Joseph Is Exalted
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Explain how God elevated Joseph to a position of power in Egypt.
2. Compare Joseph’s experience of hardship resulting in blessing with other biblical or modern examples.
3. Give thanks to God for working all things together for good in his or her own life.
How to Say It
Ezekiel. Ee-ZEEK-ee-ul or Ee-ZEEK-yul.
Pharaoh. FAIR-o or FAY-roe.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Nov. 5—In Potiphar’s House (Genesis 39:1–6a)
Tuesday, Nov. 6—Joseph Refuses (Genesis 39:6b–10)
Wednesday, Nov. 7—Revenge (Genesis 39:11–20)
Thursday, Nov. 8—Pharaoh’s Dreams (Genesis 41:1–8)
Friday, Nov. 9—Joseph the Interpreter (Genesis 41:25–36)
Saturday, Nov. 10—Second-in-Command (Genesis 41:37–45)
Sunday, Nov. 11—God’s Wonderful Works (Psalm 105:16–22)
Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 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 41:39- 40
Why Teach This Lesson?
When betrayed, injured, or overlooked, we can become bitter or depressed. Your learners need to realize that God never wastes their pain. As the biblical record of Joseph’s life continues, we see God using Joseph’s trials to mature him and to bring about a plan of provision through this faithful servant.
On the other hand, it’s easy to feel proud or deserving of our blessings when things go well. In those cases, your learners need to learn not to confuse God’s achievements with their own. We know that humility is a trait that makes us useful in the kingdom of God. It keeps us from becoming self-important. It keeps us close to our source of strength.
In good times and bad, it’s easy to forget God’s behind-the-scenes work. Joseph, though confident of God’s ability to work through him, remained clear about his own inability: “I cannot do it” (Genesis 41:16). The challenge is to remain humble and encouraged through all circumstances, realizing that God is shaping us through each frustration and success.
A. Rising Above Adversity
Milos Cols (pronounced Milosh Schultz) is an evangelical minister in Prague, Czech Republic. As a minister there during the Communist era, he experienced a great deal of adversity. The government took away his ordination. He was not allowed to preach in Prague. The intent was to stop his activities by making his life as miserable as possible.
One day Milos was called in by the secret police for questioning. He showed up late, and the interrogator was furious. Milos told him, “I was sleeping so well that I forgot to wake up on time for this meeting.” It was a subtle way to say, “You do not frighten me, no matter what you choose to do.” The interrogator understood the innuendo and was even more furious. When his tirade ended, he allowed Milos to leave, unharmed.
Communism left Prague in 1989, and Milos is still preaching the Word. God expects his servants to rise above adversity, and he strengthens them to do so. That’s just what Milos did.
B. Lesson Background
When we last saw Joseph, he was on his way to Egypt and into slavery. His chances for a good life appeared to be very bleak. Joseph probably thought he would never see his family again.
Joseph was purchased by Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Joseph proved to be an excellent worker. Soon he was appointed to be manager over all the administrative affairs of Potiphar’s household.
This situation lasted as long as Joseph was able to keep his master’s wife away from him. Potiphar’s wife lusted after Joseph, creating a major temptation for him. One day she waited for the appropriate moment to try once more. Joseph rebuffed her, but in revenge she accused him of attempted rape (Genesis 39).
Joseph wound up in prison. There he demonstrated his skills as an administrator, and he was soon running the prison. This position lasted for several years. During that time, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker were thrown into prison. Both had dreams. Joseph interpreted their dreams, and the interpretations proved to be accurate: the butler was restored to his position, and the baker was hanged.
Then Pharaoh had dreams that no one could explain. The cupbearer told Pharaoh about Joseph. Joseph was cleaned up, appropriately dressed, and brought before Pharaoh (Genesis 41:14).
What Do You Think?
How did Joseph’s experiences in Potiphar’s house and in prison serve as preparation for his challenge before Pharaoh? How are Joseph’s experiences relevant for us today?
The Egyptians believed that revelation from “the gods” could come through dreams. The dreams of Pharaoh thus provided the avenue for Joseph to be released from prison. Joseph himself had had two dreams (Genesis 37:5–7, 9) and two of his fellow prisoners had dreams as well (40:5–23). Then Joseph found himself confronted with two dreams of Pharaoh to interpret.
I. Dreams’ Explanation, Part 1 (Genesis 41:25–27)
A. God Is Revealing (v. 25)
25. Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.
We are not able to identify with certainty the Pharaoh under whom Joseph serves, but we can make an educated guess. Using biblical chronology, we can date Joseph’s life to between 1916 and 1806 bc. Joseph enters Pharaoh’s service at age 30 (Genesis 41:46). That is about the year 1886 bc. This dating points to Sesostris (also spelled Senusret) II as the Pharaoh in question. His reign occurs during Egypt’s Middle Kingdom Twelfth Dynasty (a dynasty that lasts from approximately 1937 to 1759 bc).
This Pharaoh, whoever he is, has had two dreams. Yet the dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. When dreams come in twos, it shows that God is firm about the matter (see v. 32, below). Pharaoh does not understand his dreams, but he is certain that they have a divine source. Any lesser explanation will not satisfy. Joseph confirms his feelings and warns Pharaoh that the dreams contain a serious matter. Joseph does not claim to be the source of the wisdom. Rather, God is the source (see Genesis 41:16). Pharaoh may even be familiar with the name for God of Elohim, because the god el is well known in that day.
B. Famine Is Coming (vv. 26, 27)
26, 27. “The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.
The meaning of the dreams is made known: Egypt is to enjoy seven years of great harvests followed by seven years of famine. The idea of plant life being scorched signifies God’s judgment (compare 2Kings 19:26; Isaiah 37:27). An east wind can also indicate judgment from God (Exodus 10:13; Psalm 48:7; Jeremiah 18:17; Ezekiel 17:10; 19:12; Jonah 4:8).
II. Dreams’ Explanation, Part 2 (Genesis 41:28–32)
A. Review of the Dreams (vv. 28–31)
28, 29. “It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt,
As Joseph reviews the meaning of the dreams, he assures Pharaoh that the message of the dreams is going to come to pass, and that it will happen very soon (what he is about to do; see also v. 32, below). This adds to the urgency of the situation.
Joseph is not some sort of magician or fortuneteller who can explain dreams (compare Daniel 2:1–11). He has already proven that he is God’s conduit for explaining this kind of revelation (Genesis 40). Joseph correctly recognizes that he is only a tool in the hands of God (Genesis 41:16). If there is an explanation to Pharaoh’s dreams, it will come from God.
30. “… but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land.
What Joseph is proposing is almost unbelievable. Seven years of famine? Incredible! A prediction of famine must take into account the fact that rain in Egypt is rare anyway. The average rainfall along Egypt’s coastline is only four to eight inches per year. That is not adequate to support crops, even without a famine. The rest of the country, away from the coastline, may get only one or two inches of rainfall annually. Instead, agriculture in Egypt is tied to the Nile River. The Nile floods annually, bringing a new load of rich silt for the coming year’s crops.
What all this means is that the powerful Egyptian “gods” of the Nile are going to fail for seven years. Yet Pharaoh believes that the dreams are true messages from the spiritual world, and Joseph provides him with the explanation. Up to this point no one else can even guess what the dreams are about. Pharaoh does not challenge Joseph’s interpretations. This undoubtedly is tied in with Joseph’s successful track record in interpreting the dreams of the butler and the baker.
31. “The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe.
Joseph is in the role of court prophet similar to that of Nathan in 2 Samuel 7. To bring bad news to a ruler is dangerous, but Joseph must tell the truth: the famine will be very severe. The famine will affect not only Egypt but surrounding lands as well (Genesis 41:54, 57). The famine will be so severe that people will forget the good years when they had plentiful crops. It was famine that brought Abraham, Joseph’s great-grandfather, to Egypt (12:10). It will be famine that will drive Joseph’s brothers and father to Egypt as well (42:1–3; 43:1; 47:4).
What Do You Think?
How can we recognize an approaching famine of God’s Word? What corrective action can we take to avoid or reverse such a famine?
B. Reason for Two Dreams (v. 32)
32. “The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.
The famine to come will be an act of God. There is a significant purpose for this famine. Yet even Joseph, with his wisdom and insight, surely is not aware of the primary reason for the upcoming famine.
Remember that Pharaoh is not the only one who has had his dream repeated or presented in two forms. Joseph himself had two dreams that had one and the same meaning (Genesis 37:5–7, 9).
“An Ill Wind …”
People in many places think their own weather is unique in being highly changeable. They like to say, “If you don’t like the weather in ________, just wait five minutes, and it will change.” Whether or not such a bold statement is true in every location, the western United States is especially subject to drastically changing weather patterns. The El Niño phenomenon of one year can bring record rains; the La Niña weather pattern that may follow can result in near drought.
Strong winds are common in La Niña years. Those Santa Ana winds, as they are called, quickly dry out the vegetation. This often results in horrendous wildfires. Government agencies are trying to get better at predicting weather patterns to improve preparedness.
Even with modern forecasting tools and big budgets, no modern governmental agency can beat Joseph in accuracy of predictions and being prepared for a natural disaster! He listened to God and thus saved the lives of many. Yet our job is even more important than Joseph’s was. The book of Revelation predicts disaster after disaster that will befall the sinful people of the world. Will we warn them in time? —C. R. B.
III. Joseph’s Advice (Genesis 41:33–36)
A. Wise Man Needed (v. 33)
33. “And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt.
What Do You Think?
How can we make Joseph’s boldness our own in the twenty-first century?
Joseph proceeds to give Pharaoh advice on how to deal with the coming crisis. This displays boldness on Joseph’s part. After all, he is a slave, freshly yanked out of prison. Pharaoh, by contrast, is viewed as a god-king. How dare a mere mortal presume to advise a god-king before that god-king requests him to do so? Yet Joseph plunges forward.
The word now shows a transition from the stated facts to the moral conclusion. The word discerning deals with the ability to show good judgment. The man for this new position must be skilled in leading people; compassionate, yet firm; and of the highest integrity. Otherwise, the project will fail.
What Do You Think?
In what ways would you say that you are a person of discernment, as Joseph uses the concept? How can you improve?
B. Support Team Needed (v. 34a)
34a. “Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land
The next stage will be for Pharaoh to appoint commissioners over the land to assist the new “starvation avoidance director” or perhaps “famine relief director” (if we may call him by either of those titles), and to implement the boss’s plan. This will be more than just an advisory committee. It is to be a structured, action organization that is controlled by the government.
C. Stockpile Needed (vv. 34b–36)
34b–36. “… to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.”
The tax is to be one-fifth of the crops raised in each of the seven years of abundance. But if the famine is to be for seven years, then how will collecting only one-fifth per year for seven years be enough for seven years of famine? A period of famine doesn’t necessarily mean that food production goes all the way down to zero. In any case, Joseph is preparing (under divine guidance) to feed more that just the Egyptians (Genesis 41:53–57). Unknowingly, Joseph is preparing food stores even for his own family.
IV. Pharaoh’s Response (Genesis 41:37–40)
A. Total Agreement (v. 37)
37. The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials.
Pharaoh and everyone around him are duly impressed by what they have seen and heard from Joseph. The man before them appears to have no devious agendas. Rather, Joseph is transparent in the whole matter. Joseph has identified the source of the explanation as God, not himself (Genesis 41:15-16). He has given sound advice as to how to deal with the crisis. Now the matter is in the hands of Pharaoh.
We are not told how long the matter is discussed. No disagreement or debate is noted.
Visual for Lesson 11
This sobering visual can bring to mind past tragedies. Ask your learners how they draw on God’s promises to cope.
B. Best Choice (v. 38)
38. So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”
The question Pharaoh raises involves whom to appoint to the position of “famine relief director.” This will take an unusual person. The most important characteristic will be integrity. The opportunities for graft, bribery, and other misconduct will be enormous. This person will have vast powers and access to great wealth.
Pharaoh is aware that many men are not able to handle such a job without being corrupted by it. Pharaoh has never seen Joseph before. But Joseph has already demonstrated his integrity, first in the house of Potiphar (Genesis 39:5–10) and then in the prison (Genesis 39:20–23). Pharaoh may not be fully aware (or aware at all) of Joseph’s integrity in these cases, but God certainly knows.
We need also to remember that Joseph has earned respect by his ability to do what Pharaoh’s advisors could not do—namely, interpret the dreams of Pharaoh, the baker, and the cupbearer. For Pharaoh, this is evidence of divine leading in the life of Joseph.
No man could do what Joseph has done if he didn’t have divine help. Joseph is thus identified as a man in whom is the Spirit of God. The phrase Spirit of God is used only twice in Genesis—here and in Genesis 1:2. Pharaoh believes that a divine spirit can empower servants of the deity. Thus Joseph is the ideal man for this important job.
Pharaoh’s choice is undoubtedly the result of God’s work on his heart. What is happening here is not by chance or coincidence. Pharaoh expected his own advisors to be able to interpret the dreams, but they could not. To their credit, they don’t even try to fabricate an interpretation (Genesis 41:8). Now standing before Pharaoh is a man who interprets the dreams without apparent expectation of personal gain.
Wisdom in Listening
In the spring of 2004, a self-styled “prophet” who had a substantial audience among Christians in the San Diego area announced an impending disaster. “God had told him” that he would send a devastating earthquake upon the coastal regions of California during the second week of September that year. Yet not a single earthquake of any significance occurred anywhere in the world during that period!
The following spring, the same man predicted a major disaster for the western coast of the U.S. for the end of August. It could be prevented only if vast numbers of Christians went to the Pacific shoreline and prayed for God to stop the calamity, he claimed. There was no noticeable increase in prayer activity on California beaches, but no catastrophic event occurred either.
Joseph was a much better prophet than this man in California—fortunately for Pharaoh! Despite the fact that Pharaoh was a pagan ruler, it was to his credit that he listened carefully to what the man of God had to say. Pharaoh undoubtedly had other prophets, but he chose to listen to the one who truly spoke God’s message. Are we as wise as Pharaoh in that regard? —C. R. B.
C. High Position (vv. 39, 40)
39, 40. Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 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.”
The unbelievable becomes believable. Only a few hours earlier, Joseph had been in prison. He had been there for over two years (Genesis 41:1), with little hope of ever being released.
Yet Joseph had made the best of the situation. Rather than sitting down, folding his arms, and pouting, he had gone to work. As a result, he had risen to become second only to the warden in that prison.
When Joseph left prison to meet Pharaoh, he had no idea what direction his life was going to take. A meeting with Pharaoh! This could have meant either the end of his life, freedom, or merely being thrown right back in prison. It is highly unlikely that the thought of receiving a lifetime appointment to a high government position ever crosses Joseph’s mind.
But now he is being made the second most important man in all of Egypt (compare Daniel 2:48; 5:29; 6:1–3). Egypt is one of the most powerful nations in the world at the time. Now Joseph is in charge of all of Pharaoh’s people. Joseph’s word is to be the final word in all matters. He is answerable to no one except Pharaoh.
In the text that follows, we find Pharaoh affirming Joseph’s high status (Genesis 41:41). Pharaoh does this by giving his personal signet ring to Joseph (Genesis 41:42). This kind of ring is used to make wax-seal impressions on official decrees. That seal impression will be as if Pharaoh himself is issuing the decree.
Joseph is also given linen robes and a gold neck chain. He will also ride in a chariot—the limousine of the day. He is given a bodyguard who is to run before him (Genesis 41:43). People will bow down as his chariot passes by.
But that’s not all. Joseph also is given a wife from the family of one of the most important religious figures in the country (Genesis 41:45). We cannot resist speculating at this point that Joseph must recall his early dreams, wondering how they will come to pass. He certainly will recall those dreams a few years later (Genesis 42:9).
What Do You Think?
How can you cooperate with God in working out his will for your life? What parallels do you see between Joseph’s life and yours?
Joseph is one of the greatest men of the Old Testament. He started out as the special child of his father, but was hated by his brothers. He was sold into slavery by these brothers. Then he was indicted by a vindictive woman for refusing to be unfaithful to God. He was forgotten in prison for a time by a person whom he befriended and for whom he predicted a return to his former position.
Any one of these events could have been enough to send a person into a permanent depression. Joseph had frequent opportunities to sin. Who would care if he did? Potiphar’s wife certainly wouldn’t have cared! His father thought he was dead. His brothers were far away and didn’t know or care where he was. His peers in Egypt were accustomed to sin and degradation. They would not seek to lead Joseph in the right direction morally.
Through exile, slavery, and abuse, Joseph remained faithful to God. After 13 years (from age 17 to age 30), God honored Joseph’s faithfulness.
Thought to Remember
God never forgets faithfulness.
Heavenly Father, give us the determination to persevere when times are difficult. Help us to use those times to draw closer to you. When we do draw closer, help us to remain close. Help us to thank you for the good times and the blessings you bestow. Give us the integrity that Joseph had. In Jesus’ name, amen.
C. R. B. Charles R. Boatman
Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2007-2008. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing, 2007, S. 95