Lesson 36: Genesis 40–41

“Lesson 36: Genesis 40–41,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2014)

“Lesson 36,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 36

Genesis 40–41


While in prison because of the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife, Joseph interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s chief butler and chief baker. Two years later, when Pharaoh had dreams that others could not interpret, the butler remembered Joseph. Pharaoh sent for Joseph and described his dreams. Joseph explained that God was warning Pharaoh about an upcoming famine. Pharaoh recognized the Spirit of God in Joseph, and he made him a ruler in Egypt. He also made him responsible for devising a plan to store large amounts of food to prepare the country for the coming famine.

Suggestions for Teaching

Genesis 40:1–23

While in prison, Joseph interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s butler and baker

Write the following on the board: How does God communicate with His children?

Invite students to take turns coming to the board to list ways that God communicates with us. After they have listed as many ways as they can think of, invite them to ponder the ways in which they have personally experienced God communicating with them.

  • Have you ever had an opportunity to help another person recognize that God was communicating with him or her? (Invite students who feel comfortable doing so to share their experiences.)

Invite students to watch, as they study Genesis 40–41, for how the Lord communicated with some individuals in Egypt and how they were able to recognize that the messages were from God.

Invite four volunteers to participate in a role play of the events recorded in Genesis 40, and assign them the following parts: Narrator, Joseph, Butler, Baker. Provide them a copy of the following script. Ask them to bring their scriptures and come to the front of the class. Ask the rest of the class to follow along in Genesis 40 and look for how God communicated with two prisoners in Egypt.

script handout

Sometime after Joseph was placed in prison, Pharaoh became upset with his chief butler and chief baker and placed them in prison. Joseph was assigned to be their servant. One night both the butler and the baker had troubling dreams. In the morning Joseph noticed that they were sad.


Wherefore look ye so sadly today?


We have dreamed a dream …


… and there is no interpreter of it.


Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me them, I pray you.


And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph.


[Read Genesis 40:9–11, beginning with “In my dream …”]


[Read Genesis 40:12–15, beginning with “This is the interpretation …”]


When the chief baker saw that the interpretation of the butler’s dream was good, he told Joseph his dream.


[Read Genesis 40:16–17, beginning with “I also was in my dream …”]


[Read Genesis 40:18–19, beginning with “This is the interpretation …”]


[Read Genesis 40:20–23.]

Have the participants remain at the front of the room, and ask the class the following questions:

  • How did God communicate with the butler and the baker? (God gave them dreams, and Joseph was able to interpret their dreams.)

  • According to verse 8, to whom did Joseph give credit for the interpretation of the dreams? Why do you think Joseph was so willing to give credit to God for the interpretation of the dreams?

Ask the students playing the Narrator, the Butler, and Joseph to remain at the front of the class. Ask the student playing the Baker to be seated.

Genesis 41:1–45

Joseph interprets the dreams of Pharaoh

Summarize Genesis 41:1–7 by explaining that two years later, Pharaoh also had some troubling dreams.

Continue the role play by asking for a volunteer to play the part of Pharaoh. Provide a copy of the following script to the participants, and invite them to read their parts aloud. Ask the class to follow along in Genesis 41, beginning with verse 8, and look for what Pharaoh discovered about his dreams. (At the appropriate time, you may need to explain that the word kine is another word for cattle and that the phrase “ears of corn” is used to represent several types of grain [see Bible Dictionary, “Corn”].)

script handout

[Read Genesis 41:8–9, ending with the phrase “Then spake the chief butler unto Pharaoh …”]


[Read Genesis 41:9–13, beginning with “I do remember …”]


[Read Genesis 41:14.]


[Read Genesis 41:15, beginning with “I have dreamed a dream …”]


It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.


[Read Genesis 41:17–24, beginning with “In my dream …”]


The dream of Pharaoh is one: God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do. The seven good cows and seven good ears of corn represent seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. The seven lean, ill cows and seven thin ears of corn represent seven years of famine that will consume the land after the seven years of plenty. [Read Genesis 41:32.]


After interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph offered Pharaoh some counsel.


[Read Genesis 41:33–36.]


[Read Genesis 41:37–38. End with the phrase “And Pharaoh said unto his servants …”]


[Pointing to Joseph] Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art. Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou. See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.


Pharaoh gave Joseph his ring, and he clothed him in fine linen. Joseph became a ruler over all the land of Egypt and was married to Asenath, the daughter of the priest of On.

Thank the participants, and ask them to return to their seats. Ask the class the following questions:

  • According to verses 32, 38, and 39, what did Pharaoh discover about the source of his dreams?

  • According to verse 16, how would Pharaoh know that Joseph’s interpretation of his dreams was from God?

  • What did Pharaoh do for Joseph because he helped him understand the dreams? (Pharaoh made him second in command over all of Egypt. He also appointed Joseph to oversee storing grain and other food to prepare for the famine.)

Invite students to answer the following question in their class notebooks or scripture study journals:

  • What principles can we learn from Joseph helping Pharaoh to recognize that God was communicating with him?

Ask a few students to report what they wrote. After students respond, write the following principle on the board: When we help others recognize God’s involvement in their lives, it can inspire them to act in faith.

  • How often do you think God is influencing your life and the lives of others around you? Why is it sometimes difficult to recognize God’s hand in our lives?

  • If you could see perfectly how much Heavenly Father is involved in your life, how do you think it would influence your faith in Him?

  • When has someone helped you see how the Lord is influencing your life? What effect did recognizing this influence have on you?

  • When have you helped someone else recognize the Lord’s hand in his or her life?

Consider inviting students to look for an opportunity today or this week to help someone recognize the Lord’s hand in his or her life. (You may want to invite a few students to share their experiences when you meet next as a class.)

Invite a student to reread Genesis 41:38. Ask the class to follow along and look for what we need to have in our lives in order to help others recognize God’s hand in their lives. Ask students to report what they find.

  • Why is it important to have the Spirit with you in order to help others recognize the Lord’s hand in their lives? How does this apply to modern-day missionary work?

Explain that because Joseph lived in a way that enabled the Spirit to be with him, the Lord could use Joseph as a tool to help fulfill His purposes.

Genesis 41:46–57

Joseph gathers grain during the seven years of plenty and sells it during the seven years of famine

Summarize Genesis 41:46–52 by explaining that for seven years Joseph went throughout all of Egypt gathering food until there was more grain in storage than could be measured. Point out that during this time, Joseph and Asenath had two sons. You may want to suggest that students mark the names of these sons in verses 51 and 52.

Ask a few students to take turns reading aloud from Genesis 41:53–57. Ask the class to follow along and look for the result of Pharaoh’s decision to follow Joseph’s counsel.

  • What was the result of Pharaoh’s decision to follow Joseph’s counsel?

  • In what ways have prophets in our day asked us to prepare for future physical or temporal challenges?

  • How have latter-day prophets asked us to prepare for future spiritual difficulties or trials of our faith?

What blessings can come to us if we follow the counsel of prophets and inspired leaders to prepare ourselves and our families for the future? (As students respond, you may want to emphasize the following principle: If we follow the counsel of the prophets and inspired leaders, then we will be better prepared to face difficulties.) Encourage students to consider ways they can apply this principle in their efforts to be prepared for difficulties that may come in the future.

Conclude by inviting two or three students to summarize what they have learned today and explain how they plan to apply that knowledge in their lives.

scripture mastery icon
Scripture Mastery Review

If you have extra time at the end of the lesson, consider using it to review a scripture mastery passage that students are memorizing. Or you could introduce them to new passages and discuss the main doctrines or principles they teach. (Scripture mastery passages like Joshua 24:15, Psalm 119:105, Proverbs 3:5–6, and Amos 3:7 contain principles that relate to this lesson and could be used to support what students have learned in Genesis 40–41.) If you prefer a more visual approach, you could choose a scripture mastery passage and invite students to draw a picture of a situation in which knowing or applying the truths in the passage would be helpful or a picture that would help them remember the main idea and reference of the scripture passage. Invite students to explain their drawings and how the passage relates to them.

Commentary and Background Information

Genesis 39–41. Joseph’s remarkable devotion to God

“The spiritual greatness of Joseph is a remarkable thing. How many people have become bitter over some real or imagined slight, or blamed the Lord for some personal tragedy? In the very midst of being faithful and holding true to that which is right, Joseph was falsely accused and thrown into prison. How easy it would have been for him to give up, to say, ‘What’s the use of trying to serve God? All He does is punish me.’ But there was not a trace of bitterness, no blaming the Lord. Joseph just continued being righteous and faithful. Unselfishly he offered to interpret the dreams of his two fellow prisoners, telling them that the knowledge came from God (see Genesis 40:8). He still trusted in the Lord, although he must have felt doomed to spend his life in prison. If any person had cause for discouragement and bitterness, it was Joseph, but he never faltered in his faith. Truly, Joseph is a model to be emulated” (Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, 3rd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 95).

Genesis 39–41. The Lord was with Joseph

Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained:

“You will notice in each situation in which Joseph found himself that the Lord was with him. It was easy to recognize the special spirit in him because of the way he lived and heeded the voice of the Lord to direct him.

“That same recognition will surely be with each of us as we are led and directed by His Holy Spirit” (“Becoming Men in Whom the Spirit of God Is,” Ensign, May 2002, 41).