Genesis 41:1-8 (The Message)
Two years passed and Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile River. Seven cows came up out of the Nile, all shimmering with health, and grazed on the marsh grass. Then seven other cows, all skin and bones, came up out of the river after them and stood by them on the bank of the Nile. The skinny cows ate the seven healthy cows. Then Pharaoh woke up. He went back to sleep and dreamed a second time: Seven ears of grain, full-bodied and lush, grew out of a single stalk. Then seven more ears grew up, but these were thin and dried out by the east wind. The thin ears swallowed up the full, healthy ears. Then Pharaoh woke up– another dream. When morning came, he was upset. He sent for all the magicians and sages of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but they couldn’t interpret them to him.
The understanding of dreams and their interpretation has changed a great deal since Joseph’s time. Eminent psychologists such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung believed that dreams were not divine in nature, but an expression of what is going on in the person’s life, emotions and mind.
In his book The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud stated that dreams are primarily wish-fulfillment. He believed that a systematic analysis of the dreams could yield an understanding of the person’s underlying psychological structures. Carl Jung– a colleague and eventual rival of Freud– believed that dreams are “a spontaneous self-portrayal, in symbolic form, of the actual situation of the unconscious.” By analyzing the dreams through the use of “archetypes,” or symbols, Jung believed that we could learn what was going on in the unconscious mind. There are many other modern techniques for interpreting dreams, but most of these methods understand dreams as a physiological or psychological sign of what is happening “behind the scenes” in a person’s subconscious.
This is a very different way of looking at dreams than the biblical one. Throughout Joseph’s story, dreams are used by God for direct communication: warnings, promises, guidance, comfort.
Pharaoh recognized the importance of his dreams, and was therefore desperate to have someone interpret them correctly. He was surrounded by “wise men” who tried to explain the dreams that had so disturbed his sleep. No doubt they each tried to come up with plausible, and flattering, interpretations. After all, this powerful ruler could lift them up or destroy them with a word. But for all their wisdom and cunning, they could not do it. Pharaoh, considered to be the most powerful man in his world, was powerless in the face of his dreams.
Tomorrow we’ll look at the only person who could interpret for him… a slave named Joseph.
If you were in Pharaoh’s shoes, how might you have felt when the wise men were unable to help? Have you ever experienced a troubling dream that stayed with you after you awoke?