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Joseph’s Rise to Power

41 At the end of two full years[a] Pharaoh had a dream.[b] As he was standing by the Nile, seven fine-looking, fat cows were coming up out of the Nile,[c] and they grazed in the reeds. Then seven bad-looking, thin cows were coming up after them from the Nile,[d] and they stood beside the other cows at the edge of the river.[e] The bad-looking, thin cows ate the seven fine-looking, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up.

Then he fell asleep again and had a second dream: There were seven heads of grain growing[f] on one stalk, healthy[g] and good. Then[h] seven heads of grain, thin and burned by the east wind, were sprouting up after them. The thin heads swallowed up the seven healthy and full heads. Then Pharaoh woke up and realized it was a dream.[i]

In the morning he[j] was troubled, so he called for[k] all the diviner-priests[l] of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams,[m] but no one could interpret[n] them for him.[o] Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I recall my failures.[p] 10 Pharaoh was enraged with his servants, and he put me in prison in the house of the captain of the guards—me and the chief baker. 11 We each had a dream one night; each of us had a dream with its own meaning.[q] 12 Now a young man, a Hebrew, a servant[r] of the captain of the guards,[s] was with us there. We told him our dreams,[t] and he interpreted the meaning of each of our respective dreams for us.[u] 13 It happened just as he had said[v] to us—Pharaoh[w] restored me to my office, but he impaled the baker.”[x]

14 Then Pharaoh summoned[y] Joseph. So they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; he shaved himself, changed his clothes, and came before Pharaoh. 15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream,[z] and there is no one who can interpret[aa] it. But I have heard about you, that[ab] you can interpret dreams.”[ac] 16 Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “It is not within my power,[ad] but God will speak concerning[ae] the welfare of Pharaoh.”[af]

17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing[ag] by the edge of the Nile. 18 Then seven fat and fine-looking cows were coming up out of the Nile, and they grazed in the reeds.[ah] 19 Then[ai] seven other cows came up after them; they were scrawny, very bad looking, and lean. I had never seen such bad-looking cows[aj] as these in all the land of Egypt! 20 The lean, bad-looking cows ate up the seven[ak] fat cows. 21 When they had eaten them,[al] no one would have known[am] that they had done so, for they were just as bad-looking as before. Then I woke up. 22 I also saw in my dream[an] seven heads of grain growing on one stalk, full and good. 23 Then[ao] seven heads of grain, withered and thin and burned with the east wind, were sprouting up after them. 24 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads of grain. So I told all this[ap] to the diviner-priests, but no one could tell me its meaning.”[aq]

25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Both dreams of Pharaoh have the same meaning.[ar] God has revealed[as] to Pharaoh what he is about to do.[at] 26 The seven good cows represent seven years, and the seven good heads of grain represent seven years. Both dreams have the same meaning.[au] 27 The seven lean, bad-looking cows that came up after them represent seven years, as do the seven empty heads of grain burned with the east wind. They represent[av] seven years of famine. 28 This is just what I told[aw] Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the whole land of Egypt. 30 But seven years of famine will occur[ax] after them, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will devastate[ay] the land. 31 The previous abundance of the land will not be remembered[az] because of the famine that follows, for the famine will be very severe.[ba] 32 The dream was repeated to Pharaoh[bb] because the matter has been decreed[bc] by God, and God will make it happen soon.[bd]

33 “So now Pharaoh should look[be] for a wise and discerning man[bf] and give him authority[bg] over all the land of Egypt. 34 Pharaoh should do[bh] this—he should appoint[bi] officials[bj] throughout the land to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt[bk] during the seven years of abundance. 35 They should gather all the excess food[bl] during these good years that are coming. By Pharaoh’s authority[bm] they should store up grain so the cities will have food,[bn] and they should preserve it.[bo] 36 This food should be held in storage for the land in preparation for the seven years of famine that will occur throughout the land of Egypt. In this way the land will survive the famine.”[bp]

37 This advice made sense to Pharaoh and all his officials.[bq] 38 So Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find a man like Joseph,[br] one in whom the Spirit of God is present?”[bs] 39 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Because God has enabled you to know all this, there is no one as wise and discerning[bt] as you are! 40 You will oversee my household, and all my people will submit to your commands.[bu] Only I, the king, will be greater than you.[bv]

41 “See here,” Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I place[bw] you in authority over all the land of Egypt.”[bx] 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his own hand and put it on Joseph’s. He clothed him with fine linen[by] clothes and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 Pharaoh[bz] had him ride in the chariot used by his second-in-command,[ca] and they cried out before him, “Kneel down!”[cb] So he placed him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Pharaoh also said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, but without your permission[cc] no one[cd] will move his hand or his foot[ce] in all the land of Egypt.” 45 Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah.[cf] He also gave him Asenath[cg] daughter of Potiphera, priest of On,[ch] to be his wife. So Joseph took charge of[ci] all the land of Egypt.

46 Now Joseph was 30 years old[cj] when he began serving[ck] Pharaoh king of Egypt. Joseph was commissioned by[cl] Pharaoh and was in charge of[cm] all the land of Egypt. 47 During the seven years of abundance the land produced large, bountiful harvests.[cn] 48 Joseph[co] collected all the excess food[cp] in the land of Egypt during the seven years and stored it in the cities.[cq] In every city he put the food gathered from the fields around it. 49 Joseph stored up a vast amount of grain, like the sand of the sea,[cr] until he stopped measuring it because it was impossible to measure.

50 Two sons were born to Joseph before the famine came.[cs] Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, was their mother.[ct] 51 Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh,[cu] saying,[cv] “Certainly[cw] God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s house.” 52 He named the second child Ephraim,[cx] saying,[cy] “Certainly[cz] God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”

53 The seven years of abundance in the land of Egypt came to an end. 54 Then the seven years of famine began,[da] just as Joseph had predicted. There was famine in all the other lands, but throughout the land of Egypt there was food. 55 When all the land of Egypt experienced the famine, the people cried out to Pharaoh for food. Pharaoh said to all the people of Egypt,[db] “Go to Joseph and do whatever he tells you.”

56 While the famine was over all the earth,[dc] Joseph opened the storehouses[dd] and sold grain to the Egyptians. The famine was severe throughout the land of Egypt. 57 People from every country[de] came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain because the famine was severe throughout the earth.


  1. Genesis 41:1 tn Heb “two years, days.”
  2. Genesis 41:1 tn Heb “was dreaming.”
  3. Genesis 41:2 tn Heb “And look, he was standing by the Nile, and look, from the Nile were coming up seven cows, attractive of appearance and fat of flesh.” By the use of the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh, “look”), the narrator invites the audience to see the dream through Pharaoh’s eyes.
  4. Genesis 41:3 tn Heb “And look, seven other cows were coming up after them from the Nile, bad of appearance and thin of flesh.”
  5. Genesis 41:3 tn Heb “the Nile.” This has been replaced by “the river” in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  6. Genesis 41:5 tn Heb “coming up.”
  7. Genesis 41:5 tn Heb “fat.”
  8. Genesis 41:6 tn Heb “And look.”
  9. Genesis 41:7 tn Heb “And look, a dream.”sn Pharaoh’s two dreams, as explained in the following verses, pertained to the economy of Egypt. Because of the Nile River, the land of Egypt weathered all kinds of famines—there was usually grain in Egypt, and if there was grain and water the livestock would flourish. These two dreams, however, indicated that poverty would overtake plenty and that the blessing of the herd and the field would cease.
  10. Genesis 41:8 tn Heb “his spirit.”
  11. Genesis 41:8 tn Heb “he sent and called,” which indicates an official summons.
  12. Genesis 41:8 tn The Hebrew term חַרְטֹם (khartom) is an Egyptian loanword (hyr-tp) that describes a class of priests who were skilled in such interpretations.
  13. Genesis 41:8 tn The Hebrew text has the singular (though Smr reads the plural). If retained, the singular must be collective for the set of dreams. Note the plural pronoun “them,” referring to the dreams, in the next clause. However, note that in v. 15 Pharaoh uses the singular to refer to the two dreams. In vv. 17-24 Pharaoh seems to treat the dreams as two parts of one dream (see especially v. 22).
  14. Genesis 41:8 tn “there was no interpreter.”
  15. Genesis 41:8 tn Heb “for Pharaoh.” The pronoun “him” has been used in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  16. Genesis 41:9 tn Heb “sins, offenses.” He probably refers here to the offenses that landed him in prison (see 40:1).
  17. Genesis 41:11 tn Heb “and we dreamed a dream in one night, I and he, each according to the interpretation of his dream we dreamed.”
  18. Genesis 41:12 tn Or “slave.”
  19. Genesis 41:12 tn Heb “a servant to the captain of the guards.” On this construction see GKC 419-20 §129.c.
  20. Genesis 41:12 tn The words “our dreams” are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  21. Genesis 41:12 tn Heb “and he interpreted for us our dreams, each according to his dream he interpreted.”
  22. Genesis 41:13 tn Heb “interpreted.”
  23. Genesis 41:13 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Pharaoh) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  24. Genesis 41:13 tn Heb “him”; the referent (the baker) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  25. Genesis 41:14 tn Heb “and Pharaoh sent and called,” indicating a summons to the royal court.
  26. Genesis 41:15 tn Heb “dreamed a dream.”
  27. Genesis 41:15 tn Heb “there is no one interpreting.”
  28. Genesis 41:15 tn Heb “saying.”
  29. Genesis 41:15 tn Heb “you hear a dream to interpret it,” which may mean, “you only have to hear a dream to be able to interpret it.”
  30. Genesis 41:16 tn Heb “not within me.”
  31. Genesis 41:16 tn Heb “God will answer.”
  32. Genesis 41:16 tn The expression שְׁלוֹם פַּרְעֹה (shelom parʿoh) is here rendered “the welfare of Pharaoh” because the dream will be about life in his land. Some interpret it to mean an answer of “peace”—one that will calm his heart, or give him the answer that he desires (cf. NIV, NRSV, NLT).
  33. Genesis 41:17 tn Heb “In my dream look, I was standing.” The use of the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh, “look”) here (and also in vv. 18, 19, 22, 23) invites the hearer (within the context of the narrative, Joseph, but in the broader sense the reader or hearer of the Book of Genesis) to observe the scene through Pharaoh’s eyes.
  34. Genesis 41:18 tn Heb “and look, from the Nile seven cows were coming up, fat of flesh and attractive of appearance, and they grazed in the reeds.”
  35. Genesis 41:19 tn Heb “And look.”
  36. Genesis 41:19 tn The word “cows” is supplied here in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  37. Genesis 41:20 tn Heb “the seven first fat cows.”
  38. Genesis 41:21 tn Heb “when they went inside them.”
  39. Genesis 41:21 tn Heb “it was not known.”
  40. Genesis 41:22 tn Heb “and I saw in my dream and look.”
  41. Genesis 41:23 tn Heb “And look.”
  42. Genesis 41:24 tn The words “all this” have been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  43. Genesis 41:24 tn Heb “and there was no one telling me.”
  44. Genesis 41:25 tn Heb “the dream of Pharaoh is one.”
  45. Genesis 41:25 tn Heb “declared.”
  46. Genesis 41:25 tn The active participle here indicates what is imminent.
  47. Genesis 41:26 tn Heb “one dream it is.”
  48. Genesis 41:27 tn Heb “are.” Another option is to translate, “There will be seven years of famine.”
  49. Genesis 41:28 tn Heb “it is the word that I spoke.”
  50. Genesis 41:30 tn The perfect with the vav consecutive continues the time frame of the preceding participle, which has an imminent future nuance here.
  51. Genesis 41:30 tn The Hebrew verb כָּלָה (kalah) in the Piel stem means “to finish, to destroy, to bring an end to.” The severity of the famine will ruin the land of Egypt.
  52. Genesis 41:31 tn Heb “known.”
  53. Genesis 41:31 tn Or “heavy.”
  54. Genesis 41:32 tn Heb “and concerning the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh two times.” The Niphal infinitive here is the object of the preposition; it is followed by the subjective genitive “of the dream.”
  55. Genesis 41:32 tn Heb “established.”
  56. Genesis 41:32 tn The clause combines a participle and an infinitive construct: God “is hurrying…to do it,” meaning he is going to do it soon.
  57. Genesis 41:33 tn Heb “let Pharaoh look.” The jussive form expresses Joseph’s advice to Pharaoh.
  58. Genesis 41:33 tn Heb “a man discerning and wise.” The order of the terms is rearranged in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  59. Genesis 41:33 tn Heb “and let him set him.”
  60. Genesis 41:34 tn The imperfect verbal form has an obligatory nuance here. Smr has a jussive form here, “and let [Pharaoh] do.”
  61. Genesis 41:34 tn Heb “and let him appoint.” The jussive form expresses Joseph’s advice to Pharaoh.
  62. Genesis 41:34 tn Heb “appointees.” The noun is a cognate accusative of the preceding verb. Since “appoint appointees” would be redundant in English, the term “officials” was used in the translation instead.
  63. Genesis 41:34 tn Heb “and he shall collect a fifth of the land of Egypt.” The language is figurative (metonymy); it means what the land produces, i.e., the harvest.
  64. Genesis 41:35 tn Heb “all the food.”
  65. Genesis 41:35 tn Heb “under the hand of Pharaoh.”
  66. Genesis 41:35 tn Heb “[for] food in the cities.” The noun translated “food” is an adverbial accusative in the sentence.
  67. Genesis 41:35 tn The perfect with vav (ו) consecutive carries the same force as the sequence of jussives before it.
  68. Genesis 41:36 tn Heb “and the land will not be cut off in the famine.”
  69. Genesis 41:37 tn Heb “and the matter was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants.”
  70. Genesis 41:38 tn Heb “like this,” but the referent could be misunderstood to be a man like that described by Joseph in v. 33, rather than Joseph himself. For this reason the proper name “Joseph” has been supplied in the translation.
  71. Genesis 41:38 tn The rhetorical question expects the answer “No, of course not!”
  72. Genesis 41:39 tn Heb “as discerning and wise.” The order has been rearranged in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  73. Genesis 41:40 tn Heb “and at your mouth (i.e., instructions) all my people will kiss.” G. J. Wenham translates this “shall kowtow to your instruction” (Genesis [WBC], 2:395). Although there is some textual support for reading “will be judged, ruled by you,” this is probably an attempt to capture the significance of this word. Wenham lists a number of references where individuals have tried to make connections with other words or expressions—such as a root meaning “order themselves” lying behind “kiss,” or an idiomatic idea of “kiss” meaning “seal the mouth,” and so “be silent and submit to.” See K. A. Kitchen, “The Term Nsq in Genesis 41:40, ” ExpTim 69 (1957): 30; D. S. Sperling, “Genesis 41:40: A New Interpretation,” JANESCU 10 (1978): 113-19.
  74. Genesis 41:40 tn Heb “only the throne, I will be greater than you.”
  75. Genesis 41:41 tn The translation assumes that the perfect verbal form is descriptive of a present action. Another option is to understand it as rhetorical, in which case Pharaoh describes a still future action as if it had already occurred in order to emphasize its certainty. In this case one could translate “I have placed” or “I will place.” The verb נָתַן (natan) is translated here as “to place in authority [over].”
  76. Genesis 41:41 sn Joseph became the grand vizier of the land of Egypt. See W. A. Ward, “The Egyptian Office of Joseph,” JSS 5 (1960): 144-50; and R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 129-31.
  77. Genesis 41:42 tn The Hebrew word שֵׁשׁ (shesh) is an Egyptian loanword that describes the fine linen robes that Egyptian royalty wore. The clothing signified Joseph’s rank.
  78. Genesis 41:43 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Pharaoh) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  79. Genesis 41:43 tn Heb “and he caused him to ride in the second chariot which was his.”
  80. Genesis 41:43 tn The verb form appears to be a causative imperative from a verbal root meaning “to kneel.” It is a homonym of the word “bless” (identical in root letters but not related etymologically).
  81. Genesis 41:44 tn Heb “apart from you.”
  82. Genesis 41:44 tn Heb “no man,” but here “man” is generic, referring to people in general.
  83. Genesis 41:44 tn The idiom “lift up hand or foot” means “take any action” here.
  84. Genesis 41:45 sn The meaning of Joseph’s Egyptian name, Zaphenath-Paneah, is uncertain. Many recent commentators have followed the proposal of G. Steindorff that it means “the god has said, ‘he will live’” (“Der Name Josephs Saphenat-Pa‘neach,” ZÄS 31 [1889]: 41-42); others have suggested “the god speaks and lives” (see BDB 861 s.v. צָפְנָת פַּעְנֵחַ); “the man he knows” (J. Vergote, Joseph en Égypte, 145); or “Joseph [who is called] ʾIp-ʿankh” (K. A. Kitchen, NBD3 1262).
  85. Genesis 41:45 sn The name Asenath may mean “she belongs to the goddess Neit” (see HALOT 74 s.v. אָֽסְנַת). A novel was written at the beginning of the first century entitled Joseph and Asenath, which included a legendary account of the conversion of Asenath to Joseph’s faith in Yahweh. However, all that can be determined from this chapter is that their children received Hebrew names. See also V. Aptowitzer, “Asenath, the Wife of Joseph—a Haggadic Literary-Historical Study,” HUCA 1 (1924): 239-306.
  86. Genesis 41:45 sn On (also in v. 50) is another name for the city of Heliopolis.
  87. Genesis 41:45 tn Heb “and he passed through.”
  88. Genesis 41:46 tn Heb “a son of thirty years.”
  89. Genesis 41:46 tn Heb “when he stood before.”
  90. Genesis 41:46 tn Heb “went out from before.”
  91. Genesis 41:46 tn Heb “and he passed through all the land of Egypt”; this phrase is interpreted by JPS to mean that Joseph “emerged in charge of the whole land.”
  92. Genesis 41:47 tn Heb “brought forth by handfuls.”
  93. Genesis 41:48 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Joseph) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  94. Genesis 41:48 tn Heb “all the food.”
  95. Genesis 41:48 tn Heb “of the seven years which were in the land of Egypt and placed food in the cities.”
  96. Genesis 41:49 tn Heb “and Joseph gathered grain like the sand of the sea, multiplying much.” To emphasize the vast amount of grain he stored up, the Hebrew text modifies the verb “gathered” with an infinitive absolute and an adverb.
  97. Genesis 41:50 tn Heb “before the year of the famine came.”
  98. Genesis 41:50 tn Heb “gave birth for him.”
  99. Genesis 41:51 sn The name Manasseh (מְנַשֶּׁה, menasheh) describes God’s activity on behalf of Joseph, explaining in general the significance of his change of fortune. The name is a Piel participle, suggesting the meaning “he who brings about forgetfulness.” The Hebrew verb נַשַּׁנִי (nashani) may have been used instead of the normal נִשַּׁנִי (nishani) to provide a closer sound play with the name. The giving of this Hebrew name to his son shows that Joseph retained his heritage and faith; and it shows that a brighter future was in store for him.
  100. Genesis 41:51 tn The word “saying” has been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  101. Genesis 41:51 tn Or “for.”
  102. Genesis 41:52 sn The name Ephraim (אֶפְרַיִם, ʾefrayim), a form of the Hebrew verb פָּרָה (parah), means “to bear fruit.” The theme of fruitfulness is connected with this line of the family from Rachel (30:2) on down (see Gen 49:22, Deut 33:13-17, and Hos 13:15). But there is some difficulty with the name “Ephraim” itself. It appears to be a dual, for which F. Delitzsch simply said it meant “double fruitfulness” (New Commentary on Genesis, 2:305). G. J. Spurrell suggested it was a diphthongal pronunciation of a name ending in -an or -am, often thought to be dual suffixes (Notes on the text of the book of Genesis, 334). Many, however, simply connect the name to the territory of Ephraim and interpret it to be “fertile land” (C. Fontinoy, “Les noms de lieux en -ayim dans la Bible,” UF 3 [1971]: 33-40). The dual would then be an old locative ending. There is no doubt that the name became attached to the land in which the tribe settled, and it is possible that is where the dual ending came from, but in this story it refers to Joseph’s God-given fruitfulness.
  103. Genesis 41:52 tn The word “saying” has been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  104. Genesis 41:52 tn Or “for.”
  105. Genesis 41:54 tn Heb “began to arrive.”
  106. Genesis 41:55 tn Heb “to all Egypt.” The name of the country is used by metonymy for the inhabitants.
  107. Genesis 41:56 tn Or “over the entire land”; Heb “over all the face of the earth.” The disjunctive clause is circumstantial-temporal to the next clause.
  108. Genesis 41:56 tc The MT reads “he opened all that was in [or “among”] them.” The translation follows the reading of the LXX and Syriac versions.
  109. Genesis 41:57 tn Heb “all the earth,” which refers here (by metonymy) to the people of the earth. Note that the following verb is plural in form, indicating that the inhabitants of the earth are in view.

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