Pharaoh’s Dreams

It was two years after Joseph had interpreted the dreams of the Chief Butler and Chief Baker, that King Pharaoh had a strange dream one night. At first he saw seven beautiful fat cows coming out of the Nile to graze on the meadow. After them seven ugly and lean cows climbed out of the water and swallowed the beautiful ones. Pharaoh awoke but soon fell asleep again. This time he saw in his dream seven ears of corn full and rank, growing on one stalk; then seven thin, wind-beaten ears sprang up on another stalk, and devoured the first ones. These strange dreams worried Pharaoh, and he called all the famous magicians, astrologers, and sages of his country and asked them for the correct interpretation of his dreams. But try as they would, they could not satisfy Pharaoh. They only got the king more worried and nervous by their contradictory and fantastic explanations.

Finally, the Chief Butler remembered Joseph and how he had proved himself a true interpreter of dreams. The Chief Butler, therefore, told his master about the dreams he and the Chief Baker had had in prison, and how a young Hebrew slave had interpreted them correctly. Pharaoh immediately sent for Joseph.

Joseph Interprets Pharaoh’s Dreams

Joseph was thirty years old: when he appeared before King Pharaoh. When Pharaoh told him that he had heard of Joseph’s great gift as an interpreter of dreams, Joseph modestly replied that his wisdom was not of his own making but of G‑d’s. Then Pharaoh related his dreams to Joseph, and Joseph knew at once that G‑d had revealed their meaning to him.

Joseph informed Pharaoh that both dreams had the same meaning, and that G‑d wished to tell Pharaoh what He was about to do. Seven years of plenty and abundance would come to Egypt, but they would be followed by seven years of famine. Hunger and privation would be so great that the abundance of the preceding years would be completely swallowed up and forgotten. The fact that Pharaoh had seen the same thing twice meant that G‑d had definitely decided to have his dream come true within the very near future. It was now the task of King Pharaoh, Joseph continued, to find a wise and honest man to administrate and control the economy of the land during the seven years of abundance, so that sufficient provisions would be stored away for the seven lean years to come, thereby averting a terrible catastrophe.

Joseph Receives Great Honors

This explanation and advice profoundly impressed Pharaoh and his council. Pharaoh decided that he could not find a better and wiser man than Joseph himself, who was blessed by G‑d with prophetic wisdom. He immediately appointed Joseph to be the governor of Egypt, second only to the king. Joseph was dressed in royal apparel, and the king gave him the royal authentication ring and a golden chain as tokens of his position. In the royal chariot, Joseph, now given an Egyptian name, Tzophenath Paneach, was led through the land, accompanied by a royal suite and messengers, who hailed the new govener and proclaimed his authority. The entire country paid homage to Tzophenath Paneach, and he soon became very popular among the people of Egypt.

Joseph in Office

In accordance with his own advice, Joseph instituted a strict control over the entire food production of Egypt. The seven years of abundance began immediately, and Joseph had large storehouses erected all over the country. Then he bought up most of the surplus that had flooded the markets and stored it away in warehouses. The people too, followed his example and stocked up, for they believed in the truth of Joseph’s prediction. But since the people did not take all the necessary precautions to preserve the food over the long period, their stores were spoiled by the time the years of hunger arrived.

The seven years of plenty passed and the years of famine began; now the entire country found itself dependent upon the provisions stored away by the state, under the wise administration of Joseph. In exchange for food, the people sold their livestock and land, and by the end of the famine, Pharaoh was in complete control of the entire country, and all the people were his assistants, working for him and depending on him for their needs.