Joseph Made Prime Minister [Genesis 41:37–57 Study]

Joseph gives Pharaoh counsel which he gladly accepts. Joseph is married and has two sons, and he successfully saves Egypt from the severe famine.

Joseph Made Prime Minister [Genesis 41:37–57 Study]
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Genesis 41:37-57 Outline

  • Pharaoh accepts Joseph’s counsel (v.37-45)
  • Joseph fills the store cities (v.46-49)
  • Joseph named his two sons (v.50-52)
  • Joseph opens the storehouses (v.53-57)

1. Pharaoh Accepts Joseph’s Counsel

Gen. 41:37   This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. 38 And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” 39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. 43 And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” 45 And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On. So Joseph went out over the land of Egypt. (Genesis 41:37-45)

  • When Pharaoh and his servants heard Joseph’s counsel, they were pleased. They immediately recognized Joseph’s wisdom and welcomed his opinion. They also were likely impressed by Joseph’s confidence and charisma.
    • There was no overt malicious competition between Pharaoh’s servants and Joseph.
  • Pharaoh asked his servants if they could suggest anyone wiser than Joseph to lead Egypt through what lied ahead.
    • Acknowledging the Spirit of God being with Joseph, Pharaoh recognized that Joseph’s God alone was able to design the significance of the dreams.
    • Pharaoh and the Egyptian servants had no difficulty accepting that God was working through Joseph.
    • They likely did not accept the claim that there is only one God, but they did accept the wisdom and counsel that came from Joseph and his God was acceptable.
    • There was no dispute or resistance to grant Joseph authority to lead.
    • The adjectives “discerning and wise” in verse 39 were the same adjectives Joseph had used when he had advised Pharaoh. “Let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt.” (v.33)
  • Let me restate how Pharaoh had chosen his vizier.
    • He accepted Joseph’s counsel and looked for someone “discerning and wise.”
    • Second, he looked for someone who had the “Spirit of God.”
    • You and I would do well to act similarly if given the opportunity.
  • Donald Grey Barnhouse noted that “the secret of power is character, but the secret of character is God.”[1]

Notice what Pharaoh does next.

  • First, Pharaoh placed Joseph over his house and over all his people.
    • Only the throne of the King of Egypt was still greater than Joseph.
    • In other words, Joseph was given the second highest position in all of Egypt.
    • In fact, this passage states Joseph will rule “over all the land of Egypt” twice. First in verse 41, and a second time at the end of verse 43.
    • One commentator writes, “The second in authority to Pharaoh was the “vizier”, the prime minister at the top of the administrative bureaucracy. The vizier’s responsibilities typically included superintending the land and supervising the judicial system. Joseph’s authority appears to have extended to these traditional areas.[2]
    • God had prepared Joseph for this position.
      • Joseph’s father Jacob set him as manager over all the shepherds including his older brothers in Genesis 37.
      • Potiphar set Joseph as manager over his entire household in Genesis 39.
      • The captain of the prison guards set Joseph over the entire prison in Genesis 40.
      • Now the King of Egypt had set Joseph over all the land of Egypt.
    • It may seem obvious, but let’s pause a minute. Joseph is now the ruler over the cupbearer who for two years had forgotten Joseph. He is the ruler over Potiphar and Potiphar’s wife. Imagine what she was thinking when she found out Joseph is now prime minister.
  • Next, Pharaoh removed his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand.
    • Notice that Pharaoh did not ask Joseph to make a copy of his signet ring. Instead, he took off his signet ring and gave it to Joseph.
    • By placing the ring used to make documents official, Pharaoh had empowered Joseph to be his personal officer.
    • The signet ring was the symbol and sign of Pharaoh’s royal power.
    • Remember the King of Persia first gave his signet ring to Haman in Esther 3, but he later removed it from Haman and gave it to Mordecai in Esther 8.
  • Third, Pharaoh clothed Joseph with fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck.
    • The word for linen used here refers specifically to Egyptian linen reserved for priests and royalty,
    • This same type of linen would be later used to craft the tabernacle and priestly vestments later described in Exodus 25 and 28.
    • Belshazzar rewarded Daniel similarly with fine purple linen and a gold chain recorded in Daniel 5:29.
  • Fourth, Pharaoh provided Joseph with his second chariot and followed Pharaoh in procession.
    • The NIV translates people saying “make way” while the ESV text says “bow the knee.” The people of Egypt were commanded to pay homage to Joseph.
    • Joseph would have power not just over peace time operations but also times of war as indicated by manning the chariot.
  • Fifth, Pharaoh gives Joseph an Egyptian name, Zaphenath-Paneah.
    • One commentator writes, “The exact meaning of this ancient Egyptian name is unknown, though it undoubtedly signified something grandiose. In the Targum, one of the oldest translations of the Torah, it is interpreted as “the man to whom mysteries are revealed,” while the historian Josephus translated it, somewhat similarly, as “the revealer of secrets.”[3]
    • But today, the most widely accepted translation of Joseph’s Egyptian name is what was proposed by Steindorff[4]: “God speaks and he lives” or “the god has said: he will live.”[5]
      • If this translation is true, Pharaoh acknowledged the power and character of Joseph’s God, “the Elohim.”
  • Sixth, Pharaoh arranged for Joseph to marry Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, a priest in the city of On.
    • That Joseph married into the priestly caste, which had authority and influence, further enhanced Joseph’s power.
    • Just to clarify, Potiphera the priest, although sharing the same name, is not Potiphar the captain of the guard that we met back in Genesis 39.

F.B.Meyer writes, “It was a wonderful ascent, sheer in a single bound from the dungeon to the steps of the throne. His father had rebuked him; now Pharaoh, the greatest monarch of his time, welcomes him. His brethren despised him; now the proudest priesthood of the world opens its ranks to receive him by marriage into their midst, considering it wiser to conciliate a man who was from that moment to be the greatest force in Egyptian politics and life. The hands that were hard with the toils of a slave are adorned with a signet ring. The feet are no longer tormented by fetters; a chain of gold is linked around his neck. The coat of many colors torn from him by violence and defiled by blood, and the garment left in the hand of the adulteress, are exchanged for vestures of fine linen drawn from the royal wardrobe. He was once trampled upon as the offscouring of all things; now all Egypt is commanded to bow before him, as he rides forth in the second chariot, prime minister of Egypt, second only to the king.”[6]

But there’s more to this story than the notion that Joseph remained faithful, and God rewarded Joseph for his faithfulness. Let me explain.

  • First, Joseph is still a slave in Egypt. In chapter 39, he served Potiphar and managed his affairs. In chapter 40, he served the captain of the prison guards and managed his affairs. Now in chapter 41, he is serving the King of Egypt. His new master may be more prominent, but he nonetheless remains a slave in Egypt.
  • Second, Joseph is given pagan wealth. He is given a signet ring, fine Egyptian linen, a gold chain, a fast chariot.
  • Third, Joseph is thrusted into the lifestyle of pagan worship. The Egyptians are called to bow down to Joseph. A woman from a priest who leads pagan worship is given to Joseph in marriage.
  • Finally, Joseph receives a new Egyptian identity when Pharaoh gives Joseph a new name, Zapehnath-paneth.

Joseph is in the wrong nation serving the wrong master receiving pagan blessing but not the blessings of God’s covenantal promises. The test that Joseph faces now is no easier than his test of sexual purity in Potiphar’s house. Will Joseph remain content with the blessings of pagan Egypt, or does he continue to pursue God’s covenantal promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

2. Joseph Fills the Store Cities

Gen. 41:46   Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt. 47 During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, 48 and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. 49 And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured. (v.46-49)

  • We later learn that Joseph lives until he was 110 years old. Since verse 46 records that Joseph is now 30 years old, we can calculate that Joseph ruled over Egypt for 80 years.
  • When Joseph is described going through all the land of Egypt, it was both an act to establish to display his rule over all Egypt. It was also to allow Joseph to survey the land and kingdom over which he was to rule. He would need to study to learn about the land and kingdom for the important tasks that lied ahead.
  • In the next 3 verses, we see that the interpretation of the dreams were being fulfilled. During the seven plentiful years, there was an abundant harvest.
  • Joseph stockpiled the grain in designated cities adjacent to the fields.
  • The harvest was so enormous that recording and measuring the yields became impossible.
  • Like Abraham and Jacob’s descendants, this abundant harvest was “like the sand of the sea.” It was “beyond measure.”

3. Joseph Names His Two Sons

Gen. 41:50   Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. 51 Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” 52 The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

It’s interesting to note the detail that the birth of Joseph’s two sons occurred during the seven years of plenty. No additional children of Joseph’s are described in the Genesis narrative during the seven years of famine.

The naming of Joseph’s two sons are important, because it gives us insight into Joseph’s mindset on his present Egyptian life. Joseph shows evidence that he has not forgotten his God.

During this time, it was common for Hebrew mothers to assign the name of the child based on her sentiment of the event.

  • Eve named her third son Seth in Genesis 4:25.
  • It was the mother who named her son Moses in Exodus 2:10.
  • It was Hannah who named her son Samuel in 1 Samuel 1:20.

But here, we see that it was Joseph that names his two sons just like Abraham naming his son Isaac.

Second, note that Joseph gave his two sons Hebrew names, not Egyptian names. This indicates that his cultural and religious heritage remained intact, and his wife Asenath likely converted to the beliefs of Joseph.

Joseph’s first son is named Manasseh. He names his son Manasseh because “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” I don’t think Joseph is saying that because of all his Egyptian blessing that he can now forget all his family and his Jewish heritage. That would not be consistent with Joseph’s character in both the earlier and later part of this narrative.

Joseph is honoring God by acknowledging the reality that he is not alone. God has given him a new family. He has a wife, and he has a son.

He names the second son Ephraim which means fruitful, honoring God to have fruit within this barren land of affliction. God has given him sweet fruit amidst the bitter providence that Joseph had endured in Egypt. I should also note that by referring to Egypt as a land of affliction, he is affirming that Egypt is not his final resting home. That land is still the land promised by God in God’s covenant to Abraham.

4. Joseph Opens the Storehouses

Gen. 41:53   The seven years of plenty that occurred in the land of Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. 55 When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do.” 56 So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57 Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.

  • When Joseph stored up all the grain, it was immeasurable.
  • And unlike Joseph, the surrounding people would not have known that this famine would last seven years.
  • But we read again that the seven years of famine began just “as Joseph had said.”
  • People would have had some amount of reserve that would have lasted at least a few months. But the famine grew in severity (not just longevity), and because this famine was so vast and extensive, surrounding people had to come to Egypt to buy grain.
  • The people of Egypt “cried to Pharaoh.” This verb “cried to” is commonly employed in the Old Testament like Deuteronomy 26:5 describing God’s people appealing to God for relief.
  • And Joseph had to ration and manage the grain storage to feed both the people of Egypt as well as the surrounding nations.
  • God’s invisible hand of providence is awesome. He orchestrates Joseph’s life to allow him to soon preserve his family, but the surrounding people are co-recipients of God’s saving mercy.
  • And so the final verse in this chapter, “all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain” sets the stage for Genesis 42 when we see Joseph’s brothers needing to come to Egypt and consequently reuniting with their brother Joseph.

  1. James Montgomery Boice, Genesis: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 970. ↩︎

  2. K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 761. ↩︎

  3. Prager, Dennis. The Rational Bible: Genesis (p. 489). Regnery Faith. Kindle Edition. ↩︎

  4. Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18–50, New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 508. ↩︎

  5. G. Steindorff, “Der Name Josephs Saphenat-Paꜥneach,” ZÄS 27 (1898) 41ff.; idem, “Weiteres zu Genesis 41, 45,” ZÄS 30 (1892) 50ff.; Redford, Study of the Biblical Story of Joseph, pp. 230–31. ↩︎

  6. Meyer, Joseph: Beloved—Hated—Exalted, 62. ↩︎

Bible Studies on the Story of Joseph

  1. Introduction to the Joseph Narrative in Genesis
  2. Joseph the Dreamer (Genesis 37:2–11)
  3. Joseph Sold to Slavery (Genesis 37:12–36)
  4. Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38)
  5. Joseph Tempted by Potiphar's Wife (Genesis 39)
  6. God Remembers Joseph in Prison (Genesis 40)
  7. Pharoah's Dreams Interpreted (Genesis 41:1–36)
  8. Joseph Made Prime Minister (Genesis 41:37–57)
  9. Jacob's Sons' First Trip to Egypt (Genesis 42)
  10. Jacob Accepts Judah's Guarantee (Genesis 43:1–14)
  11. Joseph Reunites with Benjamin (Genesis 43:15–34)
  12. Joseph Plants His Silver Cup (Genesis 44:1–17)
  13. Judah's Plea for Benjamin (Genesis 44:18–34)
  14. Judah Becomes Surety for Benjamin (Genesis 44)
  15. A Portrait of Forgiveness (Genesis 45:1–8)
  16. It Is Enough (Genesis 45:9–28)
  17. Prepared to Die (Genesis 46)
  18. God Rescues Egypt (Genesis 47:1–26)
  19. "God Will Be With You" (Genesis 47:27–48:22)
  20. Lion of Judah: When All Is Said and Done (Genesis 49)
  21. God Meant It For Good (Genesis 50)