We come to a lengthy, but crucially important chapter of the Bible – two years after Pharaoh has his chief baker hanged. Pharaoh has two dreams of his own. When his wise men were unable to tell him what the dreams mean, his cupbearer (undoubtedly hoping to gain favor) had a sudden improvement in his memory, and told him about Joseph rightly predicting the baker’s fate and his own by interpreting their dreams. So Joseph is quickly brought out of prison (verse 14), cleaned up, and brought before Pharaoh, who repeats his dreams to him.
Joseph is quick to point out before interpreting (verse 15), that it is God who will give Pharaoh the answers he is looking for, not Joseph himself. Then throughout the interpretation, he makes it clear that God has shown Pharaoh through these dreams the reality of what He is about to do. Joseph says that the “doubling” (verse 32) of the dreams (for they both mean the same thing) means that they will be fulfilled soon. There will be seven years of great abundance, followed by seven years of severe famine. He tells Pharaoh that he should appoint overseers over the land and take “one-fifth of the produce” from the plentiful years into reserves “so that the land may not perish through the famine” (verse 36).
So begins Joseph’s rise to power, as the Pharaoh decides that he will be that overseer. He declares that Joseph will be second only to Pharaoh himself in all the land (verse 40). To complete his acceptance as such in the land, Pharaoh gives him an Egyptian name (Zaphenath-paneah) and the hand of “Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On” in marriage. It is from this marriage that Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim are born. We will see these two names figure prominently throughout the Old Testament, as their descendants become the famed “half-tribes” destined to go with the descendants of Joseph’s 11 brothers, as the “Twelve Tribes of Israel” are led by Moses, and finally by Joshua to the Promised Land ~400 years later.
For now though, Joseph’s choice of names for the two in verses 51-52 (the name Manasseh ironically relates to “forget” and Ephraim sounds like the Hebrew for “make fruitful”) reflects his acknowledgement throughout the chapter that God is in control, and that by His power Joseph’s life has been blessed.
The boy who was 17 years old (in Gen 37:2) before his brothers threw him away is 30 years old when he begins with Pharaoh (verse 46); and after the famine began 7 years later, “all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth” (verse 57).
Now, thanks to God, the young Hebrew has just become the second most powerful man in the world!
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