41 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears of grain are seven years. The dream is one. 27 The seven lank and ugly cows, arising after them, are seven years. The seven empty ears of grain, scorched by the east wind, are seven years of famine. 28 It is just as I told Pharaoh: what God is about to do has been shown to Pharaoh. 29 Seven years are coming of great abundance throughout the entire land of Egypt. 30 After them, seven years of famine will arise, and all the plenty in the land of Egypt will be forgotten. The famine will ravage the land. 31 The abundance will be forgotten because the famine that follows will be so very heavy.
32 The repetition of the dream occurred to Pharaoh twice means God has determined it so and is hastening its arrival. 33 “So, Pharaoh should find a discerning and wise man and give him a central place in the land of Egypt. 34 Then Pharaoh should appoint overseers of land and enlist the land of Egypt during the seven years of plenty. 35 Collect all the food of the good years that are coming and pile up the grain under Pharaoh’s hand as provisions for the cities and keep it under guard. 36 This food will be a reserve for the seven years of famine in the land of Egypt that the land will not perish in the famine.”
Joseph’s assessment of there only being one dream takes disparate symbols and lines them into linear time. It would make no difference if the dreams were about seven animals, seven plants, or seven heavenly stars. The importance is what “seven” refers to. Joseph sees the number in terms of time. Time is a mechanism of control whereby we move toward a claimed “center.”
Readers might suspect that it has been seven years since the time Joseph is placed in a pit by his brothers. Here is a vision of a next seven years until the whole of Egypt is thrown into a pit of famine. Joseph’s experience of failure in having his proclaimed good-time-for-him continue-to-roll may sensitize him to acknowledging the need to figure out how a present blessing might have life to it beyond a moment. What actions of his might have led him to the center of his family—beyond his claiming in the crassest of terms that he would be that center?
Of interest is a question of how many times we need to receive a message before it catches our attention. Some say there need to be seven different presentations before an event clicks in, and we will attend to it. Some say more; some say less. Whatever the number, there will also be a follow-up question about responding.
If television is watched, how many exactly-the-same commercials are seen in an hour’s program? Is the watcher then programmed to buy? Are they put off and committed to never buying? What makes the difference?
Here, Pharaoh’s dream is not really for him but a way to bring Joseph back into the story. At question is leadership in the tribe of Jacob’s sons. Is Joseph’s potential in Egypt going to help his first dream of sheaves gathered around him? Will his interpretation of Pharaoh’s twice-told single-dream and action based on it lead him back to Jacob, Reuben, Levi, Judah, …, and Benjamin? Will it lead them to him here in Egypt?