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N the scheme of providence by which Joseph was to be introduced to Pharaoh, the dreams of the prisoners held a chief place. When he met Pharaoh's officers in the morning after their dreams, he said to them, “Wherefore look you so sadly to-day. And they said, We have dreamed a dream, and there
is no interpreter of it.” Their dreams were recounted, and the true interpretation was revealed to Joseph. That of the butler is stated in verses 9–11. The connection of the vine with Egypt has been noticed under Gen. ix. 20, which see. The chief baker's fate is described in ver. 19—“Within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and shalt hang thee on a tree; and the birds shall eat thy flesh from off thee.” This scene may still be witnessed in the valley of the Nile. The body of the criminal, as used to be the case in Britain, is suspended in a public place, and the birds eat the flesh. Ravenous birds still abound. The Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) still haunts the valley. The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), the raven (Corvus corax), and the hooded crow (C. cornix), attract the attention of travellers.
When Joseph asks the butler to make mention of him to Pharaoh, he names Canaan as the “ land of the Hebrews”—an expression which implies much more than a reference to the country in which his brethren were then sojourning. He carried his faith in the promise of the land to his fathers into the dungeon of Egypt, and spoke of the country as if already possessed by Israel. He may have designed also by the expression to awaken the curiosity of one who must have known it as the land of Canaan, or of the Amorites. This would have supplied an occasion for opening up to the Egyptian the religious character of the house of Jacob.
“Pharaoh dreamed and behold he stood by the river.” The word used here (yeor) is of frequent occurrence. In several passages it can only mean the Nile. If we consider these, some of the distinguishing features of that remarkable river will be suggested. Its margin in the neighbourhood of the palace of the old Pharaohs was clad with “ waterweeds.” When the mother of Moses had made the “ark of bulrushes”
for her child," she laid it in the flags of the river's brink” (Exod. ii. 3). In Isaiah’s “burden of Egypt” reference is made to the “brooks” of the Nile. The notice is exceedingly apt—"The paper reeds by the brooks, by the mouth of the brooks, and every thing sown by the brooks, shall wither, be driven away, and be no more. The fishers also shall mourn, and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish” (xix. 7,8). Yeor is here rendered brooks; in Jeremiah xlvi. 7, 8, it is translated floods. The passage occurs in “ the word of the Lord which came to Jeremiah against Pharaoh-necho, king of Egypt.” The periodic rising of the Nile supplies a figure in the description of the armies of Egypt. As the river overflows its banks and covers the alluvial plains in the valley, so Pharaoh-necho and his hosts hoped to overrun and bring under their power all neighbouring nations. “Who is this that cometh up as a flood, whose waters are moved as the rivers ? Egypt riseth up like a flood, and his waters are moved like the rivers; and he saith, I will go up, and will cover the earth; I will destroy the city, and the inhabitants thereof." "Son of man,” said the Lord to Ezekiel, “set thy face against Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and prophesy against him, and against all Egypt.” Pharaoh is then compared to the crocodile-"the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, “My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself.” But “a hook was to be put into his jaws;" his people were to suffer with him—“I will cause the fish of thy rivers to stick unto thy scales;" and he was to be taken from the place of his strength—"I will bring thee up out of the midst of thy rivers ” (Ezek. xxix. 1-4). By another prophet, the effects of the coming in of iniquity like a flood, are set forth in the light of the destruction which is to come upon the workers of wickedness. The punishment will be like the sin :" Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein ? and it shall rise up wholly as a flood; and it shall be cast out and drowned, as by the flood of Egypt. And the Lord God of hosts is he that toucheth the land, and it shall melt, and all that dwell therein shall mourn; and it shall rise up wholly like a flood, and shall be drowned, as by the flood of Egypt" (Amos viii. 8, ix. 5). In these passages the periodic rise of the Nile is noticed, the characteristic vegetation of some parts of its banks is named, and the crocodile, which still finds it a favourite haunt, is alluded to. It was the same water which entered into the imagery of Pharaoh's dream—"He dreamed, and, behold, he stood by the river.” The Nile, as the true “river of Egypt” (Nahar Mitzraim), has been already distinguished from the “ brook of Egypt” (Nahal Mitzraim). See under Gen. xv. 18. Divine honours were paid to it; see under Exod. ii. 3. Its periodic overflow is referred to in the notice of Amos ix. 5, where also most recent discoveries in the river system of Africa are referred to.
The dream which sorely troubled Pharaoh, and led him to send for his magicians (ver. 8), consisted chiefly of two parts. In the first, the coming famine is intimated to him by the vision of the kine; in the second, by that of the ears of corn. The kine were seen in two conditions. “There came up out of the river seven well-favoured kine and fat-fleshed, and they fed in a meadow. And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river, ill-favoured, and lean-fleshed; and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river. And the ill-favoured and lean-fleshed kine did eat up the seven well-favoured and fat kine" (ver. 2-4). The place of domestic cattle in zoological classification, their leading types, and most common species, have been fully noticed under Genesis xii. 16, which see.
The Hebrew word for “cow" (parah) is rendered here in the plural by the old English term “kine.” It first occurs in the account of the herds of Jacob (Gen. xxxii. 15). In Genesis, in 1 Samuel, and in Amos, it is translated kine; in Numbers and Hosea it is rendered heifer; and in Job and Isaiah, cow. The references in 1 Samuel all occur in chapter vi, in connection with the incident of the sending away by the Philistines of the ark of God from Ekron. The word is used by Amos when he compares the nobles of Israel who oppressed the people to the "kine of Bashan” (iv. 1). For “heifer," see under Num. xix. 2. In the passage now noticed the word is properly rendered kine, or cows. It is thus used for the female in Genesis xxxii. 15— “ forty kine and ten bulls ;” and in Job xxi. 10—“their cow calveth, and casteth not her calf.” The prophet, in the glowing picture of the latter day glory, introduces the cow with the she-bear-“ the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together” (Isa. xi. 7). “Ox” is noticed under Num. xxii. 4; Isa. i. 3; and 1 Cor. ix. 7-9; "bull" under Ps. lxviii. 30; and “bullock" under Lev. i. 5.
The scene pictured in this part of Pharaoh's dream is one of much beauty. It may be noticed in our own land during the mid-day heat of sultry days in summer. When cattle are put to graze in pastureland lying on the banks of rivers, they betake themselves to the water, and wading in till the water reaches nearly above the legs, they catch the cool breeze ever on the surface of the water, and are refreshed as
the passing stream laves around them. In night visions the green meadows of Nilus stretched out before the mind of a monarch anxious for the good of his people; and the scene which must have often presented itself to him by day is so impressively reproduced in his dreams, that he cannot resist being greatly influenced by it—“Behold, there came up out of the river seven well-favoured kine, and fat-fleshed, and they fed in a meadow." His religious views would deepen the impression. The kine were sacred to Isis, the favoured spouse of the Egyptian fertilizer Osiris, the goddess of the earth and of fertility. The Nile itself symbolized the wealth of Egypt, and the well-favoured symbols of Isis being seen coming up out of the Nile would greatly interest Pharaoh. But the vision changed.
Fig. 106. Seven ill-favoured and lean-fleshed kine come up, stand for a season beside these first seen, and then devour them. The very death of the fat-fleshed seven would disturb him—“So Pharaoh awoke.” The idolatrous worshiprendered to cattle by the Egyptians is noticed under 1 Kings xii. 2-8, which see.
The scene again changes. It becomes associated with circumstances fitted to influence the king in a yet higher degree. As before, the number seven, expressive of fulness, is reproduced; and, as before also, that which was suggestive of plenty is destroyed by what betokened scarcity — “He slept, and dreamed the second time: and, behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good. And, behold, seven thin ears, and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them,
Seven-eared Wheat on one Stalk. And the seven thin ears devoured the seven rank and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, behold, it was a dream. And it came to pass in the morning, that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all the wise men thereof: and Pharaoh
told them his dreams; but there was none that could interpret them unto Pharaoh” (ver. 5–8).
It hardly admits of doubt, that, though the generic name “ corn" is used here, a variety of wheat is indicated by Pharaoh. It is not unusual still to meet with stalks of many-eared wheat (Triticum compositum) bearing seven and sometimes nine and eleven well-formed ears. Having witnessed this in nature, his thoughts of its significance, as an emblem of plenty, were reproduced in the imagery of this dream. The ears which were marked by all the evidences of health, and were rounded by the thick-set grains, are succeeded by seven thin ears, and devoured by them. The thin ears are represented as having been “blasted by the east wind.” This has given rise to much discussion. The difficulty has been imaginary. All we know of the climate of Egypt goes to show the appropriate character of the picture. “The burning east wind, likely to parch the corn in the neighbourhood of Heliopolis, blows from the Desert of Shur, and the Desert of Paran; it is far from refreshing; it permits no dew, and causes all vegetables to wither. Its introduction here implies, therefore, neither geographical ignorance nor carelessness; it is not necessary to translate it a strong wind (Exod. xiv. 21); it is not even requisite to render it south-east wind, and to excuse the inaccuracy with the character of the dream in which it occurs. Direct east winds may be rare in Egypt; but dearth and famine, such as described in our narrative, are there at least equally exceptional. The bad ears were blasted by the east wind, which, blowing from the sandy steppes and deserts in the vicinity of the Red Sea, and from the Arabic peninsula, often withers the vegetation of Lower Egypt, and completely destroys the labour and the hopes of the husbandman. But this wind can, in our narrative, be neither the fearful chamsin, which blows from south-west, nor the destructive samum, which begins only in June, when the corn harvest is long finished.”—(Kalisch.)
The interpretation of the dream follows, and the way is prepared for the elevation of Joseph to honours next to regal. Joseph's frank and manly piety shines very brightly out in all these transactions (ver. 25, 32, 51, 52). As proofs of the honour bestowed on Joseph, mention is made of the ring from Pharaoh's hand, the vestures of fine linen, and the gold chain (ver. 42). The gift of the ring (tabbaath), or royal seal, secured the attention even of the highest and most haughty nobles to the decrees to which it was affixed. Thus when Haman was made chief minister of Ahasuerus, it is said, “The king took his ring from