After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, and there came up out of the Nile seven sleek and fat cows, and they grazed in the reed grass. Then seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. The ugly and thin cows ate up the seven sleek and fat cows. And Pharaoh awoke. Then he fell asleep and dreamed a second time; seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. Then seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind, sprouted after them. The thin ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears. Pharaoh awoke, and it was a dream. In the morning his spirit was troubled; so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh.
Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, ‘I remember my faults today. Once Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard. We dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own meaning. A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each according to his dream. As he interpreted to us, so it turned out; I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.’
“….such stuff as dreams are made on…”
I have spent very little time in my life thinking about dreams. I know, within myself, that I do have dreams and just, very occasionally, I remember them. However the matter of dreams and their interpretation has been recorded through millennia – records exist from at least 2000 years before Jesus’ feet first touched the Egyptian earth. Dream work can be traced through history and faith groups from that time on. Joseph’s time frame was somewhere between 1000 and 1500 years before the birth of Jesus.
Those who interpreted dreams (the magicians and wise men above) were highly respected and probably should be thought of as the forerunners to medics; to consult such a magician as commonplace perhaps as, if not a 21st century trip to the doctor, a pre NHS consultation. In other words not so common amongst the poor.
I have a cousin in Canada and her wife goes religiously to her weekly dream group where members share their dreams and in a safe environment explore what they might mean. Nowadays this area of analysis is understood to belong to the psychotherapist.
And so I pondered where did Joseph’s expertise and apparent comfort around dream work come from? He did not have the luxury of being able to look up on the internet the accepted meaning attributed to dreams about cattle, cows or corn and clearly there is no suggestion in his story that he travelled to study before being trafficked to Egypt. I like to think that perhaps this was just knowledge that he picked up as he was growing up. Like many things knowledge and experience is freely available but temperament and openness to an experience or the insights another passes on birthing in turn a new expert.
Loving and steadfast God, we find you in all places and all times. Help us to be open to the thoughts and ideas and experiences that we will meet today, those in our comfort zone and those which stretch us beyond the point that we ever thought possible. Help us to feel your hand in ours as we walk forward on our journey of faith. Amen
The Rev’d Helen M Mee is minister in Granton United Church, Edinburgh and Carluke URC, works with the Synod of Scotland’s South Link and is the Convenor of the URC Equalities Committee