Genesis 41
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Genesis 41
Genesis 41. The tried man is now made ready by long experience for his position of responsibility and honor. He is thirty years old. He can commence his public ministry for the people of God and the world. Pharaoh's dreams, the kine and the ears of corn, like those of the butler and baker, have their natural element in them; but apart from the Spirit of God Joseph would not have dared to give them such an interpretation. Even had his intelligence penetrated the secret, he would not have ventured on a prophecy without God. Pharaoh himself acknowledged that the Spirit of God was manifestly in Joseph. We may be sure there was evidence of Divine authority in his words and manner. As a testimony to the existence of a spirit of reverence for Divine teaching, and a reference of all great and good things to God as their source, even in the minds of the Egyptians, such facts show that God had not left the world without light. The farther we go back in human history, the more simple and unsophisticated we find the minds of men, pointing to a primitive revelation, to the religious beginning of the human race, and to their corruption being the result of a fall, and not a mere negative state, the state of undeveloped reason. Joseph is lifted up out of the dungeon and made to sit among princes. He submits to the providential appointment, doubtless, under the guidance of the same Spirit which had given him his superiority. Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter because at that time to be so was to be separated from his people. Joseph the slave, already far from his home, is willing to be Pharaoh's prime minister that he may be the forerunner of his people's exaltation. The opportunity was not to be lost. "God," he said, "hath made me forget all my toil and all my father's house." "God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction." The very names given to Manasseh and Ephraim were a testimony to his faith. His forgetting was only to a better remembering. We must sometimes hide power for the sake of its manifestation. "All countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn." "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." As a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Hebrew slave exalted to the rule of the world and the saving of the world, from the cross to the throne. The whole story is full of analogies. He that distributes the bread of life to a perishing race was himself taken from prison, was treated as a malefactor, was declared the Ruler and Savior because the Spirit of God was upon him, was King of kings and Lord of lords. His benefits and blessings distributed to the world are immediately identified with his kingdom. He gathers in that he may give out. He is first the all-wise and all-powerful ruler of the seven years of plenty, and then the all-merciful helper and redeemer in the seven years of famine. "Joseph is a fruitful bough." - R.

Joseph had probably been three years in prison (cf. ver. 1 with Genesis 40:4). Sorely must his faith have been tried. His brothers, who had plotted his death, prosperous; himself a slave, spending the best years of his life in prison; and that because he had been faithful to God and to his master. We know the end, and therefore hardly realize his desolate condition when no sign of anything but that he should live and die uncared for and forgotten. But the trial comes more home to us when some one for whom we care, or perhaps ourselves, "endure grief, suffering wrongfully;" when unsuspecting frankness has been overreached, or trust betrayed, or feebleness oppressed. We feel not only that wrong has been done, but as if there had been a failure in God's care. It is one thing to acknowledge the doctrine of God's providence, and quite another to feel it under pressure of trouble. A frequent mistake to think of suffering as calling for immediate restitution. Since God beholds the wrong, should there not be some speedy token that he does so? The truth which faith has to grasp is that God is carrying out a plan, for which all these things are a preparation. We may not be able to trace it; but it is so. Thus it was with Joseph. All through these sad years God was guiding him. It was not merely that in time the cloud was removed; every step of the way had its purpose (John 16:20). In the prison he was learning lessons of the soul, - unlearning the spirit of censoriousness and of self-complacency (Genesis 37:2), - and, by obeying, learning how to rule. And the course of events bore him on to what was prepared for him. Had he remained at home, or returned thither, or had Potiphar not cast him into prison, he would not have been the head of a great work in Egypt, the helper of his family, the instrument of fulfilling God's promise. Not one step of his course was in vain; his sufferings were blessings.

I. IN SUFFERING WRONG WE ARE FOLLOWING CHRIST. He suffered for us, "leaving us an example" (1 Peter 2:21) of willingness to suffer for the good of others. This is the principle of self-sacrifice; not a self-willed sacrifice (Colossians 2:23), but the submission of the will to God (Luke 22:42; Hebrews 10:7). "This is acceptable with God" - to accept as from him what he sends, though we may-not see its use (Hebrews 12:5-7).

II. FOR EVERY CHRISTIAN THE DISCIPLINE OF SUFFERING IS NEEDFUL. If it was so in our Lord's sinless human nature (Hebrews 2:10), how much more in us, who must be taught to subdue the flesh to the spirit I Without trial Christian courage and fruit-bearing graces would fail (John 15:2), as without the winter's cold the forest tree would not form sound wood. And trial calls them into exercise (Romans 5:3), and through a sense of our weakness draws us nearer to God (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

III. NOT ONLY TRIAL IN GENERAL, BUT EVERY PART OF IT WORKS GOOD. To every part the promise applies (John 16:20). So it was with Joseph. God lays no stroke without cause (Hebrews 12:10). The conviction of this works practical patience. This particular suffering has its own loving message.

IV. WE OFTEN CANNOT FORESEE THE PURPOSE OF TRIALS. How different was the end to which God was leading Joseph from anything he could have expected or hoped for! Yet far better. We can see but a very little way along the path by which God is leading us. We walk by faith that his guidance is unerring, and that which he has provided is best (Ephesians 3:20). - M.

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. Sudden elevations are often the precursors of sudden falls. It was not so with Joseph. He filled satisfactorily his position, retaining it to the end of life. He made himself indispensable to Pharaoh and to the country. He was a man of decision. Seeing what had to be done, he hesitated not in commencing it. Going from the presence of Pharaoh, he passed throughout the land, arranging for granaries and appointing officers to grapple with the seven years of famine which were imminent. Doubtless he felt the weight of responsibility resting upon him, and would have many restless nights in calculating how by means of the money then in the treasury and by forced loans to meet the expenditure for granaries, grain, and official salaries. He superintended everything. By method he mastered detail.

I. CONSIDER THE POLICY OF THIS EGYPTIAN PRIME MINISTER. Many things we admire in Joseph, but we must not be blind to the fact that he thought more of binding the people to the throne than of benefiting the people themselves. He was the first statesman of that day. His policy determined in great measure what should be the standard of internal prosperity, and what position the country should hold in the eyes of other nations. He sought to make Pharaoh's rule absolute. He gave no benefit without payment, no supplies without sacrifice. He took all the money first (Genesis 47:14), then the cattle (ibid. ver. 16), then the lands and their persons (ibid. ver. 23). He thus reduced the people of Egypt to the position of slaves. He made all the land crown lands. Thus the monarch was pleased, and the priests, being exempt, were flattered. It is possible that in this Joseph laid the foundation of that system of mismanagement, which has made the most flourishing spot in the world the basest of kingdoms. He seems also to have striven to give some sort of preeminence to his brethren, and to advance them. Exempt from the burdens pressing on others, they gained power, and would have become eventually the dominant race in Egypt, but that another Pharaoh arose who knew not Joseph, i.e. who, although he knew of his having lived and served the nation, yet recognized not his policy. The state to which Joseph reduced the Egyptians was that to which afterwards his own descendants were reduced. Thus our plans are overthrown. Time tries success, and by removing dimness from our vision enables us to test it better.

II. CONSIDER THE PRIVATE LIFE OF THIS EGYPTIAN PRIME MINISTER, He was soon led to conform to the spirit and practice of an ungodly nation. He used a divining cup (Genesis 44:15, 16), took his meals apart (Genesis 43:32), recognizing and sustaining class distinctions. He learned the mode of speech common among the Egyptians, swore by the life of Pharaoh (Genesis 42:15), and was affianced to an idolatress, probably a priestess (Genesis 41:45). He made no effort to return to his own land, or to the pastoral life of his fathers. It was in his power also for nine years to have sent to make search for his father, who was sorrowing for him as dead, but he sent not. Not until trouble, by an apparent chance, drove his brethren to him did he appear to think of them, or of home and Jacob. When they came he was very slow to make known himself, as though he feared it might compromise him in the eyes of the Egyptians to be known to have relatives who were shepherds, an occupation which was abominable to the Egyptians (Genesis 46:34). When he revealed himself to them, it was without the knowledge or presence of the Egyptians. He removed his brethren also to a distant part of Egypt: that they might not constantly, by their presence, remind him and others of his origin. We fancy that Joseph had weaknesses and imperfections such as other men had. He had dwelt in Egypt and caught its spirit. In the names he gave to his children there seems some indication of regret at his forgetfulness and wonder at his fruitfulness. Amid views that might depress there is some brightness. His forgiveness of his brethren was noble. His affection for his father returned. His faith in God was pure at last. Dying, he "gave commandment concerning his bones." He showed that though outwardly an Egyptian, he was inwardly an Israelite. - H.

And the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. The time of harvest is, of all periods of the year, the most important. It is the point to which all previous operations of the cultivator have tended. He knows how much depends on the weather and God's mercy. Having done all he can, he has to wait, and the harvest-time determines results. Those who are not engaged in agriculture are concerned in a harvest. Suppose there were none; non-producers must starve, Dwelling in great towns and cities, many who are engaged in traffic or manufacture may easily overlook harvest-time, and forget their dependence on God for daily bread. They see not the sown fields, they watch not the springing blade, they seize not the sharp sickle, they join not in piling up the pointed stacks, and are therefore likely to forget dependence on God. It is well that God forgets us not. He has ever kept his promise - "So long as the earth remaineth," &c. No year has passed without harvest-time being stinted in some land. Think over the contrast given in the text.

I. GENERAL DISTRESS. "The dearth was in all lands," i.e. all the lands then known to be peopled by the descendants of Noah. Their harvests had failed. Rain excessive, or drought prolonged, had ruined their crops. For several years there seems to have been disappointment. Not only did the husbandmen suffer, but those who could not toil. Dearth engenders disease, despair, death. See 2 Kings 6:24-40, to what straits famine will reduce people. Even mothers consent together to eat their own offspring. In the lamentations of Jeremiah there is a description of the fearful consequences of famine, leading men to say, "Then was our skin black like an ov

II. EXCEPTIONAL ABUNDANCE. But for this plentifulness in Egypt the whole race might have perished. There were several reasons for the abundance in Egypt.

1. God arranged it by that wondrous overflowing of the Nile. A difference in the rising a few feet makes all the difference as to the crops. Even at this date, so do the crops of Egypt affect the markets of the world, that the rising of the Nile is watched, and the height attained telegraphed to all parts. God, at the period referred to, had given seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of dearth; but such had been the previous abundance, owing to the overflow of the river, that in the terrible time of dearth there was abundance of bread in Egypt.

2. The foresight and energy of one man had led to the husbanding of resources and storing of excessive crops.

3. Divine revelation caused Joseph to act. He could not have known of the impending danger unless it had been revealed. He had faith in God when in prison, and main-rained it when he became the governor of Egypt. Indeed that faith shone as brightly when he was the approved of Pharaoh as when he was the slave of Potiphar and the object of passion's hate. His faith was rewarded when he was able to save multitudes from starving. What a contrast is presented in the text! Dearth of many lands, abundance in one. Such contrasts are often seen. On one side of the ocean there may have been an abundant harvest, on the other side but scanty crops. The world is full of contrasts. Here is a wedding; there is a funeral. In one family is love, thoughtfulness, harmony, and in that - perhaps separated only by the thin partition of hasty builders - bickering, jealousy, and hastiness of temper. Here sobriety, providence, and religion reign; there nothing but indigence, drunkenness, and utter neglect of the claims of God. In one country is peace, activity in all its branches of industry, commercial confidence, progress-in education and art, thoughtfulness for the untaught and criminal classes, and higher appreciation of the sacredness of life; in another depression, mistrust, plotting of adventurers, rule of the conscienceless, national faithlessness, and the spreading pall of desolation. Forceful is the contrast presented by nations under the influence of a simple Christianity and those enslaved by superstition, as Spain or Austria; or paralyzed by fatalism, as Turkey and Asia Minor; or darkened by idolatry, as India, China, Africa, and some of the islands of the seas. And such contrasts are seen in individuals. There walks one whose soul has no light, no hope, no peace; here one who knows he is pardoned, and is sure of acceptance by Christ. At death what a contrast! See one dying shrinking, doubting, fearing, grasping at any straw of comfort; another rejoicing that he is soon to enter and tread the streets of the New Jerusalem. Let all be prepared for such a change. Seek Christ, who is the "Bread of life," the Savior of our souls. Lack of appetite and numbness may come from excessive exhaustion. Hunger and thirst after righteousness, and be not like a lady who once said, "Sir, I have been so long without religion that I have, I fear, now no desire for it." If we come to Christ he will receive us readily. Joseph was glad to receive and help his brethren. So will Christ supply all our need out of the treasures of his rich grace. Remember, that if the need of other nations tested the charity of Egypt, so the need of souls is to test our earnestness. If we have found the riches in Christ, we are to seek to bless others. If little time remains to some of us in which to do much for Christ, let us act as those who, having much to write and little space, crowd the letters and words the closer. Let us be earnest as the husbandman, who, seeing winter coming apace, hastens in the few fine days remaining to garner his crops. Alas, many of our doings will have to stand useless, like earless, rotten sheaves, blackening dreary fields. - H.

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