Joseph’s Elevation to Power – Held on Sunday, February 23, 2014

Outline of Post on the Scripture Session held on 02/23/14

  1. Introductory Remarks
  2. Background to today’s Reading
  3. Reading Gen. 41: 01 – 57
  4. Discussion

Introductory Remarks

I reminded the group about my intention to offer a Lenten Program on five Thursdays during lent.  The program will be based on the work of Gerhard Lofink entitled, Jesus of Nazareth What He Wanted, Who He Was.  There were six members of the group who expressed an interest in attending.  If anyone else is interested to register please contact Roberta at 330-452-9539 or  You can also sign-up at under the Adult Education page.

Background to today’s Reading: Gen. 41: 01 – 57.

Once again we began by looking back to Brueggemann’s schema; chapter 41 is the culmination of Joseph and the Empire and focuses on Joseph’s rise to power.

I continue to emphasize that the final redactor of this story probably lived in the 6th – 5th c. BCE.  His audience has returned from exile in Babylon physically but the memory of that experience has been imprinted on the corporate memory of the Israelites. We have nothing like that as part of our corporate memory, the closest example that I can think of are the events of September 11.   By way of comparison though, the exile began with the destruction of their city, Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple where there God took up residence, lasted for 50 years, and the land they returned to was markedly different than the land they had left.

Probably it is true that the Galilean peasants among whom Jesus lived and primarily carried out his ministry continued to long for the day that the promise of the post exilic prophets would be fulfilled.  The Joseph story was told in part to address the longing the people had for YHWH to return.   Had YHWH forgotten them?  Would YHWH rule over their enemies?  [Their enemies were those who oppressed them, took away their freedom, did not recognize their God.]  These are but a few of the questions that disturbed the consciousness of the Israelites then and may disturb us now.

Today we too both individually and corporately can wonder has God forgotten me, us?  How does the life and times of Jesus change the meaning of our questions, our longing for a better life, a better world?

Before reading the entire passage I pointed out that it could be divided into three segments.

  1. Vv. 01 – 08: the Prologue whose importance lies in the fact that dreams enter into the life of the Pharaoh beyond his control and beyond all the available knowledge of the empire to understand.  [As we read this, it helps to think of the kind of questions that might very well be disturbing the consciousness of the narrator’s audience.  How does this story address these and our questions about secular power and divine power [Jesus crucified], secular knowledge and divine knowledge, the ongoing debate between science and religion]
  2. Vv. 09 – 45: the narrative of Joseph’s rise to power from being imprisoned for two more years, interpreting the dreams of the Pharaoh, and being installed as the practical leader of all of Egypt by the Pharaoh.
  3. Vv. 46 – 57: the Epilogue in which Joseph carries out in the  practical historical stetting of the story the implications of the dreams he had interpreted. It ends in v. 57 “Indeed, the whole world came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, for famine had gripped the whole world.”  What then is the significance of the “the whole world?”

Reading: Gen. 41: 01 – 57


Eight different times God is mentioned in this passage.  The very first time occurs in v. 16 where Joseph makes clear that it is God who is at work not him, ““It is not I,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God who will respond for the well-being of Pharaoh.”  It is God who gave the dreams to the Pharaoh.  It is God who will realize the dreams in the realm of the Pharaoh.  God is in charge.  Ken was taken aback by Joseph’s acknowledgement of God’s role.  He felt that he too should know that it is God in his life too; yet the idea of acknowledging that doesn’t occur to him very often.

When we move to vv. 25, 28, and 32 Joseph again makes clear to the Pharaoh the role of God in his [the Pharaoh’s] realm.

  1. V. 25 – Joseph said to Pharaoh: “Pharaoh’s dreams have the same meaning. God has made known to Pharaoh what he is about to do.
  2. V. 28 – Things are just as I told Pharaoh: God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.
  3. V. 32 – That Pharaoh had the same dream twice means that the matter has been confirmed by God and that God will soon bring it about.

The story is making abundantly clear that it is not the Pharaoh but God who knows and God who is in control.  Tim shared how he had come across the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham.  After viewing it for a while he thought that both of them where off target.  In other words, neither Bill Nye’s understanding of science nor Ken Ham’s understanding of religion spoke to Tim.  One’s understanding of the bible is the focus of our study group and I frankly think that Mr. Ham’s understanding is just wrong.   The passages above do not mean that the Pharaoh or modern secular knowledge is wrong but it is inadequate for our understanding the ways of God.

That people of all walks of life have had an inadequate, and at time, mistaken understanding of what God has revealed is just a fact of human history.  And it is when such mistaken or erroneous understanding guides their doing, there is, excuse my language, hell to pay.

Jesus spoke primarily to the peasant Galileans of his day.  Over and over he attempted to communicate that their understanding of the ways of God were mistaken and if they continued to act on the basis of that mistaken understanding ruin would befall them.  And it did.  Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God is even more subversive than the story of Joseph.  It is doubly so, for Jesus’ Kingdom message was a message of nonviolence deliverance, think of the story of the prodigal father / son.   Ken at this point simply pointed to the cross.  The power of God and the knowledge of God are neither our power nor our knowledge.  Jesus’ life, message, and mission revealed that and the cross was [is] our response.  The Father’s response, however, is resurrection [not resuscitation] life as it is meant to be and will be.

At the same time, this passage also makes clear in the epilogue that the transcendent power of God is to become the basis for the practical and necessarily historical actions of us.  Joseph is shown to be a man who managed the good years to take of the bad years. We read in vv. 39 – 41 “So Pharaoh said to Joseph: “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one as discerning and wise as you are.  You shall be in charge of my household, and all my people will obey your command. Only in respect to the throne will I outrank you.”   Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Look, I put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.”

There is much more in this passage than meets the eye.  To reach that more requires us to expand our imagination.  The story of Joseph is the story of the Israelites and their story is our story.

You are invited to respond to these or other questions that might arise within you as you read this passage.  Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed.  See “comment” link below

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