In the Water and the Bread
Joseph is freed from Egyptian bondage after Pharaoh has two disturbing dreams that are unable to be interpreted by Egyptian magicians (41:1-8). The cupbearer, having forgotten about young Joseph, is reminded of the interpretative aid provided by a young Hebrew (Gen. 41:12).
Joseph is then removed from prison. Washed, shaved, and placed in clothing appropriate to an audience with Pharaoh, Joseph says that “God will answer with peace for Pharaoh” (Gen. 41:16).
Both dreams of Pharaoh open in the same manner, “Behold, there he (Pharaoh) was standing by the Nile” (Gen. 41:1). The Nile was of such importance to Egyptian society that the ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote, ”Egypt was the gift of the Nile.” Meaning, that without the Nile, Egypt would likely not have be founded, or become the seat of power it was in the ancient world.
Still, there is another way of reading Genesis 41:1, revealing how Pharaoh viewed himself, and why the dreams were so disturbing to him. Genesis 41:1 can also be read:
וְהִנֵּה עֹמֵד עַל-הַיְאֹר
“Behold, there he (Pharaoh) was standing on (upon) the Nile.”
Some of the sages point out that the Hebrew preposition עַל/al is commonly used as a word to indicate location. To the Egyptians, the Nile was a gift from the gods; and with its annual deposits of nutrient rich silt, it was equated with life itself as the bringer of bread. The Egyptian god Hapi was believed to control this annual flood, and in some eras was considered the “father of the gods.” Yet, who stood upon (עֹמֵד עַל) the Nile in Pharaoh’s dream but Pharaoh himself. Pharaoh believed that he was the god of gods, the god of the Nile, and the god of life. Nevertheless, Pharaoh, as the god of gods, was unable to understand or control this impending doom.
Standing on (upon) the Nile he was powerless to control it, he could not stop the coming famine, as his sovereign divinity was the thing of dreams. How would people respond to such a lack in their god when the bread and the water ran out?
In the Gospels, we read the testimony of Yeshua/Jesus feeding 4000 and 5000 (+) people, the multiplied miracle of bread. In John 6:16-21, in the evening after Yeshua fed 5000, He withdrew to pray (Jn. 6:15), while the disciples departed by boat to Capernaum. As John writes, a great wind began to blow, creating rough seas (Jn. 6:18). They rowed against the wind and the waves. As they labored on in their journey, the see Yeshua approaching the boat, “walking on the sea” (Jn. 6:19).
Terrified by His appearance, he says, “I am. Do not be afraid” (Jn. 6:20). Here we see the fullness of the Godhead bodily, the I Am, walking upon the water, and as Mark writes, “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (4:39). Jesus could not only walk upon the water, but He controlled the wind and the seas themselves.
Unlike Pharaoh, who stood upon the Nile in his dreams, but was powerless to control it, Yeshua walked upon, rescued Peter, and was able to calm the turbulent water. Not in a dream, but in creation itself. When the bread ran out, He increased it. When water was needed, He promised to be its supply (Jn. 7:37-39).
After the interpretation of his dream by Joseph, Pharaoh renames Joseph צָפְנַת פַּעְנֵחַ/Zaphenath-paneah, a name whose meaning has been subject of great speculation. Several scholars, even some sages, have speculated that Joseph’s Egyptian name could be rendered: he who is called Anakh, he who is called life, or the breath of life.
Joseph is just one of the many typological figures of Yeshua/Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures, and when the false god Pharaoh was powerless to save his people, he beholds a young Hebrew boy who: was loved by his father, and clothed by him; sent to his brethren who hated, envied, and mocked him; conspired against him, stripped him, and ultimately handed him over to gentiles. He was placed in a pit, but rises; he is placed in prison, counted among the sinners, but he is raised from the dungeon to the king’s house. He ruled, prepared, fed, delivered, ultimately he was revealed, and restored to his brethren.
And when Pharaoh looked upon Joseph he said: “he who is called life.” Pharaoh inadvertently admitted that he was not the god of gods, the god of the Nile, or the god of life. No, there was another, someone greater.
Dear reader, in Joseph we see a typological figure of Messiah. In Pharaoh, a typological figure of false gods and idols. Pharaoh looked upon the Hebrew youth, and saw a life. We look upon the One Joseph pointed to, and see: The Life.
Upon your turbulence, and into your lack, He is the supply, because He is the life (Jn. 14:6; cf. Phil. 4:19).
Be well. Shalom. Hanukkah Sameach.