Genesis 41:1-13 (Speaking Out When the Time is Right)

Genesis 41:1-13

Speaking Out When the Time is Right

Introduction: More dreams… In Genesis, God is working through dreams in a variety of ways. Looking to the future, He uses them to show pictures of Christ; to show that He is in control of the things which happen in the world both to His covenant people as well as those who are outside the covenant; and also to direct things to turn out as He has planned.

Looking to the past, the dreams are recorded to give us patterns and pictures of the Christ who has come; to substantiate how things came about; and also to verify how things work within the Bible itself. The various dreams which are recorded in Genesis follow a theme and a pattern which is consistent.

And so when they’re placed among the almost unlimited number of other patterns, they provide another level of validation that this is, in fact, a book which was written with superior wisdom, care, and directed attention.

In the approximately 2500 years of time which Genesis records, only 6 people’s dreams are relayed to us; Abimelech the king of Gerar during Isaac’s time; Jacob when he dreamt of the ladder reaching to heaven; Joseph in his two dreams about the sheaves and the stars; the cupbearer and the baker who were in prison with Joseph; and Pharaoh’s two dreams in today’s story.

And after having counted that up, I got curious about how many others had God-directed dreams which are specifically noted as dreams. In all, only 12 people qualify – in over 4000 years of history. God reserves for Himself the truly prophetic dream and that dream’s interpretation, and He does so very sparingly.

There are other visions and ways God spoke in the Bible, but just 12 dreams. Because of this, it would be good to remember the words of Jeremiah 23:32 –

“‘Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,’ says the Lord, ‘and tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness. Yet I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,” says the Lord.'”

Seeing the rare and select nature of God-directed dreams in the Bible, it is better that we enjoy our dreams without putting too much credence in them, lest we get led astray.

Text Verse: …He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.
22 He reveals deep and secret things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And light dwells with Him. Daniel 2:21, 22

It’s true, God gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. The Bible also says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, so let’s get things in order, learn to fear our God, and then seek the true wisdom that can only come from knowing Him and pursuing Him. And the right way to do that is through reading and seeking Him in His superior word and so… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.

I. Two Dreams

Then it came to pass, at the end of two full years,

At the end of the last chapter, we read about Joseph’s continued plight in the pit. This is how the chapter ended –

“Now it came to pass on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. 21 Then he restored the chief butler to his butlership again, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. 22 But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them. 23 Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.”

The chief butler may have forgotten Joseph, but God never did. He will use the events ahead to bring him to a place of high honor. And so we’re told that this comes about at the end of two full years. The Hebrew is sh’natayim yamim. Literally “two years of days.”

It’s not sure if this is from the time of his incarceration or from the time of the dreams of the butler and the baker. Whichever, it was a long time for Joseph to sit and think, but it was a also a time of development and preparation which God deemed necessary.

1 (con’t) that Pharaoh had a dream; and behold, he stood by the river.

Once again, dreams come into the unfolding drama of history, and in particular, Joseph’s life. He had two dreams – one of sheaves and one of stars. They contrasted and yet they confirmed the message of authority and rule. Then there were the two dreams of the butler and the baker.

Again, they contrasted and yet they confirmed. The contrast showed the state of the saved and of the lost, but they confirmed the authority over both by Christ.

And now, for a third time dreams will have a bearing on Joseph. If the pattern follows, there will be two dreams which will also contrast each other while confirming something. I’ve said it before though, and I will surely say it again, the Bible is written and dreams should no longer be considered as divine revelation for us.

In the New Testament, the only reference to dreams having any future significance is in Acts 2 where Peter (Apostle to the Jews) was speaking to the people of Israel and concerning the people of Israel. Matthew Henry, wisely wrote this concerning dreams –

“The means of Joseph’s being freed from prison were Pharaoh’s dreams, as here related. Now that God no longer speaks to us in that way, it is no matter how little we either heed dreams, or tell them. The telling of foolish dreams can make no better than foolish talk. But these dreams showed that they were sent of God; when he awoke, Pharaoh’s spirit was troubled.”

He notes that the dreams were sent of God. One thing is sure, if He gives a dream to show something, He will give the interpretation of that dream. It would make no sense for God to give a dream which needed to be interpreted and not to provide the interpreter.

If you can see the fine line which is presented, if we start looking at dreams as a relevant source of our doctrine and practice, then we – or whoever give us the interpretation – becomes the arbiter of what practice we should follow. Is that a comfortable consideration when we already have the Bible which is given for that very purpose?

Even this dream of Pharaoh is less concerned with him than it is for the deliverance of Joseph and ultimately his family, who are God’s people. Once again, this is the aim and purpose of Scripture. And because it is, we have to be extremely careful about our pondering dreams as some type of prophetic gift from God.

Anyway, in his dream it says Pharaoh stood by the river. The word is ye-or and it could be a canal or a river, but almost exclusively it is referring to the Nile, which is certainly the case here.

Suddenly there came up out of the river seven cows, fine looking and fat; and they fed in the meadow.

While Pharaoh is standing there by the river, we’re told that suddenly seven cows come up out of the river. One commentator said this must have been hippopotamuses because they came out of the river. This is completely contrary to the rest of the chapter and makes no sense in the context of what the dream means.

Sometimes we try too hard to reach conclusions and the result is to ruin the passage in the process. These weren’t hippopotamuses; they were cows. The heifer cow was regarded by ancient Egyptians as a symbol of the earth, agriculture, and the nourishment which is  derived from them.

This is why the cow is the hieroglyphic symbol of these things and why the Egyptian goddess of the earth, Isis, was adorned with the sacred cow – because of the symbolism contained in it. This is what is being pictured, as we will see in the coming sermons.

The fact that they’re rising out of the Nile shows that the cause of their fatness is derived from the Nile; the water being their source of life and growth. After arising from the Nile, Pharaoh sees them feeding on the marsh grass which is abundant along the Nile.

Then behold, seven other cows came up after them out of the river, ugly and gaunt, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the river.

Suddenly Pharaoh interjects, v’hineh – and behold!

After the seven cows, fine and fat
Came seven more, gross and gaunt
And we can be certain that
As the first did please, the last did haunt

These next seven came out of the river as well, but when they came up, it says they stood by the cows on the bank of the Nile. Instead of eating in the marsh, the Hebrew uses the term shahpat, the lip of the river. What was an overflow for the first seven cows, resulting in land for grazing, has turned into a thin edge of the river, indicating no overflow.

The Bible says they are evil looking and gaunt. They are miserable bags of bones with the skin hanging loosely off them. The word for “gaunt” comes from a word which means “beaten fine.” These cows are reduced to their lowest state. So hungry are they, that they will do something unexpected before Pharaoh’s eyes…

And the ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven fine looking and fat cows.

In what is contrary to nature on several levels, the skinny ones eat the fat ones. It is contrary that a skinny animal would be able to eat another fat one of the same kind. It is contrary that the weaker should overcome the stronger.

And it is contrary that a herbivore would eat another of its own kind as if it were a carnivore. Nothing in the dream seems to fit with reason, and so for the dream there must be a reason. And because of the disturbing nature of the dream, the result is…

4 (con’t) So Pharaoh awoke.

It was a dream to cause the king to wake
One which disturbed him from his slumber, deep
You would think then, for goodness sake
That he would never be able to get back to sleep

But you would be wrong
And so let’s move along…

He slept and dreamed a second time;

As surely as Joseph had two dreams, and as was seen in the two dreams revealed to Joseph in prison, Pharaoh now has a second dream also. This one then, following the biblical pattern of the number two, will contrast the first and yet confirm the message.

5 (con’t) and suddenly seven heads of grain came up on one stalk, plump and good.

In this dream, rather than fauna, there is the contrast of flora. In this case, it is grain used for food and which would be the particular grain known as triticum compositum. It’s a type of wheat which actually does bear seven ears on one stalk.

In order to support the weight and provide enough nourishment for the grain, it would have a solid stem, or at least one full of pith. This is what Pharaoh sees, but more than just the type, he notes the health of it being plump and good.

Then behold, seven thin heads, blighted by the east wind, sprang up after them.

Suddenly Pharaoh interjects, v’hineh – and behold! A new part of the dream captures his attention –

Seven thin heads he did see
By the east wind blighted
Sprang up after them
It made him feel uptighted

There is the Nile, the source of water which ran dry in the first dream, and there is the contrasting wind which turns from favorable to hostile in the second. The dreams contrast, but they will also be seen to confirm.

As a side note, this verse has been the subject of derision by people who attempt to diminish the truth of the Bible. The reason is that an east wind is not a normal occurrence in Egypt and even if there is one, it apparently won’t have the effects noted here. In case you ever read this, there are a couple things to note.

First, this is a supernatural occurrence which has come in the form of a dream. God is showing the effect of what will happen and noting the cause of it. If the dream is given by God, then the effect will come about. If the effect will come about, then the cause, even if not normal, will be from God.

Because of this, the symbolism of the word “east” can be interpreted from the symbolism of what east signifies in the Bible. There are an abundance of verses which tell of the destructive, directed, and/or divine nature of that which comes from the east.

In Exodus, Job, the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Jonah, and Habakkuk the east wind is noted in one of several ways. One is for the mischief it wreaks upon the lands of the middle east. It is also used symbolically in a divine manner. A great example of this is in Hosea 13 –

Though he is fruitful among his brethren,
An east wind shall come;
The wind of the Lord shall come up from the wilderness.
Then his spring shall become dry,
And his fountain shall be dried up.
He shall plunder the treasury of every desirable prize.
16 Samaria is held guilty,
For she has rebelled against her God.
They shall fall by the sword,
Their infants shall be dashed in pieces,
And their women with child ripped open.

Secondly, the Bible uses only four general directions of east, west, north, and south. The wind named here, which is kadim in Hebrew, can be comprised of any wind which comes from a northeast all the way to a southeast direction. And so based on that, thirdly…

The southeast wind which usually comes to Egypt in March and April is the one of the longest duration and of the greatest harm in the land. One writer named Ukert is quoted as saying,

“As long as the south-east wind continues, doors and windows are closed; but the fine dust penetrates everywhere; everything dries up; wooden vessels warp and crack. The thermometer rises suddenly … This wind works destruction upon everything. The grass withers so that it entirely perishes if this wind blows long.”

The reason for all the detail is to once again assure you that the Bible is both sound and reliable. If you read enough commentaries, you will normally come across people who want to introduce doubt into your faith. If the Bible can’t get something as simple as an east wind right, then how much less will it get matters of life right?

This is the attempt, and this is why its important to be ready to defend against that attempt. God’s word is strong enough to overcome these things and at the same time make the people who attack it look foolish for trying.

And the seven thin heads devoured the seven plump and full heads.

Again, just like the previous dream, that which is contrary to sound reason occurs. Stalks of grain don’t normally go around eating other stalks of grain. And even if they did, which they don’t, skinny ones couldn’t eat fat ones. It wouldn’t make sense to a mind in sleep. Instead it would be jolted awake. And that’s what happens…

7 (Con’t) So Pharaoh awoke, and indeed, it was a dream.

And so he is awakened again; v’hineh – and behold. What didn’t make sense is seen to have only been a dream. It was a dream which was so real that it was taken as reality until he woke up.

II. Frustrating the Wisdom of the Wise

Now it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men.

In the morning, ba’boqer. It’s a term that I love to hear because it reminds me of the travel guide I met in Israel. His name was Zvi, a really great person. In Hebrew, when you greet someone, the word “morning” precedes the word “good.” So you would say boqer tov.

Zvi, in his beautiful way of using repetition for learning would come out each morning and say “boqer tov, morrrning good.” After hearing this at least 28 times in two weeks, one could never forget how to say “morning good” in Hebrew.

It was in the morning that Pharaoh was disturbed to the point of calling in his counselors. This takes us back to the dreams of the butler and the baker in the dungeon with Joseph. At that time it said that they were upset because there was no one to explain their dreams. If they were free, they could have consulted these guys.

Unlike them, Pharaoh thought he would find an explanation for the dreams. All he needed to do was to explain it to the professionals…

8 (con’t)And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them for Pharaoh.

Pharaoh’s dreams were perplexing indeed
But surely someone could interpret them, right?
If God gave the dream then He must also have decreed
To give an interpretation for the vision of the night

But… The professionals of Egypt, the greatest country on earth at the time, couldn’t help. These were people skilled in all of the arts and sciences, and yet they couldn’t interpret what Pharaoh dreamt. And the Bible explains why in 1 Corinthians 2:10, 11 –

“For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.”

The dream was from God and so only the Spirit of God could properly interpret the dream. This will be seen again in the book of Daniel. When God has a plan for his people, His word, and His redemptive purposes, He will intervene in the affairs of men to ensure that these will be tended to according to His will.

What seems almost as a testament against the world, as much as it is one for the world, we see something a bit more than ironic. God changes the course of nations and the destiny of many people by a single night of dreams to a pagan king – imagine that.

And yet, today we have His entire word, given to the entire world, and that word is being more and more neglected and abandoned. It seems the more it is published, and the more it is made available via internet, radio, and TV, the fewer people attend to it in proportion to the amount it is distributed.

This doesn’t mean all is lost, but that the Bible’s intended effect is at one time to illuminate God more perfectly to His people, while at the same time to increasingly harden those who reject Him. One Pharaoh will hear and take to heart the word, another one will later hear and harden his heart to the word.

Like bookends on the Egyptian years, there is an east wind which causes the move of Israel to Egypt, thus saving them. And there is an east wind which allows the move of Israel away from Egypt when the Red Sea is parted, again saving them.

There is the Pharaoh who softens his heart to the dreams God gave him and promotes a Hebrew to the highest office in the land. And there is the Pharaoh who hardens his heart to the word of God and subjects the Hebrews to the most degrading conditions possible.

There is the welcoming of Israel into one Pharaoh’s presence, and there is the casting away of Israel from another Pharaoh’s presence. There is the voluntary blessing of Pharaoh by Israel (Jacob) when the two meet, and there is the anxious request of a blessing from Israel by Pharaoh before the two are separated at the exodus.

There is the consolidation of power in Egypt because of Joseph, and there is the loss of all its might because of Moses. On and on, the patterns come to focus in this marvelous story of how God deals with nations, symbolized by Egypt, because of His beloved people, Israel.

III. The Hebrew Man

Then the chief butler spoke to Pharaoh, saying: “I remember my faults this day.

Only after seeing that the magicians and the wise men couldn’t resolve the matter of the king’s dreams does the butler speak up. He obviously felt that this would put him in a better light with Pharaoh and so he begins with the statement, “I remember my faults this day…”

From the Hebrew, just like the English, we can’t tell if he’s speaking of his faults before Pharaoh which landed him in jail, or the fault of not mentioning Joseph since he got out of jail. One way or another, he is confessing that he has erred in his actions.

10 When Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and put me in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, both me and the chief baker, 11 we each had a dream in one night, he and I. Each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream.

The cupbearer goes into detail about the situation because of its remarkable resemblance to what has happened to Pharaoh. There were two dreams then and there are two dreams now. But to ensure that what he says has its intended effect, he notes that the dreams were by different people.

Rather than confirming the dreams of one, what he will say will be more weighty because it confirmed the dreams of two. Here, the importance is that Pharaoh is being addressed. He’s using tact so that he doesn’t lose Pharaoh’s favor again if things don’t work out.

The interpretation of one person’s dreams, even if it came true, could be considered less important, but when two people are involved, both high officials of Pharaoh, it would have much more weight. The biblical axiom “By two or three witnesses a matter will be established” bears true even in this situation.

If he stepped forward with his own dream which was fulfilled, but then Joseph failed now, it could possibly land him in prison again. But if he says both dreams were fulfilled, then Pharaoh would have to consider that and he would be less likely to be upset, even if Joseph were to fail. Two or more testimonies are always better than one.

And so he gives the details…

12 Now there was a young Hebrew man with us there, a servant of the captain of the guard. And we told him, and he interpreted our dreams for us; to each man he interpreted according to his own dream.

The cupbearer takes it on assumption that the Pharaoh would know what a Hebrew is. The reason probably goes all the way back to Abraham. It was about 200 years earlier that Abraham went down to Egypt. Having come originally from the area of Babylon, he would have been wise in many of the disciplines of that area.

Josephus says this about Abraham’s time in Egypt – “He communicated to them arithmetic, and delivered to them the science of astronomy; for before Abram came into Egypt they were unacquainted with those parts of learning; for that science came from the Chaldeans into Egypt, and from thence to the Greeks also.”

If Abraham was remembered in the same light that we remember Benjamin Franklin, then his people, the Hebrews, would be considered and remembered in that same light. To introduce Joseph as a Hebrew then would add credibility to the discernment of such important matters – even dreams.

13 And it came to pass, just as he interpreted for us, so it happened. He restored me to my office, and he hanged him.”

To validate his statement, he gives the gist of what happened. Just like this young man interpreted, so it came to pass. “He was trustworthy then and so I’m bringing him up to you now. Maybe he can do the same thing again.”

And to conclude what happened, he gives a summary of the results. A very brief one. In fact, we could call his response short and concise. In Hebrew, he doesn’t mince words about what happened – he says, oti heshiv al kani v’otow talah, restored in my office… hanged. (2:25)

Although he didn’t have the book of Ecclesiastes in front of him, he lived out a portion of it very well in this instance –

“For a dream comes through much activity,
And a fool’s voice is known by his many words.” Ecclesiastes 5:3

Sometimes the less said, the better, especially when you’re around a boss or someone else higher up in the chain of command. Although most of us love to hear ourselves, it is the wise person who speaks little and listens a lot. That is why God gave us two ears and only one mouth. James tells us about this in his letter way back towards the end of the Bible –

“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” James 1:19, 20

Sometimes saying less is the better choice
Speaking too much can make us look worse than a fool
And so let us withhold the sound of our voice
Until its needed for others as a helpful tool

This cupbearer found himself in prison once and he didn’t want to go there again. He was swift to hear, waiting for the magicians and wise men to give their words, and he was slow to speak, but he did finally speak.

Although his name isn’t recorded in the Bible, his few words to Pharaoh saved his country, saved the people of Israel, and brought about a chain of events which would eventually lead to Israel’s Exodus, return to the land of Israel, and even to ushering in the Messiah of the world.  Not bad for a person who was once sitting in a dungeon wondering if he would ever come out, and if so, if it would be for execution.

This is where things end for us today – in anticipation of Joseph being brought before Pharaoh. Let’s remember, if God can use an unnamed cupbearer to the Pharaoh as a part of His plan to save the entire world of fallen man, then do you suppose He can do the same for you as well? What you’re doing in your job or other daily life may not seem important, but every action you take is playing some role in God’s world.

You’re not an after-thought and what you might see as insignificant could be a step towards an immensely important part of God’s plan. Whoever took the time to tell Billy Graham about Jesus, be it family, friend, or some unknown person – whoever – they were in turn a part of bringing the gospel to more people in one lifetime than in all the history of the world.

Maybe you will do the same in some small way. (1) Be confident in your doctrine, (2) be bold in your proclamation, and (3) be steadfast in your determination to be someone that makes a difference. When you get feeling low, think of the cupbearer in prison and remember that he was low too, but he was restored, he was used, and in God’s word he is remembered. This is great stuff from a glorious God.

If you’ve never taken the time to call on Jesus; if you’ve never understood His work or your need for Him; if you’re curious about how to become a part of what God is doing in the world through Christ, pleases give me just another moment to explain the simple gospel to you…

Closing Verse: I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Matthew 11:25

Next Week Isaiah 9:6, 7 (The Zeal of the Lord of Hosts)


The Lord has you exactly where He wants you and He has a good plan and purpose for you. Call on Him and let Him do marvelous things for you and through you.

Pharaoh’s Dreams

Then it came to pass, at the end of two full years
That Pharaoh had a dream; a vision of the night
And behold, he stood by the river, it appears
That the dream came to the focus of his sigh

Suddenly there came up out of the river
Seven cows, fine looking and fat
And they fed in the meadow
On the land which was green and flat

Then behold, seven other cows, not looking so good
Came up after them out of the Nile
Ugly and gaunt, by the other cows they stood
There at the bank of the river for awhile

And the ugly and gaunt cows up they ate
The seven cows, fine looking and fat
So Pharaoh awoke with an increased heart rate
It’s lucky he didn’t just fall flat

He slept and dreamed a second time
And suddenly up came seven heads of grain
On one stalk, plump and good, so sublime
His dreams were coming once again

Then behold, seven emaciated heads blighted by the east wind
Sprang up after them, looking ever-so thinned

And the seven thin heads devoured
The seven plump and full heads
So Pharaoh awoke not feeling empowered
And indeed, it was a dream woven with confusing threads

Now it came to pass in the morning
That his spirit was troubled within him so
And he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt
And all its wise men, surely the interpretation they would know

And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none
Who could interpret them for Pharaoh, no… not even one

Then the chief butler spoke to Pharaoh
Saying, “I remember my faults this day
When Pharaoh was angry with his servants
And put me in custody, yes he locked me away

In the house of the captain of the guard we were
Both me and the chief baker too
We each had a dream in one night, for sure
He and I both had a dream which came true

Each of us dreamed according to that which was
The interpretation of his own dream
Now there was a young Hebrew man there with us
A servant of the captain of the guard of your regime

And we told him what was each dream
And he interpreted both of them for us
To each man he interpreted according to its theme
And he did this quickly, easily, and without a fuss

And it came to pass, as I relate to you now
Just as he interpreted for us, so it came about
He restored me to my office, but the other he did disavow
And he hanged him, the interpretation was true, no doubt

It is God who in various ways and in times past
Revealed His word for us until at long last

The word was finished and so it is complete
It gives us full instruction for guidance in our lives
It will lead us in each trial and challenge that we meet
Be they with our husbands, or children, or wives

Or in any other aspect when troubles come around
In our finances or health, there is peace in this book to be found

Gotta thank God for His superior word
It is filled with exceeding treasure, wonder, and delight
It is the book which reveals to us Jesus our Lord
So we should keep our nose in it, each day and each night

Maybe start with a psalm each morning bright
To God, make it an offering of praise
And end with a proverb to finish off at night
Something to keep us wise for all of our days

Hallelujah and Amen…


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