Then Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was hurriedly brought out of the dungeon. When he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’ Joseph answered Pharaoh, ‘It is not I; God will give Pharaoh a favourable answer.’ Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘In my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile; and seven cows, fat and sleek, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. Then seven other cows came up after them, poor, very ugly, and thin. Never had I seen such ugly ones in all the land of Egypt. The thin and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows, but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had done so, for they were still as ugly as before. Then I awoke. I fell asleep a second time and I saw in my dream seven ears of grain, full and good, growing on one stalk, and seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouting after them; and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears. But when I told it to the magicians, there was no one who could explain it to me.’
Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, ‘Pharaoh’s dreams 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 ears are seven years; the dreams are one. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, as are the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind. They are seven years of famine. It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. After them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; the famine will consume the land. The plenty will no longer be known in the land because of the famine that will follow, for it will be very grievous. And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. Now therefore let Pharaoh select a man who is discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land, and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plenteous years. Let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and lay up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.’
The proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find anyone else like this—one in whom is the spirit of God?’ So Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has shown you all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you.’ And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.’ Removing his signet ring from his hand, Pharaoh put it on Joseph’s hand; he arrayed him in garments of fine linen, and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in the chariot of his second-in-command; and they cried out in front of him, ‘Bow the knee!’ Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.’
We humans spend a third of our life asleep; and while we sleep, we dream; but we usually forget last night’s dreams as the day progresses. The psychologist Sigmund Freud described dreams as a way to look into our soul to unlock our unconscious mind. Sometimes, our dreams stay with us and will occupy our thoughts, even trouble us, as happened to Pharaoh.
The Joseph in Genesis in his younger life had dreams that stayed with him (the sheaves; the sun-moon-stars), and in today’s passage, these dreams are realised when he is appointed second only to Pharaoh. Joseph had to wait half a lifetime for his dreams to come true! One lesson from reading the accounts of the Old Testament patriarchs is patience, where God’s long-term plan for their lives was measured in decades.
I am always struck by Pharaoh’s reception of Joseph. Pharaoh was a man who had spent his life being told that he was a ‘god’, the earthly embodiment of Ra. Then in comes Joseph, a Hebrew slave who speaks of ‘Elohim’ (God). While the text is silent on how this was received by the royal court, Pharaoh accepts Joseph’s interpretation. Consider how much Pharaoh was changed in his encounter with God!
Dreams were important for Joseph and Pharaoh, and for others in Bible – Jacob, Samuel, Daniel, Mary’s Joseph, Cornelius, Peter etc. – where their dreams (and visions) gave them the push they needed to go God’s way. Pharaoh risked all when he trusted in God.
At Pentecost, Peter quoted Joel: “Your young men will see visions; your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17) One way I understand this is a challenge for us not to limit God by our rational (waking) minds, but to be ready to say yes to God’s radical call, just as our dreams are unconstrained.
Loving God, We give You thanks for the many and varied ways You speak to us. When we walk in Your creation, open our eyes to see You. When we meet with others, help us to hear You in their words. When we read Your word, reveal Yourself at the prompting of Your Holy Spirit. When we lie down and sleep, may our dreams inspire us by Your majesty unbounded. Amen.
Walt Johnson, Elder at Wilbraham St Ninian’s URC in Chorlton, Manchester.