41 1 After two years of days, Pharaoh dreamt. He was standing at the Nile, when 2 out of the Nile came seven cows, fair to look at and fattened, grazing on the reeds. 3 Then, another seven cows came up after them to the bank of the Nile. These looked terrible, scrawny, and stood beside the first on the bank of the Nile. 4 Then the foul-looking, emaciated cows ate up the seven fair and fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up.
5 He went back to sleep and had a second dream. Seven ears of grain on a single stalk were fat and healthy. 6 Then, seven ears of grain, measly and parched by the east wind, sprouted after them 7 and the scrawny ears swallowed up the seven full and fair ears. Then Pharaoh woke up and woke up to the dream.
8 In the morning, his spirit pounded, and he summoned all of Egypt’s soothsayers and his wise advisors. Pharaoh recounted his dreams to them, but none could interpret them for Pharaoh.
9 Then the chief wine steward spoke to Pharaoh, “Today I recall my prior error. 10 Pharaoh was furious with his servants and put me under arrest by the commander of the royal guard—both me and the chief chef. 11 We both dreamt a dream one night, he and I, and each of our dreams needed its own interpretation. 12 A Hebrew lad, a servant of your chief steward, was with us. We recounted our dreams to him, and he interpreted our dreams, giving us an interpretation for each dream. 13 Each interpretation came to pass: I was restored to my position, and he was impaled.”
14 Pharaoh sent and called for Joseph. He was quickly brought from the dungeon. He shaved, changed clothes, and came before Pharaoh. 15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I dreamt a dream, but no one can interpret it. I have heard that you only need to hear a dream, and you know its meaning.”
16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “Not I! God will answer Pharaoh for your benefit.”
17 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream, I was standing on the bank of the Nile. 18 Seven fat and fair cows arose out of the Nile and grazed on the reeds. 19 Then, seven other cows, wretched, gaunt, and foul-looking clambered up after them. I’ve never seen such disgusting cows in all the land of Egypt.20 Then the bony, spindly cows ate up the first seven, fat cows. 21 They entered their bellies, but no one could tell for they appeared as sickly as they first did. Then I woke up. 22 I went to sleep again and saw in my dream seven ears of grain on one stalk, full and healthy. 23 Then, seven hardened and scraggly ears, parched by the east wind, sprouted after them. 24 The thin ears swallowed up the healthy ears. I told the soothsayers … none could tell me the meaning.”
25 Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dream is one. God has announced to Pharaoh what is to happen. 26 The seven healthy cows are seven years, and the seven healthy ears of grain are seven years. The dream is one.
Two years after being forgotten by the wine steward, Pharaoh has a dream that seems to have gotten the better of all who were consulted about its meaning. Such intractable mysteries take on a life of their own. They are talked about in multiple settings.
At some point, the wine steward heard Pharaoh rehearsing his dream. The wine steward’s experience in the dungeon, his dream there, and Joseph were recalled by him. In this time of perplexity, with all the regular avenues of interpretation turning out to be dead ends, the wine steward risks disappointing Pharaoh one more time and being thrown back into the pit of the dungeon. He speaks, beginning with his own past troubles and how stepping outside regular interpretive channels heralded an interpretation that came to pass.
The wine steward overstates his case as Joseph’s interpretation was revelatory, not causal.
With nothing left to lose, Pharaoh follows the lead of his wine steward and calls for Joseph. After making himself presentable by shaving (an Egyptian fashion, not his bearded Canaanite tradition), Joseph comes into the presence of the Pharaoh to hear what he has been puzzling over for awhile.
Joseph’s first act is to distance himself from blame, in case Pharaoh does not like what he hears. Joseph places G*D in the position of responsibility for interpretation.
Joseph’s first work is to simplify the dreams for the different images to all fit together in an over-arching storyline that might be of benefit to Pharaoh. If Pharaoh can see an advantage, Joseph may also be able to take advantage and benefit himself by leveraging himself to a larger central location than the administrative core of the dungeon.