And there was there with us a young man, an Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams; to each man according to his dream he did interpret. Gn:41:12
Joseph was seventeen when he was sent by his father to find his brothers at Shechem; but he was thirty when he was called before the Pharaoh. What happened in the missing years is not known other than he spent time in prison resulting from the false accusations of Potiphar's wife. Even in prison, his leadership qualities and sensitivity to others was noted and he was put in charge of the other prisoners.
One day, he saw the dejection on the faces of the Chief Butler and the Chief Baker and inquired after them. Rather than dismiss their unhappiness, he showed genuine concern. He didn't sing, "don't worry; be happy." People have real worries and concerns, particularly those in prison. They had disturbing dreams which they related to him. One lived to recall the incident; the other was executed. The Steward lived to recount his unpleasant past in prison to the Pharaoh who also suffered from bad dreams.
In retrospect, we superficially pass over the episode of the Pharaoh's dreams. "Seven starving kine ate seven fat kine," we tell the children,"indicate seven years of famine after seven good years." We lose the significance by glossing over it to get to Joseph's glory of a Vizier and the confrontation with his brothers. We forget that cattle are vegetarians because in our society cattle are forced to eat corn and animal byproducts which is grossly un-natural. This would horrify an ancient as perverse. We protest the horrors of animals used for experimentation, but do not closely examine our daily lives and meat industry. The Pharaoh had no such complex industrial structures. Cattle belonged in the pasture and the horror of kine devouring its own kind haunted him long after he was awake. Anyone who has seen a cat eat her kittens will say the same. It's ghastly to hear the distraught mews and the feeble bones being crunched as the mother devours the helpless offspring. The Pharaoh awoke horrified, but no one could explain it to him because cattle are not cannibalistic. It made no sense.
The Steward, seeing the Pharaoh in such a state of anxiety suddenly recalled Joseph, but not his name. He could identify the man who had interpreted his dream: a Hebrew. He knew the place intimately: the prison of the Captain of the Guard. In a short time, Joseph was brought before him after being appropriately dressed and shaved.
Pharaoh distraught by his vision asks, "I have dreamed a dream. And there is none who can interpret it:and I have heard say of thee, that thou canst understand a dream to interpret it.
Joseph, answered Pharaoh, saying, "It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace." Gn 41:16-17
The interpretation of the dream transcends religious preferences. There is no prejudice involved here. God reveals himself internally to people of all beliefs and cultures. Joseph listens and explains its basic significance; but he doesn't stop there. He gives a consultation on how to defend the kingdom against the oncoming famine. The famine is not due for another seven years, but Joseph identifies the dangers of false security, instructing the Pharaoh in preparation. He establishes the first National Disaster Relief organization. He recognizes that having a dream is not sufficient in itself. A dream has to have a foundation and a plan for implementation. He gives away the information free without expectation for a hefty consultant's fee. He provides a basic organizational plan to be implemented and maintained for any type of national disaster relief; still commonly understood and used today. He explains the constructive use of taxes, national supplies storage and distribution plan so that in every part of the kingdom there is a collection and distribution center ready for the forthcoming disaster. He is far-thinking. He does not wait until the sixth year to act, but impresses on the Pharaoh in front of his cabinet, that action must be immediately implemented to withstand the impending disaster.
How many multi-nationals could benefit from the wisdom of Joseph? Kmart, Enron, World.com, Arthur Anderson... Although simplistic in appearance, the advice given is complex and profound. It is the same advice teachers give students: Don't wait until the night before the exam to study—build on your study gradually from the beginning and in the exam it will not fail you.
The situation looks simplistic, too. We envision Joseph, dressed in clean, new pin-striped suite from Brooks Brothers, just released from prison, confidently speaking before the Pharaoh like a Mercedes-Benz salesman with the newest convertible or limousine. How easy is it to speak confidently about the future? How reliable are forecasts? Optimistic, the stockmarket gurus did not consider that Martha Stewart would be charged guilty on all four counts. As a consequence to the verdit, the stock fell over 23% within the first few hours. The future is shaky. Sudden demise of world giants is not unknown: Enron, World.com and Kmart all bastions of international financial power, collapsing in rubble. Countries are invaded by foreign powers, their names being absorbed into new political geographies and identities re-made. Joseph stands before the Pharaoh, placing his faith in the future: God shall give Pharaoh an answer. In this he trusts. And the councillors, hearing the interpretation know when to step back. If anyone should get hanged by the dream and its intepretation, it should be the same man. They know, oh so well, what happens when the financial forecasts are incorrectly predicted, and they know when to take their necks off the chopping block. If Joseph is wrong, then he will hang alone. He gets the job for implementation not only because he understands the dream, but because he has also the courage to implement it and is willing to put his own neck onto the chopping block. He has a plan, and the plan he puts into action ultimately creates his success.