2.31 Joseph in Egypt
Egypt's relation to God's covenant people is unique. It is both ally and enemy. It is the womb in which the embryonic plan of God gestated, but it is only a surrogate mother. Egypt was self-preoccupied -- it knew itself as the political, economic and cultural center of the world. It was the apex of civilization. To be outside its borders was to be a barbarian, a primitive, unworthy of notice. The very word "Hebrew," as used by Egyptians, is believed to be a derogatory term of racial inferiority, not a term of ethnic identity. Even when Joseph was raised to power, the Egyptians ate apart from Hebrews (Gen 43:32). As the Canaanites continually attempted to assimilate Israel, both pre- and post- Exodus, so Egypt tried to "digest" Israel, converting its manpower into the slave labor that built its own magnificent structures. In Joseph's life, however, Egypt and the God of Israel were on the same side, at least temporarily.
Looked at from the outside, Joseph's early life in Egypt seemed to be "a series of unfortunate events." Unlike his brothers, Joseph maintained a high moral standard in terms of personal honesty and sexual conduct. Starting at the bottom as a slave, he rose to be overseer of Potiphar's house. In the midst of hardship and adverse circumstances, he prospered because "the Lord was with Joseph." But this ability and promotion brought him to the attention of Potiphar's wife, who attempted to seduce him. His refusal was based on his devotion to the God of the Covenant, whom he continued to serve despite his misfortunes:
"How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" (Gen 39:9).
Nevertheless, he was unjustly accused and sent to prison. Here again he rose to a position of honor and authority, for the same reason he had been promoted to overseer:
"The Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did" (Gen 39:23).
Time went by: "sometime after this..." (Gen 40:1) -- Joseph's life was on hold. So was God's plan. When the butler and baker of Pharaoh were imprisoned, each of them had a dream they did not understand. But Joseph "the dreamer," who previously had had just two revelatory dreams, showed that he also had the God-given gift of interpreting them. Joseph's dreams seemed to come in pairs -- his own, and those he interpreted. For the butler, the meaning of his dream was restoration to Pharaoh's favor. For the baker, it was condemnation and death. Both interpretations were accurate, and Joseph trusted that the butler would intercede for him to Pharaoh. But then, another unfortunate event -- the butler forgot about him. Not until two years later, when Pharaoh himself had two troubling dreams, did the butler remember Joseph in prison.
When Joseph was brought before Pharaoh, he at once disclaimed all credit to be a wise man or magician. He had no special innate ability to interpret dreams:
"I cannot do it," Joseph replied to Pharaoh, "but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires" (Gen 41:16).
Joseph told Pharaoh that God was revealing the future so that the ruler could make preparations for what was about to occur. There would be seven years of abundance, followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh should store up the excess from the abundant years to be a reserve for the lean years.