The story of Pharaoh’s dreams enabling Joseph to transition from prisoner to prime minister of Egypt is as much a story of the Pharaoh as it is of Joseph.
Pharaohs were rulers of Egypt- often, different dynasties that came to power and ruled for a few generations before being overthrown or replaced by another dynasty. In all likelihood, the dynasty that ruled Egypt at the time of Joseph was different from the dynasty that oversaw the exodus, around 400 years later. The Egyptian palace was therefore a place of great power, but also one of intrigue, fomenting coups and usurpers who eyed the throne. It is possible that the cup-bearer and the baker who Joseph encountered in prison were there because of a suspected plot to poison the king or some one close to him.
In the midst of these power games, we see God reaching out to Pharaoh with two dreams. As the story unfolds in Genesis 41, we understand that these dreams were not just dreams but a direct communication from God. Elsewhere in the Bible, we see God reaching out to and using other great kings like Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus of Persia, who despite being secular kings, found God’s favor and were not only used by God to accomplish His purposes, but were also blessed by God. On the other hand, kings like the other Pharaoh that oversaw the exodus, Herod (Acts 21:19-23) and Belshazzar (Daniel 5) were ignored and even rejected by God. To be in an exalted situation like these kings and still be receptive to the voice of God is indeed commendable because the higher you go in life, the less the apparent need for God. It requires some form of dissociation from the worldly- be it pleasures that abound or the power struggles that are inevitable- for men and women in high positions to be receptive to God.
Once having received the dream, the Pharaoh set his heart to understanding it. He could easily have satisfied himself with the answers or ‘no-answers’ of his court magicians. But he sets his heart on deciphering the truth. For anybody who lives in this world, the most basic necessity is to seek the truth. Very often, there is only a sliver of light that shines in a soul. The person who sees that sliver can choose to snuff out that light and immerse himself in darkness and remain lost.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)
On the other hand, such a person could follow the lead of that light to find the ultimate truth in the fullness of Christ.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
The Pharaoh we see here was in a different league from most rulers like him. Not only did he seek the truth, he also had the discernment to see that Joseph’s interpretation was true and from God himself.
37 The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God ?” 39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” (Genesis 41)
Pharaoh takes a huge step of faith and thereby a great risk in believing the dream from God and its interpretation by acting definitively upon it. Pharaoh’s foes would have laughed at his decision to listen to Joseph and make him his prime minister. But that is what faith is- acting upon what lays ahead by virtue of your belief in it. Faith in Christ is made true by your acting upon that faith and living for him today.
Joseph made every city in Egypt a storehouse for grains. This was not a minor endeavor, rather the major project in Egypt for the first seven years. Imagine the skeptics and would be usurpers spending their time, effort and money building alliances, gathering men and scheming to overthrow the Pharaoh who in their eyes was foolishly following a Hebrew prisoner’s advice. But when Egypt was well into the famine, Pharaoh ended up owning every penny and piece of land in Egypt. All men were reduced to servitude to the Pharaoh.
20 So Joseph bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh. The Egyptians, one and all, sold their fields, because the famine was too severe for them. The land became Pharaoh’s, 21 and Joseph reduced the people to servitude, from one end of Egypt to the other. (Genesis 47)
Pharaoh and Joseph indeed did have the last laugh. God also used the incident to preserve the Israelite nation through the famine. But this story is really about a king who sought God and put his faith in God’s revelation and was amply rewarded for it.
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