Genesis chapter 41

English Standard Version

New International Version

New American Standard Bible

25And Joseph said to Pharaoh, 'Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has told to Pharaoh what He is about to do. 26The seven good cows are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one and the same. 27The seven thin and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven thin ears scorched by the east wind will be seven years of famine. 28It is as I have spoken to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do. 29Behold, seven years of great abundance are coming in all the land of Egypt; 30and after them seven years of famine will come, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine will ravage the land. 31So the abundance will be unknown in the land because of that subsequent famine; for it will be very severe. 32Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is confirmed by God, and God will quickly bring it about. 33So now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and appoint him over the land of Egypt. 34Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land, and let him take a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt as a tax in the seven years of abundance. 35Then have them collect all the food of these good years that are coming, and store up the grain for food in the cities under Pharaoh’s authority, and have them guard it. 36Let the food be used as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land will not perish during the famine.'
Christian Standard Bible

New Living Translation

King James Version

17And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, In my dream, behold, I stood upon the bank of the river: 18And, behold, there came up out of the river seven kine, fatfleshed and well favoured; and they fed in a meadow: 19And, behold, seven other kine came up after them, poor and very ill favoured and leanfleshed, such as I never saw in all the land of Egypt for badness: 20And the lean and the ill favoured kine did eat up the first seven fat kine: 21And when they had eaten them up, it could not be known that they had eaten them; but they were still ill favoured, as at the beginning. So I awoke. 22And I saw in my dream, and, behold, seven ears came up in one stalk, full and good: 23And, behold, seven ears, withered, thin, and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them: 24And the thin ears devoured the seven good ears: and I told this unto the magicians; but there was none that could declare it to me. 25And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, The dream of Pharaoh is one: God hath shewed Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26The seven good kine are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one. 27And 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. 28This is the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh: What God is about to do he sheweth unto Pharaoh. 29Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt: 30And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land; 31And the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following; for it shall be very grievous. 32And 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.
33Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34Let 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. 35And 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. 36And 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. 37And the thing was good in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of all his servants. 38And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? 39And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art: 40Thou 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. 41And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt. 42And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck; 43And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt. 44And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt. 45And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphnathpaaneah; and he gave him to wife Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On. And Joseph went out over all the land of Egypt.
46And Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt. 47And in the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth by handfuls. 48And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities: the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he up in the same. 49And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number. 50And unto Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, which Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On bare unto him. 51And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house. 52And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction. 53And the seven years of plenteousness, that was in the land of Egypt, were ended. 54And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. 55And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do. 56And the famine was over all the face of the earth: And Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt. 57And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands.

What does Genesis chapter 41 mean?

After years in prison, Joseph is finally restored as his circumstances are dramatically reversed. Prior to this, he has spent quite some time unjustly jailed; he has been forgotten even by those he has helped (Genesis 40:14–15, 23).

Pharaoh, king of Egypt, experiences two troubling and prophetic dreams. In the first, seven beautiful, healthy cows come up out of the Nile River to feed on the grass. Then seven famished, emaciated cows come up after them and devour them. The second dream is similar. Pharaoh sees seven good ears of grain growing on a single stalk. Then seven thin, wasted-looking ears grow up after them and somehow swallow up the healthy ears of grain. Ancient Egyptians placed great emphasis on dreams, and these are especially vivid; Pharaoh is shaken by these visions (Genesis 41:1–7).

The king calls his wise men and magicians. These men would have been educated in various disciplines. Some would have been priests or shamans of Egyptian religion. Despite all their efforts, none can tell him what the dreams might mean. This is especially strange, since they could have tried to give a false answer; many would have thought that better than telling Pharaoh "I don't know." Yet God's provision means they can't even invent a good explanation. Finally, Pharaoh's chief cupbearer remembers how Joseph, "a young Hebrew," accurately interpreted his and the baker's troubling dreams in prison two years earlier. Most likely, the cupbearer had not lost that history from his mind. Rather, this is the first time he felt it was to his advantage to bring it up (Genesis 41:8–13).

Joseph is quickly released from prison and brought before Pharaoh. Pharaoh says he has heard the young Hebrews can interpret dreams. In a bold statement, Joseph corrects the absolute ruler of Egypt: he insists that it is God who has the knowledge. Joseph promises to pass along the divine truth once he has heard the dreams (Genesis 41:15–16).

Pharaoh's description of his dreams follows the same outline recorded earlier in the chapter. He adds a few noteworthy details, however. The second set of seven cows which Pharaoh sees are described here using terms which mean "evil," "ugly," and "scrawny." Pharaoh notes that these are the most horrible-looking animals he has ever seen. Further, when the skeletal cows have eaten the healthy cows, they still look as if they are starving. The second set of ears of grain look as if they've been blasted by the sandstorms of the desert (Genesis 41:17–24).

Joseph explains that God—Joseph's God—is revealing what He is about to do. Both dreams mean the same thing, and the repetition is meant for emphasis. Seven years of great abundance, represented by the healthy cows and grain, will be followed by seven years of terrible famine, represented by the sickly cows and grain. The starvation will be so severe that the good years will be quickly forgotten (Genesis 41:25–32).

In the ancient world, kings were not given advice unless they asked for it—and even then, their advisors needed to be careful. In this situation, however, Joseph—an imprisoned slave—immediately goes from interpreting Pharaoh's dreams to giving him counsel on how to run his own country. Joseph launches into a proposed plan for how Pharaoh should manage the coming crisis. Joseph says Pharaoh should appoint a wise leader, along with a team of overseers, to take 20 percent of each crop for the next seven years and put it into storehouses. Then, when the famine begins, Egypt will be provided for (Genesis 41:33–36).

Rather than being offended at Joseph's nerve, Pharaoh is pleased with Joseph's interpretation of his dreams and his proposal for managing their predictions. After a quick conference with his advisors, Pharaoh decides that Joseph should be appointed to prepare for and manage the coming crisis. Why? Pharaoh is convinced that God's Spirit is in Joseph, making him the wisest man in Egypt. No one else even comes close to demonstrating that level of divine favor. He gives breathtaking power to this Hebrew slave just released from years in prison. He makes Joseph what some would call a "vizier:" his second in command over all of Egypt. He gives Joseph his own signet ring, along with fine clothes, a gold necklace, and a specially designated chariot. These are all symbolic of his authority. In addition, Pharaoh gives to Joseph an Egyptian name and immediately marries him into a prestigious Egyptian family. In a very short time, Joseph has all the authority, power, and cultural clout he needs to act on Pharaoh's behalf to save Pharaoh's kingdom (Genesis 41:37–45).

Joseph, now 30, has spent most of his adult life as an Egyptian captive (Genesis 37:2, 28). Now, he follows through on his plan to save that nation from disaster. He oversees the gathering of the super-abundant crops each of the first seven years. He ensures the surplus is stored in the major cities of the nation. In fact, more grain is stored away than can be counted. God once again demonstrates to Joseph and all who know him that the Lord is with him (Genesis 41:46–49).

Another blessing follows. Joseph has two sons. The names reflect Joseph's joy that God has not let his own suffering go to waste. The first son is named Manasseh, which implies "forgetting." In this context, it does not mean Joseph has lost all memory of his difficulty; rather it means his new prosperity has outweighed it. The second son's name, Ephraim, reflects how God has given Joseph prosperity, even in the land where he is technically still a slave (Genesis 41:50–52).

After exactly the time predicted, the famine strikes, just as Joseph said that it would. When the people run out of grain and come to Pharaoh for help, he sends them to Joseph. What happens next follows the same pattern seen elsewhere in Joseph's life: he drastically improves the fortunes of his masters (Genesis 39:2–6, 20–23). He does not merely redistribute the grain, he also uses it to massively increase Pharaoh's power and wealth (Genesis 47:13–26). For the most part, this is accomplished as Joseph sells grain both to the Egyptians and to people of other nations who come looking for food because of the global famine (Genesis 41:53–57).

That global disaster, and Joseph's new position, lead to an amazing reunion with Joseph's family. Over the next few chapters, the same brothers who sold him as a slave will come to Egypt for help. Without knowing it, they will encounter their once-hated younger brother, and he will act to save them from starvation.
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