Joseph’s Exaltation

Genesis 41

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
November 2015

We have been studying the life of one of my favorite characters in the Bible, Joseph.  He is one of the best pictures in the whole Bible of Jesus.  We see Jesus through the life of Joseph more than we do in any other Bible character.  In this chapter, Joseph is like Jesus in several ways.

Joseph A Type of Christ

1) Both were exalted to high positions.

Joseph was exalted to Prime Minister of Egypt.  Joseph was not just released from prison.  He was exalted to a high position over all Egypt (41:39-40).  Without Joseph’s consent, no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt (41:44).

People were bowing before him (41:43).  Jesus was also exalted by God.  He now sits at God’s right hand (Acts 2:22-24; 5:31).  One day every knee in heaven and earth will bow at the name of Jesus and every tongue will confess that Jesus is lord (Philippians 2:10-11).

2) Both were saviors of some kind.

Joseph was a physical savior.  People were starving and Joseph gave them food to eat.  He saved them from physical death.  Jesus was a spiritual savior.  He saves people from spiritual death.  Pharaoh said  “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do” (41:55).  God says, “Go to Jesus.  Do what he says to do.”  Pharaoh pointed people to Joseph.  The Bible points people to Jesus.  It says “look to Jesus.”

3) Both began their ministry at the same time.

Joseph became Prime Minister at thirty (41:46).  Jesus was around that age when He began his ministry on earth (Luke 3:23).

4) Both married a Gentile bride.

The church is called the bride of Christ and that bride is made up of both Jew and Gentile but it is mostly a Gentile bride.  Joseph married an Egyptian.  Joseph’s wife Asenath is a type of the church.  She came from a Gentile nation.

Not only was she a Gentile, this was an inter-racial marriage.  Does this mean that Joseph’s wife was black?  Asenath was African.  That is a common view.  The only problem with it is that modern Egyptians are not black or white.  They are a mixture of black and white.

We come to a fascinating chapter.  Genesis 41 is a long chapter.  It is the second largest chapter in Genesis.  The longest chapter is Genesis 24 which describes how Isaac got a wife.

This is also one of the most dramatic chapters in the Bible.  He went from having all kinds of bad things happening to him to having all kinds of good things happening to him.  Joseph goes through a lot of changes in this chapter.  It is the first rags to riches story.

His residence changed.  He went from prison to the palace. He went from being confined to being free.  His reputation changed.  He went from being dishonored (falsely accused of a sex crime and thrown in prison) to being honored by the all Egypt.  He went from being a prisoner to being a prince.

His economic status changed.  He went from being poor at the bottom of society to being rich.  He went from wearing ragged clothing to wearing the royal clothing, “garments of fine linen” (41:42) and expensive jewelry.  Pharaoh takes off his own signet ring and gives it to Joseph.  He gives him a gold chain around his neck (41:42)

He not only got some new clothes, he got a new car.  Pharaoh gave him a chariot (41:43).  His marital status changed.  He went from being single to being married in this chapter.  He went from losing his family to getting a brand new one.

The Setting of the Chapter

Genesis 41 takes place two years after the last chapter.  We are told that in the first verse of the chapter (41:1).  In the last chapter, Joseph met two men in prison (the baker and the butler).  He was their servant in prison.

Genesis 40:4 says “he attended them”. This is the first mention of “prison” in the Bible.  The baker and the butler had a strange dream which they could not interpret.  Joseph told them what the dreams meant.  One would live and one would die in three days.

The butler was grateful to Joseph.  Joseph didn’t ask him to pay him back just to mention him to Pharaoh so he could get out of prison (40:14).  The butler was Pharaoh’s food-tester.

He was around him every day but Genesis 40 ends with the words “Yet the chief cupbearer did NOT remember Joseph, but forgot him” (40:23).  People say that they will do all kinds of things but they do not always keep their promises.

The first couple days went by and Joseph wondered when he would be released.  By the end of the week, he must have thought “surely he has told Pharaoh by now about me” but days turned into weeks.  Weeks turned into months and months turned into a year.  One year turned into two years.  They were long years.

Joseph eventually came to the realization that the baker was not going to help him.  It was looking like he was going to rot in prison.  He was a slave.  He could even get a trial.  He must have had some days of discouragement.  He was human.

The Bible says that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12 NLT).  It is not easy to wait a long time for something.  You begin to give up hope.  Things have not turned out as Joseph expected.  God wasn’t coming through for him.  He wasn’t answering his prayers.

Joseph got the dream about ruling over others when he was seventeen.  He did not start ruing until he was thirty.  He waited thirteen years for the fulfillment of the dream. Joseph has a thirteen year delay.

During those thirteen years, everything that happened to Joseph seemed to directly contradict what God promise him in a dream.  God’s Word said one thing to him but Joseph’s experience and circumstances said the exact opposite.  That is why we do not base our theology on our experiences.

It looked like everything was going wrong for Joseph.  In reality, everything was going right.  Everything happened to Joseph for a reason.  God used man’s sin for his own purposes and He still does that today.  His brother’s sold him into slavery but God used that to get him to Egypt.

Potiphar’s wife accused him of rape, so Potiphar threw him in prison.  He could not take the word of a slave over the word of his own wife.  God used that sin so he could get to know the butler and the baker, who would later introduce him to Pharaoh.

The butler forgot about Joseph.  Why do you think that God allowed this?  There are many reasons.  The first reason is to teach that God is the one who promotes people. The Bible says, “Promotion (or exaltation) does not come from the east, the west, or the desert,  for God is the Judge: He brings down one and exalts another” (Psalm 75:6-7).

This chapter is all about promotion.  Many of us know what it is like to receive a promotion at work.  We like to take credit for our promotions.  We work hard and think we deserve it. Joseph receives a big promotion.

Joseph moves up in this chapter.  He is not just released from prison, he is exalted to a high position in the government.  If the butler remembered him right away and he got out, he might think that he got out because he had the right connections.  This was a God thing.

There’s another reason that God allowed the butler to forget him for a few years.  Even if Pharaoh let him out of prison and sent him back home, he would have been free but he would never have been Prime Minister over Egypt and his dream would never have been fulfilled of him ruling over his brothers.

He must have wondered why God allowed all of these things to happen to him.  Everyone treated him wrong.  Everyone did him dirty.  His brothers sold him into slavery.  Potiphar’s wife accused him rape.

Potiphar puts him in prison when he knows he didn’t do it and now he does a good need for the butler and he forgets him.  I believe that Joseph had one ray of hope. He interpreted the butler and the baker’s dream correctly to the very day.  If their dreams came true, perhaps his dream would come true one day as well.

Pharaoh’s Dreams

Two years later, something happens.  Pharaoh has some disturbing dreams, two dreams on the same night. For some reason, these dreams always come in pairs.  Joseph had two dreams about ruling.  The baker and the butler had a dream on the same night.  Two years later, Pharaoh had two more dreams on the same night.  These were strange dreams.  The first dream is about cows.  Pharaoh sees three things in his dream.

First, he sees seven cows coming out of the river.  These cows are described as “attractive and plump”.  These are fat cows.  Today, when someone wants to insult you, they might call you a “fat cow”.  Here it is not an insult but a compliment that these were fat cows.  They are said to be beautiful.

Second, he sees seven more cows come out of the river.  He is standing right by the Nile River in his dream but these cows are ugly and scrawny.  Skinny cows are ugly cows.

Finally, he sees the skinny cows eating the fat cows.  They must have been hungry.  These were cannibalistic cows.  Cows are not carnivorous.  Cows eat grass.  Pharaoh wakes up from his dream, goes back to sleep and has a second dream.  This time, it is about ears of grain.

It is almost as if God is making sure that Pharaoh gets the message by giving him two dreams.  In his second dream, one stalk of grain devours another stalk, which seems a little strange to us.  Stalks of grain do not eat other stalks of grain.

Now, these are bizarre dreams.  They do not make sense on the literal level.  They are symbolic dreams.  I have had many dreams.  I never went looking for anyone to interpret them for me.  Most of our dreams do not mean anything.  Ecclesiastes 5:7 says, “For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear” (ESV).

These dreams were vivid.   He remembered every part of them. They were clearly supernatural, not natural dreams.  Pharaoh did not say “It is just a dream”.  He knew God was trying to tell him something.  They had a message but he didn’t know what it was.

He tried to find an answer.  He turned to all of the experts in Egypt.  There were dream interpreters in his day but none of them could help him.  This dream came from God.  He was the only one who knew what it meant.  God was the only one who had the key to this dream.

Then a miracle happened.  The baker remembered Joseph.  He had interpreted his dream.  He also interpreted the baker’s dream and he interpreted them with one hundred percent accuracy.  “And as he interpreted to us, so it came about. I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged” (41:13).

Perhaps he could interpret Pharaoh’s dream as well.  The butler gives Pharaoh a recommendation for Joseph but Joseph had a few things against him.  He was a foreigner He was a Hebrew, not an Egyptian.

He was a slave.  He was a prisoner.  He had a criminal record.  He was also young.  The butler calls him a young man” (41:12) but he had one thing going for him.  He had a good success rate with dreams.  Joseph was two for two so far.  He might be able to interpret the dream.

Joseph has a day that begins just like any other day.  He had no idea that day would change his life forever.  Out of nowhere, he got a summons from Pharaoh to come to the royal palace.  He was brought quickly.  There was an urgency about it.  Pharaoh wanted his dream interpreted quickly.

Joseph’s Interpretation

Pharaoh says, “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” (41:15).  Pharaoh tells him his dream. Joseph interprets the dream instantly, effortlessly and correctly.  In his interpretation he says that the dreams are one (41:15).  In other words, he had two dreams but the two dreams say exactly the same thing in two different ways.

He also says that the dream covers fourteen years and can be divided into two parts: seven good years (seven years of prosperity) and seven bad years (seven years of famine).  The famine will be severe.

It will be an economic crisis.  Many will die.  It not only hit Egypt for seven years.  It hit Canaan for seven years (41:57).  It will be so bad that when it comes, you will not even remember the seven years of plenty (41:30).  We can learn a lot by noticing what Joseph did NOT say to Pharaoh.

1) He did NOT bargain with Pharaoh

Joseph did not say “I will be glad to tell you what the dream means if you promise to release me from prison”.  He did not make a deal with Pharaoh. He does not use it as a bargaining tool.

2) He did NOT boast of his ability to interpret dreams

He did not mock the people who could not interpret the dream or brag about his own gifts and abilities.  He did not say, “All of the dream interpreters in Egypt are just amateurs compared to me.  I am the best dream interpreter in the country.  I am the Dream Doctor.  I am a dream specialist.  No one else knows how to interpret dreams like I do.  I have a one hundred percent success rate”

Joseph answered Pharaoh and said, “It is NOT in me” (41:16).  Joseph’s humility is amazing.  Often people who are extremely gifted and can do things that no one else can do are arrogant.  It goes to their head but not Joseph.  He recognized that every gift, every ability, every skill he had came from God.

3) He did NOT doubt Pharaoh’s dream would be interpreted.

This is amazing.  He said emphatically  “God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (41:16).  He does not say, “I might be able to interpret your dream.  I will do my best.” No, he says “you will get your dream interpreted”.  Now Joseph was under incredible pressure.  Without warning he is quickly brought before the most powerful man in the country.  He is asked on the spot to interpret a dream he has never heard before.

Joseph has incredible confidence.  He is not in the least bit intimidated.  He does not seem worried that if he messes up the interpretation, Pharaoh might do something bad to him.  How did he know that this dream would be interpreted?  I believe that Joseph not only had the gift to interpret dreams, he also had the gift of prophecy and that is how he knew this and said it with confidence.

4) He does NOT keep his faith a secret

Let’s think about this.  Joseph assimilated into Egypt.  He lived in Egypt.  He worked in Egypt.  He spoke Egyptian.  He ate Egyptian food.  He married an Egyptian woman.  He had an Egyptian name.  Zaphenath-Paneah was an Egyptian, not a Hebrew name.

His Hebrew name was Yosef.  He looked like Egyptians.  Hebrews had beards.  Egyptians did not like beards, so Joseph shaved before going before Pharaoh.  He looked like Egyptians.  He even walked like an Egyptian.  The one thing that did NOT do was worship like an Egyptian.

Joseph never worshipped the Egyptian gods.  He worshipped the one true God.  Whenever he got a change, he spoke to others about his God.  He was vocal about his faith, even though he was the only Hebrew in the whole country.  He was a minority.

Three times, Joseph says God is going to show you what is going to happen (41:25, 28, 32).  He said, “God has told to Pharaoh what He is about to do” (41:25). “God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do” (41:28). “The matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about” (41:32).  He was not worried about offending Pharaoh by talking about God.

Joseph says, “The God of the Hebrews and not the gods of the Egyptians will help Pharaoh”.  None of the Egyptians even believed in this god. Pharaoh thought that he himself was a god.

He was not the type of person who never talk to others about their faith.  Many regard it as a private matter.  Joseph honored God on the job.  Joseph was not afraid to talk about his faith on the job.  He was not afraid to talk about his faith in a government setting.

5) He did NOT leave Pharaoh without a plan

This is interesting.  Joseph does not just leave Pharaoh with bad news. A disaster is coming and it will last seven years.  Seven years is a long time.   Lots of people are going to starve to death.

You will have an economic crisis on your hands. No, Joseph tells him what to do about this problem.  Here we see another one of Joseph’s spiritual gifts.  He not only had the gift of dream interpretation and prophecy, he also had the gift of wisdom.

There is a difference between the gift of wisdom and the gift of knowledge.  God gives people both gifts (I Corinthians 12:8).  We need both.  Knowledge had to do with information.  It has to do with facts.  It is theoretical.  Wisdom has to do with application.  It is practical.  It is applied knowledge.

Joseph had wisdom.  His knowledge was not just theoretical, he could apply it to real life situations.  He knew how to give practical solutions to real problems.  Here, he applied his knowledge to solve a food crisis.  We have in this chapter a perfect example of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

There is something that cannot be changed.  It is fixed.  It is predestined.  There are going to be seven years of famine.  Joseph did not say, “This is God’s will.  There is nothing you can do about it.  Don’t even try”.

He gave solutions to deal with this problem.  Joseph believed that God was sovereign over everything, even the weather but he also believed in human responsibility.  He told Pharaoh to prepare for the future.

Pharaoh liked what he says and gave him a job offer.  He was put in charge of the agricultural policy for the country.  He became the Food Tzar.

He becomes Head of the Department of Agriculture.  To do this job would involve another one of Joseph’s spiritual gifts, administration.  Now instead of managing Potiphar’s house, he is managing the food supply for the whole nation.

This is amazing, if you think about it. Joseph walks into the royal palace for the first time. It is like walking into the White House Staff Meeting.  The cabinet is in the room, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are there and someone comes out off the street who was just let out of prison and begins giving economic advice to Pharaoh.

Most government leaders do not look to convicted felons in prison to find their Chief Economic Adviser, although some end up there after working in politics.

Joseph becomes the world’s first economist. He was an economic genius.  What he said would be unpopular today.  This plan involved a big government project.

It is a top-down government run program, a government sponsored rationing system.  In a free market economy, you can do what you want with your extra grain.

This plan involved a 20% tax on what people produced during the seven good years (41:34).  One-fifth of the harvest went to the government.  In the seven bad years, people could buy the grain back.  Joseph did not just give it to them (41:56-57).  It was a centrally managed economy.  It was emergency planning in preparation for an economic crisis.

Lessons from Joseph’s Plan

We can learn from what Joseph says here.  It is still good advice today. Many have called this “the Joseph Principle”.  What does this principle involve?

  • Drastic measures have to be taken in a crisis situation.
  • A specific plan of action has to be used in this situation.
  • There are cycles of prosperity and recession in every economy.
  • We need to save for the future, especially in times of plenty.

We could all learn from this advice (e.g. use of an emergency fund). We might not have food shortages but we all have unplanned expenses that come up in our lives.  This is the biblical equivalent of saving up for a rainy day.  Proverbs 6:6-8 says, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.” (ESV)


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