Although the text is not clear, the chief baker dies a particularly gruesome death. The way the story is told, Pharaoh lifts up the baker’s head—a gesture which would seem to signal royal favor—but in the next treacherous instant, his head is removed. Then his lifeless corpse is impaled on a tree, exposed to the elements. Because the body is left to rot outside and be eaten by birds—instead of being carefully embalmed and entombed—the Egyptians believe the victim’s soul can never enter the afterlife. This is the worst form of capital punishment, leaving the cupbearer to fear not only death but also eternal oblivion.
41 Two years later, Pharaoh had a dream. He dreamed that he was standing by the Nile River, 2 and out of the Nile came seven healthy, fat cows. They all grazed in the grassy reeds at the river’s edge. 3 Then, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile and stood by them on the bank of the river. 4 And the ugly, thin cows ate the seven healthy, fat cows. And then Pharaoh woke up, startled.
5 Again he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. This time, seven ears of grain, all plump and fine, were growing on one stalk. 6 Then seven other ears that were shriveled and burnt by the east wind sprouted up after them. 7 The shriveled ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears. Then Pharaoh woke up again, realizing it was only a dream.
8 In the morning he felt uneasy, so he sent for all of the magicians and all of the wise men of Egypt to come and consult with him. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him. They had no idea what they could mean.
9 The chief cupbearer remembered Joseph, so he went to Pharaoh.
Cupbearer: I am reminded today of something I did wrong. 10 Once when Pharaoh was angry with his servants, he put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard. 11 One night we both had a dream. The dreams were unique, and their interpretations were also unique. 12 There was a young Hebrew there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him our dreams, he interpreted them for us. 13 Things turned out exactly as he had interpreted them: I was restored to my office, and the baker was impaled.
14 Pharaoh sent for Joseph, hoping he could also interpret Pharaoh’s dream. His officers rushed to the dungeon to get Joseph ready to meet the king. After he had been allowed to shave and change his clothes, he was brought before Pharaoh.
Pharaoh (to Joseph): 15 I’ve had a dream, and I can’t find anyone who can tell me what it means. But I’ve heard that when someone tells you a dream, you are able to interpret it.
Joseph: 16 I cannot do this, but God will answer Pharaoh’s request and relieve your concerns.
Pharaoh: 17 In my dream, I was standing on the bank of the Nile River, 18 and seven healthy, fat cows came up out of the Nile River and grazed in the grassy reeds at the river’s edge. 19 Then seven other cows came up after them. They were miserable, very ugly and thin. Never had I seen such horrible-looking cows in all the land of Egypt. 20 Anyway, the thin, ugly cows ate the first seven fat cows. 21 But after they had eaten them, no one would have known they had done so because they were still as ugly as before. Then I woke up. 22 I fell asleep and dreamed a second time. I saw in this dream seven ears of grain, all plump and fine, growing on one stalk. 23 And then seven ears that were withered, shriveled up, and burnt by the east wind sprouted after them. 24 The thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears. When I told the magicians about these dreams, there was no one who could explain them to me.
Joseph (to Pharaoh): 25 Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same. God is revealing to Pharaoh what He is going to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years and the seven good ears are the same seven years—years of plenty. Both dreams tell one story. 27 The seven thin and ugly cows that came up after them are also seven years, as are the seven thin ears burnt by the east wind. These are seven years of famine. 28 As I told Pharaoh, God is showing Pharaoh what He means to do and what will come. 29 There will be seven years of great abundance throughout all the land of Egypt. 30 But after that, there will be seven years of famine. Whatever abundance was once enjoyed will be totally forgotten, because the famine will consume the land. 31 The famine will be so severe that no one will know what it is like to have enough of anything. 32 The doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means this future is fixed by God, and He will make it happen very soon.
33 My advice is that Pharaoh should select someone who is wise and discerning and put him in charge of the land of Egypt during this time. 34 Pharaoh should appoint officers over the land and direct them to take one-fifth of all that the land of Egypt produces during the seven abundant years, 35 gather it together, store it up, and guard it under Pharaoh’s authority. That way each city will have a supply of food. 36 The food would then be held in reserve for the people during the seven years of famine that are sure to come to Egypt. In this way, the people of Egypt will not starve to death during the famine.
37 Pharaoh and all his advisors liked Joseph’s suggestion.
Pharaoh (to his advisors): 38 Is there anyone else you know like Joseph who has the Spirit of God within him?
39 (to Joseph) Since God has shown all of this to you, I can’t imagine anyone wiser and more discerning than you. 40 Therefore you will be in charge of my household. All of my people will report to you and do as you say. Only I, because I sit on the throne, will be greater than you. 41 I hereby appoint you head over all of the land of Egypt.
42 As a symbol of his power, Pharaoh removed the signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s. Then he dressed him in fine linens and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 He had Joseph ride in the chariot reserved for his second-in-command, and servants ordered everyone, “Kneel!” as he rode by. So this was how Pharaoh appointed Joseph head over all of the land of Egypt. 44 But Pharaoh had one more declaration.
Pharaoh (to Joseph): I am Pharaoh, and I decree that no one may do anything in the land of Egypt without your consent.
45 Then Pharaoh gave Joseph an Egyptian name, Zaphenath-paneah, and arranged for him to marry an Egyptian woman, Asenath (daughter of Potiphera, priest of On). So this was how Joseph gained authority over all the land of Egypt.
Pharaoh wants there to be no doubt that Joseph is his second-in-command. So he holds a formal ceremony and presents Joseph with special gifts, symbols of high office and power. He gives Joseph his signet ring, mounted with Pharaoh’s personal seal. He dresses him in royal garb and provides him with the finest chariot available. He issues decrees that put Joseph in charge of all affairs in Egypt. Finally, to top it off and to make sure this son of Israel would be fully accepted into Egyptian society, he gives him an Egyptian name and arranges a marriage with a high-profile priestly family. Just a few hours before, Joseph was a prisoner. Now he is in charge of all the land.
46 Now Joseph was 30 years old when he entered into Pharaoh’s service. He left the king of Egypt’s presence to travel throughout the land. 47 For seven years—the years of plenty—the land produced abundantly. 48 Joseph gathered up all of the food he could during those seven years of plenty in the land of Egypt and stored the grain in the cities. He arranged for every city to store the food grown in local fields. 49 And he stored up so much grain—as much as the grains of sand on the seashore—that he stopped measuring it. It was more than anyone could measure!
50 Now before the famine began, Joseph had two sons by his wife Asenath (daughter of Potiphera, priest of On). 51 Joseph named his firstborn son Manasseh because he said, “God has made me forget all about my hardship and all of my father’s family.” 52 He named the second son Ephraim, because as he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my misfortune.”
53 Eventually, the seven years of plenty in the land of Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine settled in, just as Joseph had predicted. Although the famine extended to all the surrounding lands, in Egypt there was still food stored away in the cities. 55 When the people in Egypt became famished, they appealed to Pharaoh for food; and Pharaoh directed them all to Joseph.
Pharaoh: Go to Joseph, and do what he tells you to do.
56 So when the famine had spread across the land of Egypt, Joseph opened up the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians. But he waited until the famine had become severe in the land. 57 When the surrounding peoples heard Egypt still had food, they journeyed to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because by this time the entire world was in the grip of a severe famine.