AT THAT time a plot was discovered to poison Pharaoh, king of Egypt. As a result, two high-ranking men of the king's court were put in prison. One was the chief butler, in charge of wine production and serving. The other was the chief baker, or chef. He had charge of preparing and serving food for the king's table. There was no proof that either of these men was guilty. Potiphar, who by that time had probably begun to doubt that Joseph was guilty of his wife's accusation, came to Joseph and asked him to look after the two new prisoners. (Gen. 40:1-4.) One day Joseph noticed that both appeared especially worried. When he asked them why, they told him that they had had disturbing dreams the night before. Joseph observed that the dreams could have important meanings, and that the two men should tell them to him. "I dreamed of a vine with three branches that blossomed and produced ripe grapes," the butler told Joseph. "I pressed the juice from the grapes into a cup, and gave it to the king." The strange dream was impossible for Joseph to understand through only his own thinking. Later, by himself, he asked God for wisdom, and God revealed that the dream had a meaning, and what it was. "Your dream means that within three days you will be freed from prison and will be given back your office as head butler to the king," Joseph told the butler. (Verses 12-13.) On hearing this, the chief baker became anxious also to tell Joseph his dream, hoping that it would also have a pleasant meaning. So he told Joseph that he dreamed that he was carrying three baskets of food to Pharaoh on his head, and that suddenly birds swooped down and snatched up all the food from the baskets. When Joseph realized the awful meaning of this dream, he knew who had schemed to poison the king. He didn't relish telling the chief baker what his fate would be, but he knew God would expect him to reveal the truth he had been given the wisdom to know. "Within three days Pharaoh will have you hanged, and birds will pick the flesh from your bones," he said to the startled chief baker. (Verses 16-19.) Three days later was Pharaoh's birthday. It was a day of feasting and great celebration, and on which certain prisoners would be brought from the king's jail and pardoned. On that day the chief butler was given a pardon and restored to his former office, just as Joseph had foretold. At the same time the chief baker was publicly hanged out where vultures came to eat his flesh, just as Joseph had said would happen. "When the opportunity comes, please tell your king that I am an innocent Hebrew prisoner who has been held here unfairly for a long time," Joseph told the chief butler just before that happy man left to be pardoned. "Perhaps he will free me, too." (Verse 14.) In his elation at being freed, the chief butler forgot about speaking to the king for Joseph. (Verse 23.)
Joseph Leaves Prison
Two years passed. One night Pharaoh dreamed two dreams which troubled him. He believed they held some meaning he should know, and therefore sent for men who were supposed to have magic powers to understand unusual dreams. Pharaoh related them to these men, but none was able to say what they meant. It happened that the chief butler was serving the king when this took place. Suddenly he remembered Joseph. Realizing that he would find special favor with the king if he could direct one to Pharaoh who could interpret the dreams, he told the king about Joseph's ability. (Gen. 41:1-13.) A little later guards came to escort Joseph to the king. This was the opportunity for which Joseph had prayed so long. (Verse 14.) "I have been told that you have the power to tell the meanings of dreams," the Egyptian ruler said to Joseph. "I don't have that power, but the God of Israel does," Joseph answered. "He will give you an answer through me." Probably that answer made Pharaoh think that an overly-religious foreigner had been brought to him, but he was anxious to try any method of getting what he wanted. "I dreamed that I stood by the Nile River and saw seven fat cows come out of the water," said Pharaoh to Joseph. "As these cows fed on the thick grass at the river's edge, seven thin cows came out of the water and ate up the seven fat cows. Even so, the thin cows remained just as thin as before eating the fat cows. "I dreamed again, and saw seven plump heads of grain growing out of one stalk. Seven thin heads of grain, appearing withered by a hot wind, came out of the stalk and ate the seven plump heads. Are there important meanings to these dreams?" "There are," Joseph replied. "Both dreams have the same meaning. God wants to make doubly sure that a warning will be heeded. The seven fat cows and seven plump heads of grain mean that the next seven years will bring a record number of stock animals and grain harvests to Egypt. There will be far more food than people can eat. The thin cows and withered heads of grain mean that right after the seven years of plenty there will come seven years of famine. Your herds will die because little will grow out of the ground. There will be so much misery that people will fail to remember the seven good years." Pharaoh and those around him stared in silence at the young foreign prisoner who had told what would happen to their nation in the next fourteen years. His earnest manner caused them to believe him, though they didn't want to believe what he had said about a famine. "If you can foretell the future," Pharaoh finally said, "I trust you also have the wisdom to advise what my people should do to prepare for the famine." "They should use the seven good years to store up food," Joseph answered. "It would be wise to first choose a man capable of taking care of such gigantic preparations. Then, when the lean years come, there will be enough food, if it is distributed properly, to see Egypt through them." (Gen. 41:33-36.) "I believe this young Hebrew is being guided by his God," Pharaoh told his advisors. "If he speaks the truth, it would be foolish not to take his advice." There was a chorus of agreement. Those who had heard Joseph looked on him with awe and respect.
Joseph Appointed Ruler
"If I should choose a man to take care of storing food, what wiser man could I pick than this Joseph?" Pharaoh asked. Again there was a chorus of agreeing voices. Even if the advisors hadn't agreed, the king probably would have decided on Joseph. The man who was the ruler at the time was more intent on doing what was best for his people than some who ruled before and after him. Next time Joseph was summoned to Pharaoh, he received a great surprise for one who had spent so much time in prison. "Because your God has given you great ability, from now on you will be the ruler over my house and all Egypt," Pharaoh told Joseph. "Though I will be over you, your word will be the law in all my realm." (Gen. 41:39-41.) That was how God answered the prayers of Joseph, one who was living by His laws. Not only was he freed from prison, but he was made second in rank to the powerful king of Egypt. He was given the authority to sign important national documents, a special gold neck chain to show his high position, fine clothing, a costly carriage second only to Pharaoh's, beautifully furnished rooms to live in and servants to take care of his needs. From the time Joseph was sold as a slave at the age of seventeen, he had advanced, in thirteen years, at the age of thirty, to be the real ruler of Egypt, the foremost nation on Earth at that time! To further show his royal esteem for Joseph, Pharaoh arranged for him to meet Asenath, the daughter of a high official in Egypt. Joseph quickly grew fond of Asenath, and soon married her. (Gen. 41:45.) For a long time after that, while Joseph traveled around Egypt, he saw wonderful crops and many fat herds. It was clear that God was carrying out His intention to bless the nation for a time with a great abundance from the ground. Most of Egypt was usually dry, sandy desert. Without water from the great Nile River, that land never would have produced very much. But during those seven years of plenty, there was so much rain that areas far from the Nile gave unusual crops.
Joseph Orders Granaries Built
Before the grain began to pile up, Joseph gave orders for granaries to be built in various regions of Egypt. Later, he started a system by which a fifth of the crops was stored in the granaries. So much grain was stored in seven years that all record was lost of how much was taken in. (Verse 48.) Meanwhile, Joseph became the father of two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. His life was so full that he almost forgot the years he had spent in prison.(Verse 50.) Seven good years passed. The next year there was a change in the weather. Showers almost ceased. Streams dwindled. Hot winds blew more often. Green fields turned yellow. Within a few months it was plain that the crops were going to fail. The second half of Joseph's prophecy was beginning to happen. The time of famine had arrived.
Before long farmers in some regions began to run out of food for their animals and grain for bread. It was then that Joseph ordered the storehouses opened. As demands for grain grew, it was plain that if the crops hadn't been stored, thousands of Egyptians would have starved in the first year or two of the famine period. (Verse 54.) The famine wasn't only in Egypt. Lack of rain affected many nations. Before long other peoples were begging the Egyptians to sell them grain and meat. Joseph gave orders that provisions should be sold to all outsiders who were in dire need. (Verses 55-57.)
Jacob Sends His Sons for Food
Back in Canaan, Joseph's father, Jacob, was one of many worried by conditions. There was hardly any grass for his animals. Continued dry weather would mean they would die. There would soon be neither grain nor meat to eat. Jacob had heard that Egypt had grain to sell, so he sent ten of his sons there to buy some. Because he had lost young Joseph years before by sending him on a trip, Jacob kept Benjamin, his youngest son, with him. (Gen. 42:1-4.) Taking camels and donkeys to carry back the loads they hoped to buy, the ten sons went down into Egypt to find that they would have to bring their request for grain to the governor, who was next in power to Pharaoh. When they came before the governor, they had no idea that he was the brother they had sold for a slave many years before. Joseph knew them as soon as they came before him. When they bowed, he remembered having dreamed as a lad that his brothers were bowing to him. At last that prophetic dream had come true. (Verse 6.) Joseph wanted to welcome them and tell them who he was. Instead, he decided to be harsh with them for their own good. "You say you have come from Canaan to buy food. Why should I believe that?" he asked harshly. "I think you are spies! Probably you think that Egypt is weakening because of the famine, and you are here to check on our military strength!" "We aren't spies, sir!" they quickly replied. "We are the sons of an elderly man who needs food. Our father had twelve sons. The youngest is with him. One is dead." (Verses 9-13.) Joseph wanted to ask about Benjamin, but he had to remain stern. "It might be wise to keep nine of you in prison and send one of you to bring back the brother and father you claim you have," he continued. "Then I might be convinced you aren't spies." The ten brothers stood uncomfortably before Joseph while he kept frowning at them. "On second thought," added Joseph, "I believe it would be better to put you all in prison to give you a chance to think matters over and decide to tell the truth." "But we're telling the truth!" they called to Joseph as guards led them away. (Verse 17.)
Three Days Later
After three days Joseph had his brothers brought before him. They still insisted that they had come only to buy needed grain. "You will get your grain," Joseph surprised them by saying. "However, one of you will stay here in prison until the young brother you speak of is brought to me!" The brothers' faces fell. Each feared he would be the one to be jailed. "This trouble has come on us because of what we did to Joseph," they murmured fearfully among themselves. "I told you it was wrong to treat him the way you did!" Reuben spoke up. "Now we may pay for it." All this talk between Joseph, who spoke in Egyptian, and his brothers, who spoke only in Hebrew, had been through an interpreter. (Verse 23.) Joseph still remembered his native tongue, and when he heard his brothers talking excitedly among themselves, he understood every word. He felt so sorry for them that he turned his head away and wept, even though they had treated him brutally in the past. "The guards will take one of you back to prison," he said, controlling himself.
He looked slowly over the tense faces before him. His eyes settled on Simeon, the brother who had suggested killing him when he, Joseph, was only seventeen years old. "Take that man to the dungeon!" Joseph snapped, pointing to Simeon. Guards swiftly bound the protesting Simeon and dragged him away. It was becoming plainer to the brothers that God was having a hand in their affairs. "Leave now," Joseph told the remaining nine. "You will be told where to pick up your grain and how much to pay."
The Brothers Hurriedly Leave Egypt
Later, after the brothers had bought the grain and loaded it on their animals, they were relieved to depart. At dusk they stopped where the animals could be fed and sheltered for the night. When one of the brothers opened his grain sack to feed his animal, he discovered a bag of coins that contained the exact amount he had paid for the sack of grain. "It must be the money I paid for my part of the grain!" he exclaimed. "How did that get there?"
"This is not good," one of the brothers said. "It could be a scheme to arrest you for not paying for the grain." "They could arrest all of us if they could prove that one of us is a thief," said another. "God is dealing with us because of the wrong things we have done." (Verses 25-28.) During the rest of the trip the brothers feared that Egyptian soldiers would overtake them, but they safely reached home in Canaan. Jacob was happy at their return with the grain, but he was most unhappy to learn that Simeon was being held prisoner and that the governor of Egypt had demanded to see Benjamin.