A few years ago, my wife and her sisters spent an evening out on the town. Oh, from what I can tell, there is nothing like being with your sisters! There was the getting dressed up; taking pictures; going out to eat; taking pictures and then taking in the sight and the sounds of the theater. Oh, but not that theater with popcorn and hot pretzels and nachos. No; the theatre with the grand marquee outlined in the brightest of lights; the foyer with the high ceiling; the stage with the ornate aesthetics; and the rows and rows of seats. Oh, and the box seats for kings and queens and presidents.
The lights dimmed. The chatter of the audience grew soft. Someone uttered with an eager smile, “It is about to start!” The curtain rose and the play began. One act and one scene followed another until the curtain closed, the lights brightened and the chatter grew. The audience stood from their seats and the aisles began to fill. Lisa then exclaimed, “This is so good!” Another sister agreed. “I know, it is so good!” And yet another sister agreed. “Yeah, it is good, but that sure was a weird ending.” It was intermission. She did not know that the ending was yet to come!
This is the intermission. Intermission is not a time to stand and stretch. Intermission is not a time for chatter. It is not a time to fill the aisles. Intermission is a pause. It is a time to pause and take a deep breath.
After Two Whole Years
Genesis 41 begins, “After two whole years.” Does that not seem really specific? The Hebrew reads, word-for-word, “It came to pass at the end of two years full.” The word full is the same word as day in Genesis 1. So, this is like saying, “After two years of days…” This is either seven hundred thirty days or seven hundred thirty-one days if there was a leap year. It is just really specific. And it is because it is referring to something.
The verse prior is Genesis 40:23. “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” So, it could be that Genesis 41 begins with two whole years of Joseph being forgotten. He is in prison. He made a friend and asked that friend to remember him. And the friend forgot him for two whole years. And it seems likely, for in Genesis 41:9 the chief cupbearer remembers Joseph after two whole years. But why does he remember?
The two whole years is not directly referring to the cupbearer forgetting Joseph. Look at the next few words of verse one. “After two whole years, Pharaoh.” So, these two whole years have to do with Pharaoh. Now remember, the word whole or full is the Hebrew word for day. Listen then to Genesis 40:20. “On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday…” This is very specific. I t has been two whole years since Pharaoh’s birthday. This means that Genesis 41 is Pharaoh’s birthday!
And there is a contrast. Two years ago, Pharaoh threw a party for his birthday. And this is a shocker; Pharaoh was happy on his birthday. He laid out a feast for all his servants! It was a day of rejoicing and celebration. There were gifts to open and cards to read and birthday cake – white cake with white buttercream frosting from Giant Eagle – and Breyer’s vanilla ice cream. Two years later, it was Pharaoh’s birthday. There was the party and the feast and the presents and cards and the birthday cake and ice cream. But Pharaoh was despondent. “In the morning his spirit was troubled” (Genesis 41:8). This word troubled is used in Psalm 77:4. This helps in getting a sense of what Pharaoh was feeling. “You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.”
Pharaoh was anxious; so anxious that he could not even close his eyes. I wonder why? May I suggest it was because he did not want to fall asleep? He was so anxious that he could not string words together to form a sentence. He was tired. And he did not want to go back to sleep because he might…
After Two Whole Years, Pharaoh Dreamed
Pharaoh dreamed (41:1). After two whole years, on his birthday, Pharaoh dreamed. And he did not dream one dream, but two dreams. The first dream woke him up, but although kind of gruesome he was able and wanted to go back to sleep (41:4-5). And he dreamed a second dream. It was the combination of the dreams that held his eyelids open, muffled his speech and troubled his spirit.
Pharaoh was there in his own dream. He was standing by the Nile River, the longest river in the world and most important to Egypt. It sustained them and it was revered. The Egyptians treated the river as itself a god. And there were seven cows, standing in the river, perhaps cooling off and just having a good time eating. These were plump and good looking cows. But then arose seven thin and ugly cows who ate up the good looking, healthy cows! Pharaoh awoke, gathered himself, took a drink of water, relieved that it was just a dream, a bad dream. And then he dreamed again (41:1-4). Behold! This is the third of six times that this word of astonishment is used to describe these dreams (cf. 41:2; 3; 5; 6; 7; 17). Behold! There were seven good and plump ears of grain growing on one stalk. And behold! Seven hideous ears of grain sprouted up and devoured the seven good and plump ears of grain. And now Pharaoh awoke, wide eyed, refusing to go back to sleep and troubled. The birthday party was spoiled.
Remember, the Egyptians viewed dreams as gifts from the gods. The dreams were meant to be paid attention to, for your life would be affected by them. But these gifts were mysterious and the gods left no interpretation. Hence, Pharaoh gathered all the magicians with the dream dictionaries and all the wise men with all their wisdom, but no one could figure out these dreams (41:8). Probably the most that could be figured out is that the number seven must be important and maybe the cows meant that we should all eat more chicken.
The cupbearer speaks up. “I remember!” The cupbearer recounts to Pharaoh that two years ago and three days before the birthday party he and the baker – remember the baker, he was put to death – dreamed two dreams on the same night. They too, had no idea what the dreams meant. They too, were troubled because no one was available to interpret nor could interpret except this one prisoner. It just so happened that this prisoner was assigned to attend to these two men. And Joseph nailed the interpretation (41:9-13). Joseph is remembered.
Pharaoh is the most powerful man in the world. He is thought of as a god. But he is reduced to a man in need; a man who needs the help of a forgotten prisoner: Joseph. And remember, this is two whole years later. And remember, Joseph was forgotten. God has a better plan. God has a better purpose. And God has a better timing. With God, all things are always better.
Can we remember that Joseph too, one night had two dreams? Can we remember that there was no mystery to those two dreams? Can we remember that Joseph immediately knew the interpretation, as did his brothers and his dad? Can we remember that Joseph was then seventeen years old?
Joseph Plucked from the Pit
Pharaoh orders that Joseph be plucked from the pit; a.k.a, prison. He is given a clean shave and clean clothes and brought before Pharaoh. Pharaoh gets to the point. He had two dreams. No one can interpret them. It has been said that when Joseph hears a dream he can interpret it (41:14-15). I wonder how the cupbearer was feeling at this point.
Now listen to Joseph’s response. In Hebrew it is a one word answer. “It is not in me.” The cupbearer could not get out of the room fast enough. But there is more to Joseph’s response. “God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (41:16). Now here is the short of it: Pharaoh gets what he was looking for. The dreams are different, but the same. There will come seven years of plenty, seven years of prosperity. But then will come seven years of recession and depression that will wipe out the seven previous years. It is a famine. It will be so bad that the seven great years will be forgotten. There will be no evidence that those seven years ever existed (41:26-31). It is quite a warning.
But it is the big idea that demands our attention. Notice that Joseph first says that “God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” This is very similar to the previous chapter when Joseph told the cupbearer and baker that interpretations belong to God (40:8). Listen though to the big idea. It is given in Genesis 41:25 and then again in Genesis 41:28. “God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” This is what needs to be gotten, not the prosperity and not the famine. It is all about what God has done. It is all about what God is doing. It is all about what God is about to do. And here is the interesting part; when Joseph dreamed his two dreams there was no mention of God either by Jacob or Joseph’s brothers or Joseph. The difference lies in that it has been thirteen years since Joseph dreamed his two dreams which were different, but the same (cf. 37:2 and 41:46). And something is different about Joseph. From the pit to the prison to the palace, thirteen years, Joseph has been shaped not by his circumstances, but by God through his circumstances. It is like 1 Peter 1:6-7. “Joseph had become a radically God-centered man.”
Can We Find A Man Like This?
The intermission is coming. It is verse forty-one. On Pharaoh’s birthday, Joseph’s fortune changes. The most powerful man in the world grips Joseph’s shoulders and says, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” The curtain closes. And we pause to take a deep breath.
The big idea is what God is about to do. Then there is a big question. It is asked by Pharaoh. “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” What gave Pharaoh the sense that in Joseph was the Spirit of God? Yes, Joseph shared that the dream revealed what God is about to do, but that is not all. Joseph also shared what Pharaoh needed to do. Appoint a man! Joseph did not think he was this man, but a man was needed to oversee the plenty and plan for the empty. For Pharaoh, Joseph was this man (41:31-39). Why?
There are two parts to Genesis 41:1-41. It all centers around God’s revelation. The two dreams are God’s revelation. We have God’s revelation. It is called the Bible and there are sixty-six books revealing to us what God has done, what God is doing and what God will do. And with the revelation of Genesis 41, Joseph was a preacher. Here is what God is going to do (41:1-30). I am going to say with much trembling that this was not enough. It is not enough to expound and point to what God is going to do. It is needed, but not enough. Joseph then pointed to what needed to be done (41:31-36). So, the two parts are what God is going to do and what we need to do. And we need to pause and take a deep breath. Can we find a man like this? Can we find men like this?
This is the hardest sermon I have ever preached. I have had to pause. Do we have a man like this? I had to answer it. Do we have a man who each week opens God’s Word to us, points us to God and then leads us to what we need to do? And I thought, what does it take to be this kind of man? It takes time. For Joseph it took thirteen years. It takes time in God’s fatherly hand to humble and to shape and to season a man to be God’s servant who is radically God-centered.
This is all to say that we need a vision. A vision to grab onto and a vision that leads us to action. Where do we get that vision? Monday while mowing for three hours, I asked God for a vision. I told him that I thought we needed a vision. He did not answer me. He did not answer me on Monday. He answered Tuesday. And his answer began like this, “After two whole years.”
So, what is God going to do and what do we need to do? How do we get this clear vision? It begins with His Word. We have it and need it like our lives depend on it. But this all reminded me of the book of Acts which begins with what God is going to do, the revelation (Acts 1:6-11). But then the rest of the book is what needed to be done, the response. And in that response, we first see those who got the vision praying together. We then see them devoted to teaching and fellowship and communion and to prayer. We see them loving the lost world. And we see the gospel growing and the gospel bearing fruit, people getting saved, the world turned upside down and radically God-centered people asking for more boldness (cf. Acts 1:14; 2:42; 6:7; 4:29).
 R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 481.