When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up. He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted—thin and scorched by the east wind. The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream. In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him. Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was impaled.” So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, fat and sleek, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows came up—scrawny and very ugly and lean. I had never seen such ugly cows in all the land of Egypt. The lean, ugly cows ate up the seven fat cows that came up first. But even after they ate them, no one could tell that they had done so; they looked just as ugly as before. Then I woke up. “In my dream I saw seven heads of grain, full and good, growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other heads sprouted—withered and thin and scorched by the east wind. The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads. I told this to the magicians, but none of them could explain it to me.” Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine. “It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon. – Genesis 41: 1-31
In this passage we find Joseph in Egypt as an advisor to pharaoh, not bad for a guy who almost ended up drowned in a cistern. Pharaoh has a dream that features the Nile River. The Nile River is the longest river in the world and must have been a God-like figure to the Egyptians. It’s mouth was the location of one of the most advanced civilizations on earth, Alexandria. The water the Nile provided contributed to the affluence and splendor of Egypt and Alexandria. The Nile, like many large rivers, is dependent on weather patterns which are cyclic. Some years, or sets of years, can be dry and others wet. We are still subject to wet and dry seasons, but we have dams and other human devices to provide water for our needs when “nature” or God does not do so.
I think that we often search for replacements for God’s provision. It is clear that Pharaoh was not able to conceive of a God larger than the Nile that could in fact see beyond the periodic droughts and floods that seemed to occur at random. The God of Israel, Joseph, and those who follow Christ are able to see a much larger picture both in time and space. God knows the needs we will have in the future as well as those we have at the moment. Our limited view often leads us to respond to life’s droughts and floods in ways that are not always glorifying to God.
The other aspect of this story that I like is Joseph’s response to Pharaoh when he asks if he can interpret his dream. Joseph responds “I cannot do it,….but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires”. Joseph could have relied on his own skills and knowledge and told Pharaoh that he could interpret his dream, but he deflected Pharaoh’s confidence toward God. As a university professor I have spent much of my life learning about things and being the “person who knows”. I have much to learn from Joseph about giving God credit for my gifts and knowledge.
Prayer: God may we trust your provision and know that you are in control of our lives. Help me to be quick to give you credit for the gifts, skills, and knowledge that I share with others.