Story of the Chosen People - Helene Guerber

Pharaoh's Dreams

In the course of his daily work in the prison, Joseph often talked with the captives, and thus he once heard the king’s baker tell a strange dream. This man said that as he was passing along with three baskets of freshly baked loaves on his head, the birds of heaven swooped down and ate them up.

As the baker seemed anxious to have an explanation of his dream, Joseph told him that the three baskets stood for three days; and that within this time he would be hanged, and his body left a prey to the birds of the air.

The king’s chief cupbearer also related a dream, in which he fancied that he pressed the juice of the grapes from three branches into the king’s cup, and gave it to his royal master. Joseph then told him that his dream meant that in three days' time he would be back in the palace; and Joseph begged the cupbearer to urge Pharaoh (as the king was called) to set him free also.

Both these predictions came true. The baker was hanged, and the cupbearer was recalled to the palace, where he entirely forgot Joseph. But two years later the king himself was haunted by a dream which none of the learned men at his court could interpret.

The cupbearer now ventured to suggest that perhaps Joseph could be more fortunate than the wise men, and the king at once sent for him. When Joseph appeared, Pharaoh said that he had seen seven fat cows and seven lean cows rise up out of the river. The lean cows ate up their fat companions, but seemed no larger than before. This dream was followed by another, in which a stalk of branching Egyptian wheat brought forth seven full ears which were at once consumed by seven empty ears.

When called upon to give an interpretation of these two strange dreams, Joseph said that the seven fat cows and the seven full ears meant seven years of plenty, but the lean cows and the empty ears stood for seven years of drought and famine which would follow the seven years of plenty. During this time all the grain left over from the good harvests would scarcely serve to keep the people alive.

Awed by this explanation of the dreams which had baffled his wisest men, Pharaoh now asked Joseph what he had better do. In answer, the young Hebrew advised the king to appoint a prime minister, who should buy all the surplus grain, during the years of plenty, and store it away for future use; and Pharaoh was so pleased that he gave this office to Joseph.

Raised thus suddenly from the position of a mean slave and prisoner to the very highest rank, Joseph was given full power to carry out the wise plan that he had suggested. All honor was shown him, and he was even married to an Egyptian princess, who became the mother of his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim

During the seven years of plenty, Joseph bought all the surplus grain, and stored it away carefully in the large provision houses that were built by his orders in different parts of the kingdom. So, when the years of plenty were over and the famine began, the Egyptians knew no want, thanks to Joseph’s wise foresight.

The famine spread not only over Egypt, but also all through Canaan, Syria, and Arabia; and at the end of two years, all the money of the Canaanites and the Egyptians had flowed into the king’s treasury. Then, by Joseph’s advice, Pharaoh accepted the cattle and lands of his people, in exchange for grain; and thus when the famine was ended, money, cattle, and lands all belonged to him.

Still guided by Joseph, the Egyptian king then divided this land among the people, who in payment were to give him one fifth of the produce. This method made the king very rich indeed, and helped the people not only to live through the time of famine, but also to begin cultivating the soil again as soon as the drought was ended.

Although the Egyptians did not suffer much during the time of famine, the misery in all the countries round about was very great. Jacob heard that grain could be bought in Egypt, so he decided to send ten of his sons thither, in search of food for their families and flocks. He kept Benjamin at home, for he was afraid that something might happen to him.

The ten brothers started out, with camels and donkeys, and came before Joseph, who at once knew who they were. Seeing that they did not know him, he questioned them with pretended severity, and made believe to consider them as spies. But finally he let nine of them go home with a supply of grain. He kept Simeon a prisoner, however, and said that he would not let him go, or give them any more grain, until they brought their brother Benjamin with them, as proof that the story which they had told was true.