Pharaoh Dreamed of Reeds

Phragmites communis (2)Read Genesis Chapter 41.

Joseph’s (1915 BC-1805 BC) life was swayed by his dreams and the dreams of others. He alienated his brothers by telling them his dream in which they bow to him. Because of their jealousy, his brothers sold him into slavery when Joseph was 17 years old.  Joseph became a slave in a wealthy Egyptian household. Wrongly accused of molesting the owner’s wife, Joseph was sent to prison. During his imprisonment, Joseph interpreted a dream from the cup-bearer of Pharaoh.  Later when Joseph was about 30, Pharaoh had a dream that his advisers couldn’t interpret.  Pharaoh’s cup-bearer suggested that Pharaoh send for Joseph to interpret his dream.  One part of Pharaoh’s dream involved him standing on the bank of the Nile River. Out of the river came seven sleek, fat cows. The cows grazed among the reeds. After the sleek, fat cows, seven ugly, lean cows came out of the river. The ugly lean cows ate the sleek, fat cows; however, the cows remained ugly and lean.

Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and gave God the credited for being able to do so. The interpretation was that seven years of over-abundance would be followed by seven years of famine in Egypt.  Pharaoh asked Joseph how Egypt could avoid the devastating effects of the famine.  Joseph suggested storing food during the seven years of over-abundance that could be used during the seven years of famine. The plan seemed good to Pharaoh. Pharaoh made Joseph second only to himself in power in Egypt and charged Joseph to implement the plan.

Pharaoh’s concern about a dream that involved the Nile River and reeds was understandable.  The Nile River ran the length of Egypt.  Before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea in northern (lower) Egypt, the Nile divided into multiple branches forming the Nile delta. The Nile River was the center of a narrow belt of fertile land about 15–25 miles on each side of the river.  The fertility of the land was tied to annual (June–September) flooding of the Nile. Flood waters deposited a layer of mineral-rich silt. The silt was ideal for crops which were planted and grew October to February.

Reeds grew along the Nile River bank and throughout the Nile delta and were a key economic asset to the ancient Egyptians.  Reed colonies were used in erosion control and provided wildlife habitats along the river and in the delta. In the warm season, the Egyptian reed provided high quality forage for both cattle and horses. The reeds upright growth made it easy for livestock to eat all of the leaves.  Reeds were used extensively for roofing materials on homes of the poor.  They provided lattices, fences, materials for weaving mats and carrying nets.  Reeds were cut and fashioned into pens; rope was made from the fiber of flower stalks.  Because they were straight, long, and durable, reeds were used as measuring devices.

Egyptian’s belief included that after death they traveled through the underworld for 12 hours of night, eventually reaching the Field of Reeds. In the Field of Reeds the body was reanimated and rejuvenated.  The Field of Reeds was a natural extension of life in Egypt, e.g., Egyptians ate, loved, and worshiped there. Class distinctions remained, pharaoh remained pharaoh.  Pharaoh’s dream was located in reeds along the Nile River. It encompassed sleek, fat cows being eaten by ugly, lean cows.  Possibly pharaoh suspected that his dream impacted not only his country, but also his afterlife in the Field of Reeds.

The Egyptian Reed 

The reed that Pharaoh dreamed about was most likely the Phragmites australis, also known as the Phragmites communis and the common Reed.  Generally, reeds do not tolerate rapidly flowing water but are well adapted to both fresh and brackish water.  The common reed of Egypt had creeping roots (rhizomes) that make a dense vegetative mat. The P. australis is a tall perennial grass with central stalks called culms.  Usually culms grows to a height of 6–9 feet but have been known to grow 16 feet.  In the growing season, culms are green but as winter emerges, stalks become dark yellow or brown. In the Middle East, flowers, called panicles, bloom July through December. Initially the flower is green or purplish, but become a warm sandy color as the plant matures.  Flowers are large (6–16 inches) and showy.  The Egyptian reed spreads by underground root (rhizome) root extension.  Also, vegetative reproduction can occur when portions of the root or plant are broken from the main reed and moved water to a new location where they take root and grow.

Symbolism of the Egyptian reed 

According to Worchester (2009) reeds symbolized material or corporal (bodily) truth and knowledge.  Material or corporal truth is the lowest form of truth.  Corporal truths change with cultural norms, societal perspectives, and personal experiences.  In contrast to corporal truth, Divine truth is eternal and unchangeable. God is defined as the God of truth (Isaiah 61:16). Divine truth can be used as a measuring rod against which individuals in all ages and societies can evaluate personal thoughts, beliefs, and behavior.

In today’s world, God’s truth comes primarily from the Bible. As we grow spiritually, the Holy Spirit opens scripture passages in ever increasing depth.  For many years I have attended Bible studies, e.g., Genesis, The Acts of the Apostles. With each repeated study on a topic, I understood the characters and events in more detail.  I am able to comprehend more of God’s purpose in placing a story or event in the Holy Scriptures.

As individuals pray and meditate on scripture, they may receive insights and even revelations; but those insights and revelations never contradict the infallible Word of God.  We need to be very careful before we say, “God told me to do x or y.”  If we get personal revelations which we think are from God, we need to search the scripture to verify that the message is true.

As I looked through the Index in my Bible, I found 17 verses in Matthew alone in which Christ said, “I tell you the truth” and then proceeded to direct his disciples or audience toward some action, to issue a warning, or provide some insight to life. Christ did not need to say, “I tell you the truth” because Christ is Divine and by definition cannot lie.  He used the words for emphasis or to get his listener’s attention.  The entire Bible is full of Divine truth.  There is no need for us to rely only on physical or corporal truth as we walk through life.

Reflection:  From where do you get your truth?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright July 16, 2011: Carolyn A. Roth

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