Properly speaking, Joseph should have gone out free from
his dungeon on the same day as the butler. He had been
there ten years by that time, and had made amends for the
slander he had uttered against his ten brethren. However,
he remained in prison two years longer. "Blessed is the
man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord,"
but Joseph had put his confidence in flesh and blood. He had
prayed the chief butler to have him in remembrance when
it should be well with him, and make mention of him unto
Pharaoh, and the butler forgot his promise, and therefore
Joseph had to stay in prison two years more than the years
originally allotted to him there. The butler had not
him intentionally, but it was ordained of God that his memory should fail him. When he would say to himself, If thus and so happens, I will remember the case of Joseph, the conditions he had imagined were sure to be reversed, or if he made a knot as a reminder, an angel came and undid the knot, and Joseph did not enter his mind.
But "the Lord setteth an end to darkness," and Joseph's liberation was not delayed by a single moment beyond the time decreed for it. God said, "Thou, O butler, thou didst forget Joseph, but I did not," and He caused Pharaoh to dream a dream that was the occasion for Joseph's release.
In his dream Pharaoh saw seven kine, well-favored and fat-fleshed, come up out of the Nile, and they all together grazed peaceably on the brink of the river, In years when the harvest is abundant, friendship reigns among men, and love and brotherly harmony, and these seven fat kine stood for seven such prosperous years. After the fat kine, seven more came up out of the river, ill-favored and lean- fleshed, and each had her back turned to the others, for when distress prevails, one man turns away from the other. For a brief space Pharaoh awoke, and when he went to sleep again, he dreamed a second dream, about seven rank and good ears of corn, and seven ears that were thin and blasted with the east wind, the withered cars swallowing the full ears. He awoke at once, and it was morning, and dreams dreamed in the morning are the ones that come true.
This was not the first time Pharaoh had had these dreams. They had visited him every night during a period of two years, and he had forgotten them invariably in the morning. This was the first time he remembered them, for the day had arrived for Joseph to come forth from his prison house. Pharaoh's heart beat violently when he called his dreams to mind on awaking. Especially the second one, about the ears of corn, disquieted him. He reflected that whatever has a mouth can eat, and therefore the dream of the seven lean kine that ate up the seven fat kine did not appear strange to him. But the ears of corn that swallowed up other ears of corn troubled his spirit. He therefore called for all the wise men of his land, and they endeavored in vain to find a satisfactory interpretation. They explained that the seven fat kine meant seven daughters to be born unto Pharaoh, and the seven lean kine, that he would bury seven daughters; the rank ears of corn meant that Pharaoh would conquer seven countries, and the blasted ears, that seven provinces would rebel against him. About the ears of corn they did not all agree. Some thought the good ears stood for seven cities to be built by Pharaoh, and the seven withered ears indicated that these same cities would be destroyed at the end of his reign.
Sagacious as he was, Pharaoh knew that none of these explanations hit the nail on the head. He issued a decree summoning all interpreters of dreams to appear before him on pain of death, and he held out great rewards and distinctions to the one who should succeed in finding the true meaning of his dreams. In obedience to his summons, all the wise men appeared, the magicians and the sacred scribes that were in Mizraim, the city of Egypt, as well as those from Goshen, Raamses, Zoan, and the whole country of Egypt, and with them came the princes, officers, and servants of the king from all the cities of the land.
To all these the king narrated his dreams, but none could interpret them to his satisfaction. Some said that the seven fat kine were the seven legitimate kings that would rule over Egypt, and the seven lean kine betokened seven princes that would rise up against these seven kings and exterminate them. The seven good ears of corn were the seven superior princes of Egypt that would engage in a war for their overlord, and would be defeated by as many insignificant princes, who were betokened by the seven blasted ears.
Another interpretation was that the seven fat kine were
the seven fortified cities of Egypt, at some future time to fall
into the hands of seven Canaanitish nations, who were
in the seven lean kine. According to this interpretation, the second dream supplemented the first. It meant that the descendants of Pharaoh would regain sovereign authority over Egypt at a subsequent period, and would subdue the seven Canaanitish nations as well.
There was a third interpretation, given by some: The seven fat kine are seven women whom Pharaoh would take to wife, but they would die during his lifetime, their loss being indicated by the seven lean kine. Furthermore, Pharaoh would have fourteen sons, and the seven strong ones would be conquered by the seven weaklings, as the blasted ears of corn in his dream had swallowed up the rank ears of corn.
The king was as little pleased with these interpretations as with the others, which he had heard before, and in his wrath he ordered the wise men, the magicians and the scribes of Egypt, to be killed, and the hangmen made ready to execute the royal decree.
However, Mirod, Pharaoh's chief butler, took fright,
seeing that the king was so vexed at his failure to secure an
interpretation of his dreams that he was on the point of
giving up the ghost. He was alarmed about the king's death,
for it was doubtful whether the successor to the throne would
retain him in office. He resolved to do all in his power to
keep Pharaoh alive. Therefore he stepped before him, and
spake, saying, "I do remember two faults of mine this day,
I showed myself ungrateful to Joseph, in that I did not bring
his request before thee, and also I saw thee in distress by
reason of thy dream, without letting thee know that Joseph
can interpret dreams. When it pleased the Lord God to
make Pharaoh wroth with his servants, the king put me in
ward in the house of the captain of the guard, me and the
chief baker. And with us there was a simple young
man, one of the despised race of the Hebrews, slave to the
captain of the guard, and he interpreted our dreams to us,
and it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was.
O king, stay the hand of the hangmen, let them not execute the Egyptians. The slave I speak of is still in the dungeon, and if the king will consent to summon him hither, he will surely interpret thy dreams."