Dreams in the Bible come in two basic forms; the first is a direct message from God or the angels of God.
Genesis has many, including God’s promise to Abraham that he will have an heir (Gen. 15) and God’s promise to Jacob that his descendants will never be forsaken (Gen. 28).
Jacob also receives divine assurance that his family can descend to Egypt, but will be returned to the Promised Land (Gen. 46). Joseph never receives this type of direct dream (fancy term: theophany), but reveals himself to be the master of the symbolic dream, which requires human interpretation (compare Daniel, who literally reads the writing on the wall.)
Joseph’s story includes three sets of symbolic dreams: in his own home with his brothers, in an Egyptian prison with two royal servants, and in a decisive encounter with the pharaoh. In each case, these dreams are doubled, signifying their seriousness and reliability.
Joseph’s first set of dreams are his, of bending sheaves of grain, then planets and stars, both agricultural and cosmic visions. These dreams upset his brothers, with good reason. It is not trivial “Any dream will do” in a musical “Technicolor Dream Coat”. On the contrary, Joseph’s dreams foreshadow preeminence over his brothers and even his father. Of course, this is precisely what is happening, even if it takes more than 20 years for this to happen (Gen. 37-45).
The next set of dreams take place in Pharaoh’s prison, after Joseph is falsely accused by Mrs. Potiphar and imprisoned. His cellmates, the steward and the baker, unlike Joseph’s brothers, do not understand their dreams.
Joseph explains to the steward that he will be restored in favor of Pharaoh. Encouraged by this favorable outcome, the baker urges Joseph to explain his dream too, but receives a completely different answer: his head will not be raised in favor, but raised from his head. On Pharaoh’s birthday, the diametrically opposed destinies of the steward and the baker come true.
Some rabbis considered the successful interpretation of Joseph’s dreams to be a “minor prophecy,” but on closer inspection, the sommelier’s dream shows him to be hardworking and caring, while the baker’s dream reveals a slacker – he allows birds to feed on its bread basket without being worried. . In this perspective, the dream offers the attentive listener clues of understanding (the discussion of dreams in the Babylonian Talmud is readily available in English on the Sefaria website, Berachot, 54-55).
Pharaoh’s dream turns out to be a pivotal moment for Joseph. One night, Pharaoh dreams of standing on the banks of the Nile, Egypt’s lifeline, observing sheaves of stunted grain devouring sheaves of healthy grain. The following night’s dream has lean cows devouring well-fed, slender cows. It cannot bode well.
Pharaoh calls âall his magicians and sagesâ who respond: âPharaoh had a dream and no one can interpret it. May be. Maybe not. Who, after all, wants to tell the king (in Egypt, also a God) that a famine is coming and that Pharaoh is powerless to stop it? Apparently no one on the royal payroll.
But Joseph puts on his best clothes, shaves and enters the breach. He responds with a precise analysis of the one-two-part dream, then continues with a plan for what to do – save grain in the warehouses while there is still five years of plenty to come, and so be prepared. for the seven years of famine. of course to follow. Joseph is honest about the magnitude of the challenge and ready to work decisively to meet it.
In the world of the ancient Near East, dreams were supposed to come from outside, be they gods or demons. In the twentieth century, psychoanalysis reoriented our understanding of dreams as something generated from within, the subconscious expression of unfulfilled desires.
Joseph’s greatness as a dream interpreter in the Bible contains both ancient and modern perspectives – he successfully interprets the dreams of others, and his own dreams come true too, but by listening well and not looking for shortcuts .