Genesis 41


Pharaoh's dream of the seven well-favoured and seven

ill-favoured kine, 1-4.

His dream of the seven full and seven thin ears of corn, 5-7.

The magicians and wise men applied to for the interpretation

of them, but could give no solution, 8.

The chief butler recollects and recommends Joseph, 9-13.

Pharaoh commands him to be brought out of prison, 14.

Joseph appears before Pharaoh, 15, 16.

Pharaoh repeats his dreams, 17-24.

Joseph interprets them, 25-32,

and gives Pharaoh directions how to provide against the

approaching scarcity, 33-36.

Pharaoh, pleased with the counsel, appoints Joseph to be

superintendent of all his affairs, 37-41.

Joseph receives the badges of his new office, 42, 43,

and has his powers defined, 44;

receives a new name, and marries Asenath, daughter of

Poti-Pherah, priest of ON, 45.

Joseph's age when brought before Pharaoh, 46.

Great fertility of Egypt in the seven plenteous years, 47.

Joseph hoards up the grain, 48, 49.

Ephraim and Manasseh born, 50-52.

The seven years of famine commence with great rigour, 53-55.

Joseph opens the storehouses to the Egyptians, 56.

People from the neighbouring countries come to Egypt to

buy corn, the famine being in all those lands, 57.


Verse 1. Two full years] shenathayim yamim, two

years of days, two complete solar revolutions, after the events

mentioned in the preceding chapter.

The river.] The Nile, the cause of the fertility of Egypt.

Verse 2. There came up out of the river seven well-favoured

kine] This must certainly refer to the hippopotamus or river

horse, as the circumstances of coming up out of the river and

feeding in the field characterize that animal alone. The

hippopotamus is the well-known inhabitant of the Nile, and

frequently by night comes out of the river to feed in the fields,

or in the sedge by the river side.

Verse 6. Blasted with the east wind] It has been very properly

observed that all the mischief done to corn or fruit, by blasting,

smutting, mildews, locusts, &c., is attributed to the east wind.

See Ex 10:13; 14:21; Ps 78:26; Eze 17:10; Jon 4:8. In Egypt it

is peculiarly destructive, because it comes through the parched

deserts of Arabia, often destroying vast numbers of men and women.

The destructive nature of the simoom or smoom is mentioned by

almost all travellers. Mr. Bruce speaks of it in his Travels in

Egypt. On their way to Syene, Idris their guide, seeing one of

these destroying blasts coming, cried out with a loud voice to the

company, "Fall upon your faces, for here is the simoom! I saw,"

says Mr. B., "from the S. E. a haze come, in colour like the

purple part of the rainbow, but not so compressed or thick. It

did not occupy twenty yards in breadth, and was about twelve feet

high from the ground. It was a kind of blush upon the air, and it

moved very rapidly, for I scarce could turn to fall upon the

ground, with my head northward, when I felt the heat of its

current plainly upon my face. We all lay flat upon the ground, as

if dead, till Idris told us it was blown over. The meteor or

purple haze which I saw was indeed passed, but the light air that

still blew was of a heat to threaten suffocation. for my part, I

found distinctly in my breast that I had imbibed a part of it; nor

was I free from an asthmatic sensation till I had been some months

in Italy, at the bathe of Poretta, near two years

afterwards."-Travels, vol. vi., p. 462. On another occasion the

whole company were made ill by one of these pestilential blasts,

so that they had scarcely strength to load their camels.-ibid., p.

484. The action of this destructive wind is referred to by the

Prophet Ho 13:15:

Though he be fruitful among his brethren, an EAST WIND shall

come, the wind of the Lord shall come up FROM THE WILDERNESS, and

his spring shall BECOME DRY, and his fountain shall be DRIED up:

he shall spoil the treasure of all pleasant vessels.

Verse 8. Called for all the magicians] chartummim. The

word here used may probably mean no more than interpreters of

abstruse and difficult subjects; and especially of the Egyptian

hieroglyphics, an art which is now entirely lost. It is most

likely that the term is Egyptian, and consequently its etymology

must remain unknown to us. If Hebrew, Mr. Parkhurst's definition

may be as good as any: " cheret, a pen or instrument to

write or draw with, and tam, to perfect or

accomplish; those who were perfect in drawing their sacred,

astrological, and hieroglyphical figures or characters, and who,

by means of them, pretended to extraordinary feats, among which

was the interpretation of dreams. They seem to have been such

persons as Josephus (Ant., lib. ii., c. 9, s. 2) calls

ιερογραμματεις sacred scribes, or professors of sacred


Wise men] chacameyha, the persons who, according to

Porphyry, "addicted themselves to the worship of God and the study

of wisdom, passing their whole life in the contemplation of Divine

things. Contemplation of the stars, self-purification,

arithmetic, and geometry, and singing hymns in honour of their

gods, was their continual employment."-See Dodd. It was probably

among these that Pythagoras conversed, and from whom he borrowed

that modest name by which he wished his countrymen to distinguish

him, viz., φιλοσοφος, a philosopher, simply, a lover of wisdom.

Verse 9. I do remember my faults] It is not possible he could

have forgotten the circumstance to which he here alludes; it was

too intimately connected with all that was dear to him, to permit

him ever to forget it. But it was not convenient for him to

remember this before; and probably he would not have remembered it

now, had he not seen, that giving this information in such a case

was likely to serve his own interest. We are justified in

thinking evil of this man because of his scandalous neglect of a

person who foretold the rescue of his life from imminent

destruction, and who, being unjustly confined, prayed to have his

case fairly represented to the king that justice might be done

him; but this courtier, though then in the same circumstances

himself, found it convenient to forget the poor, friendless Hebrew


Verse 14. They brought him hastily out of the dungeon] Pharaoh

was in perplexity on account of his dreams; and when he heard of

Joseph, he sent immediately to get him brought before him. He

shaved himself-having let his beard grow all the time he was in

prison, he now trimmed it, for it is not likely that either the

Egyptians or Hebrews shaved themselves in our sense of the word:

the change of raiment was, no doubt, furnished out of the king's

wardrobe; as Joseph, in his present circumstances, could not be

supposed to have any changes of raiment.

Verse 16. It is not in me, &c.] biladai, without or

independently of me-I am not essential to thy comfort, God himself

has thee under his care. And he will send thee, or answer thee,

peace; thou shalt have prosperity ( shelom) howsoever

ominous thy dreams may appear. By this answer he not only

conciliated the mind of the king, but led him to expect his help

from that GOD from whom alone all comfort, protection, and

prosperity, must proceed.

Verse 18. Seven kine, fat-fleshed] See Clarke on Ge 41:2. And

observe farther, that the seven fat and the seven lean kine coming

out of the same river plainly show, at once, the cause both of the

plenty and the dearth. It is well known that there is scarcely

any rain in Egypt; and that the country depends for its fertility

on the overflowing of the Nile; and that the fertility is in

proportion to the duration and quantity of the overflow. We may

therefore safely conclude that the seven years of plenty were

owing to an extraordinary overflowing of the Nile; and that the

seven years of dearth were occasioned by a very partial, or total

want of this essentially necessary inundation. Thus then the two

sorts of cattle, signifying years of plenty and want, might be

said to come out of the same river, as the inundation was either

complete, partial, or wholly restrained.

See Clarke on Ge 41:31.

Verse 21. And when they had eaten them up, &c.] Nothing can more

powerfully mark the excess and severity of the famine than

creatures of the beeve or of the hippopotamus kind eating each

other, and yet without any effect; remaining as lean and as

wretched as they were before. A sense of want increases the

appetite, and stimulates the digestive powers to unusual action;

hence the concoction of the food becomes very rapid, and it is

hurried through the intestines before its nutritive particles can

be sufficiently absorbed; and thus, though much is eaten, very

little nourishment is derived from it. And when they had eaten

them up, it could not be known that they had eaten them; but they

were still ill favoured, as at the beginning. A most nervous and

physically correct description.

Verse 25. God hath showed Pharaoh what he is about to do.]

Joseph thus shows the Egyptian king that though the ordinary cause

of plenty or want is the river Nile, yet its inundations are under

the direction of God: the dreams are sent by him, not only to

signify beforehand the plenty and want, but to show also that all

these circumstances, however fortuitous they may appear to man,

are under the direction of an overruling Providence.

Verse 31. The plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of

that famine following] As Egypt depends for its fertility on the

flowing of the Nile, and this flowing is not always equal, there

must be a point to which it must rise to saturate the land

sufficiently, in order to produce grain sufficient for the support

of its inhabitants. Pliny, Hist. Nat., lib. v., cap. 9, has given

us a scale by which the plenty and dearth may be ascertained; and,

from what I have been able to collect from modern travellers, this

scale may be yet considered as perfectly correct. Justum

incrementum est cubitorum xvi. Minores aquae non omnia rigant,

ampliores detinent, tardius recedendo. HAE serendi tempora

absumunt, solo madente, ILLAE non dant, sitiente. Utrumque

reputat provincia. In xii. cubitis famen sentit. In xiii.

etiamnum esurit; xiv. cubita hilaritatem afferunt; xv.

securitatem; xvi. delicias. "The ordinary height of the

inundations is sixteen cubits. When the waters are lower than

this standard they do not overflow the whole ground; when above

this standard, they are too long in running off. In the first

case the ground is not saturated: by the second, the waters are

detained so long on the ground that seed-time is lost. The

province marks both. If it rise only twelve cubits, a famine is

the consequence. Even at thirteen cubits hunger prevails;

fourteen cubits produces general rejoicing; fifteen, perfect

security; and sixteen, all the luxuries of life."

When the Nile rises to eighteen cubits it prevents the sowing of

the land in due season, and as necessarily produces a famine as

when it does not overflow its banks.

Verse 33. A man discreet and wise] As it is impossible that

Joseph could have foreseen his own elevation, consequently he gave

this advice without any reference to himself. The counsel

therefore was either immediately inspired by God, or was dictated

by policy, prudence, and sound sense.

Verse 34. Let him appoint officers] pekidim, visiters,

overseers: translated by Ainsworth, bishops; see Ge 39:1.

Take up the fifth part of the land] What is still called the

meery, or that part of the produce which is claimed by the king

by way of tax. It is probable that in Joseph's time it was not

so much as a fifth part, most likely a tenth: but as this was an

extraordinary occasion, and the earth brought forth by handfuls,

Ge 41:47, the king would be justified in requiring a

fifth; and from the great abundance, the people could pay this

increased tax without feeling it to be oppressive.

Verse 35. Under the hand of Pharaoh] To be completely at the

disposal of the king.

Verse 37. The thing was good] Pharaoh and his courtiers saw

that the counsel was prudent, and should be carefully followed.

Verse 38. In whom the Spirit of God is?] ruach Elohim,

the identical words used Ge 1:2; and certainly to be understood

here as in the preceding place. If the Egyptians were

idolaters, they acknowledged Joseph's God; and it is not to be

supposed that they only became acquainted with him on this

occasion. The knowledge of the true God was in Egypt long before;

but it is very likely that though they acknowledged his influence

with respect to Joseph, as they saw most clearly that he acted

under an influence far beyond that of their magicians, for he

interpreted dreams which they could not; yet they might,

notwithstanding, have their gods many and their lords many at this

time, for we know that in religious matters they were exceedingly

corrupt afterwards.

Verse 40. According unto thy word shall all my people be ruled]

Literally, At thy mouth shall all my people kiss. In the eastern

countries it is customary to kiss any thing that comes from a

superior, and this is done by way of testifying respect and

submission. In this sense the words in the text are to be

understood: All the people shall pay the profoundest respect and

obedience to all thy orders and commands.

Only in the throne will I be greater than thou.] This, in one

word, is a perfect description of a prime minister. Thou shalt

have the sole management, under me, of all state affairs.

Verse 42. And Pharaoh took off his ring-and put it upon Joseph's

hand] In this ring was probably set the king's signet, by which

the royal instruments were sealed; and thus Joseph was constituted

what we would call Lord Chancellor, or Lord Keeper of the Privy


Vestures of fine linen] shesh. Whether this means linen

or cotton is not known. It seems to have been a term by which

both were denominated; or it may be some other substance or cloth

with which we are unacquainted. If the fine linen of Egypt was

such as that which invests the bodies of the mummies, and these in

general were persons of the first distinction, and consequently

were enveloped in cloth of the finest quality, it was only fine

comparatively speaking, Egypt being the only place at that time

where such cloth was manufactured. I have often examined the

cloth about the bodies of the most splendidly ornamented mummies,

and found it sackcloth when compared with the fine Irish linens.

As this shesh appears to have been a part of the royal clothing,

it was probably both scarce and costly. "By comparing," says

Parkhurst, "Ex 25:4; 26:1, with 2Ch 2:14, and Ex 26:31, with

2Ch 3:14, it appears that

buts, cotton, is called shesh; and by comparing Ex 28:42,

with Ex 39:28, that

bad, linen, is also called shesh; so that shesh seems a

name expressive of either of these, from their cheerful vivid


Put a gold chain about his neck] This was not merely a badge of

office. The chain might be intended to point out the union which

should subsist between all parts of the government- the king, his

ministers, and the people; as also that necessary dependence which

they had reciprocally on each other, as well as the connection

which must be preserved between the different members of the body

politic, and the laws and institutions by which they were to be

governed. Its being of gold might be intended to show the

excellence, utility, and permanence of a government constituted on

wise, just, and equal laws. We are justified in drawing such

inferences as these, because in ancient times, in all nations,

every thing was made an emblem or representation of some spiritual

or moral subject it is strange that, probably without adverting to

the reasons, the chain of gold worn about the neck is in different

nations an emblem of civil authority.

Verse 43. He made him to ride in the second chariot] That which

usually followed the king's chariot in public ceremonies.

Bow the knee] abrech, which we translate bow the knee,

and which we might as well translate any thing else, is probably

an Egyptian word, the signification of which is utterly unknown.

If we could suppose it to be a Hebrew word, it might be considered

as compounded of ab, father, and rach, tender; for

Joseph might be denominated a father, because of his care over the

people, and the provision he was making for their preservation;

and tender because of his youth. Or it may be compounded of

ab, father, and barech, blessing, the latter beth

being easily lost in the preceding one; and Joseph might have this

epithet as well as the other, on account of the care he was taking

to turn aside the heavy curse of the seven years of famine, by

accumulating the blessings of the seven years of plenty. Besides,

father seems to have been a name of office, and probably father of

the king or father of Pharaoh might signify the same as the king's

minister among us; see on Ge 45:8. But if it be an Egyptian

word, it is vain to look for its signification in Hebrew.

Verse 44. I am Pharaoh] The same as if he had said, I am the

king; for Pharaoh was the common title of the sovereigns of Egypt.

Verse 45. Zaphnath-paaneah] The meaning of this title is as

little known as that of abrech in the preceding verse. Some

translate it, The revealer of secrets; others, The treasury of

glorious comfort. St. Jerome translates the whole verse in the

most arbitrary manner. Vertitque nomen ejus, et vocavit eum,

lingua AEgyptiaca, Salvatorem mundi. "And he changed his name,

and called him in the Egyptian language, The saviour of the

world." None of the Asiatic versions acknowledge this

extraordinary gloss, and it is certainly worthy of no regard. The

Anglo-Saxon nearly copies the Vulgate: [Anglo-Saxon] And named him

in Egyptian, The healer of the world. All the etymologies

hitherto given of this word are, to say the least of them,

doubtful. I believe it also to be an Egyptian epithet,

designating the office to which he was now raised; and similar to

our compound terms, Prime-Minister, Lord Chancellor,

High-Treasurer, Chief Justice, &c.

Asenath the daughter of Poti-pherah] There is no likelihood

that the Poti-pherah mentioned here is the same as the Potiphar

who had purchased Joseph, and, on the false accusations of his

wife, cast him into prison. 1. The Scripture gives no intimation

that they were one and the same person. 2. Poti-pherah had

children, and Potiphar was an eunuch; See Clarke on Ge 37:36;

for though eunuchs often kept women, there is no proof that they

had any issue by them.

Priest of On.] For the signification of the word cohen or

priest, See Clarke on Ge 14:18.

On is rendered Heliopolis (the city of the sun, [Anglo-Saxon]) by

the Septuagint and Anglo-Saxon; and it is very likely that this

Poti-pherah was intendant of that nome or province, under


Joseph went out over all the land] No doubt for the building of

granaries, and appointing proper officers to receive the corn in

every place, as Dr. Dodd has very properly conjectured.

Verse 46. Joseph was thirty years old] As he was seventeen

years old when he was sold into Egypt, Ge 37:2, and was now

thirty, he must have been thirteen years in slavery.

Stood before Pharaoh] This phrase always means admission to the

immediate presence of the sovereign, and having the honour of his

most unlimited confidence. Among the Asiatic princes, the

privilege of coming even to their seat, of standing before them,

&c., was granted only to the highest favourites.

Verse 47. The earth brought forth by handfuls.] This probably

refers principally to rice, as it grows in tufts, a great number

of stalks proceeding from the same seed. In those years the Nile

probably rose sixteen cubits; See Clarke on Ge 41:31.

Verse 50. Two sons] Whom he called by names expressive of God's

particular and bountiful providence towards him. MANASSEH,

menashsheh, signifies forgetfulness, from nashah, to

forget; and EPHRAIM, ephrayim, fruitfulness, from

parah, to be fruitful; and he called his sons by these names,

because God had enabled him to forget all his toil, disgrace, and

affliction, and had made him fruitful in the very land in which he

had suffered the greatest misfortune and indignities.

Verse 54. The seven years of dearth began to come] Owing in

Egypt to the Nile not rising more than twelve or thirteen cubits;

(See Clarke on Ge 41:31;) but there must have been other causes

which affected other countries, not immediately dependent on the

Nile, though remotely connected with Egypt and Canaan.

The dearth was in all lands] All the countries dependent on the

Nile. And it appears that a general drought had taken place, at

least through all Egypt and Canaan; for it is said, Ge 41:57,

that the famine was sore in all lands-Egypt and Canaan, and

their respective dependencies.

Verse 55. When all the land of Egypt was famished] As Pharaoh,

by the advice of Joseph, had exacted a fifth part of all the grain

during the seven years of plenty, it is very likely that no more

was left than what was merely necessary to supply the ordinary

demand both in the way of home consumption, and for the purpose of

barter or sale to neighbouring countries.

Verse 56. Over all the face of the earth] The original,

col peney haarets, should be translated, all the face of

that land, viz., Egypt, as it is explained at the end of the


Verse 57. All countries came into Egypt-to buy] As there had not

been a sufficiency of rains, vapours, &c., to swell the Nile, to

effect a proper inundation in Egypt, the same cause would produce

drought, and consequently scarcity, in all the neighbouring

countries; and this may be all that is intended in the text.

1. As the providence of God evidently led the butler and baker

of Pharaoh, as well as the king himself, to dream the prophetic

dreams mentioned in this and the preceding chapter, so his Spirit

in Joseph led to the true interpretation of them. What a proof do

all these things give us of a providence that is so general as to

extend its influence to every part, and so particular as to

notice, influence, and direct the most minute circumstances!

Surely God "has way every where, and all things serve his will."

2. Dreams have been on one hand superstitiously regarded, and on

the other skeptically disregarded. That some are prophetic there

can be no doubt; that others are idle none can hesitate to

believe. Dreams may be divided into the six following kinds: 1.

Those which are the mere nightly result of the mind's reflections

and perplexities during the business of the day. 2. Those which

spring from a diseased state of the body, occasioning startings,

terrors, &c. 3. Those which spring from an impure state of the

heart, mental repetitions of those acts or images of illicit

pleasure, riot, and excess, which form the business of a

profligate life. 4. Those which proceed from a diseased mind,

occupied with schemes of pride, ambition, grandeur, &c. These, as

forming the characteristic conduct of the life, are repeatedly

reacted in the deep watches of the night, and strongly agitate the

soul with illusive enjoyments and disappointments. 5. Those which

come immediately from Satan, which instil thoughts and principles

opposed to truth and righteousness, leaving strong impressions on

the mind suited to its natural bent and turn, which, in the course

of the day, by favouring circumstances, may be called into action.

6. Those which come from God, and which necessarily lead to him,

whether prophetic of future good or evil, or impressing holy

purposes and heavenly resolutions. Whatever lends away from God,

truth, and righteousness, must be from the source of evil;

whatever leads to obedience to God, and to acts of benevolence to

man, must be from the source of goodness and truth. Reader, there

is often as much superstition in disregarding as in attending to

dreams; and he who fears God will escape it in both.

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