Pharaoh dreams that he was standing by the Nile, and saw 7 fat cows devoured by 7 skinny cows. Then, he saw 7 ears of grain swallowed up by 7 thin and scorched ears of grain. Joseph interprets this dream for him: Egypt will have 7 years of plenty, followed by 7 years of famine. Pharaoh frees Joseph and installs Joseph as his vizier–his second-in-command–over all of Egypt so that he can stock up supplies for the famine. Joseph does so, and sure enough, the famine comes. The famine then spreads to the whole world.
Due to the famine, Jacob sends all his sons except Benjamin to Egypt to buy food. They bow down in front of Joseph, but does not recognize him; he, however, recognizes them. Accusing them of being spies, he takes Simeon as hostage while demanding that the others return with their youngest brother, Benjamin. Jacob refuses to allow this because Benjamin is his most beloved son, but relents when they once again run out of food. In Egypt, Joseph invites the brothers to a banquet and sells them food, but plants his silver goblet in Benjamin’s bag. Joseph accuses Benjamin of stealing the goblet, and demands that he become a slave. Judah, knowing that this would cause his father immense grief, offers to become a slave in Benjamin’s place.
- Joseph’s dreams about his brothers bowing down to him are fulfilled, although they have no idea who he is as of yet
- Here, we have a brief glimpse of the Hebrew conception of the afterlife. Jacob says, “If he meets with disaster on the journey you are taking, you will send my white head down to Sheol in grief” (42:38). Sheol is an underworld similar to the Greek Hades–a dark, gloomy place that all people go after death.
- Judah, who devised the plan to sell Joseph into slavery, now offers himself as a slave in Benjamin’s place. His other brothers also offer to become slaves after the silver goblet was discovered in Benjamin’s bag. This shows that they are fully reformed.
- Joseph uses the silver goblet for divination (44:5) with no hint of impropriety, even though divination is condemned in other parts of the Bible (i.e. Lev. 19:26).