What does Genesis 41:5 mean?
ESV: And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk.
NIV: He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk.
NASB: But he fell asleep and dreamed a second time; and behold, seven ears of grain came up on a single stalk, plump and good.
CSB: He fell asleep and dreamed a second time: Seven heads of grain, plump and good, came up on one stalk.
NLT: But he fell asleep again and had a second dream. This time he saw seven heads of grain, plump and beautiful, growing on a single stalk.
KJV: And he slept and dreamed the second time: and, behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good.
Verse Commentary:
Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, has just experienced a troubling dream (Genesis 41:1–4). In his vision, he saw seven thin, gaunt cows eating seven fat, healthy-looking cows. After waking up, he has fallen back to sleep and entered another dream. In this one, he sees seven lush, healthy ears of grain growing on a single stalk. As with the prior dream, this begins with a comforting image, which will soon turn into horror (Genesis 41:6–7). Pharaoh's search for an explanation will eventually lead him to Joseph (Genesis 40:23) and his interpretive gifts.

Modern readers will notice the King James Version using the word "corn," here. The plant modern English-speakers call "corn" did not exist in the ancient middle east. Our modern corn plant was originally called "maize," and came from the Americas. This is not an error, however, but an example of changing language. The English word "corn" used to mean a single seed or piece of grain. When the KJV was written, all major grain crops were called "corn." Over time, the word "corn" came to be used for a single plant: what had once been called "maize." Modern translations use the word "grain," here.

This passage also uses the Hebrew root word sibbō'lēt, describing something that flows or branches. The word was used to describe the fruit-producing part of a plant, so it's translated here into English as an "ear" or "head" of grain. This term was pronounced very differently in regional accents, so much so that it was used almost as a password (Judges 12:6).
Verse Context:
Genesis 41:1–8 describes troubling prophetic dreams as seen by the king of Egypt, whose title is "Pharaoh." Both dreams involve a group of seven pleasant-looking images—first cows, then grain—which are consumed by a second group of seven, which are withered and evil-looking. The nature of these dreams makes it clear they have meaning, but none of the Egyptian diviners or scholars can make sense of them. This will lead one servant—the formerly jailed cupbearer—to finally mention Joseph and his ability to interpret dreams (Genesis 40:23).
Chapter Summary:
Joseph's status in Genesis 41 begins as "forgotten Hebrew prison slave" and ends as "the second most powerful man in Egypt." The cupbearer from the previous chapter finally mentions Joseph two years later, when Pharaoh is troubled by dreams which wise men can't interpret. Joseph reveals the meaning of the dreams: seven years of abundance will be followed by seven years of great famine in the land. Pharaoh, recognizing that God's Spirit is with Joseph, makes him second in command over the entire nation and tasks him with preparing for the famine.
Chapter Context:
Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers (Genesis 37:24–28). He then excelled in his work for an Egyptian official, only to be falsely accused and imprisoned (Genesis 39:20). There, he accurately interpreted dreams for servants of the Egyptian ruler (Genesis 40:20–22). Unfortunately, the restored cupbearer failed to mention Joseph, leaving him in prison for two more years (Genesis 40:23). A series of disturbing dreams leads to Joseph's audience with Pharaoh. This, in turn, leads to Joseph becoming the second most powerful man in the nation. The following chapters emphasize Joseph's reunion with his family. Details about his administration of food during the famine are recorded in Genesis 47:13–26.
Book Summary:
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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