Joseph Made Ruler of Egypt
For the Pharaoh, the next question was who was going to make sure that all that needs to be done is done?
The answer was obvious. The man God chose to deliver the message should be the one to carry out the preparations: Joseph.
Joseph’s suggestions were well received by Pharaoh and his officials. So Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, clearly no one else is as intelligent or wise as you are. You will be in charge of my court, and all my people will take orders from you. Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours.”
Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the entire land of Egypt.”
Genesis 41:37-41 (NLT)
In one of the most unlikely events, the Hebrew slave is removed from the dungeon and anointed the ruler of all Egypt. Joseph goes from the outhouse to the penthouse, and the only higher authority is Pharaoh himself.
As a symbol of his power, Pharaoh removed the signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s. Then he dressed him in fine linens and put a gold chain around his neck. He had Joseph ride in the chariot reserved for his second-in-command, and servants ordered everyone, “Kneel!” as he rode by. So this was how Pharaoh appointed Joseph head over all of the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh had one more declaration.
Pharaoh (to Joseph): I am Pharaoh, and I decree that no one may do anything in the land of Egypt without your consent.
Then Pharaoh gave Joseph an Egyptian name, Zaphenath-paneah, and arranged for him to marry an Egyptian woman, Asenath (daughter of Potiphera, priest of On). So this was how Joseph gained authority over all the land of Egypt.
Genesis 41:42-45 (VOICE)
A ceremony was held, so that all Egypt would know Joseph’s position over them. As part of this ceremony, Pharaoh gave Joseph a new name: Zaphenath-panea. The form we have Joseph’s name in today seems to be a hybrid Egyptian and Hebrew word.
Scholars say it means either “God speaks, he lives”, or it means “the creator and sustainer of life”. More recent scholarship draws that into doubt. It would make more sense that this name is purely Egyptian and indeed, we find that there is a common word used in naming Egyptians, “zat-en-aph”; and it means, “he who is called”.
The second word of Joseph’s new name, panea, is also fairly easily identifiable in the Egyptian language. Aneah was a usual word for “life” in Egypt. So the Egyptian meaning of his name was likely something alone the lines of “he who is called life”.
In our day a name is simply a way to identify a person; but in ancient times a name was far more than that. A name was a person’s reputation. It was a statement of one’s character and attributes, or perhaps even status in society.
Thus, when Joseph went from house-slave, to prisoner, Vizier of Egypt, a new name was necessary; one, which reflected the Pharaoh’s view of Joseph’s position and purpose.
And, to seal Joseph’s appointment and make it permanent…and, without doubt, to achieve Joseph’s loyalty…Pharaoh gave to Joseph a wife: Asenath, daughter of a Priest. This was no small thing. This priest was of the Temple of On…the city of the Sun God.
At the time, this temple was to honor the god Re, later called Atum-Re; Re was the highest Egyptian deity. Later, the city of On…about 7 or 8 miles north of Cairo…. would come to be known as Heliopolis, city of the sun. So, Joseph married the daughter of the priest of the Sun God, Re.
He was thirty years old when he began serving in the court of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. And when Joseph left Pharaoh’s presence, he inspected the entire land of Egypt.
Genesis 41:46 (NLT)
Once the ceremonies were concluded, Joseph set about traveling throughout Egypt, setting up a system and seeing to it that an enormous amount of grain was saved and stored. We’re told that the 6 years before the family were abundant…the Bible term meaning there were 6 years of bumper crops.
As predicted, for seven years the land produced bumper crops. During those years, Joseph gathered all the crops grown in Egypt and stored the grain from the surrounding fields in the cities. He piled up huge amounts of grain like sand on the seashore. Finally, he stopped keeping records because there was too much to measure.
During this time, before the first of the famine years, two sons were born to Joseph and his wife, Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On. Joseph named his older son Manasseh, for he said, “God has made me forget all my troubles and everyone in my father’s family.” Joseph named his second son Ephraim, for he said, “God has made me fruitful in this land of my grief.”
Genesis 41:47-52 (NLT)
Footnote for Genesis 41:51: Notwithstanding that his father’s house was the true Church of God: yet the company of the wicked and prosperity caused him to forget it.
Six years pass; it’s one-year before the onset of the famine. Joseph now has two sons by his Egyptian wife, the first-born being Manesseh, and the younger being Ephraim.
BTW, these are Hebrew names, not Egyptian. However, due to the customs of those days, that remains the same to this day for Hebrews and many other cultures, the mother’s nationality and genealogy determined that of the children. So, despite their Hebrew names, these two boys were without question Egyptian children.
Now, the foreign mother of an Israeli could renounce her nationality and gods and become a member of Israel; if that happened, then the mother was not considered foreign, anymore (despite her genealogy), but Hebrew.
That did NOT happen in this case. Asenath, mother of Joseph’s children, was Egyptian and there is no evidence that she gave up her Egyptian-ness. In fact, it would have been unthinkable, given her position as the daughter of the Sun god’s priest, and as a princess of Egypt, to become a Hebrew.
Tuck this important fact about Asenath, Manesseh and Ephraim away in your memories.
We’ve talked about this in a number of ways before: but remember, these two grandchildren that Jacob is not yet even aware he has, Ephraim and Manesseh, these two children of Joseph, born of his Egyptian wife, are by all accounts Egyptians…gentiles.
Notice also that the Torah is clear on two important points in verses 51 and 52: first, Ephraim means “fertile”, in the sense of abundant. We’ll see this carry over into Jacob’s prophetic blessing of Ephraim later in Genesis.
But, also note that Joseph in no way viewed Egypt as an enemy. Rather, he sees Egypt as a friend, even a place of comfort. He even refers to it as a sort of replacement home.
So, while we’ll eventually see the Hebrews become Egyptian slaves, we’ll also find in the Bible a certain favor of God towards Egypt, especially in the last days of the last days.
At last the seven years of bumper crops throughout the land of Egypt came to an end. Then the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had predicted. The famine also struck all the surrounding countries, but throughout Egypt there was plenty of food. Eventually, however, the famine spread throughout the land of Egypt as well. And when the people cried out to Pharaoh for food, he told them, “Go to Joseph, and do whatever he tells you.” So with severe famine everywhere, Joseph opened up the storehouses and distributed grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout the land of Egypt. And people from all around came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph because the famine was severe throughout the world.
Genesis 41:53-57 (NLT)
Well, the famine hits just as God said it would. But, we’re also told something here that is often overlooked: this famine was widespread. Now, many Bibles say that the famine was severe throughout the world, but that’s not really what the Hebrew says.
It says that the famine spread over the “panim of the eretz”… “The face of the land”.
This is a very general term, not one that seeks to indicate all land masses, known and unknown, of the entire planet earth. However, as we’ll find out in a little while, not just Egypt, but the whole of the Middle East was also affected.
And, notice how the distribution of the stored up grain occurred. It was rationed, or sold. The grain was not given away. Egyptian records of that time, describing the famine and how the grain distribution was handled, have been found, and they completely vindicate the Biblical record, which we will shortly encounter.
What we know is that as people ran out of money, they gave up their starving cattle to Pharaoh in exchange for grain, the staple food. When they ran out of cattle, they gave up their land. And, when they had nothing else to sell, they sold themselves into bond-servitude to the Pharaoh.
In this way, Pharaoh eventually owned all the land and all the wealth of Egypt. It also allowed him to build up an enormous slave-class workforce to construct magnificent Temples, roadways, and cities. As cynical and hardhearted as this was, God used the situation to save lives: and to assure the survival of Israel.
One final thought and we’ll move on:
I wonder what the Egyptian people thought of Joseph during this time of famine?
Do you suppose he got thanked for forcing them to save up grain…do with less during a time of plenty?
Thereby allowing them to survive later on?
Or, did he get the blame and their hatred when so many had to sell themselves into slavery in order to obtain that grain?
After all, Pharaoh had made Joseph the front man; Joseph was the supreme administrator of this program, and as we saw the Pharaoh had a large public ceremony to make it clear to all just what Joseph’s position was.
All cunning politicians put someone between them and the people, to act both as a buffer and a lightening rod. When things go well, the politician jumps to the front to accept the credit and the adoration of the people. But, when something goes wrong, or is unpopular, the politician becomes silent and invisible and the front man catches the flak.
Something tells me that the left-over bitterness from this event surrounding the confiscation of grain from the Egyptian people’s private land, and then the selling of what should have been their own grain back to them…. often at the cost of their own freedom… had much to do with how things went some time later.
For it was after Joseph died, and new Pharaohs were in place, and Joseph’s family, the Hebrews, had grown and prospered, that the dispossessed people of Egypt turned on them.
Matters like this famine situation are not easily forgotten, and its unthinkable that this didn’t have much to do with Egypt eventually turning the tables on Joseph’s family, by enslaving them.