* Magicians couldn’t interpret Pharaoh’s dreams
Magicians and wise men were common in the palaces of ancient rulers. Their job description included studying sacred arts and sciences, reading the stars, interpreting dreams, predicting the future, and performing magic. These men had power (see Exodus 7:11-121), but their power was satanic. They were unable to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, but God had revealed it to Joseph in prison. (NLT)
Genesis 41:8 – The next morning, as he thought about it, Pharaoh became very concerned as to what the dreams might mean. So he called for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt and told them about his dreams, but not one of them could suggest what they meant.
* Joseph’s dreams were coming true
Joseph remembered his dreams about his brothers bowing down to him (Genesis 37:5-112). Those dreams were coming true! As a young boy, Joseph was boastful about his dreams. As a man, he no longer flaunted his superior status. He did not feel the need to say, “I told you so.” It was not yet time to reveal his identity, so he kept quiet. Sometimes it is best for us to remain quiet, even when we would like to have the last word. (NLT)
Genesis 42:8-9 – Joseph’s brothers didn’t recognize him, but Joseph recognized them. And he remembered the dreams he had had many years before. He said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see how vulnerable our land has become.”
* Dreams of Nebuchadnezzar
Dreams were considered to be messages from the gods, and the astrologers were expected to interpret them. Usually the astrologers could give some sort of interpretation as long as they knew what the dream was about. This time, however, Nebuchadnezzar demanded to be told the dream also. God sent a series of dreams to Nebuchadnezzar with prophetic messages that could be revealed and understood only by a servant of God. People from other time periods who received dreams from God include Jacob (Genesis 28:10-154), Joseph (Genesis 37:5-112), Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and his baker (Genesis 405), Pharaoh (Genesis 416), Solomon (1 Kings 3:5-157), and Joseph (Matthew 1:20-248).
The astrologers admitted that their gods did not “live among people.” Of course their gods didn’t—they didn’t even exist! This exposed the limitations of the astrologers. They could invent interpretations of dreams but could not tell Nebuchadnezzar what he had dreamed. Although his request was unreasonable, Nebuchadnezzar was infuriated by their reply. It was not unusual in these times for astrologers to be in conflict with the king. They sometimes used their craft to gain political power. (NLT)
Daniel 2:1-11 – One night during the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that disturbed him so much that he couldn’t sleep. He called in his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers, and he demanded that they tell him what he had dreamed. As they stood before the king, he said, “I have had a dream that troubles me. Tell me what I dreamed, for I must know what it means.”
Then the astrologers answered the king in Aramaic, “Long live the king! Tell us the dream, and we will tell you what it means.”
But the king said to the astrologers, “I am serious about this. If you don’t tell me what my dream was and what it means, you will be torn limb from limb, and your houses will be demolished into heaps of rubble! But if you tell me what I dreamed and what the dream means, I will give you many wonderful gifts and honors. Just tell me the dream and what it means!”
They said again, “Please, Your Majesty. Tell us the dream, and we will tell you what it means.”
The king replied, “I can see through your trick! You are trying to stall for time because you know I am serious about what I said. If you don’t tell me the dream, you will be condemned. You have conspired to tell me lies in hopes that something will change. But tell me the dream, and then I will know that you can tell me what it means.”
The astrologers replied to the king, “There isn’t a man alive who can tell Your Majesty his dream! And no king, however great and powerful, has ever asked such a thing of any magician, enchanter, or astrologer! This is an impossible thing the king requires. No one except the gods can tell you your dream, and they do not live among people.”
* Dreams of Joseph, Mary’s husband
This was the second dream or vision that Joseph received from God. Joseph’s first dream revealed that Mary’s child would be the Messiah (Matthew 1:20-248). His second dream told him how to protect the child’s life. Although Joseph was not Jesus’ natural father, he was Jesus’ legal father and was responsible for his safety and well-being. Divine guidance comes only to prepared hearts. Joseph remained receptive to God’s guidance. (NLT)
Matthew 2:13 – After the wise men were gone, an angle of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up and flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to try to kill the child.”
1 How were these wise men and magicians able to duplicate Moses’ miracles? Some of their feats involved trickery or illusion, and some may have used satanic power since worshiping gods of the underworld was part of their religion. Ironically, whenever they duplicated one of Moses’ plagues, it only made matters worse. If the magicians had been as powerful as God, they would have reversed the plagues, not added to them.
God performed a miracle by turning Aaron’s staff into a snake, and Pharaoh’s magicians did the same through trickery or sorcery. Although miracles can help us believe, it is dangerous to rely on them alone. Satan can imitate some parts of God’s work and lead people astray. Pharaoh focused on the miracle rather than the message. We can avoid this error by letting the Word of God be the basis of our faith. No miracle from God would endorse any message that is contrary to the teachings of His Word. (NLT)
Exodus 7:11-12 – Then Pharaoh called in his wise men and magicians, and they did the same thing with their secret arts. Their staffs became snakes, too! But then Aaron’s snake swallowed up their snakes.
2 Joseph’s brothers were already angry over the possibility of being ruled by their little brother. Joseph then fueled the fire with his immature attitude and boastful manner. No one enjoys a braggart. Joseph learned his lesson the hard way. His angry brothers sold him into slavery to get rid of him. After several years of hardship, Joseph learned an important lesson: Because our talents and knowledge come from God, it is more appropriate to thank him for them than to brag about them. Later Joseph gives God the credit (Genesis 41:163). (NLT)
Genesis 37:5-11 – One night Joseph had a dream and promptly reported the details to his brothers, causing them to hate him even more. “Listen to this dream,” he announced. “We were out in the field tying up bundles of grain. My bundle stood up, and then your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before it!”
Then Joseph had another dream and told his brothers about it. “Listen to this dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!”
This time he told his father as well as his brothers, and his father rebuked him. “What do you mean?” his father asked. “Will your mother, your brothers, and I actually come and bow before you?” But while his brothers were jealous of Joseph, his father gave it some thought and wondered what it all meant.
3 Joseph made sure that he gave the credit to God. We should be careful to do the same. To take the honor for ourselves is a form of stealing God’s honor. Don’t be silent when you know you should be giving glory and credit to God. (NLT)
Genesis 41:16 – “It is beyond my power to do this,” Joseph replied. “But God will tell you what it means and will set you at ease.”
4 Genesis 28:10-15 – Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone for a pillow and lay down to sleep. As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from earth to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down on it.
At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I will give it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will cover the land from east to west and from north to south. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I will be with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. I will someday bring you safely back to this land. I will be with you constantly until I have finished giving you everything I have promised.
5 The cup-bearer and the chief baker were two of the most trusted men in Pharaoh’s kingdom. The baker was in charge of making the Pharaoh’s food, and the cup-bearer tasted all of his food and drink before giving it to him, in case any of it was contaminated or poisoned.
When the subject of dreams came up, Joseph focused everyone’s attention on God. Rather than using the situation to make himself look good, he turned it into a powerful witness for the Lord. One secret of effective witnessing is to recognize opportunities to relate God to the other person’s experience. When the opportunity arises, we must have the courage to speak, as Joseph did. (NLT)
Genesis 40 – Some time later, Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer and chief baker offended him. Pharaoh became very angry with these officials, and he put them in the prison where Joseph was in the palace of Potiphar, the captain of the guard. They remained in prison for quite some time, and Potiphar assigned Joseph to take care of them.
One night the cup-bearer and the baker each had a dream, and each dream had its own meaning. The next morning Joseph noticed the dejected look on their faces. “Why do you look so worried today?” he asked.
And they replied, “We both had dreams last night, but there is no one here to tell us what they mean.”
“Interpreting dreams is God’s business,” Joseph replied. “Tell me what you saw.”
The cup-bearer told his dream first. “In my dream,” he said, “I saw a vine in front of me. It had three branches that began to bud and blossom, and soon there were clusters of ripe grapes. I was holding Pharaoh’s wine cup in my hand, so I took the grapes and squeezed the juice into it. Then I placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”
“I know what the dream means,” Joseph said. “The three branches mean three days. Within three days Pharaoh will take you out of prison and return you to your position as his chief cup-bearer. And please have some pity on me when you are back in his favor. Mention me to Pharaoh, and ask him to let me out of here. For I was kidnapped from my homeland, the land of the Hebrews, and now I’m here in jail, but I did nothing to deserve it.”
When the chief baker saw that the first dream had such a good meaning, he told his dream to Joseph, too. “In my dream,” he said, “there were three baskets of pastries on my head. In the top basket were all kinds of bakery goods for Pharaoh, but the birds came and ate them.”
“I’ll tell you what it means,” Joseph told him. “The three baskets mean three days. Three days from now Pharaoh will cut off your head and impale your body on a pole. Then birds will come and peck away at your flesh.”
Pharaoh’s birthday came three days later, and he gave a banquet for all his officials and household staff. He sent for his chief cup-bearer and chief baker, and they were brought to him from the prison. He then restored the chief cup-bearer to his former position, but he sentenced the chief baker to be impaled on a pole, just as Joseph had predicted. Pharaoh’s cup-bearer, however, promptly forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another thought.
6 Our most important opportunities may come when we least expect them. Joseph was brought hastily from the dungeon and pushed before Pharaoh. Did he have time to prepare? Yes and no. He had no warning that he would be suddenly pulled from prison and questioned by the king. Yet Joseph was ready for almost anything because of his right relationship with God. It was not Joseph’s knowledge of dreams that helped him interpret their meaning. It was his knowledge of God. Be ready for opportunities by getting to know more about God. Then you will be ready to call on him when opportunities come your way.
After interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph gave the king a survival plan for the next 14 years. The only way to prevent starvation was through careful planning; without a famine plan Egypt would have turned from prosperity to ruin. Many find detailed planning boring and unnecessary. But planning is a responsibility, not an option. Joseph was able to save a nation by translating God’s plan for Egypt into practical actions (implementation). We must take time to translate God’s plan for us into practical actions, too.
Pharaoh recognized that Joseph was a man “filled with the spirit of God.” You probably won’t get to interpret dreams for a king, but those who know you should be able to see God in you, through your kind words, merciful acts, and wise advice. Do your relatives, neighbors, and co-workers see you as a person in whom the Spirit of God lives?
Famine was a catastrophe in ancient times, just as it still is in many parts of the world today. Almost perfect conditions were needed to produce good crops because there were no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Any variances in rainfall or insect activity could cause crop failure and great hunger because the people relied almost exclusively on their own crops for food. Lack of storage, refrigeration, or transportation turned a moderate famine into a desperate situation. The famine Joseph prepared for was severe. Without God’s intervention, the Egyptian nation would have crumbled. (NLT)
Genesis 41 – Two years later, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing on the bank of the Nile River. In his dream, seven fat, healthy-looking cows suddenly came up out of the river and began grazing along its bank. Then seven other cows came up from the river, but these were very ugly and gaunt. These cows went over and stood beside the fat cows. Then the thin, ugly cows ate the fat ones! At this point in the dream, Pharaoh woke up.
Soon he fell asleep again and had a second dream. This time he saw seven heads of grain on one stalk, with every kernel well formed and plump. Then suddenly, seven more heads appeared on the stalk, but these were shriveled and withered by the east wind. And these thin heads swallowed up the seven plump, well formed heads! Then Pharaoh woke up again and realized it was a dream.
The next morning, as he thought about it, Pharaoh became very concerned as to what the dreams might mean. So he called for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt and told them about his dreams, but not one of them could suggest what they meant. Then the king’s cup-bearer spoke up. “Today I have been reminded of my failure,” he said. “Some time ago, you were angry with the chief baker and me, and you imprisoned us in the palace of the captain of the guard. One night the chief baker and I each had a dream, and each dream had a meaning. We told the dreams to a young Hebrew man who was a servant of the captain of the guard. He told us what each of our dreams meant, and everything happened just as he said it would. I restored to my position as cup-bearer, and the chief baker was executed and impaled on a pole.”
Pharaoh sent for Joseph at once, and he was brought hastily from the dungeon. After a quick shave and change of clothes, he went in and stood in Pharaoh’s presence. “I had a dream last night,” Pharaoh told him, “and none of these men can tell me what it means. But I have heard that you can interpret dreams, and that is why I have called for you.”
“It is beyond my power to do this,” Joseph replied. “But God will tell you what it means and will set you at ease.”
So Pharaoh told him the dream. I was standing on the bank of the Nile River,” he said. “Suddenly, seven fat, healthy-looking cows came up out of the river and began grazing along its bank. But then seven other cows came up from the river. They were very thin and gaunt—in fact, I’ve never seen such ugly animals in all the land of Egypt. These thin, ugly cows ate up the seven fat ones that had come out of the river first, but afterward they were still as ugly and gaunt as before! Then I woke up.
“A little later I had another dream. This time there were seven heads of grain on one stalk, and all seven heads were plump and full. Then out of the same stalk came seven withered heads, shriveled by the east wind. And the withered heads swallowed up the plump ones! I told these dreams to my magicians, but not one of them could tell me what they mean.”
“Both dreams mean the same thing,” Joseph told Pharaoh. “God was telling you what he is about to do. The seven fat cows and the seven plump heads of grain both represent seven years of prosperity. The seven thin, ugly cows and the seven withered heads of grain represent seven years of famine. This will happen just as I have described it, for God has shown you what he is about to do. The next seven years will be a period of great prosperity throughout the land of Egypt. But afterward there will be seven years of famine so great that all the prosperity will be forgotten and wiped out. Famine will destroy the land. This famine will be so terrible that even the memory of the good years will be erased. As for having the dream twice, it means that the matter has been decreed by God and that he will make these events happen soon.
“My suggestion is that you find the wisest man in Egypt and put him in charge of a nationwide program. Let Pharaoh appoint officials over the land, and let them collect one-fifth of all the crops during the seven good years. Have them gather all the food and grain of these good years into the royal storehouses, and store it away so there will be food in the cities. That way there will be enough to eat when the seven years of famine come. Otherwise disaster will surely strike the land, and all the people will die.”
Joseph’s suggestions were well received by Pharaoh and his advisers. As they discussed who should be appointed for the job, Pharaoh said, “Who could do it better than Joseph? For he is a man who is obviously filled with the spirit of God.” Turning to Joseph, Pharaoh said, “Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, you are the wisest man in the land! I hereby appoint you to direct this project. You will manage my household and organize all my people. Only I will have a rank higher than yours.”
And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the entire land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh placed his own signet ring on Joseph’s finger as a symbol of his authority. He dressed him in beautiful clothing and placed the royal gold chain about his neck. Pharaoh also gave Joseph the chariot of his second-in-command, and wherever he went the command was shouted, “Kneel down!” So Joseph was put in charge of all Egypt. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am the king, but no one will move a hand or a foot in the entire land of Egypt without your approval.”
Pharaoh renamed him Zaphenath-paneah and gave hin a wife—a young woman named Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of Heliopolis. So Joseph took charge of the entire land of Egypt. He was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. And when Joseph left Pharaoh’s presence, he made a tour of inspection throughout the land.
And sure enough, for the next seven years there were bumper crops everywhere. During those years, Joseph took a portion of all the crops grown in Egypt and stored them for the government in nearby cities. After seven years, the granaries were filled to overflowing. There was so much grain, like sand on the seashore, that the people could not keep track of the amount.
During this time, before the arrival of the first of the famine years, two sons were born to Joseph and his wife, Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of Heliopolis. Joseph named his older son Manasseh, for he said, “God has made me forget all my troubles and the family of my father. Joseph named his second son Ephraim, for he said, “God has made me fruitful in this land of my suffering.”
At last the seven years of plenty came to an end. Then the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had predicted. There were crop failures in all the surrounding countries, too, but in Egypt there was plenty of grain in the storehouses. Throughout the land of Egypt the people began to starve. They pleaded with Pharaoh for food, and he told them, “Go to Joseph and do whatever he tells you.” So with severe famine everywhere in the land, Joseph opened up the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians. And people from surrounding lands also came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph because the famine was severe throughout the world.
7 Solomon asked for understanding to carry out his job; he did not ask God to do the job for him. We should not ask God to do for us what he wants to do through us. Instead, we should ask God to give us the wisdom to know what to do and the courage to follow through on it.
Solomon asked for wisdom, no wealth, but God gave him riches and long life as well. While God does not promise riches to those who follow him, he gives us what we need if we put his kingdom, his interests, and his principles first (Matthew 6:31-339). Setting your sites on riches will only leave you dissatisfied because even if you get the riches you crave, you will still want something more. But if you put God and his work first, he will satisfy your deepest needs.
Wisdom is both the ability to discern what is best and the strength of character to act upon that knowledge. While Solomon remained wise all his life, he did not always act upon his wisdom. (NLT)
1 Kings 3:5-15 – That night the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!”
Solomon replied, “You were wonderfully kind to my father, David, because he was honest and true and faithful to you. And you have continued this great kindness to him today by giving him a son to succeed him. O Lord my God, now you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am among your own chosen people, a nation so great they are too numerous to count! Give me an understanding mind so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great nation of yours?”
The Lord was pleased with Solomon’s reply and was glad that he had asked for wisdom. So God replied, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people and have not asked for a long life or riches for yourself or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding mind such as no one else has ever had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and honor! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life! And if you follow me and obey my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.”
Then Solomon woke up and realized it had been a dream. He returned to Jerusalem and stood before the Ark of the Lord’s covenant, where he sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. Then he invited all his officials to a great banquet.
8 The angel declared to Joseph that Mary’s child was conceived by the Holy Spirit and would be a son. This reveals an important truth about Jesus—he is both God and human. The infinite, unlimited God took on the limitations of humanity so he could live and die for the salvation of all who would believe in him. (NLT)
Matthew 1:20-24 – As he considered this, he fell asleep, and an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All of this happened to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and he will be called Immanuel (meaning, God is with us).”
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded. He brought Mary home to be his wife, but she remained a virgin until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
9 To “make the Kingdom of God your primary concern” means to put God first in your life, to fill your thoughts with his desires, to take his character for your pattern, and to serve and obey him in everything. What is really important to you? People, objects, goals, and other desires all compete for priority. Any of these can quickly bump God out of first place if you don’t actively choose to give him first place in every area of your life. (NLT)
Matthew 6:31-33 – [Jesus said] “So don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.”
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