Two full years after the events of Genesis 40, we are told the stories of two of Pharaoh’s dreams in Genesis 41. His dreams are parallel in both their structure and meaning, but the imagery differs. The first dream is of seven fat, fine cows that are devoured by seven pitiful and gaunt cows. The second dream is of seven plump, quality heads of grain that are devoured by seven thin and sickly heads of grain.
Pharaoh, troubled by his dreams, seeks wise men and magicians to interpret them, but none could. But then the chief butler remembers the young Hebrew (Joseph) that had accurately interpreted dreams in the prison. So Pharaoh calls for Joseph and after he is cleaned up, Joseph meets Pharaoh. When Pharaoh asks him about his ability to interpret dreams, Joseph says, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” Even after so much suffering, Joseph’s faith is still strong.
After being told the dreams, Joseph interprets them as having the same meaning. Seven years of great abundance and blessing will be in the land, followed by seven years of intense famine. The seven lean consume the seven fat as a way to demonstrate how the seven good years will be forgotten in the midst of the famine. Joseph, in a wise move, suggests that Pharaoh appoint an overseer in Egypt to store up food during the good years for use during the lean. More shrewd than opportunistic, Joseph is probably aware of his organizational and leadership abilities, and understands that Pharaoh may appoint him as this overseer, particularly that he is now highly esteemed after interpreting the dreams.
Pharaoh liked the interpretation and the advice, assigns Joseph in the role of the overseer: “Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” Pharaoh gives Joseph his signet ring, fine linen and a gold chain. Joseph also was given great authority, an Egyptian wife, and a new name, Zaphnath-Paaneah. At this point, Joseph could have been enamored with the attention and came to be as one of the Egyptian leaders, worshipping idols and engaging in pagan beliefs and practices. But as far as we can tell from the text here, Joseph’s faith in God only grew stronger. The Bible goes on referring to him as Joseph and not the new Egyptian name. This name change was not respected and not given by God, so Joseph remains Joseph and his faith in God remains strong. He was thirty years old at this point.
Joseph does a fantastic job as overseer, and stores immeasurable quantities of food during the seven abundant years. He also fathers two children: Manasseh and Ephraim, later representative of the two half-tribes of Joseph of the tribe of Israel. Their names bore significant meaning to Joseph: “Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: “For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house.” And the name of the second he called Ephraim: “For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.””
After the seven abundant years ended, the famine came. Pharaoh directed all seeking food to Joseph and Joseph, in another shrewd move, sold the grain to the Egyptians and surrounding countries. So Joseph proved to be a great blessing to Pharaoh, Egypt and the population at large while also improving his own unique situation. He truly made the best of things and he did it all through relying on God. Without his faith, Joseph would have remained a slave in prison forever.
Joseph’s story in this chapter compels us to ask, “Am I making the most of my bad situations?” The temptation to complain, wallow and talk derisively of others is particularly strong when we find ourselves challenged. The temptation is particularly strong when we are undeserving of such conditions. But if we hold onto our faith in God, no matter how bleak, we will prevail like Joseph. We need only to believe, pray and practice. God is always there for us. He is not on our timeline and nor does he typically do what we expect or ask, but He will always answer our prayers and He will always receive us when we come to him in the right sprit.