Dreams and Policy Advice

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Unlike earlier interactions with God, we see an increasing distance between him and the people, mirroring the narrative distance from the moment of creation. Joseph, a man abandoned by his family, relies on his skills in interpreting God’s messages that are conveyed through dreams to the Pharaoh of Egypt. It is only through this interpretation that Joseph is able to prove his worth and ultimately gain power in Egypt. This affinity for dreams, which is proven true when his predictions about the famine are confirmed, act to firstly legitimise his power and then consolidate it further when he moderates the impact of the terrible ultimatum that he first identifies.

God’s communication with the people has become so obscured and subtle now that a dream interpreter is required to make sense of it. The Pharaoh, hearing of a previous incident where Joseph correctly interpreted a dream, calls on him in order to ““understand a dream and solve it.”” (41.15) Not only have God’s messages become unintelligible, but they have become so far-removed that not even the ruler of a country can understand them. Thus, Joseph—a man much lower in the ranks—gains huge power through his ability to interpret them.

Joseph is sensitive to the subtleties of God’s messages, being aware of facts such ““the repeating of the dream two times, this means that the thing has been fixed by God and God is hastening to do it.” (41.32-33) Joseph cleverly reveals this talent through interpretation, but he also attaches advice to it: ““Let Pharaoh look out for a discerning, wise man and set him over the land of Egypt.”” (41.33-34) By simultaneously proving his skill and using that power to give advice, Joseph sets himself up as the only viable candidate for this newly created position.

Interestingly, the Pharaoh is unable to distinguish God’s message and Joseph’s advice—despite Joseph’s adamant statement that it is ““not [his message]! God will answer for Pharaoh’s well-being.”” (41.16-17) The Pharaoh simply jumps to the conclusion that Joseph is deserving of high power, saying to Joseph ““there is none as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and by your lips all my folk shall be guided.”” (41.39-41)

Thus the distance of God from the people sets up an ideal situation where Joseph, the interpreter of dreams, can legitimise and consolidate his power and subsequent rule in Egypt.

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