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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 17–32
Verses 17–32

Here, I. Pharaoh relates his dream. He dreamt that he stood upon the bank of the river Nile, and saw the kine, both the fat ones and the lean ones, come out of the river. For the kingdom of Egypt had no rain, as appears, Zech. 14:18; but the plenty of the year depended upon the overflowing of the river, and it was about one certain time of the year that it overflowed. If it rose to fifteen or sixteen cubits, there was plenty; if to twelve or thirteen only, or under, there was scarcity. See how many ways Providence has of dispensing its gifts; yet, whatever the second causes are, our dependence is still the same upon the first Cause, who makes every creature that to us that it is, be it rain or river.

II. Joseph interprets his dream, and tells him that it signified seven years of plenty now immediately to ensue, which should be succeeded by as many years of famine. Observe, 1. The two dreams signified the same thing, but the repetition was to denote the certainty, the nearness, and the importance, of the event, Gen. 41:32. Thus God has often shown the immutability of his counsel by two immutable things, Heb. 6:17, 18. The covenant is sealed with two sacraments; and in the one of them there are both bread and wine, wherein the dream is one, and yet it is doubled, for the thing is certain. 2. Yet the two dreams had a distinct reference to the two things wherein we most experience plenty and scarcity, namely, grass and corn. The plenty and scarcity of grass for the cattle were signified by the fat kine and the lean ones; the plenty and scarcity of herb for the service of man by the full ears and the thin ones. 3. See what changes the comforts of this life are subject to. After great plenty may come great scarcity; how strong soever we may think our mountain stands, if God speak the word, it will soon be moved. We cannot be sure that to-morrow shall be as this day, next year as this, and much more abundant, Isa. 56:12. We must learn how to want, as well as how to abound. 4. See the goodness of God in sending the seven years of plenty before those of famine, that provision might be made accordingly. Thus he sets the one over-against the other, Eccl. 7:14. With what wonderful wisdom has Providence, that great housekeeper, ordered the affairs of this numerous family from the beginning hitherto! Great variety of seasons there have been, and the produce of the earth is sometimes more and sometimes less; yet, take one time with another, what was miraculous concerning the manna is ordinarily verified in the common course of Providence, He that gathers much has nothing over, and he that gathers little has no lack, Exod. 16:18. 5. See the perishing nature of our worldly enjoyments. The great increase of the years of plenty was quite lost and swallowed up in the years of famine; and the overplus of it, which seemed very much, yet did but just serve to keep men alive, Gen. 41:29-31. Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats, but God shall destroy both it and them, 1 Cor. 6:13. There is bread which endures to everlasting life, which shall not be forgotten, and which it is worth while to labour for, John 6:27. Those that make the things of this world their good things will find but little pleasure in remembering that they have received them, Luke 16:25. 6. Observe, God revealed this beforehand to Pharaoh, who, as king of Egypt, was to be the father of his country, and to make prudent provision for them. Magistrates are called shepherds, whose care it must be, not only to rule, but to feed.