Pharoah’s Dream

According to the biblical story, Pharoah had a dream that no one could interpret for him. His chief cupbearer then remembered that Joseph had interpreted a dream for him when he was in prison two years earlier. So, Joseph was “brought from the dungeon” and shaved and changed his clothes. He then came before Pharoah and told him that his dream meant there would be seven years of abundance in the land of Egypt followed by seven years of famine. Joseph recommended that “a discerning and wise man” be put in charge and that food should be collected in the good years and stored for use during the famine. This seemed like a good idea to Pharaoh and Joseph ended up with the job (Genesis 41).

Okay, so let us look at the actual verses. I’m using the Hebrew translation as it is probably closer to the original.

1 It happened at the end of two full years, that Pharoah dreamed: and behold, he stood by the river. 2 Behold, there came up out of the river seven cattle, sleek and fat, and they fed in the marsh grass. 3 Behold, seven other cattle came up after them out of the river, ugly and thin, and stood by the other cattle on the brink of the river. 4 The ugly and thin cattle ate up the seven sleek and fat cattle. So Paroh awoke. 5 He slept and dreamed a second time: and behold, seven heads of grain came up on one stalk, healthy and good. 6 Behold, seven heads of grain, thin and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them. 7 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy and full ears. Pharoah awoke, and behold, it was a dream.

I want to pay particular attention to the central premise of the verses, and it isn’t about cows of ears of corn. “a dream that no one could interpret for him”. What? Let us be perfectly clear, the government of Pharoah was extremely well organized, with thousands of specialized jobs. All kinds of job, people watching the calendar, teams of people for each god (and they had hundreds of gods}, cupbearers (wine tasters), chefs, secretaries, poet laureates, musicians, I could go on and on, the point being is that Pharoah had well paid “dream interpreters” whose job it was to tell Pharoah the meaning of the dreams that he had.

Now, I do believe that sometimes God creeps in and gives a dream that is more of a prophecy, and maybe it doesn’t come from Pharoah’s subconscious. Given that this can be true, would God go through all that trouble to make it a total mystery that no one can interpret?

Let’s look at the two separate dreams using common logic. Both use a common number 7. Seven cows, seven ears of corn, both are food items. In fact, the lean cows eat the fat cows, and the lean ears of corn eat the fat corn. I’m not sure that follows logic, but you can get the idea that we are left with hungry cows, and hungry corn. Even if they had just eaten their friends.

So, what does the seven mean. The common choices are seven days, seven weeks, seven months, or seven years. Growing cycles for planted food is usually marked in years to get the full seasonal impact. Even cattle are measured in years in order to accommodate the birth cycles.

So logic tells us there will be seven good years for food, and then seven bad years of famine. Joseph tells Pharoah to prepare for the coming famine by forming a storage facility, and most importantly to convince the people to put work twice as hard, once for the normal good times, then once again the store for the bad times.

That really wasn’t that hard. If God gave the Pharoah that dream, he made it very easy to work it out. If Pharoah made up that dream it was that hard either. Using logic it is obvious that the most intense dream a Pharoah could have is one that would negatively impact his people. Realistically, the Pharoah would never suffer a famine.

So the real question is why did the “dream interpreters” say they couldn’t figure it out. Indeed, why did Pharoah say to himself, “I can’t understand this. Let’s listen to the cupbearer (who will probably get poisoned soon), and let him bring that slave up from the dungeon, in order to see what he says.

Someone has to take the blame for the plan. Certainly if it doesn’t work, but more importantly if it does work. Convincing people in the midst of prosperity to work twice as hard will not make anyone popular. The Pharoah wanted no part of this, he punted. And the Dream Interpreters also saw the dilemma, so they agreed, get the slave from the dungeon to enforce the plan. And until the famine hit, the people probably griped a great deal.

This is part plan of an overall plan to take all of the miracles out of the Bible. I know this is popular for some people. This was never in the “miracle bag”, but it has been glossed over without looking at why everyone feigned ignorance, when the answer was obvious. To me, this is evidence that the Bible relates events that were true!

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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