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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Genesis 41



Verses 1-8

Genesis 41:1-8

Pharaoh dreamed

Pharaoh’s dream




Pharaoh’s dream and its interpretation


1. The long waiting of Joseph before he attained his emancipation.

2. The wisdom of this delay in respect of Joseph’s circumstances.

3. Pharaoh’s prophetic dream.

4. The chief butler’s forgetfulness.


1. The graceful way in which Joseph refers all to God.

2. Joseph’s calmness, produced by the consciousness of God’s presence.

3. Joseph’s plan in the interpretation of the dream. It was simply a providential foresight for the future. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

The dream of Pharaoh

1. The dream was formed of elements with which the dreamer was somewhat familiar.

2. The dream was a Divine communication to the mind of a heathen.

3. The dream brought trouble into the heart of a monarch.

4. The dream could only be interpreted by a devout Theist.

I. THE REVOLUTIONS OF PROVIDENCE. Alternations mark the earthly history of the human world.

1. They tend to promote our spiritual discipline.

2. They remind us of the activity of God.

3. They tend to inspire us with a sense of our dependence upon


4. This method tends, moreover, to give a meaning to the Bible.

5. This method often prepares the mind to receive the truths of the Bible.


1. It invested Joseph with a chastened humility of soul.

2. It enabled Joseph to solve the distressing inquiries of the monarch.

3. It exalted Joseph to supremacy in the kingdom.

III. THE DUTY OF RULERS. They should be--

1. Philanthropic.

2. Forecasting.

3. Economical.


1. How great is the Governor of the world.

2. How worthless the world is without religion.

3. How important to be in fellowship with the great God. (Homilist.)

An episode in a nation’s history

Imperfect as human monarchs are, and sometimes corrupt, they are beneficial to society. A government must be very rotten if it is not better than anarchy. Hence, for the most part, God designs to act through kings, and permits them to be His ministers. God has a secret to make known to Egypt, viz., tidings of approaching scarcity; and since Pharaoh is on the throne, the communication shall be made to him.


1. A dream is enough to terrify him. Yet is not this cowardly? Why should the great Pharaoh be alarmed by a night-vision? Has he not an enormous army at his back? Ah, verily, there is another Power, active, mightier, more august, hedging him on every side! What if this strange Power should be unfriendly! No wonder that Pharaoh’s knees tremble. He is like a fly upon the unseen mechanism of the universe. He is but a waif upon the stormy Atlantic. What is this all-surrounding Power? Possibly it may be God!

2. Further, he is a very dependent man. He cannot do without astrologers, magicians, butlers, and bakers. No; it would not do for the king to be independent. The temptation to play the tyrant would be irresistible. He is only one part of the social system, though it may be the most prominent.

3. The king is dependent upon the most obscure in his kingdom. On an imprisoned slave Pharaoh and all Egypt have to depend. Verily nobleness and worth may be found in the lowliest lot!


1. Joseph’s first utterance was to acknowledge God. In substance he says, “I am powerless; God can meet the case.” Hers was a great opportunity for ostentation, self-display. His bearing is calm, princely, royal. Of himself he can do nothing; but he has brought the true God into court, and “with God nothing is impossible.”

2. This was an act of heroic faith. Joseph stood alone in that awestruck assembly. Magnates, officers, stewards, magicians, all were worshippers of Egypt’s countless idols. To disparage the ancient idols, powerful for long ages, were perilous to a young man and a foreigner.


1. It is clear that Joseph was master of the situation. Etymologically, the word king means “the man that knows.” It was this that made Elijah great and powerful in the face of idolatrous Israel. This gave Daniel sovereign influence in the Chaldean court. This made Luther a monarch among men. “Them that honour Me, I will honour.”

2. For this royal position Joseph had been skilfully trained.

IV. THE REAL KING IS SUPREME IN EVERY EMERGENCY. Most sailors can steer the ship in fine weather; it requires a real pilot to steer safely through a storm. Pharaoh might do well enough at the helm of affairs, so long as harvests were copious, and the nation was well fed. But in presence of a night-vision, Pharaoh lost his balance; in presence of a famine, Pharaoh was staggered. (J. Dickerson Davies, M. A.)

Kine and corn

I. THE VICISSITUDES OF LIFE. Prosperity and adversity succeed each other. Life generally is as variable as an April day. If a man has seven years of uninterrupted happiness, he must not expect that it will continue much longer. The most prosperous men are liable to surprises. Families that have for years been free from sickness or bereavemant may suddenly be overshadowed by the angel of death. Hopes may be blighted when they are near fulfilment, and pleasure may be followed by severe and protracted trial.

II. THE OVER-RULING PROVIDENCE OF GOD. Whatever may be the opinions held by some, we say unhesitatingly that God has the affairs of all nations and of all men under His immediate control; that He gives or withholds, as seemeth good unto Him, but always in a way consistent with human freedom. And He invites our confidence.

III. THE DUTY OF USING THE PRESENT WELL. Although we are not to be overanxious about the future, we are not to disregard it altogether. We cannot tell what demands may be made upon our resources. We must provide, as far as possible, against sickness and adversity. We must not ignore the claims of others. (F. J. Austin.)

A perplexing dream

This dream will appear to many but a jumble of incoherent ideas, which no wise man would retain in his memory. What other man ever thought, even in a dream, of kine, or of ears of corn, eating one another? Yet it is certain that this dream came from God, and that it was an intimation of future events, of exceedingly important consequence, both to the Egyptian nation, and to all the neighboring nations, and even to the church of God. “God’s ways are not as our ways,” nor ought we to measure His providential administration by our own rules. He discovers His mind in the manner best fitted to serve His purpose. It was not the will of God that Pharaoh should understand his own dream, till it was explained by a heaven-taught interpreter. If the meaning had been so plain, that it could have been explained by the wise men of Egypt, the design for which it was sent to Pharaoh would not have been gained. It was for Joseph’s sake, and for the sake of his father’s house, that Pharaoh dreamed, and that his dream required such an interpreter as Joseph. There are dreams and visions recorded in many places of the Bible, that appear to our narrow minds as dark as this dream of Pharaoh. God hath His reasons for choosing to deliver many parts of his mind in dark figures, which we would need a Joseph to interpret. But to allege that any part of Scripture ought to have been plainer than it is, would be daringly presumptuous. Every part of it was dictated to the holy men of God by that wisdom which cannot err. Every censure of the Divine wisdom must he folly and blasphemy. The darkest portion of Scripture was not written in vain. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Importance attached to dreams

It cannot be surprising that men in all ages and countries should have attached a great importance to dreams. When the functions of the soul seem fettered, and the images of the mind appear dissolved in floating phantoms, it was thought that the direct interference of the Deity alone could give strength and direction to the relaxed faculties; that if in such a state distinct and clearly circumscribed forms were perceived, they must have a higher tendency; and that their meaning is as mysterious as their origin is supernatural. Eastern nations especially, endowed as they are with a luxurious imagination, and carried away by a love of symbolism, searched the import of dreams with eager and serious anxiety. The Egyptians and Chaldeans were foremost in the cultivation of this branch of knowledge; they developed the explanation of dreams into a complete science; the interpreters of dreams were held in the most distinguished honour; they were regarded as being favoured with the highest order of wisdom, and even with divine inspiration; they surrounded the throne of the king, accompanied the expedition of the general, and often exercised a decisive influence in the most important deliberations. But the Greeks and Romans were not less scrupulous in this respect. That dreams come from Jupiter, is a maxim already pronounced by Homer; but they were considered significant only if occurring in the last third of the night, when dawn is near; persons in distress or difficulties slept in temples, in the hope of obtaining prophetic dreams which might indicate the means of rescue; men afflicted with illness especially resorted to this expedient, in the belief that AEsculapius would reveal to them the proper remedies; and Alexander the Great actually fancied he saw, in a dream, the herb which cured the wound of Ptolemy, his friend and relation. But how deeply the faith in the reality of dreams were rooted among the ancient nations is manifest from She views entertained by the Hebrews on this subject. Dreams grew in importance among the Hebrews in the course of centuries, and after the Babylonian captivity they were classified in a complete system; they were regarded either as auspicious or ominous; harassing or frightful visions were expiated by fasts and prayer; and Philo wrote an elaborate treatise, in two books, to prove that dreams are sent by God. It could not fail, that these decided notions, on a subject so vague and uncertain, caused serious abuses, chiefly from two sides; from weak-minded dreamers, who were often tortured by visionary misfortunes, and from cunning interpreters, who knew how to take advantages of such imbecility; but sometimes, also, from wicked schemers, who made real or pretended dreams the pretext of base and selfish plans; as Flavius Josephus did, when, by treachery and cowardice, he saved his life by passing over into the camp of the enemies. Jesus Sirach, therefore, though acknowledging that some dreams are sent by God, censured severely the folly of attributing weight to all; he impressed upon his readers that many dreams are idle and empty, like the wind and the shadow, a delusion to the fool, and a phantom of deceitful hope; just as Artabanus had, long before, said to king Xerxes: “ The visions of dreams are not Divine; they most commonly hover around men respecting things which engaged their thoughts during the day”; although the superstition of his time is reflected in the legend which he narrated, how he yet was forced to acknowledge the awful sanctity of dreams. Nor has the interest in dreams ceased since that time; they have occupied the pen of many a modern psychologist; they have given rise to some of the most beautiful works, replete with profound thought and shrewd observation; and the peculiar mystery which surrounds those remarkable phenomena, too aerial to permit of the rigid analysis of the philosopher or the man of science, will always exercise an excusable charm over the human mind. (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)

Verses 1-57


Genesis 41:1-57

"Thus saith the Lord, that frustrateth the tokens of the liars and maketh diviners mad; that confirmeth the word of His servant, and performeth the counsel of His messengers; that saith of Cyrus, He is nay shepherd, and shall perform all My pleasure."- Isaiah 44:25; Isaiah 44:28.

THE preceding act in this great drama-the act comprising the scenes of Joseph’s temptation, unjust imprisonment, and interpretation of his fellow-prisoners’ dreams-was written for the sake of explaining how Joseph came to be introduced to Pharaoh. Other friendships may have been formed in the prison, and other threads may have been spun which went to make up the life of Joseph, but this only is pursued. For a time, however, there seemed very little prospect that this would prove to be the thread on which his destiny hung. Joseph made a touching appeal to the Chief Butler: "yet did not the Chief Butler remember Joseph, but forgat him." You can see him in the joy of his release affectionately pressing Joseph’s hand as the king’s messengers knocked off his fetters. You can see him assuring Joseph, by his farewell look, that he might trust him; mistaking mere elation at his own release for warmth of feeling towards Joseph, though perhaps even already feeling just the slightest touch of awkwardness at being seen on such intimate terms with a Hebrew slave. How could he, when in the palace of Pharaoh and decorated with the insignia of his office and surrounded by courtiers, break through the formal etiquette of the place? What with the pleasant congratulations of old friends, and the accumulation of business since he had been imprisoned, and the excitement of restoration from so low and hopeless to so high and busy a position, the promise to Joseph is obliterated from his mind. If it once or twice recurs to his memory, he persuades himself he is waiting for a good opening to mention Joseph. It would perhaps be unwarrantable to say that he admits the idea that he is in no way indebted to Joseph, since all that Joseph had done was to interpret, but by no means to determine, his fate.

The analogy which we could not help seeing between Joseph’s relation to his fellow-prisoners, and our Lord’s relation to us, pursues us here. For does not the bond between us and Him seem often very slender, when once we have received from Him the knowledge of the King’s goodwill, and find ourselves set in a place of security? Is not Christ with many a mere stepping-stone for their own advancement, and of interest only so long as they are in anxiety about their own fate? Their regard for Him seems abruptly to terminate as soon as they are ushered to freer air. Brought for a while into contact with Him, the very peace and prosperity which that intercourse has introduced them to become opiates to dull their memory and their gratitude. They have received all they at present desire, they have no more dreams, their life has become so plain and simple and glad that they need no interpreter. They seem to regard Him no more than an official is regarded who is set to discharge to all comers some duty for which he is paid; who mingles no love with his work, and from whom they would receive the same benefits whether he had any personal interest in them or no. But there is no Christianity where there is no loving remembrance of Christ. If your contact with Him has not made Him your Friend whom you can by no possibility forget, you have missed the best result of your introduction to Him. It makes one think meanly of the Chief Butler that such a personality as Joseph’s had not more deeply impressed him-that everything he heard and saw among the courtiers did not make him say to himself: There is a friend of mine, in prison hard by, that for beauty, wisdom, and vivacity would more than match the finest of you all. And it says very little for us if we can have known anything of Christ without seeing that in Him we have what is nowhere else, and without finding that He has become the necessity of our life to whom we turn at every point.

But, as things turned out, it was perhaps as well for Joseph that his promising friend did forget him. For, supposing the Chief Butler had overcome his natural reluctance to increase his own indebtedness to Pharaoh by interceding for a friend, supposing he had been willing to risk the friendship of the Captain of the Guard by interfering in so delicate a matter, and supposing Pharaoh had been willing to listen to him, what would have been the result? Probably that Joseph would have been sold away to the quarries, for certainly he could not have been restored to Potiphar’s house; or, at the most, he might have received his liberty, and a free pass out of Egypt. That is to say, he would have obtained liberty to return to sheep-shearing and cattle-dealing and checkmating his brothers’ plots. In any probable case his career would have tended rather towards obscurity than towards the fulfilment of his dreams.

There seems equal reason to congratulate Joseph on his friend’s forgetfulness, when we consider its probable effects, not on his career, but on his character. When he was left in prison after so sudden and exciting an incursion of the outer world as the king’s messengers would make, his mind must have run chiefly in two lines of thought. Naturally he would feel some envy of the man who was being restored; and when day after day passed and more than the former monotony of prison routine palled on his spirit; when he found how completely he was forgotten, and how friendless and lone a creature he was in that strange land where things had gone so mysteriously against him; when he saw before him no other fate than that which he had seen befall so many a slave thrown into a dungeon at his master’s pleasure and never more heard of, he must have been sorely tempted to hate the whole world, and especially those brethren who had been the beginning of all his misfortunes. Had there been any selfishness in solution in Joseph’s character, this is the point at which it would have quickly crystallized into permanent forms. For nothing more certainly elicits and confirms selfishness than bad treatment. But from his conduct on his release, we see clearly enough that through all this trying time his heroism was not only that of the strong man who vows that though the whole world is against him the day will come when the world shall have need of him, but of the saint of God in whom suffering and injustice leave no bitterness against his fellows, nor even provoke one slightest morbid utterance.

But another process must have been going on in Joseph’s mind at the same time. He must have felt that it was a very serious thing that he had been called upon to do in interpreting God’s will to his fellow-prisoners. No doubt he fell into it quite naturally, and aptly, because it was liker his proper vocation, and more of his character could come out in it than in anything he had yet done. Still, to be mixed up thus with matters of life and death concerning other people, and to have men of practical ability and experience and high position listening to him as to an oracle, and to find that in very truth a great power was committed to him, was calculated to have some considerable result one way or other on Joseph. And these two years of unrelieved and sobering obscurity cannot but be considered most opportune. For one of two things is apt to follow the world’s first recognition of a man’s gifts. He is either induced to pander to the world’s wonder and become artificial and strained in all he does, so losing the spontaneity and naturalness and sincerity which characterise the best work; or he is awed and steadied. And whether the one or the other result follow, will depend very much on the other things that are happening to him. In Joseph’s case it was probably well that after having made proof of his powers he was left in such circumstances as would not only give him time for reflection, but also give a humble and believing turn to his reflections. He was not at once exalted to the priestly caste, nor enrolled among the wise men, nor put in any position in which he would have been under constant temptation to display and trifle with his power; and so he was led to the conviction that deeper even than the joy of receiving the recognition and gratitude of men was the abiding satisfaction of having done the thing God had given him to do.

These two years, then, during which Joseph’s active mind must necessarily have been forced to provide food for itself, and have been thrown back upon his past experience, seem to have been of eminent service in maturing his character. The self-possessed dignity and ease of command which appear in him from the moment when he is ushered into Pharaoh’s presence have their roots in these two years of silence. As the bones of a strong man are slowly, imperceptibly knit, and gradually take the shape and texture they retain throughout; so during these years there was silently and secretly consolidating a character of almost unparalleled calmness and power. One has no words to express how tantalising it must have been to Joseph to see this Egyptian have his dreams so gladly and speedily fulfilled, while he himself, who had so long waited on the true God, was left waiting still, and now so utterly unbefriended that there seemed no possible way of ever again connecting himself with the world outside the prison walls. Being pressed thus for an answer to the question, What does God mean to make of my life? he was brought to see and to hold as the most important truth for him, that the first concern. is, that God’s purposes be accomplished; the second, that his own dreams be fulfilled. He was enabled, as we shall see in the sequel, to put God truly in the first place, and to see that by forwarding the interests of other men, even though they were but light-minded chief butlers at a foreign court, he might be as serviceably furthering the purposes of God, as if he were forwarding his own interests. He was compelled to seek for some principle that would sustain and guide him in the midst of much disappointment and perplexity, and he found it in the conviction that the essential thing to be accomplished in this world, and to which every man must lay his shoulder, is God’s purpose. Let that go on, and all else that should go on will go on. And he further saw that he best fulfils God’s purpose who, without anxiety and impatience, does the duty of the day, and gives himself without stint to the "charities that soothe and heal and bless."

His perception of the breadth of God’s purpose, and his profound and sympathetic and active submission to it, were qualities too rare not to be called into influential exercise. After two years he is suddenly summoned to become God’s interpreter to Pharaoh. The Egyptian king was in the unhappy though not uncommon position of having a revelation from God which he could not read, intimations and presentiments he could not interpret. To one man is given the revelation, to another the interpretation. The official dignity of the king is respected, and to him is given the revelation which concerns the welfare of the whole people. But to read God’s meaning in a revelation requires a spiritual intelligence trained to sympathy with His purposes, and such a spirit was found in Joseph alone.

The dreams of Pharaoh were thoroughly Egyptian. The marvel is, that a symbolism so familiar to the Egyptian eye should not have been easily legible to even the most slenderly gifted of Pharaoh’s wise men. "In my dream," says the king, "behold, I stood upon the bank of the river: and, behold, there came up out of the river seven kine," and so on. Every land or city is proud of its river, but none has such cause to be so as Egypt of its Nile. The country is accurately as well as poetically called "the gift of Nile." Out of the river do really come good or bad years, fat or lean kine. Wholly dependent on its annual rise and overflow for the irrigating and enriching of the soil, the people worship it and love it, and at the season of its overflow give way to the most rapturous expressions of joy. The cow also was reverenced as the symbol of the earth’s productive power. If then, as Joseph avers, God wished to show to Pharaoh that seven years of plenty were approaching, this announcement could hardly have been made plainer in the language of dreams than by showing to Pharaoh seven well-favoured kine coming up out of the bountiful river to feed on the meadow made richly green by its waters. If the king had been sacrificing to the river, such a sight, familiar as it was to the dwellers by the Nile, might well have been accepted by him as a promise of plenty in the land. But what agitated Pharaoh, and gave him the shuddering presentiment of evil which accompanies some dreams, was the sequel. "Behold, seven other kine came up after them, poor and very ill-favoured and lean-fleshed, such as I never saw in all the land of Egypt for badness: and the lean and the ill-favoured kine did eat up the first seven fat kine: and 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,"-a picture which to the inspired dream-reader represented seven years of famine so grievous, that the preceding plenty should be swallowed up and not be known. A similar image occurred to a writer who, in describing a more recent famine in the same land, says: "The year presented itself as a monster whose wrath must annihilate all the resources of life and all the means of subsistence."

It tells in favour of the court magicians and wise men that not one of them offered an interpretation of dreams to which it would certainly not have been difficult to attach some tolerably feasible interpretation. Probably these men were as yet sincere devotees of astrology and occult science, and not the mere jugglers and charlatans their successors seem to have become. When men cannot make out the purpose of God regarding the future of the race, it is not wonderful that they should endeavour to catch the faintest, most broken echo of His voice to the world, wherever they can find it. Now there is a wide region, a borderland between the two worlds of spirit and of matter, in which are found a great many mysterious phenomena which cannot be explained by any known laws of nature, and through which men fancy they get nearer to the spiritual world. There are many singular and startling appearances, coincidences, forebodings, premonitions which men have always been attracted towards, and which they have considered as open ways of communication between God and man. There are dreams, visions, strange apprehensions, freaks of memory, and other mental phenomena, which, when all classed together, assorted, and skilfully applied to the reading of the future, once formed quite a science by itself. When men have no word from God to depend upon, no knowledge at all of where either the race or individuals are going to, they will eagerly grasp at anything that even seems to shed a ray of light on their future. We for the most part make light of that whole category of phenomena, because we have a more sure word of prophecy by which, as with a light in a dark place, we can tell where our next step should be, and what the end shall be. But invariably in heathen countries, where no guiding Spirit of God was believed in, and where the absence of His revealed will left numberless points of duty doubtful and all the future dark, there existed in lieu of this a class of persons who, under one name or other, undertook to satisfy the craving of men to see into the future, to forewarn them of danger, and advise them regarding matters of conduct and affairs of state.

At various points of the history of God’s revelation these professors of occult science appear. In each case a profound impression is made by the superior wisdom or power displayed by the "wise men" of God. But in reading the accounts we have of these collisions between the wisdom of God and that of the magicians, a slight feeling of uneasiness sometimes enters the mind. You may feel that these wonders of Joseph, Moses, and Daniel have a romantic air about them, and you feel, perhaps, a slight scruple in granting that God would lend Himself to such displays-displays so completely out oft date in our day. But we are to consider not only that there is nothing of the kind more certain than that dreams do sometimes even now impart most significant warning to men; but, also, that the time in which Joseph lived was the childhood of the world, when God had neither spoken much to men, nor could speak much, because as yet they had not learned His language, but were only being slowly taught it by signs suited to their capacity. If these men were to receive any knowledge beyond what their own unaided efforts could attain, they must be taught in a language they understood. They could not be dealt with as if they had already attained a knowledge and a capacity which could only be theirs many centuries after; they must be dealt with by signs and wonders which had perhaps little moral teaching in them, but yet gave evidence of God’s nearness and power such as they could and did understand. God thus stretched out His hand to men in the darkness, and let them feel His strength before they could look on His face and understand His nature.

It is the existence at the court of Pharaoh of this highly respected class of dream-interpreters and wise men, which lends significance to the conduct of Joseph when summoned into the royal presence. Such wisdom as he displayed in reading Pharaoh’s visions was looked upon as attainable by means within the reach of any man who had sufficient faculty for the science. And the first idea in the minds of the courtiers would probably have been, had Joseph not solemnly protested against it, that he was an adept where they were apprentices and bunglers, and that his success was due purely to professional skill. This was of course perfectly well known to Joseph, who for a number of years had been familiar with the ideas prevalent at the court of Pharaoh; and he might have argued that there could be no great harm in at least effecting his deliverance from an unjust imprisonment by allowing Pharaoh to suppose that it was to him he was indebted for the interpretation of his dreams. But his first word to Pharaoh is a self-renouncing exclamation: "Not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace." Two years had elapsed since anything had occurred which looked the least like the fulfilment of his own dreams, or gave him any hope of release from prison; and now, when measuring himself with these courtiers and feeling able to take his place with the best of them, getting again a breath of free air and feeling once more the charm of life, and having an opening set before his young ambition, being so suddenly transferred from a place where his very existence seemed to be forgotten to a place where Pharaoh himself and all his court eyed him with the intensest interest and anxiety, it is significant that he should appear regardless of his own fate, but jealously careful of the glory of God. Considering how jealous men commonly are of their own reputation, and how impatiently eager to receive all the credit that is due to them for their own share in any good that is doing, and considering of what essential importance it seemed that Joseph should seize this opportunity of providing for his own safety and advancement, and should use this as the tide in his affairs that led to fortune, his words and bearing before Pharaoh undoubtedly disclose a deeply inwrought fidelity to God, and a magnanimous patience regarding his own personal interests..

For it is extremely unlikely that in proposing to Pharaoh to set a man over this important business of collecting corn to last through the years of famine, it presented itself to Joseph as a conceivable result that he should be the person appointed-he a Hebrew, a slave, a prisoner, cleaned but for the nonce, could not suppose that Pharaoh would pass over all those tried officers and ministers of state around him and fix upon a youth who was wholly untried, and who might, by his different race and religion, prove obnoxious to the people. Joseph may have expected to make interest enough with Pharaoh to secure his freedom, and possibly some subordinate berth where he could hopefully begin the world again; but his only allusion to himself is of a depreciatory kind, while his reference to God is marked with a profound conviction that this is God’s doing, and that to Him is due whatever is due. Well may the Hebrew race be proud of those men like Joseph and Daniel, who stood in the presence of foreign monarchs in a spirit of perfect fidelity to God, commanding the respect of all, and clothed with the dignity and simplicity which that fidelity imparted. It matters not to Joseph that there may perhaps be none in that land who can appreciate his fidelity to God or understand his motive. It matters not what he may lose by it, or what he could gain by falling in with the notions of those around him. He himself knows the real. state of the case, and will not act untruly to his God, even though for years he seems to have been forgotten by Him. With Daniel he says in spirit, "Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another. As for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but that the interpretation may be known to the king, and that thou mayest know the thoughts of thine heart. He that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass." There is something particularly noble and worthy of admiration in a man thus standing alone and maintaining the fullest allegiance to God, without ostentation and with a quiet dignity and naturalness that show he has a great fund of strength behind.

That we do not misjudge Joseph’s character or ascribe to him qualities which were invisible to his contemporaries, is apparent from the circumstance that Pharaoh and his advisers, with little or no hesitation, agreed that to no man could they more safely entrust their country in this emergency. The mere personal charm of Joseph might have won over those experienced advisers of the crown to make compensation for his imprisonment by an unusually handsome reward, but no mere attractiveness of person and manner, nor even the unquestionable guilelessness of his bearing, could have induced them to put such an affair as this into his hands. Plainly they were impressed with Joseph; almost supernaturally impressed, and felt God through him. He stood before them as one mysteriously appearing in their emergency, sent out of unthought-of quarters to warn and save them. Happily there was as yet no jealousy of the God of the Hebrews, nor any exclusiveness on the part of the chosen people: Pharaoh and Joseph alike felt that there was one God over all and through all. And it was Joseph’s self-abnegating sympathy with the purposes of this Supreme God that made him a transparent medium, so that in his presence the Egyptians felt themselves in the presence of God. It is so always. Influence in the long run belongs to those who rid their minds of all private aims, and get close to the great centre in which all the race meets and is cared for. Men feel themselves safe with the unselfish, with persons in whom they meet principle, justice, truth, love, God. We are unattractive, useless, uninfluential, just because we are still childishly craving a private and selfish good. We know that a life which does not pour itself freely into the common stream of public good is lost in dry and sterile sands. We know that a life spent upon self is contemptible, barren, empty, yet how slowly do we come to the attitude of Joseph, who watched for the fulfilment of God’s purposes, and found his happiness in forwarding what God designed for the people.

Verses 9-13

Genesis 41:9-13

I do remember my faults this day

Pharaoh’s butler; or, The power of memory, association, and conscience

THE POWER OF MEMORY. “I do remember.” Memory, a faculty of mind, wonderful, varies in its strength and exercise, accompanied by pains as well as pleasures. The effect depends upon the state of the soul, and on the character of the things remembered, whether good or evil, painful or pleasant (see Job 21:6; Psalms 63:6; Psalms 77:3; Psalms 137:1; Ezekiel 16:61, Ephesians 2:11; Luke 16:25; Revelation 14:13.) Beware. Do some evil deed, commit some wrong against your neighbour or your God; and, try as you will, you cannot quite forget. Memory may slumber for a while, but will some day awake.

II. THE POWER OF ASSOCIATION. “This day.” Why then? For two years all had seemingly been forgotten. Now chord of association touched: Pharaoh’s dreams. This power is often appealed to in Scripture. Type, symbol, parable, all recognize, and receive much of their value from association. In the special case before us, behold the hand of God. The great designs of Providence are ripe for execution. Hence the butler is roused to action. It needs but a touch of association, and the long-forgotten promise is recalled. Joseph’s release immediately follows.

III. THE POWER OF CONSCIENCE. “My faults.” Mark the power conscience:

1. In exciting a sense of personal blameworthiness.

2. In exciting a feeling of painful remorse.

Faults remembered

I. WE ARE ALL CHARGEABLE WITH FAULTS (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:12; Psalms 19:12; Psalms 143:2; James 3:2; 1 John 1:8; Romans 3:23). Yet “did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgot him.” It was forgetfulness most inexcusable; it was ingratitude most unkind I But what are our faults? We have offended, not the king of Egypt, but the King of kings, the King of heaven, the Greatest and Best of all beings. We have forgotten, not the son of Jacob, but the Son of God, the Lord of life and glory.


1. The evidence of this. Men have convictions of sin, but they stifle them.

2. The causes of this.

III. Various circumstances are adapted to REMIND US OF OUR FAULTS.

1. Providential occurrences. Some of these regard ourselves, the affliction of our persons, or our immediate connections. Other providential occurrences regard the condition of those about us: they strike our observation. We witness sometimes She difficulties in which others are involved; we think of what occasioned such difficulties, and are reminded of similar causes in ourselves, which might have produced similar effects.

2. The ministry of God’s Word.

IV. When we are reminded of our faults we should be ready to confess 1 John 1:8-9). What, then, have we to confess to God? What are the faults which “this day” we remember? We must go to Him with all our faults, with all our follies, and with all the iniquity of our sin.

V. Confession of faults should always be attended with REAL AMENDMENT. (T. Kidd.)

Pharaoh’s butler

There are some truths in this verse which I wish you to understand and remember. I shall name and illustrate five of these.

I. THE POWER OF INGRATITUDE. Joseph’s request to the butler, and the butler’s reply. How easily he might have kept his promise I Have you been ungrateful to any one--parents, teachers, Jesus? If so, repent at once.

II. THE POWER OF MEMORY. As the bridge spans the river, so the butler’s memory went back over two years. He saw Joseph in prison and his broken promise. How kind God has been in giving us such a wonderful faculty! Use it well in connection with pure objects, good books, and godly persons. You will then have always excellent and instructive companions.

III. THE POWER OF A SINGLE EVENT. What caused the butler to remember Joseph? The king’s dream. How suggestive often are little things! A book, a portrait, a stone, a shoe.

IV. THE POWER OF CONSCIENCE. The butler began to think about his faults.

V. THE POWER OF INTERCESSION. The butler interceded with the king for Joseph. This led to Joseph’s freedom and exaltation. Do not forget this. Act upon it. The good which you may secure for others in this way. (Homiletic Review.)

Have you forgotten Him?

No single power or faculty of man escaped damage at the Fall: while the affections were polluted, the will was made perverse, the judgment was shifted from its proper balance, and the memory lost much of its power and more of its integrity. Our memories, like ourselves, have done the things which they ought not to have done, and have left undone the things which they ought to have done, and there is no health in them. Among other things, it is not always easy to recollect our faults We have special and particular reasons for not wishing to be too often reminded of them. If, however, the grace of God has entered into a man he will pray that he may remember his faults, and he will ask grace that if he should forget any excellences which he once supposed he had, he may not forget his defects, his sins, his infirmities, and his transgressions, but may have them constantly before him, that he may be humbled by them and led to seek pardon for them and help to overcome them.

I. We shall first call your attention to the BUTLER’S FAULTS, for his faults are ours, only ours are on a larger scale: “I do remember my faults this day.” His particular fault was that he had forgotten Joseph; that, having promised to remember him when it should be well with him, he had altogether overlooked the circumstances which occurred in the prison, and had been enjoying himself, and leaving his friend to pine in obscurity.

1. Here, then, is the first fault--the butler had forgotten a friend. That is never a thing to be said in a man’s praise. We ought to write the deeds of friendship as much as possible in marble; and that man is unworthy of esteem who can readily forget favours received. As I never shall forget when, at the foot of the Cross, I saw the interpretation of all my inward griefs; when I looked up and saw the flowing of my Saviour’s precious blood, and had the great riddle all unriddled. My brethren, what a discovery was that when we learned the secret that we were to be saved not by what we were or were to be, but saved by what Christ had done for us I Happy day I we see Jesus as the cluster crushed until the heart’s blood flows, and can by faith go in unto the King, with Jesus Christ’s own precious blood and offer that, just as the butler stood before Pharaoh with the wine-cup in his hand, I bear a cup filled not with my blood, but His blood: not the blood from me as a cluster of the vine of earth, but the blood of Jesus as a cluster of heaven’s own vintage, pouring out its precious floods to make glad the heart of God and man.

2. Here lies our fault: that we have forgotten all this--not forgotten the fact, but forgotten to love Him who gave us that soul-comforting, heart-cheering interpretation.

3. We have not, however, quite done with the case of the butler and Joseph. The request which Joseph made of the butler was a very natural one. He said, “Think of me when it is well with thee.” He asked no hard, difficult, exacting favour, but simply, “Think of me, and speak to Pharaoh.” What the Saviour asks of us, His servants, is most natural and most simple, and quite as much for our good as it is for His glory. Among other things, He has said to all of you who love Him, “This do in remembrance of Me.”

4. I have stated the butler’s case, but I shall want to pause a minute or two over this head just to go into the reason of his fault. Why was it that he did not recollect Joseph? There is always a reason for everything, if we do but try to find out. He must have been swayed by one of the three reasons.

II. The second point is this--WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES BROUGHT THE FAULT TO THE BUTLER’S MIND? The same circumstances which surround us this morning

1. First, he met with a person in the same condition as that in which he once was. King Pharaoh had dreamed a dream, and wished for an interpretation. Joseph could interpret; and the butler remembered his fault. Brothers and sisters in Christ, there are those in the world who are in the same state of mind as you were once in. They once loved sin and hated God, and were strangers and aliens from the commonwealth of Israel; but in some of them there has been the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit, and they have dreamed a dream. They are awakened, although not yet enlightened. Salvation is a riddle to them at present, and they want the interpretation. Do you not remember how the gospel was blessed to you? Do you not desire to send it to others? If you cannot preach yourself, will you not help me in my life-work of training others to preach Jesus?

2. The next thing that recalled the butler’s thought was this: he saw that many means had been used to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, but they had all failed. We read that Pharaoh sent for his wise men, but they could not interpret his dream. You are in a like case. Do not you feel a want, if you cannot go and preach yourselves, to help others to do so?

3. Then, again, if the butler could have known it, he had other motives for remembering Joseph. It was through Joseph that the whole land of Egypt was blessed. Joseph comes out of prison, and interprets the dream which God had given to the head of the state, and that interpretation preserved all Egypt, yea, and all other nations during seven years of dearth. Only Joseph could do it. Oh, brethren, you know that it is only Jesus who is the balm of Gilead, for the wounds of this poor dying world. You know that there is nothing which can bless our land, and all other lands, like the Cross of Jesus Christ.

4. Once more, surely the butler would have remembered Joseph had he known to what an exaltation Joseph would be brought. Think of the splendour which yet wilt surround our Lord Jesus I He shall come, beloved, He shall come in the chariots of salvation. The day draweth nigh when all things shall be put under Him. Kings shall yield their crowns to His superior sway, and whole sheaves of sceptres, plucked from tyrants’ hands, shall be gathered beneath His arm. You by testifying of Him are promoting the extension of His kingdom, and doing the best that in you lies to gather together the scattered who are to be the jewels of His crown.

III. In the “last place, I have some few things to say by way of COMMENDATION OF THE BUTLER’S REMEMBRANCE. It is a pity he forgot Joseph, but it is a great blessing that he did not always forget him. It is a sad thing that you and I should have done so little; it is a mercy that there is time left for us to do more.

1. I like the butler’s remembrance, first of all, because it was very humbling to him.

2. I commend his remembrance for another thing, namely, that it was so personal. “I do remember my faults this day.” What capital memories we have for treasuring up other people’s faults, for once let us keep to ourselves. Let the confession begin with the minister. “I do remember my faults this day.”

3. The best part of it, perhaps, was the practical nature of the confession. The moment he remembered his fault, he redressed it as far as he could, Now, dear friends, if you recollect your fault to the Lord Jesus, may you have grace not to fall into it again! If you have not spoken for Him, speak to-day. If you have not given to His cause, give now I If you have not devoted yourselves as you ought to have done to the promotion of His kingdom, do it now. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Confession of sin difficult

Many years ago, a minister put up for the night with a man who was supposed to possess but little of what people call “common sense.” Just as he was about to retire for rest, the man said: “ Tell me, sir, what three words in the English language it is the most difficult to pronounce?” “I don’t know that I can,” was the reply. “Well,” said the man, “I’ll give you till to-morrow morning to answer me.” The minister thought no more of the question till it was proposed to him again in the morning, when he carelessly said he had not thought of it. “Then,” said the man, “I will tell you. They are--I am wrong.”

Verses 14-16

Genesis 41:14-16

Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph

Joseph summoned into Pharaoh’s presence

HIS LONG WAITING FOR NOTICE AND DELIVERANCE. The religious mind will see in this the wisdom of God.

1. In regard to the education of character.

2. In its adaptation to the circumstances of the individual.

3. In its elevation above all human infirmities.

II. THE MANIFEST HAND OF GOD IN IT. It was wisely ordered that Joseph should be under no obligation to Pharaoh for his deliverance. It is for his own sake that Pharaoh sends for Joseph. The chief butler was suffered to forget his friend, the prophet of his deliverance, and was forced to remember him only by circumstances. To neither of them was Joseph indebted. Thus it was God’s design that the chosen family should be under obligations to none. Their calling was to impart blessings to mankind, and not to receive.


1. His simplicity of character. He makes no long speech. He does not use the opportunity to glorify himself, or to plead for liberty and reward. His manner was dignified and respectful, yet marked by great openness and simplicity of character. Joseph is the same in the palace or in the prison.

2. His humility. He indulged in no spirit of boasting, though this compliment from the king would have tempted weaker men to be vain and proud (Genesis 41:15). Joseph never forgot his character as a witness for God.

3. His calmness. He was conscious of God’s presence and of his own integrity, so he could afford to be calm before the rulers of this world.

4. His kindly consideration for others. Pharaoh might have reason for the worst fears when he heard of the interpretation of the baker’s dream. Though a king he was not exempt from the common evils of human nature; nor from death--the chief calamity. But Joseph hastens to remove all fear of an unfavourable interpretation from his mind, by assuring him that the future had in it nothing but what would make for the peace of Pharaoh. (T. H.Leale.)

The turning-point in Joseph’s career

It is a very difficult thing to let patience have her perfect work. Who has not felt again and again the truth of the proverb, Hope deferred maketh the heart sick?

I. This sickness would, no doubt, again and again be felt by Joseph, when his patience was so long and so severely tried.

II. Look now at the means by which the deliverance of Joseph was brought about.

III. The perplexity of Pharaoh would only be increased by the inability of his wise men to resolve his doubts.

IV. Look now at Joseph’s introduction to Pharaoh.

V. See now what Joseph did, after interpreting Pharaoh’s dream. He did not stop there. He suggested the practical use to be made of the Divine revelation which was now granted. (C. Overton.)

The prime minister


1. The elevation was unanimous. The imprisoned Hebrew had surprised king and statesmen with his high and noble qualities. By subtle methods God moved their hearts, and in a short hour Joseph was raised from prison to the highest pinnacle of power.

2. His main recommendation was spiritual Pharaoh recognized him at once as a man in whom dwelt the Spirit of God. The power of the Spirit is available for any emergency.

3. He was entrusted with supreme authority. Such was the high estimate of Joseph, created in all minds, that they felt he was worthy of the largest trust. They could trust him as they trusted the law of gravitation. A Christian will never abuse his power. Now, Joseph’s early dreams begin to be realized.


1. It was transparent with honesty. Looking down into the clear waters of an Italian lake at night, you may see every star of heaven faithfully reflected; so, looking into Joseph’s character, every grace and virtue of heaven seemed there to shine. His mind was the mirror of an honest purpose.

2. It was a character marked by energy. Indolence, so common among Orientals, found no place in him. Soon as duty was discovered, it was discharged.

3. He was as religious in prosperity as in adversity. This is solid worth; this is rare piety. That tree is well-rooted which, can bear the scorching heat of summer, as well as the cold blast of a winter’s storm; so that man’s soul is well-rooted in God who is as prayerful in a mansion as he was in a prison. When children were born in Joseph’s house the God of his fathers was not forgotten.


1. Joseph was a great economist. In His administration God is a great economist, and Joseph followed God. Our spiritual riches should supply the lack in others.

2. Joseph was a man of order. Nothing was left at haphazard. In an enterprise so vast order was essential to success.

3. Joseph’s policy turned disaster into blessings. In Potiphar’s house, and in the State prison, Joseph had been learning daily the kind of administration prevalent in Egypt. His vigorous mind detected its weak points. He saw how easily discontent and sedition might arise; he saw where corruption and misrule crept in. And now he found an opportunity for applying a remedy. As the Prime Minister for Pharaoh, he made the sceptre of the king everywhere more powerful. (J. Dickerson Davies, M. A.)

Great changes in life

There are great changes in life. Some of our lives amount to a succession of rapid changes; and it takes a man of some moral nerve and stamina to stand the violent alternations of fortune. Some men cannot bear promotion. It is dangerous to send little boats far out into the sea. Some men are clever, sharp, natty, precise, wonderfully well informed, newspaper fed and fattened, and yet, if you were to increase their wages just a pound a week, they would lose their heads. That is a most marvellous thing, and yet nobody ever thought he would lose his head with such an increase of fortune. But it is a simple fact, that some men could not bear to step out of a dungeon into a palace: it would kill them. What helps a man to bear these changes of fortune, whether they be down or up? God-He can give a man gracefulness of mien when he has to walk down, and God can give him enhanced princely dignity when he has to walk up; a right moral condition, a right state of heart, the power of putting a proper valuation upon prisons and palaces, gold and dross. Nothing but such moral rectitude can give a man security amidst all the changes of fortune or position in life. His information will not do it; his genius will not do it. Nothing will do it but a Divine state of heart. It is beautiful to talk to a man who has such a state of heart, when great changes and wonderful surprises come upon him--when Pharaohs send for him in haste. It is always a good and stimulating thing to talk to a great man, a great nature, a man that has some completeness about him. It must be always a very ticklish, delicate, and unpleasant thing to talk to snobs and shams and well-tailored mushrooms; but a noble thing to talk to a noble man, who knows what prison life is, who knows what hardness of life is, and that has some notion of how to behave himself even when the greatest personages require his attendance. Few men could have borne this change. None of us can bear the great changes of life with calmness, fortitude, dignity, except we be rightly established in things that are Divine and everlasting. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Verses 17-32

Genesis 41:17-32

Behold there come seven years of great plenty

Joseph as a prophet

In interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph shows himself a true prophet of the Lord.
He has all the marks of those who are called to reveal the Divine mind to man.

I. BOLDNESS. The true prophet has no fear of man. He speaks the word which God hath given him, regardless of consequences He is ready to reprove even kings--to utter truths, however unwelcome. It required some courage to enter upon the perilous task of announcing to this Egyptian despot famine of seven years. But Joseph had all the boldness of a man who felt that he was inspired by God.

II. DIRECTNESS. Joseph spoke out at once, without any hesitation. There was no shuffling to gain time; no muttering--no incantations, after the manner of heathen oracles and prophets. This simple and clear directness is the special characteristic of Holy Scriptures; and by which they are distinguished from the literature of the world, which upon the deepest and most concerning questions never reaches a stable conclusion.

III. POSITIVENESS. Joseph’s interpretation was throughout explicit and clear. There are no signs of doubt or misgiving. This Divine certainty is the common mark of all God’s prophets. (T. H. Leale.)

Verses 33-36

Genesis 41:33-36

Let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn

Joseph as the adviser of Pharaoh

HIS PRESENCE OF MIND. Equal to the situation.




Providence for the future

1. His wisdom and prudential sagacity in counsel. The interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams was from God. Joseph knew it to be so. He had, therefore, the most assured and unshaken confidence of the correspondence of the coming facts with the Divine pre-intimation; and in this confidence he tenders his advice to the king, in the prospect of what was before him, without hesitation. The word of the God of truth is always sure. The counsel of Joseph was obviously wise and excellent. Like many similar counsels, it commends itself, when suggested, to instant approbation, while yet to many minds it might not at once occur. How very difficult it is, both in public and in private life, to get men to judge and to act with single-eyed simplicity, according to the real merits of measures, when these measures happen not to be their own! If they chance to originate with political opponents--or, in more private life, with those who are not in the number of their friends--how difficult it is to get them treated with fairness! Another important practical lesson is suggested by the counsel of Joseph: the general lesson of providence for the future. This is a duty incumbent on all. It is virtuous prudence; the “prudence which forseeth the evil and hideth itself.” The remark has a special bearing on the labouring classes of the community. This laying up for the time of scarcity bore a close resemblance to the principle of friendly societies and provident or savings banks. There is such perpetual alteration and exchange of conditions, that no man can say with certainty to-day what his own circumstances, or those of any other person, may be to-morrow.

1. There may, surely, be providence, without over-anxiety.

2. But surely there may be providence, without covetousness.

3. The duty of providence, then, must not be an excuse for refusing the claims of benevolence.

There may be scriptural providence, without cold-hearted and close-handed selfishness. (R. Wardlaw, M. A.)

Providence and forethought

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth,” says our Lord, “where moth and rust do corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” But this rule is not intended to prohibit us from providing in the time of plenty for a time of scarcity, as far as it can be done without neglecting the necessary duties of charity and piety, according to our circumstances. The poor ought not to want what their present necessities demand; but a provident care, in public governors, to guard against the mischiefs of famine, is requisite, chiefly for the sake of the lower ranks in society. If the superfluous produce of the earth had been given to the poor in the years of plenty, they must have been starved in the time of famine. No liberality to the poor ever deserved greater praise than Joseph’s care to secure needful supplies both to the poor and rich. It was well ordered ‘by the providence of God, for the safety of the people, that the years of famine were preceded by the years of plenty. If the seven years of famine had come before the years of plenty, few men would have been left to enjoy them. But from the years of plenty a sufficiency could be reserved to maintain life with comfort in the years of famine. (G. Lawson, D. D.)


1. Seek from above wisdom and prudence for the discreet guidance of all your own affairs, and of those of others still more especially, when they are entrusted to your management. “The Lord giveth wisdom.”

2. Be thankful for the blessings of plenty and of freedom, in the measure in which providence has, in this favoured land, seen meet to bestow them.

3. The marvellous and lamentable difference between the manner in which mankind in general are affected by what relates to the life of the body and what relates to the life of the soul--to temporal and to eternal interests. Oh, how much in earnest about “the life that now is”--and about the means of its sustenance and prolongation, though it can last at the longest but for a few years, and, even in the midst of the abundance of all that is fitted to support it, may not last a few days. (R. Wardlaw, D. D,)

Storing harvests against famine years

Mr. Scarlett Campbell has contributed some information concerning the mastery of famine conditions in Bohemia in the years 1770-71, which may illustrate the plan which Joseph recommended to the King of Egypt. In those years the Bohemian harvests totally failed, and over a million human beings died of hunger. In order to prevent such a catastrophe in the future, a law was made, obliging every commune to keep a large store of corn, each landowner being obliged to contribute a certain quantity; in times of scarcity he could borrow corn from the public granary, but had to pay it back after the ensuing harvest. This system was kept in force till within a few years ago, but, owing to the introduction of roads and railways, it is no longer necessary. (Things not Generally Known.)

Verses 37-45

Genesis 41:37-45

Pharaoh said unto his servants: Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?

Pharaoh and Joseph

In examining this narrative we find a most remarkable parallel in the relations of Joseph and Pharaoh to the relations of Christ and the sinner.

I. Following this line of thought, then, we notice PHARAOH AS REPRESENTING THE MAN OF THE WORLD DISCOVERING HIS NEED. Not one is there but sees that his resources are sure to vanish at some future day and leave him poverty-stricken and famine-pinched. What were the millions of Vanderbilt as he lay in the agonies of an apoplectic stroke? The day is coming when the man of largest wealth, of greatest intellect, of supremest power, shall be like a great steamer adrift in mid-ocean with its shaft broken, rolling in the trough of the sea and signalling for help.


1. Joseph was a man in whom was the Spirit of God. Joseph was remarkably free from selfishness: he was not plotting for his own advancement. He was pure, controlled by the Spirit.

2. Joseph was a man who was discreet and wise.

3. Now, to trace our parallel, the qualities which distinguished Joseph are pre-eminently those which make Christ the one above all others to whom men turn for help. His character is beyond reproach. The Spirit of God is in him. He impresses the world with his purity, his unselfishness, his sinlessness, his inspiration. He is manifestly the messenger of God to men. He knows just what to do in the awful emergency in which we are placed. He inspires confidence in his wisdom as never has another.

III. Following the parallel, notice THE SUPREME AUTHORITY WHICH PHARAOH GAVE TO JOSEPH. Our relation to Christ is not one of abject dependence; it is not slavish; it is more like that of Pharaoh to Joseph: one of dignity, of co-operation. We yield to Christ because He has a right to be supreme; because He can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We do not lose our individuals. We do not yield the dignity of the individual choice. Sometimes children travel by express. They are labelled with a suitable tag; are cared for, fed, and sent along as merchandize would be; have no care, or responsibility, or duty. Not so do we pass on through life to heaven. There are those, indeed, who think that, having been once properly labelled by church membership, they have nothing further to do, but that the church or the clergy will assume all responsibility and guarantee them heaven. But such is not the gospel scheme. With our own clear understanding and deliberate decision, we step on board the gospel train and trust our Conductor. He knows best. He tells us what to do, and we intelligently and gladly do it.

IV. Another parallel is found in THE EXALTATION OF JOSEPH. (A. P. Foster, D. D.)

Joseph, the wise ruler


1. Natural ability.

2. The ability to bear up under troubles.

3. Inspired wisdom.


1. It was characterized by a wise economy.

2. It was characterized by a wise method.

Frugality was to be enforced by lawful means. The amount received as taxes and purchased at a fair price, was not to be given away, but must be sold again. The nation must protect itself against the free expenditures of its citizens. The government, notwithstanding its despotism, was made the servant of the people. And Joseph and his officers, scattered over all the empire, outgeneraled all the ignorance of the realm. For this he was as truly inspired as ever was Isaiah. (D. O. Mears.)

Pharaoh accepts Joseph’s advice

In which he shows--


1. In acting upon the best advice he had.

2. In choosing a fit man for the crisis.

3. In removing all social disabilities from this foreigner. New name. Marriage with daughter of priest of Ori.

II. HIS PIETY. (T. H. Leale.)

Joseph’s exaltation


1. A true basis of merit (Genesis 41:38; see Numbers 27:18; Da Acts 6:5; Acts 11:24).

2. A natural fruit of godliness (Genesis 41:39; see John 14:26; Ac 1 John 2:20).

3. A grand field of usefulness (Genesis 41:40; see 2 Samuel 23:3; Psalms 105:21; Matthew 25:21; Acts 7:10).

1. “Can we find such a one as this?”

2. “God hath showed thee all this.”

(1) A Divine Teacher;

(2) A Susceptible pupil;

(3) A blessed result.

3. “Only in the throne will I be greater than thou.”

(1) Extensive jurisdiction allotted.

(2) Supreme jurisdiction reserved.

(a) Joseph’s sway

(b) Pharaoh’s reservation


1. The royal ring (Genesis 41:42; see Esther 3:10; Esther 8:2; Luke 4:22).

2. The royal robe (Genesis 41:42; see 1 Chronicles 15:27; Esther 8:15; Ezekiel 16:10; Revelation 19:14.

3. The royal rule (verse 44).

1. “Ring, . . . vestures,. . . chain chariot.”

2. “He set him over all the land of Egypt.”

(a) To gather in its plenty;

(b) To support it in its poverty.

3. “I am Pharaoh.”

3. Sovereignty delegated.


1. Planning the work (verse 45).

2. Gathering the food (verse 48).

3. Providing for emergency. (American Sunday School Times.)

From prison to palace

I. Joseph’s elevation is A CONCRETE INSTANCE OF THE GREAT DOCTRINE OF PROVIDENCE WHICH RUNS THROUGH THE WHOLE OLD TESTAMENT. We may almost take this history as a type of the ideal history of the good man as set forth there, and as a shadowy anticipation, therefore, at once of the fortunes of Israel as a nation, and of his course who is the realized ideal of the Old Testament righteous man, and of Israel. A late psalm (Psalms 105:1-45) gives the key-note when it says “Until the time that his word came: the word of the Lord tried him.” No man’s freedom is interfered with, and yet all is carried out according to the plan in the mind of the great Architect. Thus God builds in silence, using even sins and follies. “I girded thee, though thou hast not known Me.” Not less clearly do we learn the uses of adversity, and see the law working which leads men into the pit, that they may there learn lessons which shall serve them on the heights, and that their lives may be manifestly ordered by God. The steel out of which God forges His polished shafts has to be

“Heated hot with hopes and fears,

And plunged in baths of hissing tears,

And battered with the shocks of doom,”

before it is ready for His service. So, in the apparent remoteness and real presence of God’s guiding hand in the moulding of the separate deeds into a whole, in the leading of His servant through suffering to authority, and making the sorrow, like emery-paper, the occasion of bringing out a finer polish, this history embodies God’s law of dealing with men.

II. This history points the lesson THAT THE BEST WAY TO BE FIT FOR, AND SO TO GET INTO, A WIDER SPHERE, IS TO FILL A NARROWER AS WELL AS WE CAN. Joseph served his apprenticeship to governing a nation in governing Potiphar’s house and the prison. The capacities tested and strengthened on the lower level are promoted to the higher. With many exceptions, no doubt, where pretenders are taken to be adepts, and modest merit is overlooked, still, on the whole, this is the law by which position and influence are allotted. The tools do, on the average, come to the hand that can use them.

III. We may learn, too, THAT THE MEANING OF ELEVATION IS SERVICE. Foolish ambition looks up and covets the outside trappings; a true man thinks of duty, not of show, and finds that every crown is a crown of thorns, and that place and influence only mean heavy responsibility and endless work, mostly repaid with thanklessness.

IV. This story teaches us, too, THE PLACE OF RELIGION IN COMMON LIFE. It is possible to keep up unbroken communion with God amid the roar of the busy street, as in the inmost corner of his secret place. The communion which expresses itself in the continual reference of all common actions to his will, and is fed by constant realizing of his help; and by lowly dependence on him for strength to do the prosaic tasks of business or statesmanship, is as real as that which gazes in absorbed contemplation on his beauty. True, the former will never be realized unless there is much of the latter. Joseph would not have been able to hold by God, when he was busy in the storehouses, if he had not held much intercourse with him in the blessed quiet of the prison. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Joseph’s promotion in Egypt





Joseph, the wise ruler



1. The trust now committed to Joseph was vast in its responsibility.

2. The manner in which he met the responsibility, and performed his official duty, proves him to have been as well qualified in mental ability as he was in moral character.

III. JOSEPH’S RECOGNITION OF GOD IN HIS HOME-LIFE. Seen in names of sons. Lessons:

1. If children of God, we should learn from Joseph’s promotion not to be discouraged under any circumstances.

2. The personal attention of Joseph to his onerous and important duty, and his wisdom in organising his work, contain very wholesome and timely lessons for the young men of to-day.

3. Joseph’s recognition of God in his home, in the very flush of abundant prosperity and honour, not only reveals the beautiful symmetry of his character, but proves that neither positions of honour, nor the accumulation of wealth, need dim the light of piety or interrupt our relations with God. (D. G. Hughes, M. A.)

Pharaoh’s prime minister



1. He informs Pharaoh that the dreams were

2. He advises the king


1. Patience of hope.

2. Assurance of hope. We may always--we should always--look forward confidently to the fulfilment of God’s promises which “ exceed all that we can desire.” (W. S. Smith, B. D.)

Joseph’s exaltation

I. THE FORGOTTEN PRISONER. Forgotten by man, but remembered by God. While the butler was forgetting, God was thinking about Joseph, and so ordering events that even the forgetful butler should be presently of use.

II. THE TROUBLED MONARCH. Even king’s have their troubles. It is often true that uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Joseph in prison, and Daniel in the lion’s den, more to be envied than Pharaoh and Dairus. Pharaoh’s visions. Both different in machinery, but evidently the same in meaning. The great magicians, &c., summoned. Their wisdom is perfect folly. They knew not the mind of God. Could not explain visions that came from a Deity they did not serve.

III. THE EXALTED CAPTIVE. Joseph’s advice sounds wise and prudent in the ears of Pharaoh. Learn:

1. To remember those who have benefited us.

2. Jesus the great deliverer of the prisoner.

3. Let us prepare to enter the presence of the great King.

4. There is a palace in heaven for all who love, serve, and trust

God. (J. C. Gray.)

Governor of Egypt

The position given to Joseph in the Egyptian Empire was one seldom attained by foreigners, however distinguished. Still, an old papyrus relating to the story of Saneha tells of a similar exception. Joseph, as first officer under the king, was “Tare,” chief of the entire administration. It is probable that he bore the title so often found on the Egyptian monuments, where the rank claimed by this dignitary is “the leader of the Lords of South and North; the second after the king in the vestibule of the palace.” The position of tare was usually bestowed on a chief priest, hereditary prince, or even on one of the sons of the reigning monarch, and was eagerly sought after as long as it existed. The duties and powers of the office varied during different dynasties. In the so-called Old Empire (beginning about 2800 B.C.), as well as the Middle Empire (beginning about 2100 B.C.), and during the New Empire (beginning about 1530 B.C.), the tare-or governor, as we may call him--was also at the head of the department of justice, holding the office of supreme judge. Imitating their sublime pattern, Thor, the god of wisdom, who was believed to be the governor under the sun-god Ra, as they were under the Pharaoh, these earthly lords ruled “with wisdom and mild heart.” “They gave laws, promoted subordinates, set up boundary stones, and settled the disputes of their officers They made all people walk in their light, satisfied the whole land, proved themselves men of probity in both countries, and witnesses as true as the god Thor.” Indeed, the respect felt for these governors and supreme judges of the Pharaoh’s was so great that the blessing, “life, health, and happiness,” usually uttered by the Egyptians in connection with the royal and princely names, was often added to the name of the governor. No one was allowed to address the governor directly, but was permitted to speak or to lay a letter before him. During the middle Empire, the unity of the state was weakened, and a number of smaller states were organized under the control of independent monarchs. “The governor under the god Horus” took this opportunity to extend his authority, and frequently held what formally had but occasionally been allowed, the office of lord-high treasurer, and sometimes in addition, what became the rule under the New Empire, the office of commander of the royal chief town. As treasurer, the governor was often described on the monuments as “principal of the silver magazine,” or “chief of the corn-houses”--titles which describe two most important positions From what we can learn from the record in Genesis, we may believe that Joseph united in himself the three offices of governor, supreme judge, and the lord-high treasurer. Soon after his investiture, Joseph rode publicly in the second royal chariot (Genesis 41:43), that the people might see him and show their respect. He doubtless wore all the insignia of his high position: rich garments, the golden chain, ring, and sceptre, and ostrich feather, so frequently represented on the monuments. How such a pageant appeared as that in which he was now the central figure, is well illustrated by an old Egyptian picture in the tomb of Mry-Ra at Tell el Amarna. This picture represents King Chueneten paying a visit to his god Ra. His majesty reclines in an elegant chariot drawn by richly comparisoned horses. Two heralds run before him swinging wands, to make a way through the curious crowds which press on to see the monarch. To the right and left, servants can be seen, scarcely able to keep up with the fiery stallions. The royal personage himself is attended on each side by his body-guard, with their standards, behind whom, in carriages, ride high officials, in richly coloured dresses. Directly behind the king’s chariot rides the queen, and after her the little princesses, two together in one chariot. The elder governs the horses, which are decked with beautiful tufts of feathers, while the younger clings lovingly to her sister. Six court chariots filled with ladies, and as many more on each side occupied by chamberlains, close the procession. On the right and left of the entire party, servants swing their staffs. (Prof. Hilprecht.)

The secret of Joseph’s elevation

The way of preferment is never permanently closed against any man. If one does not--as the phrase is--get on in life, it is not his circumstances but himself that is to blame. Occasionally, indeed, there may come reverses of fortune for which he cannot be held responsible, but the man who is always out at elbows and unfortunate must have something amiss in himself. Either he has not fitted himself to take advantage of his opportunities, or there is a leak somewhere in his character, through which his energies and abilities are drained off into useless or expensive directions. In the England of to-day, and especially in these United States, no man needs be for ever a hewer of wood era drawer of water; and though sudden elevations like this of Joseph are not common in these days, yet there are men continually appearing among us who have come up from obscurity as great of Joseph’s to a position just as exalted as that which he ultimately reached. Both of our martyr-presidents may be referred to as cases in point. Let young men, therefore, be encouraged. Do not sink into despair; do not imagine that the world is in league against you; but “ learn to labour and to wait.” Two things especially you ought to bear in mind: first, that the true way to rise to a higher position is to fill well the lower which you already occupy. To borrow here from Thomas Binney: “Remember that to do as well as ever you can what happens to be the only thing within your power to do, is the best and surest preparation for higher service. Should things go against you, never give way to debilitating depression, but be hopeful, brave, courageous, careful not to waste in vain and unavailing regret the power you will need for endurance and endeavour. Learn well your business, whatever it be; make the best of every opportunity for acquiring any sort of knowledge that may enlarge your acquaintance with the business in general, and enable you to take advantage of any offer or opening that may come.” Then, again, take note that piety is no hindrance to the right sort of success. Joseph did not hide his allegiance to God or his faith in God, and these even commended him to Pharaoh. So there are many heads of great establishments or corporations in the world who, though they care nothing for religion themselves, would prefer that their trusted servants should be godly men. Sometimes, no doubt, inflexible adherence to the right and the true may cost a man his place, even as here resistance to temptation sent Joseph for awhile to prison; but in the end I do not think that any man ever lost by his religion, provided his religion was the real thing, and not a make-believe. It may lengthen the road a little; it may add to the difficulties of the journey; it may take him through some very dark passages, but it will lead him generally at last to honour and influence; for “godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” But there is a success higher and better than that of outward position and wealth, and even when riches are not gained that is always attainable. You cannot all become millionaires, or merchant princes, or political leaders, or governors of states, or presidents of the Republic--that is an impossibility; but you can all be good and noble men, if you will. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Joseph’s qualification for ruling

Joseph was inspired in the highest and truest sense. Not only was he spiritually gifted to rule the nation, but he had also that higher gift which enabled him to refer the lower gift to God. Now there are three things required to fit a man to rule: intellectual power, a sense of dependence upon God, and unselfishness. All these were combined in Joseph; we are told that there “ was none so discreet and wise as he.” In the interpretation that he gave to Pharaoh’s dreams we see how he referred all to God; his unselfishness we see in his forgiveness of his brethren. Without these qualities there can be no real rule; for it is these which make up saintliness, and saintliness alone fits a man to rule perfectly. But saintliness in the sense we use it must take in intellectual power. For mere spiritual goodness alone does not make a good ruler. Eli was a good man, he had the two latter qualities which go to make up a ruler; but he was wanting in the first, he was a weak man, and this it was which caused such troubles to his country. But it is a mistake still greater to suppose that intellectual power alone qualifies for rule. There must also be moral goodness and unselfishness. These are the qualities which clarify the intellect and purify the character. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

High endowments qualify for respect

Does any man appear plainly to have the Spirit of Cod enlightening his mind and sanctifying his heart? He is entitled to our warm regard as a member of that body of which Christ is the Head. Is a man furnished by the Spirit of God with endowments that eminently qualify him for service to his fellow-men, whether in the Church or State? He is entitled to a degree of respect proportioned to the gifts which he hath received. Office-bearers in the Church are to be chosen out of those whom the Spirit of God hath qualified for public usefulness. No man is called to fill any office in the house of God for which he is not fitted by the Divine Spirit. And none are fit to serve their generation by public offices in the state, unless the Spirit of God has adorned them with endowments suited to the stations which they are called to occupy. Although Cyrus was a heathen, he received from the Spirit of God those extraordinary qualifications by which he was enabled to accomplish the subversion of Babylon, that he might let go God’s captives and build His temple. That great prince was the Lord’s anointed at a time when he did not know the Lord (Isaiah 45:1; Isaiah 45:5). “Can we find such a man as this, aman in whom the Spirit of God is?” What had Joseph that he had not received? There was none like him in the land, because the Spirit of God had communicated to him an uncommon measure of wisdom. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Ability discovered

In 1831 there was a musical society in Milan which was preparing to bring out Haydn’s “Creation,” when all of a sudden the maestro in charge took fright at the difficulty of his task, and laid down his baton. One Massini, a singing teacher, who was to direct the choral part, said to the committee, “I know but one man here who can help us out of our plight.” “Who is he?” said Count Borromeo, the president. “His name is Verdi, and he reads the most puzzling scores at sight,” was Massini’s answer. “Well,” said the count, “send for him.” Massini obeyed, and Verdi soon made his appearance. He was handed the score of “The Creation,” and he undertook to direct the performance. Rehearsals commenced, and the final rendering of the oratorio was set down as most creditable to all concerned. From that time Verdi’s reputation was assured. (One Thousand New lllustrations.)

Leaders of men

The greatest part of men live by faith in powerful men. A small number of individuals lead the human race. (Vinet.)

Egyptian-fine linen

It is generally supposed that the “ fine linen” of Scripture must have been very coarse in comparison with that now produced from our looms. There is, however, no sufficient ground for such a supposition. Sir Gardener Wilkinson says: “The fine texture of the Egyptian linen is fully proved by its transparency, as represented in the paintings (where the lines of the body are often seen through the drapery), and by the statements of ancient writers, sacred as well as profane; and by the wonderful texture of a piece found near Memphis, part of which is in my possession. In general quality it is equal to the finest now made; and, for the evenness of the threads, without knot or break, it is far superior to any modern manufacture. It has in the inch 540 threads, or 270 double threads in the warp, and 110 in the woof. Pliny mentions four kinds of linen particularly noted in Egypt--the Tanitic, the Pelusiac, the Butiric, and the Tentyritic; and the same fineness of texture was extended to the nets of Egypt, which were so delicate that they could pass through a man’s ring, and a single person could carry a sufficient number of them to surround a whole wood. (Things Not Generally Known.)

Verses 37-57


Genesis 41:37-57, Genesis 47:13-26

"He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his substance: To bind his princes at his pleasure; and teach his senators wisdom." Psalms 105:21-22.

"MANY a monument consecrated to the memory of some nobleman gone to his long home, who during life had held high rank at the court of Pharaoh, is decorated with the simple but laudatory inscription, ‘His ancestors were unknown people.'" -so we are told by our most accurate informant regarding Egyptian affairs. Indeed, the tales we read of adventurers in the East, and the histories which recount how some dynasties have been founded, are sufficient evidence that, in other countries besides Egypt, sudden elevation from the lowest to the highest rank is not so unusual as amongst ourselves. Historians have recently made out that in one period of the history of Egypt there are traces of a kind of Semitic mania, a strong leaning towards Syrian and Arabian customs, phrases, and persons. Such manias have occurred in most countries. There was a period in the history of Rome when everything that had a Greek flavour was admired; an Anglomania once affected a portion of the French population, and reciprocally, French manners and ideas have at times found a welcome among ourselves. It is also clear that for a time Lower Egypt was under the dominion of foreign rulers who were in race more nearly allied to Joseph than to the native population. But there is no need that so complicated a question as the exact date of this foreign domination be debated here, for there was that in Joseph’s bearing which would have commended him to any sagacious monarch. Not only did the court accept him as a messenger from God, but they could not fail to recognise substantial and serviceable human qualities alongside of what was mysterious in him. The ready apprehension with which he appreciated the magnitude of the danger, the clear-sighted promptitude with which he met it, the resource and quiet capacity with which he handled a matter involving the entire condition of Egypt, showed them that they were in the presence of a true statesman, No doubt the confidence with which he described the best method of dealing with the emergency was the confidence of one who was convinced he was speaking for God. This was the great distinction they perceived between Joseph and ordinary dream-interpreters. It was not guesswork with him. The same distinction is always apparent between revelation and speculation. Revelation speaks with authority; speculation gropes its way, and when wisest is most diffident. At the same time Pharaoh was perfectly right in his inference: "Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art." He believed that God had chosen him to deal with this matter because he was wise in heart, and he believed his wisdom would remain because God had chosen him.

At length, then, Joseph saw the fulfilment of his dreams within his reach. The coat of many colours with which his father had paid a tribute to the princely person and ways of the boy, was now replaced by the robe of state and the heavy gold necklace which marked him out as second to Pharaoh. Whatever nerve and self-command and humble dependence on God his varied experience had wrought in him were all needed when Pharaoh took his hand and placed his own ring on it, thus transferring all his authority to him, and when turning from the king he received the acclamations of the court and the people, bowed to by his old masters, and acknowledged the superior of all the dignitaries and potentates of Egypt. Only once besides, so far as the Egyptian inscriptions have yet been deciphered, does it appear that any subject was raised to be Regent or Viceroy with similar powers. Joseph is, as far as possible, naturalised as an Egyptian. He receives a name easier of pronunciation than his own, at least to Egyptian tongues-Zaphnath-Paaneah, which, however, was perhaps only an official title meaning "Governor of the district of the place of life," the name by which one of the Egyptian counties or states was known. The king crowned his liberality and completed the process of naturalisation by providing him with a wife, Asenath, the daughter of Potipherah, priest of On. This city was not far from Avaris or Haouar, where Joseph’s Pharaoh, Raapepi II, at this time resided. The worship of the sun-god, Ra, had its centre at On (or Heliopolis, as it was called by the Greeks), and the priests of On took precedence of all Egyptian priests, Joseph was thus connected with one of the most influential families in the land, and if he had any scruples about marrying into an idolatrous family, they were too insignificant to influence his conduct, or leave any trace in the narrative.

His attitude towards God and his own family was disclosed in the names which he gave to his children. In giving names which had a meaning at all, and not merely a taking sound, he showed that he understood, as well he might, that every human life has a significance and expresses some principle or fact. And in giving names which recorded his acknowledgment of God’s goodness, he showed that prosperity had as little influence as adversity to move him from his allegiance to the God of his fathers. His first son he called Manasseh, Making to forget, " for God," said he, "hath made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house"-not as if he were now so abundantly satisfied in Egypt that the thought of his father’s house was blotted from his mind, but only that in this child the keen longings he had felt for kindred and home were somewhat alleviated. He again found an object for his strong family affection. The void in his heart he had so long felt was filled by the little babe. A new home was begun around him. But this new affection would not weaken, though it would alter the character of, his love for his father and brethren. The birth of this child would really be a new tie to the land from which he had been stolen. For, however ready men are to spend their own life in foreign service, you see them wishing that their children should spend their days among the scenes with which their own childhood was familiar.

In the naming of his second son Ephraim he recognises that God had made him fruitful in the most unlikely way. He does not leave it to us to interpret his life, but records what he himself saw in it. It has been said: "To get at the truth of any history is good; but a man’s own history-when he reads that truly, and knows what he is about and has been about, it is a Bible to him." And now that Joseph, from the height he had reached, could look back on the way by which he had been led to it, he cordially approved of all that God had done. There was no resentment, no murmuring. He would often find himself looking back and thinking, Had I found my brothers where I thought they were, had the pit not been on the caravan-road, had the merchants not come up so opportunely, had I not been sold at all or to some other master, had I not been imprisoned, or had I been put in another ward-had any one of the many slender links in the chain of my career been absent, bow different might my present state have been. How plainly I now see that all those sad mishaps that crushed my hopes and tortured my spirit were steps in the only conceivable path to my present position.

Many a man has added his signature to this acknowledgment of Joseph’s, and confessed a providence guiding his life and working out good for him through injuries and sorrows, as well as through honours, marriages, births. As in the heat of summer it is difficult to recall the sensation of winter’s bitter cold, so the fruitless and barren periods of a man’s life are sometimes quite obliterated from his memory. God has it in His power to raise a man higher above the level of ordinary happiness than ever he has sunk below it: and as winter and spring-time, when the seed is sown, are stormy and bleak and gusty, so in human life seed-time is not bright as summer nor cheerful as autumn; and yet it is then, when all the earth lies bare and will yield us nothing, that the precious seed is sown: and when we confidently commit our labour or patience of today to God, the land of our affliction, now bare and desolate, will certainly wave for us, as it has waved for others, with rich produce whitened to the harvest.

There is no doubt then that Joseph had learned to recognise the providence of God as a most important factor in his life. And the man who does so gains for his character all the strength and resolution that come with a capacity for waiting. He saw, most legibly written on his own life, that God is never in a hurry. And for the resolute adherence to his seven-years’ policy such a belief was most necessary. Nothing, indeed, is said of opposition or incredulity on the part of the Egyptians. But was there ever a policy of such magnitude carried out in any country without opposition or without evilly-disposed persons using it as a weapon against its promoter? No doubt during these years he had need of all the personal determination as well as of all the official authority he possessed. And if, on the whole, remarkable success attended his efforts, we must ascribe this partly to the unchallengeable justice of his arrangements, and partly to the impression of commanding genius Joseph seems everywhere to have made. As with his father and brethren he was felt to be superior, as in Potiphar’s house he was quickly recognised, as in the prison no prison-garb or slave-brand could disguise him, as in the court his superiority was instinctively felt, so in his administration the people seem to have believed in him.

And if, on the whole and in general, Joseph was reckoned a wise and equitable ruler, and even adored as a kind of saviour of the world, it would be idle in us to canvass the wisdom of his administration. When we have not sufficient historical material to apprehend the full significance of any policy, it is safe to accept the judgment of men who not only knew the facts, but were themselves so deeply involved in them that they would certainly have felt and expressed discontent had there been ground for doing so. The policy of Joseph was simply to economise during the seven years of abundance to such an extent that provision might be made against the seven years of famine. He calculated that one-fifth of the produce of years so extraordinarily plenteous would serve for the seven scarce years. This fifth he seems to have bought in the king’s name from the people, buying it, no doubt, at the cheap rates of abundant years. When the years of famine came, the people were referred to Joseph; and, till their money was gone, he sold corn to them, probably not at famine prices. Next he acquired their cattle, and finally, in exchange for food, they yielded to him both their lands and their persons. So that the result of the whole was, that the people who would otherwise have perished were preserved, and in return for this preservation they paid a tax or rent on their farm-lands to the amount of one-fifth of their produce. The people ceased to be proprietors of their own farms, but they were not slaves with no interest in the soil, but tenants sitting at easy rents-a fair enough exchange for being preserved in life. This kind of taxation is eminently fair in principle, securing, as it does, that the wealth of the king and government shall vary with the prosperity of the whole land. The chief difficulty that has always been experienced in working it, has arisen from the necessity of leaving a good deal of discretionary power in the hands of the collectors, who have generally been found not slow to abuse this power.

The only semblance of despotism in Joseph’s policy is found in the curious circumstance that he interfered with the people’s choice of residence, and shifted them from one end of the land to another. This may have been necessary not only as a kind of seal on the deed by which the lands were conveyed to the king, and as a significant sign to them that they were mere tenants, but also Joseph probably saw that for the interests of the country, if not of agricultural prosperity, this shifting had become necessary for the breaking up of illegal associations, nests of sedition, and sectional prejudices and enmities which were endangering the community. Modern experience supplies us with instances in which, by such a policy, a country might be regenerated and a seven years’ famine hailed as a blessing if, without famishing the people, it put them unconditionally into the hands of an able, bold, and beneficent ruler. And this was a policy which could be much better devised and executed by a foreigner than by a native.

Egypt’s indebtedness to Joseph was, in fact, two-fold. In the first place he succeeded in doing what many strong governments have failed to do: he enabled a large population to survive a long and severe famine. Even with all modern facilities for transport and for making the abundance of remote countries available for times of scarcity, it has not always been found possible to save our own fellow-subjects from starvation. In a prolonged famine which occurred in Egypt during the Middle Ages, the inhabitants, reduced to the unnatural habits which are the most painful feature of such times, not only ate their own dead, but kidnapped the living on the streets of Cairo and consumed them in secret. One of the most touching memorials of the famine with which Joseph had to deal is found in a sepulchral inscription in Arabia. A flood of rain laid bare a tomb in which lay a woman having on her person a profusion of jewels which represented a very large value. At her head stood a coffer filled with treasure, and a tablet with this inscription: "In Thy name, O God, the God of Himyar, I, Tayar, the daughter of Dzu Shefar, sent my steward to Joseph, and he delaying to return to me, I sent my handmaid with a measure of silver to bring me back a measure of flour; and not being able to procure it, I sent her with a measure of gold; and not being able to procure it, I sent her with a measure of pearls; and not being able to procure it, I commanded them to be ground; and finding no profit in them, I am shut up here." If this inscription is genuine-and there seems no reason to call it in question-it shows that there is no exaggeration in the statement of our narrator that the famine was very grievous in other lands as well as in Egypt. And, whether genuine or not, one cannot but admire the grim humour of the starving woman getting herself buried in the jewels which had suddenly dropped to less than the value of a loaf of bread.

But besides being indebted to Joseph for their preservation, the Egyptians owed to him an extension of their influence; for, as all the lands round about became dependent on Egypt for provision, they must have contracted a respect for the Egyptian administration. They must also have added greatly to Egypt’s wealth and during those years of constant traffic many commercial connections must have been formed which in future years would be of untold value to Egypt. But above all, the permanent alterations made by Joseph on their tenure of land, and on their places of abode, may have convinced the most sagacious of the Egyptians that it was well for them that their money had failed, and that they had been compelled to yield themselves unconditionally into the hands of this remarkable ruler. It is the mark of a competent statesman that he makes temporary distress the occasion for permanent benefit; and from the confidence Joseph won with the people, there seems every reason to believe that the permanent alterations he introduced were considered as beneficial as certainly they were bold.

And for our own spiritual uses it is this point which seems chiefly important. In Joseph is illustrated the principle that, in order to the attainment of certain blessings, unconditional submission to God’s delegate is required. If we miss this, we miss a large part of what his history exhibits, and it becomes a mere pretty story. The prominent idea in his dreams was that he was to be worshipped by his brethren. In his exaltation by Pharaoh, the absolute authority given to him is again conspicuous: "Without thee shall no man lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt."

And still the same autocracy appears in the fact that not one Egyptian who was helpful to him in this matter is mentioned; and no one has received such exclusive possession of a considerable part of Scripture, so personal and outstanding a place. All this leaves upon the mind the impression that Joseph becomes a benefactor, and in his degree a saviour, to men by becoming their absolute master. When this was hinted in his dreams at first his brothers fiercely resented it. But when they were put to the push by famine, both they and the Egyptians recognised that he was appointed by God to be their saviour, while at the same time they markedly and consciously submitted themselves to him. Men may always be expected to recognise that he who can save them alive in famine has a right to order the bounds of their habitation; and also that in the hands of one who, from disinterested motives, has saved them, they are likely to be quite as safe as in their own. And it we are all quite sure of this, that men of great political sagacity can regulate our affairs with tenfold the judgment and success that we ourselves could achieve, we cannot wonder that in matters still higher, and for which we are notoriously incompetent, there should be One into whose hands it is well to commit ourselves-One whose judgment is not warped by the prejudices which blind all mere natives of this world, but who, separate from sinners yet naturalised among us, can both detect and rectify everything in our condition which is less than perfect. If there are certainly many cases in which explanations are out of the question, and in which the governed, if they are wise, will yield themselves to a trusted authority, and leave it to time and results to justify his measures, any one, I think, who anxiously considers our spiritual condition must see that here too obedience is for us the greater part of wisdom, and that, after all speculation and efforts at sufficing investigation, we can still do no better than yield ourselves absolutely to Jesus Christ. He alone understands our whole position; He alone speaks with the authority that commands confidence, because it is felt to be the authority of the truth. We feel the present pressure of famine; we have discernment enough, some of us, to know we are in danger, but we cannot penetrate deeply either into the cause or the possible consequences of our present state. But Christ-if we may continue the figure-legislates with a breadth of administrative capacity which includes not only our present distress but our future condition, and, with the boldness of one who is master of the whole case, requires that we put ourselves wholly into His hand. He takes the responsibility of all the changes we make in obedience to Him, and proposes so to relieve us that the relief shall be permanent, and that the very emergency which has thrown us upon His help shall be the occasion of our transference not merely out of the present evil, but into the best possible form of human life.

From this chapter, then, in the history of Joseph, we may reasonably take occasion to remind ourselves, first, that in all things pertaining to God unconditional submission to Christ is necessarily required of us. Apart from Christ we cannot tell what are the necessary elements of a permanently happy state; nor, indeed, even whether there is any such state awaiting us. There is a great deal of truth in what is urged by unbelievers to the effect that spiritual matters are in great measure beyond our cognizance, and that many of our religious phrases are but, as it were, thrown out in the direction of a truth but do not perfectly represent it. No doubt we are in a provisional state, in which we are not in direct contact with the absolute truth, nor in a final attitude of mind towards it; and certain representations of things given in the Word of God may seem to us not to cover the whole truth. But this only compels the conclusion that for us Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. To probe existence to the bottom is plainly not in our power. To say precisely what God is, and how we are to carry ourselves towards Him, is possible only to him who has been with God and is God. To submit to the Spirit of Christ, and to live under those influences and views which formed His life, is the only method that promises deliverance from that moral condition which makes spiritual vision impossible.

We may remind ourselves, secondly, that this submission to Christ should be consistently adhered to in connection with those outward occurrences in our life which give us opportunity of enlarging our spiritual capacity. There can be little doubt that there would be presented to Joseph many a plan for the better administration of this whole matter, and many a petition from individuals craving exemption from the seemingly arbitrary and certainly painful and troublesome edict regulating change of residence. Many a man would think himself much wiser than the minister of Pharaoh in whom was the Spirit of God. When we act in a similar manner, and take upon us to specify with precision the changes we should like to see in our condition, and the methods by which these changes might best be accomplished, we commonly manifest our own incompetence. The changes which the strong hand of Providence enforces, the dislocation which our life suffers from some irresistible blow, the necessity laid upon us to begin life again and on apparently disadvantageous terms, are naturally resented; but these things being certainly the result of some unguardedness, improvidence, or weakness in our past state, are necessarily the means most appropriate for disclosing to us these elements of calamity and for securing our permanent welfare. We rebel against such perilous and sweeping revolutions as the basing of our life on a new foundation demands; we would disregard the appointments of Providence if we could; but both our voluntary consent to the authority of Christ and the impossibility of resisting His providential arrangements, prevent us from refusing to fall in with them, however needless and tyrannical they seem, and however little we perceive that they are intended to accomplish our permanent well-being. And it is in after years, when the pain of severance from old friends and habits is healed, and when the discomfort of adapting ourselves to a new kind of life is replaced by peaceful and docile resignation to new conditions, that we reach the clear perception that the changes we resented have in point of fact rendered harmless the seeds of fresh disaster, and rescued us from the results of long bad government. He who has most keenly felt the hardship of being diverted from his original course in life will in after life tell you that had he been allowed to hold his own land, and remain his own master in his old loved abode, he would have lapsed into a condition from which no worthy harvest could be expected. If a man only wishes that his own conceptions of prosperity be realised, then let him keep his land in his own hand and work his material irrespective of God’s demands; for certainly, if he yields himself to God, his own ideas of prosperity will not be realised. But if he suspects that God may have a more liberal conception of prosperity and may understand better than he what is eternally beneficial, let him commit himself and all his material of prosperity without doubting into God’s hand, and let him greedily obey all God’s precepts; for in neglecting one of these, he so far neglects and misses what God would have him enter into.

Verse 45

Genesis 41:45

Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnath-paaneah

Joseph’s new name

Besides other marks of honour, Joseph received a new name from the king--analogous to those which Daniel and his friends received, in a later age, from Nebuchadnezzar, and having some special appropriateness to the work which be was to perform.
Different explanations have been given of its meaning. Some, like those who drew up the marginal readings of our Bible, understand by it “a revealer of secrets,” but others, viewing the term as really an Egyptian word in Hebrew letters, have put it back again into its Egyptian form, getting, according to Brugsch, the meaning, “the governor of the abode of him who lives”; or, according to Canon Cooke, whose dissertation in the “Speaker’s Commentary” on the Egyptian words in the Pentateuch is of very great value, “the food of life,” or “the food of the living.” I am, of course, incompetent to judge between these scholars, but I wish you to note, as a mark of the age of this history, that we have here imbedded in the Hebrew text Egyptian words in Hebrew letters, to which, in this ]ate day, our Egyptologists, who have learned the language from the inscriptions on the monuments, are able to give very definite and intelligible translations--a fact which scarcely comports with the notion now so popular with some, that this book is only a production of a very late date, composed, perhaps, eight hundred years after the events. But similar conformation of the age of this record may be found in the description of Joseph’s investiture with office as compared with the representation of such ceremonies found upon the monuments
. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Joseph’s adoption of Egyptian manners

A question may arise in reference to the complete adoption by Joseph of Egyptian manners. His name is changed. According to the high authority of Brugsch, his new name means “governor of the district of the dwelling-place of the living one,” and thus includes as one of its elements the name of an Egyptian god, Ankh, worshipped at Pithom. Other Egyptian scholars, however, render it “storehouse of the house of life.” But, in any case, the Egyptian name implies a complete identification with Egypt. His marriage to the daughter of a priest may not have involved adoption into the sacerdotal caste, nor participation in idolatrous worship, but is another mark, at least, of naturalization. It is difficult to recognize a son of Abraham in Pharaoh’s minister; and his action sounds unpleasantly like that of the unworthy Englishmen whom one hears of in the Turkish service, with “pasha” at their names. But we may easily exaggerate the extent of Joseph’s assimilation, and overrate the sharpness of the separation between that generation of the sons of the promise and the rest of the world. The Pharaoh with whom Joseph had to do was not a full-blooded Egyptian; and his predecessors, at all events, were not orthodox worshippers, according to Egyptian standards. He appears in Genesis 41:38 as recognizing one God; and we know that, in the opinion of competent authorities, the religion of Egypt had a monotheistic basis beneath all “ the wood, hay, stubble” of legend and animal worship. Possibly we may see in this Hyksos king another instance, like those of Abimeleeh of Gerar and Melchizedek of Salem, which widens our conceptions of the extent of the early faith in one supreme God, and surprises with twinkling light where we had thought darkness reigned; but, whether this be so or no, Joseph did not give up his religion because he became an Egyptian in name, and married an Egyptian wife. The old faith in the Divine promise to his fathers lived on in his heart, and flamed out at last when he “gave commandment concerning his bones.” So he teaches us the lesson of willing co-operation, so far as may be, in the charities and duties of life, with those who do not share our faith, and shows us that the firmer our hold of the truth and promise of God, the more safe and obligatory is it to become “ all things to all men,” that we may by all means help and “save some.” No doubt that principle is often abused, and made an excuse for unhallowed mingling with the world; but it is a true principle for all that; and as long as Christian people seek to assimilate themselves to others, and to establish friendly relations for unselfish ends, and not from cowardice or a sneaking wish to be of the world, after all no harm will come of it. “Ye are the salt of the earth.” Salt must be rubbed into the substance which it is to preserve from putrefaction. So Christian men are to go among those whom they would save; and remember that a greater than Joseph was called “a Friend of publicans and sinners.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Verses 46-52

Genesis 41:46-52

And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt

Joseph advanced to power

THE RIPENESS OF HIS AGE AND EXPERIENCE. Providence, which prepares events, also prepares men for them.

II. THE PRACTICAL CHARACTER OF HIS MIND. Not puffed up by pride. At once betakes himself to business.


1. He desires to forget all that is evil in the past.

2. He is thankful for present mercies. (T. H. Leale.)


1. “Joseph went out over the land of Egypt.”

(a) To survey the field;

(b) To organize the work;

(c) To initiate his gatherings.

2. The earth brought forth by handfuls.”

3. “Laid up the food in the cities.”

Joseph’s stewardship in Egypt


1. In his superintending the work personally.

2. In his sparing no trouble in the execution of the work.

3. In the regard he paid to justice.


1. Inasmuch as he commenced it without delay.

2. Inasmuch as he persevered to the end.

3. Inasmuch as his arrangements answered the best purpose.


1. It conferred incalculable benefits on his fellow-creatures.

2. He gained the approbation of the king. (J. Jones.)

The in-gathering

What a busy scene must the valley of the Nile have presented at the time of harvest! Multitudes would be engaged, in the very first year of plenty, under Joseph’s direction, in gathering in the abundant crops, and in storing such of the produce of the country as was not required for immediate consumption. The process of cutting the corn, and depositing it in granaries, is exhibited on the monuments. “Wheat,” says Wilkinson, “was cut in five, barley in four months. The wheat, as at the present day, was bearded, and the same varieties, doubtless, existed in ancient as in modern times; among which may be mentioned the seven-eared quality mentioned in Pharaoh’s dream. It was cropped a little below the ear with a toothed sickle, and carried to the threshing floor in wicker baskets upon asses, or in rope nets, the gleaners following to collect the fallen ears in hand baskets.” It was threshed out by oxen, the peasants who superintended them relieving their toil by singing songs, one of which Champollion found in a tomb at Eilethya, written in hieroglyphics, to the following effect:

“Thresh for yourselves,

Thresh for yourselves;

O oxen, thresh for yourselves,

O oxen, thresh for yourselves;

Measure for yourselves,

Measure for your masters.”

The granaries are likewise frequently represented on the monuments. They appear to have been public buildings, usually of vast extent, and divided into vaults, some of which had arched roofs. Immediately at the entrance was a room in which the corn was deposited when brought from the threshing floor, h flight of Steps led to the vault, whither it was carried, in baskets, on men’s shoulders. (Thornley Smith.)

Verse 51-52

Genesis 41:51-52

Manasseh: for God, said he, hath made me forget

Memorial names


1. A blessed oblivion.

2. A rich fruitfulness (Genesis 41:52).


The names of Joseph’s children

His attitude towards God and his own family was disclosed in the names which he gave to his children. In giving names which had a meaning at all, and not merely a taking sound, he showed that he understood, as well he might, that every human life has a significance and expresses some principle or fact. And in giving names which recorded his acknowledgment of God’s goodness, he showed that prosperity had as little influence as adversity to move him from His allegiance to the God of his fathers. His first son he called Manasseh, “Making to forget,” “for God,” said he, “hath made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house”--not as if he were now so abundantly satisfied in Egypt that the thought of his father’s house was blotted from his mind, but only that in this child the keen longings he had felt for kindred and home were somewhat alleviated. He again found an object for his strong family affection. The void in his heart he had so long felt was filled by the little babe. A new home was begun around him. But this new affection would not weaken, though it would alter the character of his love for his father and brethren. The birth of this child would really be a new tie to the land from which he had been stolen. For, however ready men are to spend their own life in foreign service, you see them wishing that their children should spend their days among the scenes with which their own childhood was familiar. In the naming of his second son Ephraim he recognizes that God hag made him fruitful in the most unlikely way. He does not leave it to us to interpret his life, but records what he himself saw in it. It has been said: “To get at the truth of any history is good; but a man’s own history--when he reads that truly,. . . and knows what he is about and has beenabout, it is a Bible to him.” And now that Joseph, from the height he had reached, could look back on the way by which he had been led to it, he cordially approved of all that God had done. There was no resentment, no murmuring. He would often find himself looking back and thinking, Had I found my brothers where I thought they were, had the pit not been on the caravan-road, had the merchants not come up so opportunely, had I not been sold at all or to some other master, had I not been imprisoned, or had I been put in another ward--had any one of the many slender links in the chain of my career been absent, how different might my present state have been. How plainly I now see that all those sad mishaps that crushed my hopes and tortured my spirit were steps in the only conceivable path to my present position. Many a man has added his signature to this acknowledgment of Joseph’s, and confessed a Providence guiding his life and working out good for him through injuries and sorrows, as well as through honours, marriages, births. As in the heat of summer it is difficult to recall the sensation of winter’s bitter cold, so the fruitless and barren periods of a man’s life are sometimes quite obliterated from his memory. God has it in His power to raise a man higher above the level of ordinary happiness than ever he has sunk below it; and as winter and springtime, when the seed is sown, are stormy and bleak and gusty, so in human life seed-time is not bright as summer nor cheerful as autumn; and yet it is then, when all the earth lies bare and will yield us nothing, that the precious seed is sown; and when we confidently commit our labour or patience of to-day to God, the land of our affliction, now bare and desolate, will certainly wave for us, as it has waved for others, with rich produce whitened to the harvest. There is no doubt, then, that Joseph had learned to recognize the providence of God as a most important factor in his life. And the man who does so gains for his character all the strength and resolution that come with a capacity for waiting. He saw most legibly written oh his own life that God is never in a hurry. And for the resolute adherence to his seven years’ policy such a belief was most necessary. (M. Dods, D. D.)

Joseph’s recognition of God in all things

We too commonly look no farther than the instruments employed by Providence in conferring upon us the benefits which we enjoy, or in inflicting the evils we suffer. But Joseph saw that all his adversities and all his prosperity came from God. He was grateful to Pharaoh, but he was grateful chiefly to God, for the happy change in his condition. “God hath made me to forget all my toil, and all my father’s house.” It was God that brought him into Egypt. It was by Divine permission that he was for many years confined within the walls of a prison. It was God that brought him out of it, and advanced him to the dignity and power which he now possessed. All things are of God. If we do not refer the happy changes in our condition to His good providence, we lose the benefit and pleasure of them, and cannot be sensible to the duties which our Benefactor requires to testify our gratitude. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Misery banished

Joseph called his first-born son Manasseh, because God had made him to forget all his toil. He did not mean that the remembrance of his toil was obliterated from his mind. His mention of it when he gave a name to his son was a proof that in one sense he still remembered it. It was his duty to remember it. How could he have retained just impressions of the Divine goodness if he had forgotten the evils from which he was delivered I If we must forget none of God’s benefits, we must forget none of those evils from which we have been relieved by His gracious providence. But Joseph, in another sense, forgot his misery. He remembered it as waters that pass away, and leave no trace behind. There is a bitter remembrance of our affliction and misery, and of the wormwood and the gall of our affliction. This is banished by Divine providence when it saves us from all distresses; but it gives place to pleasant remembrance of them, in a contrast to that happiness by which they are succeeded. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Joseph’s faithfulness

He had formerly been like the heath in the desert, but now he was like a tree planted by the rivers of water, which brings forth abundance of fruit, and whose leaf does not wither. This happy change he ascribes to the Divine goodness. When changes and war are against us, we must be dumb, not opening our mouth, for it is God that does it. When changes are in our favour, our mouths ought to be opened to the praises of Him who turns the shadow of death into the morning, and makes the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose. Joseph was fruitful in comfort, in good works, in children. He had, indeed, at this time only two children, but might expect that a troop was coming; and although that hope was uncertain, he was thankful for what God had already given him. Perhaps it was by a Divine suggestion that the name Ephraim was given to Joseph’s second son, rather than his first. Joseph, as far as we know, had no more children of his own body: but he was fruitful in his remote progeny, especially by Ephraim. “Joseph was a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well, whose branches run over the wall.” Manasseh was great, but truly Ephraim was greater than he; for the horns of Joseph were like the horns of an unicorn, and they were the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they were the thousands of Manasseh. Where was it that Joseph became fruitful? Not in the land of his nativity, but in the land of his affliction. And all his afflictions wrought together under the all-wise providence of God to bring about his exaltation. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Significance of the names Joseph gave his children

Two sons were born to Joseph during the seven years of plenty. Manasseh: God made him forget his toil and his father’s house. Neither absolutely. He remembered his toils in the very utterance of this sentence. And he tenderly and intensely remembered his father’s house. But he is grateful to God, who builds him a home, with all its soothing joys, even in the land of his exile. His heart again responds to long untasted joys. “Fruitful in the land of my affliction.” It is still, we perceive, the land of his affliction. By why does no message go from Joseph to his mourning father? For many reasons. First, he does not know the state of things at home. Secondly, he may not wish to open up the dark and bloody treachery of his brothers to his aged parent. But, thirdly, he bears in mind those early dreams of his childhood. All his subsequent experience has confirmed him in the belief that they will one day be fulfilled. But that fulfilment implies the submission, not only of his brothers, but of his father. This is too delicate a matter for him to interfere in. He will leave it entirely to the all-wise providence of his God to bring about that strange issue. Joseph, therefore, is true to his life-long character. He leaves all in the hand of God, and awaits in anxious, but silent hope the days when he will see his father and his brethren. (Prof. J. G. Murphy.)

Use of troubles

"When in Amsterdam, Holland, last summer,” says a traveller, “I was much interested in a visit we made to a place then famous for polishing diamonds. We saw the men engaged in the work. When a diamond is found it is rough and dark like a common pebble. It takes a long time to polish it, and it is very hard work. It is held by means of a piece of metal close to the surface of a large wheel, which is kept going round. Fine diamond dust is put on this wheel, nothing else being hard enough to polish the diamond. And this work is kept on for months and sometimes several years before it is finished. And if a diamond is intended for a king, then the greater time and trouble are spent upon it.” Jesus calls His people His jewels. To fit them for beautifying His crown, they must be polished like diamonds, and He makes use of the troubles He sends to polish His jewels. (Old Testament Anecdotes.)

Verses 53-57

Genesis 41:53-57

Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians

The seven years of famine


1. It showed great prudence and skill.

2. It showed a spirit of dependence upon God.

3. It was the exhibition of a character worthy of the highest confidence.

II. Lessons:

1. How quickly adversity awaits upon prosperity.

2. What an advantage to have a true and powerful friend in the day of calamity.

3. God often brings about His purposes of love and mercy by affliction. (T. H. Leale.)

Joseph opening the storehouses


1. The king was only to be approached through Joseph (Genesis 41:55). So with Jesus (John 14:6).

2. The king commanded that Joseph should be obeyed (Genesis 41:55; see John 5:23).

3. In all the land no other could open a storehouse save Joseph (see John 3:35).


1. He planned the storehouses, and was justly appointed to control them (Genesis 41:33-36; Genesis 41:38).

2. He carried out the storage, and so proved himself practical as well as inventive (Genesis 41:49).

3. He did it on a noble scale (Genesis 41:49).

4. He had wisdom to distribute well (see Colossians 1:9; John 1:16).


1. For this purpose he filled them. Grace is meant to be used.

2. To have kept them closed would have been no gain to him.

3. He opened them at a fit time (Genesis 41:55-56).

4. He kept them open while the famine lasted.

IV. JOSEPH OPENED THE STOREHOUSE TO ALL COMERS. Yet Joseph did but sell, while Jesus gives without money.

V. JOSEPH ACQUIRED POSSESSION OF ALL EGYPT FOR THE KING. Full submission and consecration are the grand result of infinite love. (C. H.Spurgeon.)


1. Providence puts an end to plenty at His will, however sensual men think not of it.

2. The fruitfulest land becometh barren if God speak the word; even Egypt.

3. Periods of full conditions are observable by men; God’s Spirit notes them (Genesis 41:54).

4. In the design of Providence, wants succeed plenty at the heels.

5. Entrance of dearth, though grievous, yet may make but small impression on souls.

6. Not a word of God falleth to the ground, but as He saith, so it is.

7. Providence orders lands for scarcity as well as plenty.

8. God can give bread to Egypt when He denieth it to other nations for His own ends (Genesis 41:54). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. Providence orders some countries to depend on others for their sustenance.

2. Wants make nations stoop and seek about for the support of life.

3. Grace can make poor captives become preservers of nations.

4. Sore plagues may be made to make men inquire after and prize abused mercies.

5. General judgments are sent to manifest God’s special ends of grace to His (Genesis 41:57). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Egypt’s indebtedness to Joseph

Egypt’s indebtedness to Joseph was, in fact, twofold. In the first place he succeeded in doing what many strong governments have failed to do: he enabled a large population to survive a long and severe famine. Even with all modern facilities for transport and for making the abundance of remote countries available for times of scarcity, it has not always been found possible to save our own fellow-subjects from starvation. In a prolonged famine which occurred in Egypt during the middle ages, the inhabitants, reduced to the unnatural habits which are the most painful feature of such times, not only ate their own dead, but kidnapped the living on the streets of Cairo and consumed them in secret. One of the most touching memorials of the famine with which Joseph had to deal is found in a sepulchral inscription in Arabia. A flood of rain laid bare a tomb in which lay a woman having on her person a profusion of jewels which represented a very large value. At her head stood a coffer filled with treasure, and a tablet with this inscription: “In Thy name, O God, the God of Himyar, I, Tayar, the daughter of Dzu Shefar, sent my steward to Joseph, and he delaying to return to me, I sent my handmaid with a measure of silver to bring me back a measure of flour; and not being able to procure it, I sent her with a measure of gold; and not being able to procure it, I sent her with a measure of pearls; and not being able to procure it, I commanded them to be ground; and finding no profit in them, I am shut up here.” If this inscription is genuine--and there seems no reason to call it in question--it shows that there is no exaggeration in the statement of our narrator that the famine was very grievous in other lands as well as Egypt. And, whether genuine or not, one cannot but admire the grim humour of the starving woman getting herself buried in the jewels which had suddenly dropped to less than the value of a loaf of bread. But besides being indebted to Joseph for their preservation, the Egyptians owed to him an extension of their influence; for, as all the lands round about became dependent on Egypt for provision, they must have contracted a respect for the Egyptian administration. They must also have added greatly to Egypt’s wealth, and during those years of constant traffic many commercial connections must have been formed which in future years would be of untold value to Egypt. But, above all, the permanent alterations made by Joseph on their tenure of land, and on their places of abode, may have convinced the most sagacious of the Egyptians that it was well for them that their money had failed, and that they had been compelled to yield themselves unconditionally into the hands of this remarkable ruler. It is the mark of a competent statesman that he makes temporary distress the occasion for permanent benefit; and from the confidence Joseph won with the people, there seems every reason to believe that the permanent alterations he introduced were considered as beneficial as certainly they were bold. And for our own spiritual uses it is this point which seems chiefly important. In Joseph is illustrated the principle that, in order to the attainment of certain blessings, unconditional submission to God’s delegate is required. (M. Doris, D. D.)

Christ’s storehouse

William Bridge says: There is enough in Jesus Christ to serve us all. If two, or six, or twenty men be athirst, and they go to drink out of a bottle, while one is drinking, the other envies, because he thinks there will not be enough for him too; but if a hundred be athirst, and go to the river, while one is drinking, the other envies not, because there is enough to serve them all.”

Riches in Christ

Dr. Conyers was for some years a preacher before he had felt the power of the gospel. As he was reading his Greek Testament he came to Ephesians 3:8 : “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” “Riches of Christ!” said he to himself;” ‘Unsearchable riches of Christ!’ What have I preached of these? What do I know of these?” Under the blessing of the Spirit of God he was thus awakened to a new life and a new ministry. Are there not some yet living who might put to their own consciences similar questions? (C. H.Spurgeon.)

Spiritual blessings by Christ

All the spiritual blessings wherewith the Church is enriched are in and by Christ. The apostle instances some of the choicest (Ephesians 1:3). Our election is by Him (Genesis 41:4). Our adoption is by Him (Genesis 41:5). Our redemption and remission of sins are both through Him. All the gracious transactions between God and His people are through Christ. God loves us through Christ; He hears our prayers through Christ; He forgives us all our sins through Christ. Through Christ He justifies us; through Christ He sanctifies us; through Christ Pie upholds us; through Christ He perfects us. All His relations to us are through Christ; all we have is from Christ; all we expect to have hangs upon Him. He is the golden hinge upon which all our salvation turns. (Ralph Robinson.)

Christ the only source of supply

If any of the people of Egypt had refused to go to Joseph, they would have despised not Joseph only, but the king, and would have deserved to be denied that sustenance which he only could give them. Are not the despisers of our great Redeemer in like manner despisers of His Father, who has set Him as His King upon the holy hill of Zion?. . . If Joseph had thrown open his storehouses before the Egyptians felt the pressure of hunger, they might soon have wasted the fruits of his prudent care . . . Hunger, though very unpleasant, is often more useful than fulness of bread. They were very willing to give the price demanded for their food as long as their money lasted. What is the reason why so many are unwilling to come and receive wine and milk without money and without price? They feel no appetite for it. They are not sensible of their need of it. (George Lawson, D. D.)


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 41:4". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

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