A Commentary, Critical, Practical, and Explanatory on the Old and New Testaments, by Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset and David Brown  at sacred-texts.com
gen 41:1PHARAOH'S DREAM. (Gen. 41:1-24)
at the end of two full years--It is not certain whether these years are reckoned from the beginning of Joseph's imprisonment, or from the events described in the preceding chapter--most likely the latter. What a long time for Joseph to experience the sickness of hope deferred! But the time of his enlargement came when he had sufficiently learned the lessons of God designed for him; and the plans of Providence were matured.
Pharaoh dreamed--"Pharaoh," from an Egyptian word Phre, signifying the "sun," was the official title of the kings of that country. The prince, who occupied the throne of Egypt, was Aphophis, one of the Memphite kings, whose capital was On or Heliopolis, and who is universally acknowledged to have been a patriot king. Between the arrival of Abraham and the appearance of Joseph in that country, somewhat more than two centuries had elapsed. Kings sleep and dream, as well as their subjects. And this Pharaoh had two dreams in one night so singular and so similar, so distinct and so apparently significant, so coherent and vividly impressed on his memory, that his spirit was troubled.
gen 41:8he called for all the magicians of Egypt--It is not possible to define the exact distinction between "magicians" and "wise men"; but they formed different branches of a numerous body, who laid claim to supernatural skill in occult arts and sciences, in revealing mysteries, explaining portents, and, above all, interpreting dreams. Long practice had rendered them expert in devising a plausible way of getting out of every difficulty and framing an answer suitable to the occasion. But the dreams of Pharaoh baffled their united skill. Unlike their Assyrian brethren (Dan 2:4), they did not pretend to know the meaning of the symbols contained in them, and the providence of God had determined that they should all be nonplussed in the exercise of their boasted powers, in order that the inspired wisdom of Joseph might appear the more remarkable.
gen 41:9then spake the chief butler unto Pharaoh, saying, I do remember my faults--This public acknowledgment of the merits of the young Hebrew would, tardy though it was, have reflected credit on the butler had it not been obviously made to ingratiate himself with his royal master. It is right to confess our faults against God, and against our fellow men when that confession is made in the spirit of godly sorrow and penitence. But this man was not much impressed with a sense of the fault he had committed against Joseph; he never thought of God, to whose goodness he was indebted for the prophetic announcement of his release, and in acknowledging his former fault against the king, he was practising the courtly art of pleasing his master.
gen 41:14Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph--Now that God's set time had come (Psa 105:19), no human power nor policy could detain Joseph in prison. During his protracted confinement, he might have often been distressed with perplexing doubts; but the mystery of Providence was about to be cleared up, and all his sorrows forgotten in the course of honor and public usefulness in which his services were to be employed.
shaved himself--The Egyptians were the only Oriental nation that liked a smooth chin. All slaves and foreigners who were reduced to that condition, were obliged, on their arrival in that country, to conform to the cleanly habits of the natives, by shaving their beards and heads, the latter of which were covered with a close cap. Thus prepared, Joseph was conducted to the palace, where the king seemed to have been anxiously waiting his arrival.
gen 41:15Pharaoh said, . . . I have dreamed a dream--The king's brief statement of the service required brought out the genuine piety of Joseph; disclaiming all merit, he ascribed whatever gifts or sagacity he possessed to the divine source of all wisdom, and he declared his own inability to penetrate futurity; but, at the same time, he expressed his confident persuasion that God would reveal what was necessary to be known.
gen 41:17Pharaoh said, In my dream, behold, I stood upon the bank of the river--The dreams were purely Egyptian, founded on the productions of that country and the experience of a native. The fertility of Egypt being wholly dependent on the Nile, the scene is laid on the banks of that river; and oxen being in the ancient hieroglyphics symbolical of the earth and of food, animals of that species were introduced in the first dream.
gen 41:18there came up out of the river seven kine--Cows now, of the buffalo kind, are seen daily plunging into the Nile; when their huge form is gradually emerging, they seem as if rising "out of the river."
and they fed in a meadow--Nile grass, the aquatic plants that grow on the marshy banks of that river, particularly the lotus kind, on which cattle were usually fattened.
gen 41:19behold, seven other kine . . . poor and ill-favoured--The cow being the emblem of fruitfulness, the different years of plenty and of famine were aptly represented by the different condition of those kine--the plenty, by the cattle feeding on the richest fodder; and the dearth, by the lean and famishing kine, which the pangs of hunger drove to act contrary to their nature.
gen 41:22I saw in my dream, and, behold, seven ears--that is, of Egyptian wheat, which, when "full and good," is remarkable in size (a single seed sprouting into seven, ten, or fourteen stalks) and each stalk bearing an ear.
gen 41:23blasted with the east wind--destructive everywhere to grain, but particularly so in Egypt; where, sweeping over the sandy deserts of Arabia, it comes in the character of a hot, blighting wind, that quickly withers all vegetation (compare Eze 19:12; Hos 13:15).
gen 41:24the thin ears devoured the seven good ears--devoured is a different word from that used in Gen 41:4 and conveys the idea of destroying, by absorbing to themselves all the nutritious virtue of the soil around them.
gen 41:25JOSEPH INTERPRETS PHARAOH'S DREAMS. (Gen 41:25-36)
Joseph said, . . . The dream . . . is one--They both pointed to the same event--a remarkable dispensation of seven years of unexampled abundance, to be followed by a similar period of unparalleled dearth. The repetition of the dream in two different forms was designed to show the absolute certainty and speedy arrival of this public crisis; the interpretation was accompanied by several suggestions of practical wisdom for meeting so great an emergency as was impending.
gen 41:33Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man--The explanation given, when the key to the dreams was supplied, appears to have been satisfactory to the king and his courtiers; and we may suppose that much and anxious conversation arose, in the course of which Joseph might have been asked whether he had anything further to say. No doubt the providence of God provided the opportunity of his suggesting what was necessary.
gen 41:34and let him appoint officers over the land--overseers, equivalent to the beys of modern Egypt.
take up the fifth part of the land--that is, of the land's produce, to be purchased and stored by the government, instead of being sold to foreign corn merchants.
gen 41:38JOSEPH MADE RULER OF EGYPT. (Gen. 41:37-57)
Pharaoh said unto his servants--The kings of ancient Egypt were assisted in the management of state affairs by the advice of the most distinguished members of the priestly order; and, accordingly, before admitting Joseph to the new and extraordinary office that was to be created, those ministers were consulted as to the expediency and propriety of the appointment.
a man in whom the Spirit of God is--An acknowledgment of the being and power of the true God, though faint and feeble, continued to linger amongst the higher classes long after idolatry had come to prevail.
gen 41:40Thou shalt be over my house--This sudden change in the condition of a man who had just been taken out of prison could take place nowhere, except in Egypt. In ancient as well as modern times, slaves have often risen to be its rulers. But the special providence of God had determined to make Joseph governor of Egypt; and the way was paved for it by the deep and universal conviction produced in the minds both of the king and his councillors, that a divine spirit animated his mind and had given him such extraordinary knowledge.
according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled--literally, "kiss." This refers to the edict granting official power to Joseph, to be issued in the form of a firman, as in all Oriental countries; and all who should receive that order would kiss it, according to the usual Eastern mode of acknowledging obedience and respect for the sovereign [WILKINSON].
gen 41:41Pharaoh said, . . . See, I have set thee over all the land--These words were preliminary to investiture with the insignia of office, which were these: the signet-ring, used for signing public documents, and its impression was more valid than the sign-manual of the king; the khelaat or dress of honor, a coat of finely wrought linen, or rather cotton, worn only by the highest personages; the gold necklace, a badge of rank, the plain or ornamental form of it indicating the degree of rank and dignity; the privilege of riding in a state carriage, the second chariot; and lastly--
gen 41:43they cried before him, Bow the knee--abrech, an Egyptian term, not referring to prostration, but signifying, according to some, "father" (compare Gen 45:8); according to others, "native prince"--that is, proclaimed him naturalized, in order to remove all popular dislike to him as a foreigner.
gen 41:44These ceremonies of investiture were closed in usual form by the king in council solemnly ratifying the appointment.
I am Pharaoh, and without thee, &c.--a proverbial mode of expression for great power.
gen 41:45Zaphnath-paaneah--variously interpreted, "revealer of secrets"; "saviour of the land"; and from the hieroglyphics, "a wise man fleeing from pollution"--that is, adultery.
gave him to wife Asenath, the daughter of--His naturalization was completed by this alliance with a family of high distinction. On being founded by an Arab colony, Poti-pherah, like Jethro, priest of Midian, might be a worshipper of the true God; and thus Joseph, a pious man, will be freed from the charge of marrying an idolatress for worldly ends.
On--called Aven (Eze 30:17) and also Beth-shemesh (Jer 43:13). In looking at this profusion of honors heaped suddenly upon Joseph, it cannot be doubted that he would humbly yet thankfully acknowledge the hand of a special Providence in conducting him through all his checkered course to almost royal power; and we, who know more than Joseph did, cannot only see that his advancement was subservient to the most important purposes relative to the Church of God, but learn the great lesson that a Providence directs the minutest events of human life.
gen 41:46Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh--seventeen when brought into Egypt, probably three in prison, and thirteen in the service of Potiphar.
went out . . . all the land--made an immediate survey to determine the site and size of the storehouses required for the different quarters of the country.
gen 41:47the earth brought forth by handfuls--a singular expression, alluding not only to the luxuriance of the crop, but the practice of the reapers grasping the ears, which alone were cut.
gen 41:48he gathered up all the food of the seven years--It gives a striking idea of the exuberant fertility of this land, that, from the superabundance of the seven plenteous years, corn enough was laid up for the subsistence, not only of its home population, but of the neighboring countries, during the seven years of dearth.
gen 41:50unto Joseph were born two sons--These domestic events, which increased his temporal happiness, develop the piety of his character in the names conferred upon his children.
gen 41:53The seven years of plenteousness . . . ended--Over and above the proportion purchased for the government during the years of plenty, the people could still have husbanded much for future use. But improvident as men commonly are in the time of prosperity, they found themselves in want, and would have starved by thousands had not Joseph anticipated and provided for the protracted calamity.
gen 41:57The famine was sore in all lands--that is, the lands contiguous to Egypt--Canaan, Syria, and Arabia.