This blog has been following the book of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark in tandem, but completed the latter last week. For the moment it continues with Genesis. The daily headlines are reminders of the world we live in.
WE CANNOT PARDON AUSCHWITZ OFFICER. HE HAS TO ASK FOR PARDON.
Pharaoh spoke to Yosef,
in my dream –
Look, I was standing on the bank of the Nile
and look, out of the Nile were coming up seven cows,
fat of flesh and fair of form
and they grazed in the reed grass.
And look, seven other cows were coming up after them,
wretched and exceedingly ill of form and lank of flesh
in all the land of Egypt I have never seen the like for ill condition!
Then the seven lank and ill -looking cows ate up the first seven cows, the fat ones.
They entered their body, but you would not know that they had entered their body, for they were as ill- looking as at the beginning.
Then I awoke,
and I saw again in my dream,
look, seven ears were going up,in a single stalk, full and good,
and look, seven ears, hardened, lean and scorched by the east wind, were springing up after them.
Then the lean ears swallowed up
the seven good ears!
Now I have spoken with the magicians, but there is no one who can ell me the answer!
Yosef said to Pharaoh:
Pharaoh’s dream is one.
What God is about to do, he has told Pharaoh.
The seven good cows are seven years
and the seven good ears are seven years,
the dream is one.
and the seven lank and ill- looking cows that were coming up after them
are seven years
and the seven ears, hollowed and scorched by the east wind
will be seven years of famine.
That is the word that I spoke to Pharaoh:
what God is about to do, he has let Pharaoh see.
Look, seven years are coming
of great abundance in the land of Egypt.
But seven years of famine will arise after them
when all abundance in the land of Egypt will be forgotten.
The famine will destroy the land,
and you will not know of that abundance in the land
because of that famine afterward,
for it will be exceedingly heavy.
Now as for the twofold repetition of the dream to Pharaoh:So now let
it means that the matter is determined by God,
and God is hastening to do it.
So now, let Pharaoh appoint a discerning and wise man
and set him over the land of Egypt.
Let Pharaoh do this: let him appoint chosen overseers for the land,
dividing the land of Egypt into five parts during the years of abundance.
Let them collect all kinds of food from these good years that are coming
and let them pile up grain under Pharaoh’s hand as food provisions in the cities
and keep it under guard for the seven years of famine.
So the provisions will be an appointed reserve for the land,
for the seven years of famine that will occur in the land of Egypt,
so that the land will not be cut off by famine.
This is great storytelling, vivid, characterful and swift. It is one of the climaxes of the story – indeed the audience might take it for THE climax as it is the moment in which the hero’s fortunes are turned round. In Genesis however, there is something more profound still to come.
Yosef is always being tested, to discover the true meaning of his dreams of glory. This time he doesn’t foul up, but seizes the chance to benefit the land in which he finds himself. It is a strange people who have no knowledge of YHWH, but Yosef’s immediate task is to use his wisdom for their welfare, that is, for the shalom mentioned in verse 16 of this chapter.
The cow-dream is a masterpiece which still enchants readers today: it sounds like a real dream and persuades the audience to trust the story and to engage with Pharaoh’s dilemma. Yosef’s trust in God allows him to perceive the future as determined by God ( the good and bad years) and the care God has for the Egyptians.
Yosef displays not only his skill at interpretation but his humanity towards the people amongst whom he lives. It is this combination which as we shall see, gains him Pharaoh’s trust. The story of Yosef is at one level a meditation on the right use of human ability and the meaning of God’s blessing. Yosef initially rejoices in his ability and imagines it as the means to per-eminence over his brothers. Even after disaster, his ability allows him to rise within Potifar’s household, but he is careless of the danger in which this may place him. Again as his ability allows him to rise in prison, he lacks concern for the man he consigns to sudden death. Of course, others are repeatedly unjust to him, but the storyteller wants his audience to see how persistently Yosef is tested and refined. God’s blessing is not just the ultimate success, but all the testing which has preceded it. It is also as we shall see, the wisdom to see through the success itself into its humbling place in the purposes of God.
As my readers can see, my interpretation moves away towards abstraction which cannot compete with the actuality of the story itself.