|Topical Bible Study||April 1950|
GOD’S PLAN IN THE BOOK OF GENESIS
Joseph Made Ruler
We are not to suppose that dreams are always revelations from the Lord of things to come to pass, particularly the dreams of those who are not in covenant relationship with t h e Lord. As a matter of fact, since the completion of the inspired Word of God, the Bible, the Lord has not guided even his own people by means of dreams, for it has not been necessary. We now have the inspired Scriptures which are all-sufficient for every time of need.—II Tim. 3:16,17
In ancient times, when God gave dreams to others than his own people, it was not for their benefit particularly, but in order to influence their course in life as it related to those whom he was guiding and blessing. Thus the “wise men” were warned by a dream not to return to Herod as they had planned, for to do so would have endangered the life of the boy Jesus. And so with Pharaoh. God was not so much interested in preserving his life and the lives of the Egyptians in general, as he was in making a provision for the children of Israel. For this reason he caused Pharaoh to have dreams which eventuated this way.
In the forgetfulness of the “chief butler” to speak a good word for Joseph as soon as he was released from prison we can see the overruling providence of the Lord. Had he spoken immediately, perhaps Pharaoh would not have been in a receptive attitude of mind, and nothing would have been accomplished. Indeed, he might have made Joseph’s prison life even more difficult.
The Lord’s people should endeavor to view all of their experiences in the light of being the providences of God. We may be inclined to blame what seems to be the immediate cause of trial—the unfriendly attitude of those around us, perhaps—but this is a mistake. God is able to shield us from all such unfavorable circumstances, and if he does not, it is because his wisdom sees that there is a needed lesson for us to learn, or some larger purpose of his which he is working out through us. Thus Jesus did not blame his accusers and persecutors, but said, “The cup which my Father hath poured for me, shall I not drink it?”
When Pharaoh discovered that his trusted wise men and magicians were unable to interpret his dreams for him, he was greatly distressed. The circumstances reminded the “chief butler” of Joseph and of the promise he had made to him. Here, then, was an ideal opportunity, not only to do a good turn for Joseph, but also to solve a problem for Pharaoh, so he related to the king the experience he had had with the prisoner Joseph.
Pharaoh was impressed and had Joseph “brought hastily out of the dungeon.” Although some authority had been given to Joseph over the other prisoners, apparently he still had to suffer the hardships of prison life, which at that time were often cruel. That he was in the dungeon when sent for by Pharaoh indicates that life was not made easy for him in prison.
When Pharaoh told Joseph why he had sent for him, that he had been told he was an interpreter of dreams, Joseph was quick to deny any special ability of his own; but, as on former occasions, gave the credit to the Lord. He said to the king, “It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” The additional two years Joseph had languished in prison after the chief butler had been released and had promised to speak a good word for him had not embittered Joseph. He still trusted in the Lord and was quick to give the glory to him for any ability he might possess in the way of interpreting dreams.
Pharaoh related his dreams to Joseph, telling him of the seven fat kine (cows) and the seven lean kine; also the seven full ears of corn and the seven thin ears. Seemingly with the thought of impressing upon Joseph what truly difficult dreams these were to interpret, he explained that the magicians had failed to reveal what they meant.
Joseph’s approach to the problem was direct, and in a single sentence he simplified his answer by explaining that both dreams meant the same thing, that they were “one.” “The seven good kine are seven years,” he said, “and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one.” In the dreams of his fellow prisoners, the chief baker and the chief butler, the things they saw represented days, but in Pharaoh’s dreams things represented years.
The dream foreshadowed a period of fourteen years—seven years of plenty—represented by the fat kine and the full ears—and seven years of famine—represented by the lean kine and the thin ears. The dream was doubled, explained Joseph, because the things was assured by God, and he would shortly bring it to pass. This method of establishing a truth was in keeping with the Lord’s arrangement that every great truth must be confirmed by the mouth of two or three witnesses. So both the “kine” and the “ears” testified concerning the seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of famine. Thus there could be no doubt about the coming fourteen years in the land of Egypt.
Joseph not only interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams for him, but added some excellent advice. This also was timely. When Pharaoh learned what was about to occur in the land over which he was king, he was doubtless greatly disturbed. Joseph, noting this, offered his well-timed and wise counsel concerning the appointment of a food administrator, one who would see to it that during the fat years surpluses were stored and preserved, that thus there would be a provision to see the nation through the seven years of famine.
Pharaoh listened to Joseph’s advice, and was impressed. It was obvious to him that if Joseph could interpret his dreams, and then frame a plan so quickly to meet the emergency they portended, he would be the best choice to fill the position of food administrator. So Joseph was given the position, with dictatorial powers to act in accord with what he thought would be best.
Nor was this assignment of power to Joseph made privately, for Pharaoh arranged that this new ruler in the realm should be paraded before the people, and that they should be made to bow to him. This was doubtless quite an embarrassing experience for Joseph. Those with less love for the Lord and less desirous to give glory to him, might have had their perspective of life distorted by such sudden exaltation, but it did not thus affect Joseph.
Joseph was made a virtual dictator, but it was for the good of the nation. It illustrates that the form of government is often not so important as the personnel that governs. There is no form of government which will prevent evils from being inflicted upon the people if its laws are administered by selfish and corrupt men. On the other hand, when rulers are wise, just, and benevolent, the people under them will be blessed regardless of the form of government involved. No one could move in Egypt without Joseph’s consent, yet there is no record that the people ever complained of oppression under his rulership.
Joseph was still a young man when he became ruler in Egypt, being only thirty years of age. At this age he embarked upon a mission that was to preserve the life, not only of his own people, but of the Egyptians as well. Jesus was thirty years of age when he entered upon his ministry, a ministry which also was destined to give life to God’s people, and to the whole world—not a temporary extension of the present life, but life everlasting.
Leaving the presence of Pharaoh, the young ruler immediately entered upon his duties. Apparently he made a personal survey of the whole land. While doing this, he probably made a record of possible storage houses and made the necessary arrangements to have the surpluses put in them. It was a gigantic undertaking for those days, and Joseph did not have much time for preparation, as the first year of plenty was already upon them.
We read that during those seven years of plenty the earth brought forth by “handfuls.” Apparently this was an expression used in ancient times to denote an abundance, an overflowing supply. One of the promises of the bounteous blessings which will be provided for the people during the thousand years of Christ’s kingdom uses this expression, saying, “There shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon: and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth.”—Psalm 72:16
While Joseph was made dictator in Egypt, seemingly he had little choice as to the selection of his wife, Pharaoh giving him Asenath, daughter of Potipherah, priest or prince of On. “On” means city of “the sun,” called in Hebrew, Own, and Bethshemesh, and in Greek, Heliopolis. It was the university of Old Egypt.
During the seven years of plenty, two sons were born to Joseph—Manasseh and Ephraim. Manasseh means “forgetting,” and Joseph gave this name to his firstborn, for, said he, God “hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house.”
Ephraim means “fruitful,” and Joseph gave this name to his second son because, as he explained, “God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.” These sidelights on Joseph’s attitude toward his experiences emphasize that with him the Lord came first in everything.
Manasseh and Ephraim were later adopted by Jacob into his family and made heads of tribes in Israel. For some reason—not given in the Scriptures—Jacob named Ephraim first, although actually Manasseh was Joseph’s firstborn.
When the seven years of famine settled down upon the land of Egypt, the people soon began to clamor for food. They appealed to Pharaoh; and he in turn referred them to Joseph, who of course was prepared for the emergency. The famine not only affected Egypt, but all the surrounding country, and before it was over people were coming to Egypt from all around seeking for food.
The foreknowledge of God in the care of his people anticipated this situation, and had in mind the care of the children of Israel when he permitted Joseph to be sold into Egypt. There is a wonderful lesson in this for all who put their trust in the Lord. We should not lose faith because of the difficulties which may confront us today, for in the experiences which the Lord is permitting, circumstances are being shaped for a larger purpose he plans to accomplish in us tomorrow. That “tomorrow” may be beyond the veil, when, if faithful here, we will be exalted to reign with Christ, and have the privilege of giving health and life to all mankind.