Genesis 41:38
And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?
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(38) In whom the Spirit of God is.—Joseph from the first declared that he neither claimed for himself, nor possessed any art of divination, but that “Elohim would answer (that which would be for) the peace of Pharaoh” (Genesis 41:16). And not only does Pharaoh now recognise the truth of Joseph’s words, but sees also in him the instrument by which Elohim had spoken. But besides the interpretation of the dreams, Joseph had given the king wise and prudent advice, and he justly felt that one so gifted by God, and so intelligent in counsel, was the person best fitted to carry Egypt through the years of trouble in store for her.



Genesis 41:38 - Genesis 41:48

At seventeen years of age Joseph was sold for a slave; at thirty he was prime minister of Egypt {Gen. xxxvii, 2; xli. 46}. How long his prison life lasted is uncertain; but it was long enough for the promises contained in his early dreams to ‘try him’ {Proverbs 5:19} whether his faith would stand apparent disappointment and weary delay. Like all the Scripture narratives, this history of Joseph has little to say about feelings, and prefers facts. But we can read between the lines, and be tolerably sure that the thirteen years of trial were well endured, and that the inward life had grown so as to fit him for his advancement. We have here a full-length portrait of the prime minister, or vizier, which brings out three points-his elevation, his naturalisation, and his administration.

Joseph had not only interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, but had suggested a policy in preparation for the coming famine. He had recommended the appointment of ‘a wise and discreet man,’ with supreme authority over the land. Pharaoh first consulted ‘his servants,’ and, with their consent, possibly not very hearty, appointed the proposer of the plan as its carrier-out, quoting to him his own words, ‘wise and discreet.’

The sudden installing of an unknown prisoner in high office has often been thought hard to believe, and has been pointed to as proof of the legendary character of the story. But the ground on which Pharaoh put it goes far to explain it. He and his servants had come to believe that ‘God’ spoke through this man, that ‘the Spirit of God’ was in him. So here was a divinely sent messenger, whom it would be impiety and madness to reject. Observe that Pharaoh and Joseph both speak in this chapter of ‘God.’ There was a common ground of recognition of a divine Being on which they met. The local colour of the story indicates a period before the fuller revelation, which drew so broad a line of demarcation between Israel and the other nations.

Joseph’s sudden promotion is made the more intelligible by the probability which the study of Egyptian history has given, that the Pharaoh who made him his second in command was one of the Hyksos conquerors who dominated Egypt for a long period. They would have no prejudices against Joseph on account of his being a foreigner. A dynasty of alien conquerors has generally an open door for talent, and cares little who a man’s father is, or where he comes from, if he can do his work. And Joseph, by not being an Egyptian born, would be all the fitter an instrument for carrying out the policy which he had suggested.

His ceremonial investiture with the insignia of office is true to Egyptian manners. The signet ring, as the emblem of full authority; the chain, as a mark of dignity; the robe of ‘fine linen’ {or rather of cotton}, which was a priestly dress-all are illustrated by the monuments. The proclamation made before him as he rode in the second chariot has been very variously interpreted. It has been taken for a Hebraised Egyptian word, meaning ‘Cast thyself down’; and this interpretation was deemed the most probable, until Assyrian discovery brought to light ‘that abarakku is the Assyrian name of the grand vizier’ {Fr. Delitzsch, Hebrew Language Viewed in the Light of Assyrian Research, p. 26}. Sayce proposes another explanation, also from the cuneiform tablets: ‘There was a word abrik in the Sumerian language, which signified a seer, and was borrowed by the Semitic Babylonians under the varying forms of abrikku and abarakku. It is abrikku which we have in Genesis, and the title applied by the people to the "seer" Joseph proves to be the one we should most naturally expect.’ The Tel el-Amarna tablets show that the knowledge of cuneiform writing was common in Egypt {Sayce, Higher Criticism and the Monuments, p. 214}. This explanation is tempting, but it is perhaps scarcely probable that the proclamation should have been in any other language than Egyptian, or should have had reference to anything but Joseph’s new office. It was not as seer that he was to be obeyed, but as Pharaoh’s representative, even though he had become the latter because he had proved himself the former.

But in any case, the whole context is accurately and strongly Egyptian. Was there any point in the history of Israel, down to an impossibly late date, except the time of Moses, at which Jewish writers were so familiar with Egypt as to have been capable of producing so true a picture?

The lessons of this incident are plain. First stands out, clear and full, the witness it bears to God’s faithfulness, and to His sovereign sway over all events. What are all the persons concerned in the narrative but unconscious instruments of His? The fierce brothers, the unconcerned slave-dealers, Potiphar, his wife, the prisoners, Pharaoh, are so many links in a chain; but they are also men, and therefore free to act, and guilty if acting wrongly. Men execute God’s purposes, even when unconscious or rebellious, but are responsible, and often punished, for the acts which He uses to effect His designs.

Joseph’s thirteen years of trial, crowned with sudden prosperity, may read all of us, and especially young men and women, a lesson of patience. Many of us have to fight our way through analogous difficulties at the outset of our career; and we are apt to lose heart and get restive when success seems slow to come, and one hindrance after another blocks our road. But hindrances are helps. If one of Joseph’s misfortunes had been omitted, his good fortune would never have come. If his brethren had not hated him, if he had not been sold, if he had not been imprisoned, he would never have ruled Egypt. Not one thread in the tapestry could have been withdrawn without spoiling the pattern. We cannot afford to lose one of our sorrows or trials. There would be no summer unless winter had gone before. There is a bud or a fruit for every snowflake, and a bird’s song for every howl of the storm.

Plainly, too, does the story read the lesson of quiet doing of the work and accepting the circumstances of the moment. Joseph was being prepared for the administration of a kingdom by his oversight of Potiphar’s house and of the prison. His character was matured by his trials, as iron is consolidated by heavy hammers. To resist temptation, to do modestly and sedulously whatever work comes to our hands, to be content to look after a jail even though we have dreamed of sun and moon bowing down to us, is the best apprenticeship for whatever elevation circumstances-or, to speak more devoutly, God-intends for us. Young men thrown into city life far away from their homes, and whispered to by many seducing voices, have often to suffer for keeping themselves unspotted; but they are being strengthened by rough discipline, and will get such promotion, in due time, as is good for them. But outward success is not God’s best gift. It was better to be the Joseph who deserved his high place, than to have the place. The character which he had grown into was more than the trappings which Pharaoh put on him. And such a character is always the reward of such patience, faith, and self-control, whether chains and chariots are added or not.

Little need be said about the other points of the story. Joseph’s naturalisation as an Egyptian was complete. His name was changed, in token that he had completely become a subject of Pharaoh’s. The meaning of the formidable-looking polysyllable, which Egyptian lips found easier than ‘Joseph,’ is uncertain. ‘At present the origin of the first syllable is still doubtful, and though the latter part of the name is certainly the Egyptian n-ti-pa-ankh {"of the life"}, it is difficult to say in which of its different senses the expression pa-ankh {"the life"} is employed’ {Sayce, ut supra, p. 213}. The prevailing opinion of Egyptian experts is that it means ‘Support of life.’

The naturalising was completed by his marriage to Asenath {supposed to mean ‘One belonging to the goddess Neith’}, a daughter of a high officer of state, Poti-phera {meaning, like its shortened form, Potiphar, ‘The gift of Ra’ the sun-god}. Such an alliance placed him at once in the very innermost circle of Egyptian aristocracy. It may have been a bitter pill for the priest to swallow, to give his daughter to a man of yesterday, and an alien; but, just as probably, he too looked to Joseph with some kind of awe, and was not unwilling to wed Asenath to the first man in the empire, wherever he had started up from.

But should not Joseph’s religion have barred such a marriage? The narrator gives no judgment on the fact, and we have to form our own estimate. But it is not to be estimated as if it had occurred five or six centuries later. The family of Jacob was not so fenced off, nor was its treasure of revelation so complete, as afterwards. We may be fairly sure that Joseph felt no inconsistency between his ancestral faith, which had become his own in his trials, and this union. He was risking a great deal; that is certain. Whether the venture ended well or ill, we know not. Only we may be very sure that a marriage in which a common faith is not a strong bond of union lacks its highest sanctity, and is perilously apt to find that difference in religious convictions is a strong separator.

Joseph’s administration opens up questions as to Egyptian land tenure, and the like, which cannot be dealt with here. ‘In the earlier days of the monarchy the country was in the hands of great feudal lords; . . .the land belonged to them absolutely. . .. But after the convulsion caused by the Hyksos conquest and the war of independence, this older system of land tenure was completely changed. . .. The Pharaoh is the fountain head, not only of honour, but of property as well. . .. The people ceased to have any rights of their own’ {Sayce, ut supra, p. 216}.

We may note Joseph’s immediate entrance upon office and his characteristic energy in it. He ‘went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt.’ No grass grew under this man’s feet. He was ubiquitous, personally overseeing everything for seven long years. Wasteful consumption of the abundant crops had to be restrained, storehouses to be built, careful records of the contents to be made, after Egyptian fashion. The people, who could not look so far as seven years ahead, and wanted to enjoy, or make money out of, the good harvests, had to be looked after, and an army of officials to be kept in order. Dignity meant work for him. Like all true men, he thought more of his duty than of his honours. Depend on it, he did not wear his fine clothes or ride in the second chariot, when he was hurrying about the country at his task.

He had come ‘out of prison to reign,’ and, as we all find, if we are God’s servants, to reign means to serve, and the higher the place the harder the task. The long years of waiting had nourished powers which the seven years of busy toil tested. We must make ourselves, by God’s help, ready, in obscurity, and especially in youth, for whatever may be laid on us in after days. And if we understand what life here means, we shall be more covetous of spheres of diligent service than of places of shining dignity. Whatever our task, let us do it, as Joseph did his, with strenuous concentration, knowing, as he did, that the years in which it is possible are but few at the longest.

41:33-45 Joseph gave good advice to Pharaoh. Fair warning should always be followed by good counsel. God has in his word told us of a day of trial before us, when we shall need all the grace we can have. Now, therefore, provide accordingly. Pharaoh gave Joseph an honourable testimony. He is a man in whom the spirit of God is; and such men ought to be valued. Pharaoh puts upon Joseph marks of honour. He gave him such a name as spoke the value he had for him, Zaphnath-paaneah, a revealer of secrets. This preferment of Joseph encourages all to trust in God. Some translate Joseph's new name, the saviour of the world. The brightest glories, even of the upper world, are put upon Christ, the highest trust lodged in his hand, and all power given him, both in heaven and earth.Pharaoh approves of his counsel, and selects him as "the discreet and wise man" for carrying it into effect. "In whom is the Spirit of God." He acknowledges the gift that is in Joseph to be from God. "All my people behave" - dispose or order their conduct, a special meaning of this word, which usually signifies to kiss. "His ring." His signet-ring gave Joseph the delegated power of the sovereign, and constituted him his prime minister or grand vizier. "Vestures of fine linen." Egypt was celebrated for its flax, and for the fineness of its textures. The priests were arrayed in official robes of linen, and no man was allowed to enter a temple in a woolen garment (Herodotus ii. 37, 81). "A gold chain about his neck." This was a badge of office worn in Egypt by the judge and the prime minister. It had a similar use in Persia and Babylonia Daniel 5:7. "The second chariot." Egypt was noted for chariots, both for peaceful and for warlike purposes (Herodotus ii. 108). The second in the public procession was assigned to Joseph. "Bow the knee." The various explications of this proclamation agree in denoting a form of obeisance, with which Joseph was to be honored. I am Pharaoh, the king Genesis 12:15. "Without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot." Thou art next to me, and without thee no man shall act or move. "Zaphenath-paneah." Pharaoh designates him the preserver of life, as the interpreter of the dream and the proposer of the plan by which the country was saved from famine. He thus naturalizes him so far as to render his civil status compatible with his official rank. "Asenath." The priests were the highest and most privileged class in Egypt. Intermarriage with this caste at once determined the social position of the wonderous foreigner. His father-in-law was priest of On, a city dedicated to the worship of the sun.

With our Western and modern habit we may at the first glance be surprised to find a stranger of a despised race suddenly elevated to the second place in the kingdom. But in ancient and Eastern governments, which were of a despotic character, such changes, depending on the will of the sovereign, were by no means unusual. Secondly, the conviction that "the Spirit of God was in" the mysterious stranger, was sufficient to overbear all opposing feelings or customs. And, lastly, it was assumed and acted on, as a self-evident fact, that the illustrious stranger could have no possible objection to be incorporated into the most ancient of nations, and allied with its noblest families. We may imagine that Joseph would find an insuperable difficulty in becoming a citizen of Egypt or a son-in-law of the priest of the sun. But we should not forget that the world was yet too young to have arrived at the rigid and sharplydefined systems of polytheism or allotheism to which we are accustomed. Some gray streaks of a pure monotheism, of the knowledge of the one true God, still gleamed across the sky of human memory. Some faint traces of one common brotherhood among mankind still lingered in the recollections of the past. The Pharaoh of Abraham's day feels the power of him whose name is Yahweh Genesis 12:17. Abimelek acknowledges the God of Abraham and Isaac Genesis 20:3-7; Genesis 21:22-23; Genesis 26:28-29. And while Joseph is frank and faithful in acknowledging the true God before the king of Egypt, Pharaoh himself is not slow to recognize the man in whom the Spirit of God is. Having experienced the omniscience and omnipotence of Joseph's God, he was prepared, no doubt, not only himself to offer him such adoration as he was accustomed to pay to his national gods, but also to allow Joseph full liberty to worship the God of his fathers, and to bring up his family in that faith.

Joseph was now in his thirtieth year, and had consequently been thirteen years in Egypt, most part of which interval he had probably spent in prison. This was the age for manly service Numbers 4:3. He immediately enters upon his office.

38. Pharaoh said unto his servants—The kings of ancient Egypt were assisted in the management of state affairs by the advice of the most distinguished members of the priestly order; and, accordingly, before admitting Joseph to the new and extraordinary office that was to be created, those ministers were consulted as to the expediency and propriety of the appointment.

a man in whom the Spirit of God is—An acknowledgment of the being and power of the true God, though faint and feeble, continued to linger amongst the higher classes long after idolatry had come to prevail.

Or, of the gods, in his heathen language. One whom God hath endowed with such admirable knowledge and wisdom.

And Pharaoh said unto his servants,.... That were about him, and with whom he was consulting about a proper person to be over this affair of gathering in the fruits of the earth in the time of plenty, and laying them up against a time of famine:

can we find such an one as this is, in whom the Spirit of God is? if we search among all the ranks and degrees of men throughout the kingdom, let them be of what character they will, we shall never find a man like this, who appears to have the Spirit of God, or "of the gods", as he in his Heathenish way spoke, and which he concluded from his vast knowledge of things; and especially of things future: hence the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan interpret it, the spirit of prophecy from the Lord.

And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the {k} Spirit of God is?

(k) No one should be honoured who does not have gifts from God fitting for the same.

37–46. Joseph as Grand Vizier

38. such a one as this] Pharaoh and his servants are represented as discerning in Joseph the supreme gifts of one who combined the supernatural power of interpreting dreams with the practical wisdom and sagacity of a statesman.

in whom the spirit of God is] The same phrase is employed by Belshazzar when he addresses Daniel: Daniel 5:14, “I have heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.” The presence and operation of the Spirit of God, in the O.T., account for those special manifestations which surpass the limits of ordinary human capacity, in wisdom or prowess. Cf. Exodus 31:3; Numbers 27:18; Jdg 3:10; Jdg 14:6.

Genesis 41:38Joseph's Promotion. - This counsel pleased Pharaoh and all his servants, so that he said to them, "Shall we find a man like this one, in whom the Spirit of God is?" "The Spirit of Elohim," i.e., the spirit of supernatural insight and wisdom. He then placed Joseph over his house, and over all Egypt; in other words, he chose him as hid grand vizier, saying to him, "After God hath showed thee all this, there is none discreet and wise as thou." ישּׁק על־פּיך, "according to thy mouth (i.e., command, Genesis 45:21) shall my whole people arrange itself." נשׁק does not mean to kiss (Rabb., Ges., etc.), for על נשׁק is not Hebrew, and kissing the mouth was not customary as an act of homage, but "to dispose, arrange one's self" (ordine disposuit). "Only in the throne will I be greater than thou."
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