Overcome Hard Times


The Point:  God has a plan to see you through any crisis.

Interpreting Pharaoh’s Dream:  Genesis 41:28-36

[28]  It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. [29]  There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, [30]  but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land,  [31]  and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe.  [32]  And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. [33]  Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt.  [34]  Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years.  [35]  And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it.  [36]  That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine." [ESV]

“In Genesis 41 we find a pair of Pharaoh’s dreams, which Joseph interpreted. These were not like the usual dreams which are only a projection of subconscious fears or desires. This was not the case with Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s dreams had been given to him by God, and they were part of that magnificent chain of events by which Joseph, then the brothers, then Benjamin, and finally Jacob and his entire family were brought to Egypt. The story begins with Joseph in prison two full years after he had interpreted the dreams of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker of the king of Egypt. When Joseph told the chief cupbearer that he would be restored to his position, he added, Only remember me when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house [40:14]. When he was restored to his position the cupbearer forgot Joseph, and two years passed. Two years! If the cupbearer had remembered Joseph sooner, Joseph could have congratulated himself on having the foresight to have requested this favor of him. But this is not a story of a man or man’s gratitude. It is a story of God’s providence. This way God received all the credit and the cupbearer none. When the two years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream concerning seven attractive and plump cows and seven ugly and thin cows who ate the seven plumb cows. Then Pharaoh has a second dream about seven plump ears of grains and seven thin and blighted ears of grain who swallowed up the seven plump ears. Proverbs 21:1 tells us that The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. But the dreams of this king were in the Lord’s hand just as much as his heart, and they were no more difficult for the Lord to direct than were the dreams of the cupbearer and baker. We learn from this that God is never at a loss to bring about what He desires. We might ponder how it would be possible to get Joseph, the condemned slave, out of the prison and into the palace. We might devise one intrigue after the other, all of which would probably take many years and end in failure. But in a night God sends a dream, and before the next day runs its course Joseph is not only out of the prison and in the palace, but he is the prime minister of Egypt. This truth should be a cause of joy to each Christian: We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose [Rom. 8:28]. Pharaoh told his dreams to his court magicians and philosophers, but none of them could interpret them for him. At first glance, this seems remarkable to us. When Nebuchadnezzar at a later period of Bible history had a dream and found that his wise men were unable to interpret it, this was not surprising, since he had forgotten the dream. Nebuchadnezzar’s magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers said that they would interpret the dream if he remembered it. This was not the case with the dream of the pharaoh of Egypt. Pharaoh recalled his dream, but none of the court wise men would hazard a guess at what was the meaning of the dream. The real explanation is that God was making the minds of Pharaoh’s philosophers blank. On the one hand, he filled the mind of Pharaoh with dreams. On the other hand, with the same ease He removed even the suggestion of an interpretation from those who might naturally be expected to disclose it. At this point the chief cupbearer of Pharaoh came forward with a confession. He told Pharaoh: I remember my offenses today. When Pharaoh was angry with his servants and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, we dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own interpretation. A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. And as he interpreted to us, so it came about. I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged [41:9-13]. God was using the cupbearer’s experience to bring Joseph’s name before Pharaoh, and in a moment the call went out for Joseph to appear in court. The emphasis here is on how quickly Joseph was lifted up to stand before Pharaoh and how quickly the challenge to interpret Pharaoh’s dream came. I suppose that there is not a character in all the Bible who experienced such sudden and radical reversals of fortune as did Joseph. One day he was his father’s favored son, destined to inherit his authority and wealth; the next day he was cast into a cistern, menaced by death, and then sold into Egypt as a slave. In Egypt Joseph gradually rose to a position of authority in Potiphar’s household; but in an instant his affairs were reversed and he found himself set in irons in the prison of the captain of the guard. One day he had hopes of deliverance through his friend the chief cupbearer; but that day was succeeded by many other days of discouragement and despair. Then within hours he was suddenly shaved and clothed and in the court of Pharaoh. Sudden reversals are difficult for most of us, for our eyes are not constantly on God as Joseph’s were. When we experience a sudden reversal for the worse, we are despondent. We think God has abandoned us, and we become bitter. When we experience a sudden reversal for the better, we are arrogant. Instead of thinking that God has abandoned us, we sometimes abandon God in our thinking and become quite secular. It is a rare Christian who can enjoy sudden prosperity and keep his or her spiritual life on course. Joseph was one of those rare persons. When he was in prison he did not forget God. When the chief cupbearer and chief baker told him why they were troubled, Joseph replies, Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me [40:8]. Here, before the mightiest monarch of his day, it is the same thing. Pharaoh told Joseph, I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it [15]. Joseph answered Pharaoh, it is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer [16]. Joseph could have been tempted to answer Pharaoh differently. He could have reasoned that Pharaoh knew nothing about the true God and might even be offended by mention of a God other than the various deities of Egypt. Besides, this was Joseph’s great opportunity. Assuming that God would give him the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream, would it not be better for him to take credit for the interpretation himself? This would advance his standing in Pharaoh’s eyes, facilitate his deliverance from the prison, and gain him opportunity to witness later. Was this a temptation for Joseph? The text gives no indication that it was. For a lesser man perhaps. Not for Joseph! Joseph lived with his eyes on God. So when Pharaoh said he had heard that Joseph could interpret dreams, Joseph immediately replied that God, not himself, would give the interpretation. At this point Pharaoh told his dream and Joseph explained it. He told of seven years of abundant harvest to be followed by seven years of famine and ended by saying boldly: Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine [33-36]. The proposal seemed good to Pharaoh, so he appointed Joseph to be in charge of all Egypt. Only in regard to the throne was Pharaoh greater. When Pharaoh placed Joseph in charge of all Egypt, he did so because of two rare qualities in Joseph. The two presuppose each other. First, he noticed that Joseph was discerning and wise [39], the very traits Joseph called for in the man to be put in charge of the famine collections in Egypt. This was a recognition of Joseph’s character. Second, he noticed that Joseph was one in whom is the Spirit of God [38]. This is the first mention in the Bible of the Holy Spirit’s coming upon a man. Later it occurs a great deal and comes to a climax in God’s pouring out His Spirit upon all believers at Pentecost in fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32. Here the Holy Spirit comes upon Joseph to enable him to govern the greatest nation of his time. In his evaluation of Joseph, Pharaoh immediately perceived that this young man of thirty had something he did not have and that God was its source. This is always the case. When a man or woman is touched by God, that person will inevitably be different from those unconverted people around him or her, and the change will be strikingly for the better. Oh, at first there may be resentment that the one whom God has saved no longer has the same values or does the same things as others, things that fill the mind and time of his or her former companions. But in time the criticism gives way to admiration and even to the appointment of such a person to a position of great honor. Pharaoh saw this supernatural character in Joseph. Moreover, he recognized its source and knew at once that this was the man he needed to guide Egypt in the difficult times ahead. I wonder if people see that kind of character in us and if they recognize that it is God who has given it to us. The only way we will ever have that character is if we have our eyes on God in all things. What happens if we see circumstances apart from God? If circumstances bring adversity, we complain and consider the world and those responsible to be unjust. If circumstances bring prosperity, we boast and think that somehow we are ultimately responsible. The one character is whining and unpleasant. The other is arrogant and intolerable. But if we have our minds on God, we see God in circumstances and trust Him. Adversity strengthens and mellows us. Prosperity humbles us and draws us even closer to the Lord. Learn to honor God in all things and see if He does not advance you even in the eyes of others.”  [Boice, pp. 962-968].

Joseph’s Leadership:  Genesis 41:46-49.

[46]  Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt.  [47]  During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly,  [48]  and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it.  [49]  And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured.

[46-49]  “The second half of Genesis 41 tells the story of Joseph’s investiture as prime minister of Egypt, the position to which we have known from the beginning God had destined him. It is surely a remarkable promotion, the culmination of a rise from slavery to greatness that is perhaps unparalleled in the long history of the human race. The story says that Joseph was thirty years old when he entered Pharaoh’s service. He was seventeen when his brothers sold him into slavery. So only thirteen years had passed between the time Joseph was a mere shepherd boy and the day he assumed control of the world’s mightiest kingdom. The secret of character is remarkably demonstrated in the case of Joseph. Here was a man brought in one moment from the dungeon to the palace, where he was presented for the first time to the mightiest monarch of his day. Yet so great and striking was his character that Pharaoh, though a pagan, immediately perceived that Joseph had something he and his highest administrators did not have. It was because of his character that power passed into Joseph’s hands. But it was because of God that Joseph had this character. During the days of adversity Joseph had looked to God and had found strength to triumph. Now, having triumphed, he would continue to look to God and go from strength to strength. In the chapters of Genesis that follow, nothing bad is ever said about Joseph, In fact, he is one of the few major characters in the Bible – Daniel is the only other – of whom this can truthfully be said. The fact that Joseph kept his eyes on God in adversity is remarkable. But even more remarkable is the fact that he kept his eyes on God when he was prosperous. How often promotions ruin people! A man can be a strong witness for God and be wonderfully used by God in the ministry of his local church when he is in some lowly position in his firm. But let him be promoted to vice president, and suddenly he has a new image to keep up. He drops his old friends, moves in with the country club set, and now no longer has time for witnessing, Bible study, or other Christian activities. Many Christians have been impoverished by prosperity. Joseph was not like this. For that reason he alone, though only one person, was the best thing to happen to the entire nation of Egypt in this period of its history. Joseph was advanced to the highest position of his day. But Joseph kept his eyes upon God still. Thus, the next thing we hear him saying, after he had interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and had been made prime minster and had been married and had two sons and named them, is God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house and God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction [51-52]. Because he had his eyes on God, Joseph maintained his own personal morality and faithfully executed the responsibility of preparing for the famine. The point is clear. If you are to live for God, whether in adversity or in prosperity, it must be by the power of God in your life.”  [Boice, pp. 970-975].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         As we continue the life of Joseph, note once again the providential work of God in order to accomplish His purpose. Follow the magnificent chain of events that brought Joseph to the position of prime minister of Egypt, where he could be used by God to bring His people to Egypt where they would grow into a large nation.

2.         See how two years of prison did not cause Joseph to become bitter towards God. Joseph did not know why he had to remain in prison, but he did not lose his faith in God’s faithfulness. As soon as Joseph is released and brought before Pharaoh, he gives God the honor for being able to interpret dreams instead of taking the credit himself.

3.         What two rare qualities did Pharaoh see in Joseph that caused him to make Joseph prime minister [38-39]? Consider all the events of his thirteen years in Egypt and how God used these events to develop these qualities in Joseph.


Genesis, volume 3, James Boice, Baker.

Genesis, volume 2, Kenneth Mathews, NAC, Broadman.

Genesis, John Sailhamer, EBC, Zondervan.

Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts