BIBLE STUDY SERIES #35, 36 and 37

28 June, 1992

PHARAOH'S DREAMS

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

We were looking, on our last programme, at the manner by which Almighty God had led the life of Jacob's favourite son, Joseph, into the gloom of an Egyptian prison, on false charges, and then, after twelve years of incarceration, and without any prior hint that it would happen, at a moment not previously announced, had suddenly opened the doors. God has done this often as we find on other occasions recorded in the Scriptures.

Joseph is now, suddenly, and without any prior notice or warning of Pharaoh's intentions, brought out of his prison and hastily prepared to go "from rags to riches" so to speak.

Let us read the Biblical account starting at Genesis 41:14.

14. Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon: and he shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh.
15. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I have dreamed a dream, and there is none that can interpret it: and I have heard say of thee, that thou canst understand a dream to interpret it.

The Book of Jasher tells of Pharaoh's increasing anger at the multiplicity of unsatisfying interpretations which have been offered by a variety of the wise men of Egypt, a number of which interpretations it relates, and now, at this point, Joseph is remembered by Pharaoh's Butler, or Cup Bearer, who suggests on the basis of the successful interpretation of his own dream, that Joseph be called. We must suppose that Pharaoh is in no mood to accept one more unsatisfactory interpretation, especially from a slave prisoner in his dungeon, so his mood as Joseph entered might well have been dangerously close to exasperation by this time. Joseph is wise, and very careful in his explanation.

16. And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.

The Bible, at this point, carries a repetition of the account of Pharaoh's dreams, and when this is done, we should not dismiss the matter as of no import. It is well to follow the Biblical account, for this will be one of the most significant occasions in the Old Testament. On Joseph's next carefully chosen words, this day, will hang the future of all his Israel family and the total impact of their lives on world history through subsequent millennia. On Joseph's careful interpretation of Pharaoh's dream will depend the fulfilment of God's words of prophecy to Abraham.

That prophetic covenant which The Almighty God made with Abraham, incidentally, is found in Genesis 15:13. God there states: "Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not their's, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years..." That period of time evidently stretched from the birth of Isaac, Abraham's "seed" (Genesis 21:12), to the Exodus. (The "430 years" of Exodus 12:40-41, which some commentaries have loosely equated to this "400 years", in fact extend from the actual date of that covenanted promise which God gave to Abraham down to the giving of The Law at Sinai.)

Pharaoh now speaks.

17. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, In my dream, behold, I stood upon the bank of the river:
18. And, behold, there came up out of the river seven kine, fatfleshed and well favoured; and they fed in a meadow:
19. And, behold, seven other kine came up after them, poor and very ill favoured and leanfleshed, such as I never saw in all the land of Egypt for badness:
20. And the lean and the ill favoured kine did eat up the first seven fat kine:
21. And when they had eaten them up, it could not be known that they had eaten them; but they were still ill favoured, as at the beginning. So I awoke.
22. And I saw in my dream, and, behold, seven ears came up in one stalk, full and good:
23. And, behold, seven ears, withered, thin, and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them:
24. And the thin ears devoured the seven good ears: and I told this unto the magicians; but there was none that could declare it to me.

Before we hear Joseph's reply, we ought to note that there exists, in Scripture, a general principle. It is seen in the law concerning testimony or witness. We find it reflected in Numbers 35:30 and in Deuteronomy 17:6-7 and 19:15. The principle is that two or three witnesses, at least, are required to establish a matter. It was because the required witnesses were not forthcoming in John 8:3-11 that the woman taken in adultery, and presented before Jesus was not condemned by Him.

We will see from Joseph's response that this principle concerning testimony was basic in Joseph's approach to matters such as the one before us now. We continue at verse 25.

25. And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, The dream of Pharaoh is one: God hath shewed Pharaoh what he is about to do.
26. The seven good kine are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one.
27. And the seven thin and ill favoured kine that came up after them are seven years; and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine.
28. This is the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh: What God is about to do he sheweth unto Pharaoh.
29. Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt:
30. And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land;
31. And the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following; for it shall be very grievous.
32. And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.

Here is the confirmation of that principle of witness, of which we just spoke. Pharaoh's two parallel dreams witness to the certainty of God's determination to bring the matter to pass. In a later century, the Prophet Daniel, you will perhaps remember, in Daniel 2, stood before another powerful monarch, Nebuchadnezzar, in order to yield God's interpretation of that monarch's dream. In Daniel's case, Nebuchadnezzar had forgotten the dream of verse 1, and it had, by prayerful intercession, to be repeated to Daniel himself in verse 19. On that occasion, again, we find a double witness concerning a dream which gave portent concerning a nation's future.

We again listen as Joseph, in God's spirit and showing no fear of Pharaoh or of all the wise men and courtiers about him, imparts some Godly advice. He continues:

33. Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt.
34. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years.
35. And let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities.
36. And that food shall be for store to the land against the seven years of famine, which shall be in the land of Egypt; that the land perish not through the famine.
37. And the thing was good in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of all his servants.

Here we find that Joseph once more is demonstrating that capacity as an able administrator which facilitated his employ in Potiphar's house, and also in the prison house, and of which there was even a hint back at home among his brothers, if we are to read into that gift of the coat of many colours by his father, some designation of authority in family affairs. Pharaoh obviously sees that ability, for we read:

38. And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?
39. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art:
40. Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou.
41. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.
42. And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck;
43. And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt.
44. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.

Here, at last, is that vindication for which Joseph has waited so long a time. At last Joseph has received God's demonstration of favour for which he has, no doubt, during those many years of service and of imprisonment, shafted his prayers heavenward. But Pharaoh is not finished. He continues:

45. And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphnathpaaneah; and he gave him to wife Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On. And Joseph went out over all the land of Egypt.
46. And Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt.
47. And in the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth by handfuls.
48. And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities: the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he up in the same.
49. And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number.
50. And unto Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, which Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On bare unto him.
51. And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house.
52. And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.

I may have more to add concerning Joseph's family, but our time has about run its course for today. Let me leave with you, however, the thought that God had planned a completion to Joseph's life which Joseph's early dreams had foretold. Though many years had intervened, God was not slack as some men count slackness to fulfill His purposes. As II Peter 3:9 puts it, "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. We shall continue with our Bible studies on our next programme. We shall examine further of these matters on our next programme.

5 July, 1992

JOSEPH'S FAMILY

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

The word "family" can mean so very many things to different people. "Family" may involve the loving union of parents and children, where each is sensitive to the needs and desires of the rest and every member is supportive of the others, in times of joy and success or of distress and sorrow.

In some societies, this word may represent a whole nation, a tribe, to which one is rooted and bonded by blood, custom and culture. In such lands, the concept of an "extended family" can dominate the whole pattern of life from birth to death. One might express the thought that the successful cohesion of a stable political unit must be rooted, essentially, within a shared sense of such an unique common origin and heritage in the national experience.

To some folk, "family" may represent a patriarchal unit, a very large assembly of children, spouses, grand-children, and a more extended network of distant relations, of various vaguely estimated generations. Such a family or "clan" may gather from distant domiciles on special occasions, attempting to preserve the common ground of ancestral roots which the passing years of unshared interests and experiences gradually yet inexorably tend, otherwise, to obscure in a fading fog of memories.

To yet others, the word "family" draws forth only a poignant memory of a large number of people of a former generation, the "Church Triumphant", who await the Resurrection Trumpet amid the polished granites of a cemetery or are reserved to God in some distant ocean wash or field of battle long ago. "Family", for such, is now a carefully preserved album of fading sepia photographs or a tiny, sentimental potpourri, a collection of the heart's fondest memories, which, to another, would be meaningless trash.

For some, the word "family" only means a dwelling filled with constant bickering, contention and strife-filled confusion.

For some, the term "family" is only a word which others possess. They stand apart, alone, either by reason of the fact that they are an only child, having no living parents, spouse, brothers or sisters, or even, in some cases, because they are unsure of their parentage, an orphan. Their only "family" memories and thoughts of gratitude, even from their earliest days, must be directed towards the kindness of those un-related providers of the necessities of life who yielded something of themselves to open their home to a lifetime of commitment to another.

For whatever reason, those in this last group must face future prospects knowing that in this present life they may be forever alone regarding human relationships.

For still others, the constant obligation to care for someone steadily drains one's own life, exhausts one's reserves, and binds one's aspirations to a plodding mediocrity. One should never under-estimate the worth of such an existence, however, for "family", in such context may mean everything worthwhile, the sole channel of compassion and joy in the life of the bed-ridden and the helpless. Christ's words in Matthew 25:40 hover near as we press on in such circumstance: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

Being lonely and looking from a distance at a circumstance enjoyed by others, but into which one can see no way of entering oneself can be cause for sadness or resignation. It can also, of course, be a goad pushing one to self-reliance and independence.

Having regard to these considerations, we should now return to our ongoing Bible study of God's Word. We have been following the course of Almighty God's Great Plan as He inter-acts with mankind through the appointed stream of a line of chosen descent from the Biblical Patriarchs.

We had arrived in the forty-first chapter of Genesis, at the point at which Jacob's son, Joseph, emerges suddenly from twelve years of prison service as he is called to interpret Pharaoh's troubling dreams, Joseph receives, in consequence, an amazing promotion from slave-prisoner to court dignitary in one of the best-loved stories of the Bible. I think that this is a suitable point to pause and to consider, for a few moments, that matter of "family" as it applies in Joseph's life.

During the preceding thirty years, Joseph has encountered a number of stages of experience. What was his "family relationship" at each stage?

In Canaan, he had known his mother for only a short time before she had died while bearing his younger brother, Benjamin, so he had known the sorrow of family bereavement. Indeed, that non-Biblical book of Jasher dwells for some verses upon Joseph's weeping in his intense grief as the slave caravan paused by her grave on the road to Egypt.

Joseph had been the favourite of his loving father, Jacob, so he had known the over-flowing acceptance which such love provides.

He had been one among many brothers and one sister, and no doubt had known the normal give-and-take of youth among siblings. At the age of seventeen, Joseph had incurred their anger, and family strife to the point of being thrown into a pit, and then sold to strangers, so he knew the pain of family stress, turmoil and rejection.

Those Ishmeelites had taken him as a slave to Egypt, to become a lonely individual, having lost all family contact in a strange and unfamiliar land, so he had known the poignant pain of an isolated existence, having no family to whom he might turn in his predicament, almost, in a sense, to the point of being orphaned. In this condition he had become almost an adopted son in the household of Potiphar which took him in, so he had known something of the feelings of an orphan, who, as the years passed, knew nothing of his own family, but might find a limited degree of consolation in building substitute relationships of a lesser kind.

He had been isolated in prison, and so knew even the rejection of that adoptive relationship and within those walls, he encountered something of that experience which parallels the dull daily round of un-ending service confined to duty without prospect of release.

Now, at the age of thirty years, he is suddenly granted great power and position. As we saw on our last programme, Pharaoh has just given great honours to Joseph, promoting him far above every expectation or hope. Among these honours, Joseph, in Pharaoh's service, has been assigned supreme authority over the nation. Joseph receives Pharaoh's signet ring, vestures of fine linen, and a gold ornamental chain to be worn about his neck.

Joseph receives the second chariot in rank to Pharaoh's own, and a retinue to accompany him as he travels. Joseph received the new name of Zaphnath-paaneah, which marks the start of a new life of luxury and recognition, glory and power.

But what of Joseph's family relationships? Is he to be a lonely bachelor? Is he to remain an isolated man, without family? Pharaoh sees to it that this will not happen, for Joseph is now an important official, and in Egypt, such an officer might have his pick of the most comely of eligible maidens for a wife!

The New Bible Commentary indicates that the authenticity of the record is substantiated by the word "shesh", used for fine linen in verse 42. It says "These robes of shesh were official garments associated with the nobility of the country. They probably signified his formal admission to the priesthood, and his marriage into the priestly family of Potipherah would seem to confirm this view."

Thirty years is the age at which a Priest began his full service in the tabernacle as we find in Numbers 4:3. David began to reign as King over all Israel at the age of thirty years, we are told in II Sam. 5:4.

Luke 1:36 shows us that John the Baptist's mother Elizabeth, was in her sixth month when the Annunciation was spoken to Mary. Tiberius assumed power in 14 A.D., so when we read in Luke 3:1-3 that John the Baptist began his preaching ministry in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, we see that John the Baptist must have begun his preaching ministry in 29 A.D., at the time when he was about thirty years of age. Jesus began His ministry at His baptism when, as Luke 3:23 tells us, He was also "about thirty years of age."

Joseph, I believe, must be classed among God's prophets. How appropriate, then, that The Almighty God should have so arranged matters that Joseph should be promoted to his high office at this same age of thirty years, and receive the hand of Asenath, daughter of Potiphera, Priest of On, in marriage. I think we may assume that this woman, Asenath, would be among the most beautiful to be found in Pharaoh's court if Pharaoh's intent was to shower honours upon Joseph of the description given in the Biblical account. We have seen that the Book of Jasher indicates that Joseph was the most handsome of men in Egypt, so I think we may say that this couple must have found great favour for both appearance and Godly grace among court and populace alike.

We must leave further of the Biblical account of Joseph and consideration of his family connections for our next programme, but let me leave with you the picture of a man who, through adversity and many facets of life stayed true to God, and who received, in due time, the glory, honour and special relationships which God would shower upon him.

In I Sam. 2:30 we read God's words: "...them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed, and in Galatians 6:7 we find Paul's words "...for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Let us, in our Christian experience, seek the joy of Joseph by our observance of this teaching.

12 July, 1992

FAMILY REGAINED - PART I

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

On this series of Bible studies, we have been following the course of God's inter-actions with His creation in the Book of Genesis, and we have seen how the life of Jacob's favourite son, Joseph, has been guided through years of slavery in Egypt to the point where Pharaoh has suddenly raised him out of prison to great honour because Joseph had successfully related God's interpretation of Pharaoh's troubling dreams.

On our last programme, we noted that Joseph had experience paralleling many facets of family attachment, ranging from loving communion with a fond father through bereavement, sibling anger, isolation akin to that of an orphan, drudgery, and now the prospect of fulfilment as the head of an exalted family of his own.

Pharaoh has granted that he should marry Asenath, daughter of Potipherah, priest of On, and we recognized the possibility that Joseph might be considered to have entered the priestly caste of Egyptian society at the significant age of thirty years.

As his father-in-law was priest of On, we might note from the New Bible Commentary, in passing, that this name means "light." The Greeks called the city of On "Heliopolis", meaning "city of the Sun", and it served as a centre of sun-worship in Egypt. Thus Joseph, servant of The Most High God, would marry one whose religion had been to that time that of Egyptian Sun worship, and I am reminded that the Prophet Malachi, in the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi 4:1-2 develops a theme prophesying of the coming of Christ which may possibly be worded to teach this truth by making reference to the well-known Egyptian Sun-worship. He writes:

1. For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
2. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth and grow up as calves of the stall.

It should be noted that Asenath's life also must have been guided in its formative years, somewhere beyond those prison walls while Joseph languished within. Asenath must have been God's choice as a wife for Joseph, for The Almighty, who carefully selected Sarah as progenitor of kings of people, a woman so fair that scripture notes the craving of an earlier Pharaoh for her, The Great God who had also by divine indication, selected the beautiful Rebekah to be Isaac's mate, and Who had given Jacob promised assistance on his way to meet the most desirable Rachel, would surely have chosen carefully the mother of the birthright tribes of Israel yet to be. In so important a matter as the selection of a mate to share the contribution of genetic impress upon Joseph's descendants God's hand must be seen, for the result was to demonstrate a prophetic dimension in God's majestic plan.

Asenath must have been, not only Pharaoh's favourite, but Joseph's choice also. Joseph's own family could boast the most beautiful and desirable of womenfolk, so Joseph would in all likelihood select as partner one whose physical appearance would be akin to that of his own family. In all probability, there was some racial kinship involved, for his Godly progenitors had held to some exclusiveness in such choices and Joseph was of their stamp.

The name "Asenath", incidentally, may possibly be the true origin of the name of the grey-eyed, warlike but stately Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena, for the Greeks were Israelites of the diaspora of the Northern Tribes. Also, they tended to make deities of ancestral notables according to one recognized theory of mythic origins, as we shall later see with regard to Samson. Curiously, we may note from the remaining evidence, that the helmet on the forty-foot high ivory and gold statue of Athena which stood in her temple, the Parthenon, at Athens, was surmounted by a sphinx! The trident armed figure of Britannia may have its origin as a further extension of this same spear equipped dignified beautiful female figure.

Should this have been the case, wars such as those of Greek and Trojan history might conceivably be explained as having arisen out of inter-tribal contentions between Athenian descendants of Joseph and those of other tribes, like Dan or Zarah-Judah, for example.

However we must pick up the Biblical account again at Genesis 41:50-53, which says:

50. And unto Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, which Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On bare unto him.
51. And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house.
52. And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.

Regarding the choice of names for Joseph's sons, The name "Asenath" may hold some linguistic affinity to "Manasseh", and the name of Joseph's father-in-law, "Potipherah" to "Ephraim". The Commentary indicates that Joseph, in naming Manasseh, was indicating that "the hardship brought on him by his brothers was a thing of the past by virtue of the remarkable turn of providence."

Joseph, who had refused the chance for an illicit, and probably transient, not to say most dangerous, liaison with the wife of Potiphar, now enjoyed what was doubtless God's selection as his own wife and the resulting arrival of two sons to call his own. Thus Joseph now experienced the sort of family relationships which surround the complete successful family man.

There is another aspect to Joseph's family experience which is yet to come. The Biblical account continues at verse 53:

53. And the seven years of plenteousness, that was in the land of Egypt, were ended.
54. And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.
55. And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do.
56. And the famine was over all the face of the earth: And Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt.
57. And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands.

Just as God had told Pharaoh through the prophetic insights and wise advice of Joseph, the scene changed. In place of fields of waving grain and fat cattle the soil was unyielding and the countryside began to suffer want. Joseph had planned well, and provision was now required for not only Egypt, but also the surrounding countries. It is by means of this famine that God will bring Israel down into Egypt to undergo development and training as a nation for God's purposes.

Joseph, at seventeen, had been sold into Egyptian slavery and at thirty, he had emerged from prison. Seven good years of harvest had been added, and now, at least one, or perhaps two or three years of famine, to focus the attention of Jacob and his famished sons upon the supplies available in the Egyptian granaries. Thus Joseph would by now have attained an age of approximately forty years. We continue with Genesis 42:

1. Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another?
2. And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die.
3. And Joseph's ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt.
4. But Benjamin, Joseph's brother, Jacob sent not with his brethren; for he said, Lest peradventure mischief befall him.
5. And the sons of Israel came to buy corn among those that came: for the famine was in the land of Canaan.
6. And Joseph was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold to all the people of the land: and Joseph's brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth.
7. And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them; and he said unto them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food.
8. And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him.

I might suggest that as Joseph had been a youth of seventeen when last seen departing in the grip of slave-traders, while the brothers who thus sold him were older and more mature, their appearance would probably not have changed as greatly as had that of Joseph. Moreover, it had been about twenty-three years since his family in Canaan had last seen him, and exact memory of features long ago and un-aided by such modern inventions as photographs might well have begun to fade.

Certainly, if Joseph, attended by many servants, was now known by another, a strange Egyptian, name, was dressed, not in his coat of many colours, but in the finest clothing that Egypt could produce, resplendant in gold ornamentation, and if, moreover, he spoke in a strange language, through an interpreter, there would not have been much chance that after the passage of perhaps nearly forty years, they would have recognized him.

The Bible story, the story of Israel, is the story of a family, so we are building the groundwork for more than just a tale of long ago. We are, in fact, studying the roots of the great Anglo-Celto-Saxon nations of the world today, and the provision of a people among whom Jesus, God incarnate, might be born as kinsman-redeemer. But we must leave the rest for our next programme.

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