Genesis 41: Joseph is God's Man in an Ungodly World

Pharaoh's dreams providentially open the door for Joseph's release and exaltation. The Spirit-filled man is God's instrument in dark days.

Chapter Notes

  • How do you measure success in life?

  • In Genesis 41, we get a wonderful example of Proverbs 22:29, where one who was diligent in his business stands before a king.


  • vv. 1–8 - Two years have passed since the butler was released from prison and restored to his position serving Pharaoh. We are then told that Pharaoh has two dreams. In the first, seven well-fed cows in a meadow are devoured by seven malnourished cows coming out of a river. Pharaoh then awakens, but when he falls to sleep again, he dreams a second time. This time, he sees seven healthy ears of corn devoured by seven unhealthy ears of corn. Pharaoh is greatly disturbed. We’re not told specifically, but it would appear that he sensed there was a message contained in these dreams, because in the morning he calls for all the magicians of Egypt to see if any of them can help him understand what the dreams mean. These men were experts in ancient sacred arts, sciences, reading the stars, etc. Some of them may have exhibited clearly demonic influence. However, no one can help.

  • vv. 9–36 - It is then that the chief butler recalls his experience with Joseph, and retells what happened two years prior and how Joseph could accurately interpret the dream of the butler and the baker. Without hesitation, Pharaoh sends for Joseph. Joseph, who is now 30 years of age, shaves, cleans himself up, and appears before the Egyptian king. Upon hearing Pharaoh retell his dreams, Joseph declares God has revealed to the king what He is about to do, and explains that the dreams show how there is coming seven years of plenty, immediately followed by seven years of extreme famine. However, Joseph does not stop at the interpretation of the dream. From v. 33 he presents a solution, advising the king on how best to circumvent the consequences of the famine by appointing a man of wisdom to oversee storage of 20% of the crop during the good years.

  • vv. 37–45 - Upon hearing this, Pharaoh and all his servants agree. So who should they appoint? Perhaps to the surprise of everyone, the king appoints Joseph to the task, challenging all in the room with this rhetorical question, “Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?” Pharaoh sees that the God who revealed the dream to Joseph lives in Joseph. Joseph is then made to be second in command, is given the royal ring, garments of authority, and an Egyptian name. He is then paraded before the people in the second chariot, and given a well-connected Egyptian wife, perhaps to help him integrate and be more accepted among the populace. 

  • vv. 46–57 - The rest of the chapter brings us through the seven years of plenty and into the time of famine. In the meantime, Joseph has two sons; Manasseh and Ephraim. Giving them Hebrew names communicates that despite his life in Egypt, he has not departed from the God of his fathers. Additionally, despite the meteoric rise to power, Ephraim’s name shows that, for Joseph, Egypt is still a land of affliction. We are looking for the promised seed in a promised land, and yet Joseph is in a foreign land, away from family, and in a marriage to a foreign wife. 


  1. Patience is not idle waiting, but an expression of living by faith as God fulfills His plan. Had the butler remembered Joseph’s request immediately, and had Joseph been released, he would have returned to his father Jacob and there would have been no provision for the family when famine hit the region. But God was sovereign in every detail. Young person, do not be impatient to grow older. Don’t wish to be an adult before your time. It is important that we do not wish away any stage of life, but that we learn to be faithful to God in the present, just like Joseph was in each stage of his life. Ask yourself, how am I serving God today?

  2. Compliance with non-essential issues required by superiors is honorable. Despite the urgency of the circumstances, in v. 14, Joseph tidied his appearance to meet cultural expectations before standing in front of Pharaoh. Every new generation flirts with forms of rebellion, often questioning how things are done. Why do I have to wear this or do this? Be sure to ask questions and discuss it, but always obey parents and those in power unless they ask you to sin. Let us also learn from this verse that there is a need to prepare our heart before we meet with the King of kings in private and public worship. 

  3. Those with gospel privileges are often blind to His truth. In Genesis 37, we learn that God’s prophetic word through Joseph’s dreams was despised by his brothers. In contrast, this heathen king responds positively to Joseph. Similarly, many adults who never heard the gospel as children quickly respond in faith and repentance when they hear it, while some young people in the church—like Joseph’s brothers—remain in unbelief. Are you like Joseph’s brothers?

  4. God uses ordinary people for extraordinary purposes. Remember, Joseph was a shepherd. His childhood was among livestock. Despite this, the king of Egypt chose Joseph, a former shepherd, as the most fitting person to lead the nation. At 30 years of age, just as with Christ’s public ministry, God opened an unusual door of service to Joseph. Joseph did not plan for this, or go to college for this. As you consider your own future, the best way to plan for it is not just by studying or getting a particular skill. The best preparation for a useful life is to walk with God and be filled with the Holy Spirit, like Joseph. Do you ask God to fill you with His Spirit? If not, I encourage you to make it a daily prayer.

  5. Joseph reflects much that will be true of the Messiah. Joseph was the favored son who found himself in an ungodly world, just like the incarnation of Christ. He was in the world not for his own crimes, but for the sins of the people of God, just like Christ. In the world, he was faithful in life and doctrine, just like Christ. He went from obscurity to notoriety, just like Christ. He was given the highest preeminence and saved Jew and Gentile, just like Christ. Though despised by his fellow countrymen, many in the world bowed down before him, just like Christ. 

“Pharaoh’s nightmare has too often been my waking experience. My days of laziness have ruinously destroyed all that I had achieved in times of zealous industry. My seasons of coldness have frozen all the genial glow of my periods of fervency and enthusiasm. And my fits of worldliness have thrown me back from my advances in the divine life. I needed to beware of lean prayers, lean praises, lean duties, and lean experiences because these will eat up the fat of my comfort and peace.” — Charles Spurgeon

Armen Thomassian