Joseph Becomes Ruler of Egypt

The Bible in Art: Joseph Becomes Ruler of Egypt

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Verses for Consideration: Genesis 41:1-16


1 When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream:  He was standing by the Nile,  2 when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat,  and they grazed among the reeds.  3 After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank.4 And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up.


5 He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven heads of grain,  healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. 6 After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted-thin and scorched by the east wind.  7 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. Then Pharaoh woke up;  it had been a dream.


8 In the morning his mind was troubled,  so he sent for all the magicians  and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.


9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings.  10 Pharaoh was once angry with his servants,  and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard.  11 Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. 12 Now a young Hebrew  was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard.  We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream.  13 And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was impaled. ”


14 So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon.  When he had shaved and changed his clothes,  he came before Pharaoh.


15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it.  But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”


16 “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”



“‘I cannot do it,’ Joseph replied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.'” The Holy Spirit has packed many priceless truths into this one sentence.


After two years of suffering innocently in prison, Joseph had finally been freed. He now stood before the mightiest man in the world, who expected Joseph to reveal to him the meaning of some troubling dreams. Joseph -still a prisoner- could easily be thrown back behind bars if he failed like the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Yet all Joseph could say was, “I cannot do it.”


When we’ve been falsely accused, it is only natural to lash back in self-defense. And when undeserved punishment adds insult to injury, who is not tempted to use his or her own ability to get free from such misguided justice? Yet Joseph did not fall into this temptation! He readily, honestly, and humbly admitted his limitations.

Faith always makes an honest confession. Faith trusts in God’s grace and goodness to provide blessings for undeserving sinners.

Nor did Joseph tell Pharaoh to do good works or perform penance to make himself worthy of God answering his dreams. Rather, Joseph assured his ruler that “God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”

Joseph knew all about God’s undeserved love. Through much suffering and heartache, Joseph had seen God’s grace come through for him again and again.

How peaceful our lives would be if we could learn Joseph’s secret of patient endurance, humble submission,and solid trust in God’s grace. We can possess these qualities. As we view our lives as a school of God’s grace, more and more we grow in these same qualities.

Seeing Joseph’s life unfold, we have all the more reason to follow calmly as Jesus leads us through life. His blood covers our guilt, and he will lead us only on those paths that he will help us walk successfully.

Prayer: Savior, I follow your will for my life. Lead me on the path of your grace. Amen.


Title: Joseph in Egypt (1515-18) 

Artist: Jacopo Pontormo

This work depicts the most significant episodes of Joseph reuniting with his family of origin. The painting is divided into four distinct zones. In the left foreground Joseph presents his family to the pharaoh. On the right, Joseph is seen sitting on a triumphal cart pulled by three putti; hoisting himself up with his left arm and clutching firmly onto a putto with the other, he bends toward a kneeling figure who is presenting him a petition or reading him a message; a fifth putto, wrapped in a piece of cloth blown by the wind, dominates the scene from the top of a column, appearing to mime the gesture of one of the two half-living statues represented in the top left and center of the painting. A restless crowd, curious to see what is going on, throngs the adjacent space between the two buildings in the background. Other mysterious figures, resting against one of the large boulders that dominate the landscape, turn their attention toward the action in the foreground.