. Furthermore there was the strange similarity of the two dreams, too great to be coincidental. The two were definitely distinct, not just the repetition of one dream with slight variations. Nonetheless, the underlying thought of both was exactly the same. This too frightened him. But more than anything else that made these dreams important, was the feeling that accompanied them. From the moment that he awoke, Pharaoh knew that the source of his dreams was more than human. He undoubtedly tried to shake that thought, ascribing all to his imagination, but it would not leave him. There was something ominously impending in those dreams that he could not ignore. Try as he would he could not escape that feeling for a moment. It frightened him. He could not rest until he found out the meaning of those dreams.
Upon awaking Pharaoh summoned the magicians and wise men of his court. This was the natural thing to do. These were men that were constantly delving into the matters of the future. By astrology, sorcery, and many other means they were ever trying to tell what the morrow would bring. Not the least of their methods was to elicit from dreams fanciful, allegorical predictions. This time, however, they listened to the dream of Pharaoh and remained silent. They could not give an interpretation. This is what surprises us. Why did these men not offer an imaginary interpretation, as was their custom, so veiled in vague language that the truthfulness of it could never be tested? Was it, perhaps, that, seeing how vitally concerned Pharaoh was with these dreams, they knew that he would never be satisfied with their usual vague ambiguities? Were they maybe afraid that they might say something that would offend and anger him in his agitated state, concluding that silence was the safer course? Or was it merely that God so confused their minds that they were unable to engage in their usual duplicity and had to confess their ignorance to Pharaoh? Regardless of what actually took place in the minds of these magicians and wise men, this much is sure, it showed to Pharaoh that in as much as the dreams which he had received were from God, the interpretation of them was not to be found in the minds of any mere man.
It was not long before the consternation in the court over the dream of the king came to the attention of the chief butler. It sent his mind back to a similar situation in his own life, when he had had a revelatory dream and was troubled for lack of an interpreter. For two years now he had failed to keep his promise in pleading the cause of Joseph before the king for fear that the king would consider him presumptuous even though the cause was just. Now he saw the opportunity of bringing Joseph out of prison and at the same time doing Pharaoh a favor which would be to his own advantage. He went to the king and related how Joseph had accurately interpreted his dream in the prison.
Pharaoh, his own wise men having failed him, was ready to try whatever means presented itself to arrive at the meaning of his dreams. Joseph was called from prison and; after he had shaved himself and put on a new garment, he was received into the presence of Pharaoh. To him Pharaoh said, “I have dreamed a dream, and there is none that can interpret it: and I have heard say of thee, that thou canst understand a dream to interpret it.” To this Joseph gave the beautiful answer, “It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” Having undergone over a dozen years of hardship and suffering, Joseph was purged from the pride of his youth. An ordinary man would find in the request of Pharaoh a severe temptation to tell about some of his own excellency and ability. Joseph, however, disclaimed all personal virtue in the matter. The first thing which he said to Pharaoh was that the ability to interpret dreams did not rest with himself. Having learned not to trust in himself, he gave all of the glory to his God. Whether in the dungeon of a dank prison or in the court of a great king, the first word from Joseph’s lips was a witness to the greatness of his God. “It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.”
Pharaoh, having become even more concerned about the dreams than at first, immediately began to relate the dreams to Joseph in even more vivid terms than before. The ill favoured and lean-fleshed kine of the first description are now spoken of as “very ill favoured and leanfleshed, such as I never saw in all the land of Egypt for badness.” To the fact that the ill favoured kine ate the well fleshed kine he added, “And when they had eaten them up, it could not be known that they had eaten them.” Constant review made the dream appear even more vivid in Pharaoh’s mind. The outstanding features were implanting themselves deeper in his memory.
With the calmness of a man who had learned to trust completely in his God, Joseph immediately related to Pharaoh the meaning of his dream. “The dream of Pharaoh is one: God hath shewed Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good kine are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one. And the seven thin and ill favoured kine that came up after them are seven years; and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine. This is the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh: What God is about to do he sheweth unto Pharaoh. Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land; and the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following; for it shall be very grievous. And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.” The explanation is simple, direct, and understandable. Once it is understood it seems almost self-evident. Only one fact had to be revealed, the seven kine and seven ears of grain were equivalent to seven years, then the whole matter immediately became clear. The good kine and good ears were seven years of plenty. The bad kine and bad ears were seven years of famine. The bad years would consume the plenty of the good and be left with nothing to spare. No one could seriously question the correctness of this interpretation. Even the Egyptian magicians must have immediately realized that what he said was true. The certainty of divinely revealed truth compared to the uncertainty of the wisdom of man stood out in the clearest contrast.
To this also Joseph added a word of advice. “Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. And that food shall be for store 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.” How astonishing this must have appeared unto Pharaoh. There before him stood a man who not only was able to lay before him the meaning of his dream in the most direct and simple terms, but he also was able to give to him a solution to all the many problems that presented themselves in this amazing revelation. Pharaoh looked at that young man standing there and speaking with the wisdom of the divine; yet Joseph took to himself no airs, no pride or boasting; with all humility he stood with the meekness of a servant. Awed by the wisdom that Joseph received from his God, Pharaoh answered, “Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art: Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou.”