Today’s reading in The Bible in One Year paired two kings, two witnesses to God, and two different outcomes. The story in Genesis follows Joseph and his confrontation of Pharaoh and the results of John the Baptist’s confrontation with Herod. Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream and gets appointed second in charge. John accuses Herod of adultery and gets his head chopped off. When I first read the stories this morning I couldn’t help but reflect on how one person God saves and blesses, but another gets the axe.
While thinking about that, I though how we don’t talk about dream interpretation in church. Likely we may ignore them and anyone who said they could interpret them. But even in Egypt, why listen to Joseph? A Hebrew slave bought from his family and thrown into the dungeon for ‘dipping his pen into the boss’s ink’. That he was innocent wouldn’t have matter as they didn’t believe a slave over a high ranking official. Why believe an interpretation? Especially hearing what Joseph said, which is a challenge to Pharaoh:
- Joseph tells Pharaoh that it isn’t he that will interpret, but God who will give the meaning. Pharaoh, however much he would like to believe it, is not god. Another is. I imagine that this would have been insulting for a culture that believed Pharaoh was a God.
- Joseph tells Pharaoh that God is letting Pharaoh in on what God is going to do. The events that are to come, Pharaoh has no control over them and cannot change them. God has fixed them, Joseph said.
- Joseph tells Pharaoh that God is allowing Pharaoh to be privy to the information. Pharaoh has to have them explained to him by a slave. Those in his employ don’t understand the dream.
- Joseph then lays out for Pharaoh an economic plan for him to follow. Before Pharaoh can use this knowledge how he wants to, Joseph tells him what he needs to do to save his country.
Pharaoh takes this all in and yields to Joseph. He accepts what Joseph says and puts Joseph in charge of everything in the kingdom (keeping only his throne, but I would think is a much less shiny throne than it might have been the previous day). I wonder if his advisers tried to stop Pharaoh or jeered at Joseph or called into question what Joseph was saying.
What is going on here is what we hear in the Magnificat in Luke 1: ‘He has shown strength with his arm;/he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts./He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,/and lifted up the lowly…’ God is on the side of the poor Hebrew prisoner and Pharaoh’s salvation can only come through him and, and implicitly an admission that there is a great God than Pharaoh.
I wish I knew what it was that finally made this Pharaoh welcome the words spoken by God’s representative when a succeeding Pharaoh only ‘hardened his heart’. The same hardening of heart must have happened when Herod refused to recognise the words of God in John the Baptist, another poor Hebrew prisoner who had done no wrong. Perhaps the story is not so much about God blessing one and not another as it is God speaks, and one monarch listens and another refuses. Our call is stand up to the powerful and our hope is that they listen, as Pharaoh did, but we have to take the risk that they won’t.
And perhaps we ought to listen to those who say they have had dreams, and those that believe they can interpret them.