3 Things That Are Revealed about God When Joseph Interprets Dreams

In the Bible’s Book of Genesis, Joseph interprets dreams in powerful ways. The ways God helps Joseph interpret dreams reveal a lot about how God works in our own lives today. As we learn how God helped Joseph with dream interpretation, we can enjoy awe, strengthen our faith, and trust God more – no matter what circumstances we’re facing.

What Happens When Joseph Interprets Dreams?

We first meet Joseph in Genesis 37, which describes two dreams Joseph had about his siblings. Both dreams indicated different ways that his brothers were bowing down to him. Joseph’s siblings already hated him, the chapter says, because their father loved Joseph the most. After Joseph shared his dream interpretations with his brothers, they “hated him all the more” (Genesis 37:5 and Genesis 37:8). Then Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery to the Egyptian people, and after the Egyptian official Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph of trying to seduce her (when in fact he resisted her advances), Joseph ends up in prison. Throughout all those struggles, however, “the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness…” (Genesis 39:21).

The story continues in Genesis 40, when Joseph meets two fellow prisoners – the chief cupbearer and chief baker for Pharoah, Egypt’s king – who both have different dreams that they discuss with Joseph and mention that they need help interpreting them. Joseph replies in Genesis 40:8: “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.” Both men shared their dreams, and Joseph interpreted them accurately, saying that the dreams were premonitions of what would happen in the near future to each of them. The two outcomes were starkly different: Joseph said the cupbearer’s dream revealed that he would be restored to his position, while the baker’s dream revealed that he would be executed – and both turned out to be true.

Two years passed, Genesis 41 says, and Pharoah experienced two troubling dreams that he didn’t understand. Genesis 41:8 says, “In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.” Then the cupbearer, who had been in prison with Joseph earlier, told Pharoah about Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams accurately. So, Pharoah frees Joseph from prison and summons him to talk about the dreams. Genesis 15-16 records: “Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’ ‘I cannot do it,’ Joseph replied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.’” Joseph then goes on to interpret Pharoah’s dreams as God leads him to do so. He reveals that Egypt will experience seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. Pharoah took what Joseph said seriously and planned accordingly for the next 14 years. He also respected Joseph’s wisdom so much that he made Joseph his governor. Genesis 41:37-41 records: “The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. So Pharaoh asked them, ‘Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?’ Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. … I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” The meaning of Pharoah’s dreams, which God revealed to Joseph, came true exactly as predicted. Since Pharoah took the dream interpretation seriously, the people of Egypt were able to survive the famine will when it came, because they had stored food for seven years prior to the famine. Genesis 41:57 notes: “And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.”

The next few chapters of Genesis describe how Joseph’s brothers came to buy grain from Egypt. Genesis 42:6 reveals how Joseph’s earlier dreams of his brothers bowing down to him came true: “Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.” Joseph eventually revealed to them who he was and decided to have mercy on them for their sin of selling him into slavery years ago. In Genesis 45:5, 7-8, Joseph tells his brothers: “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. … God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God…”. Joseph points out that, even through all the suffering that happened because of human sin, God had good plans to redeem those situations – and God used dreams to help communicate those plans.

man looking up at night sky stars

Photo Credit: © Unsplash/Prottoy Hassan 

3 Things That Are Revealed about God When Joseph Interprets Dreams

The story of God helping Joseph interpret dreams reveals several important ways that God works:

1. God communicates important messages through dreams. We can hear from God when we’re sleeping, as well as when we’re awake. God gets our full attention when we’re dreaming, because we’re not distracted, and our subconscious mind is especially open to receiving new information when we’re dreaming. We may receive a direct message from God through our dreams anytime. Also, we can learn from all of our dreams indirectly if we’ve asked the Holy Spirit to renew our minds, because the Spirit will do so at all times, including while we’re dreaming. My book Wake Up to Wonder shares the different ways God speaks to us through dreams, including sending us creative inspiration, guiding us to solve problems, healing us from past pain, warning us about an issue that needs attention, and encouraging us with peace or confidence.

2. God sees what our future holds and guides us toward it with our well-being in mind. God knows what will happen to us in the future, and he is ready to guide us there, from prophecy to fulfillment. Through it all, God keeps our well-being in mind, just as he did for Joseph. We can trust that God has good plans for us, which he will help us discover when we seek him. In Jeremiah 29:11-14, God declares: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you’…”. 

3. God works through people of noble character. If we develop the noble character that comes from strong faith in God – like Joseph had – God will work powerfully through our lives. Joseph faced the challenges that all of us face in this fallen world. But through it all, God was with him. It was God’s power working through Joseph that ended up saving many people’s lives during the famine. God will work through our lives, as well, when God knows he can trust us to cooperate with him in his redemptive work in the world.

Conclusion: How This Story Can Relate to Us Today

This story can inspire us today by reminding us that God may communicate with us anytime – and when he does, we should respond by seeking his guidance and acting on what God leads us to do. Our personal stories are parts of the greater story of how God is working in our world. As we welcome God to work through our lives (like Joseph did), God will reach out to us with important messages containing wisdom to guide us into the future well. Only God knows what lies ahead for us. But if we stay closely connected to God day by day, we’ll see God working through us to fulfill good plans – even in the most challenging situations!

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/C.Fish Images 


headshot of author Whitney HoplerWhitney Hopler is the author of the Wake Up to Wonder book and the Wake Up to Wonder blog, which help people thrive through experiencing awe. She leads the communications work at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. Whitney has served as a writer, editor, and website developer for leading media organizations, including Crosswalk.com, The Salvation Army USA’s national publications, and Dotdash.com (where she produced a popular channel on angels and miracles). She has also written the young adult novel Dream Factory. Connect with Whitney on Twitter and Facebook.

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