Joseph Interprets Two Dreams
About eleven years had passed since his older brothers sold Joseph into slavery.
He’s 28 years old, now.
I wonder if Joseph still thought his dreams of his family bowing down to him, that had much to do with his current condition, bore any significance; or, were they just that…“dreams of childhood”?
Because from where he sat, so long removed from Canaan and from his family, he may well have forgotten all about those sheaves of grain bowing before him, and the sun and the moon and eleven stars paying homage to him.
But, let’s be very clear about what those dreams meant to Joseph: it meant to him that, if they were true, HE was going to get the firstborn blessing, that the first 10 of his older brothers would be skipped over, and HE would become the inheritor of all the wealth and authority of the clan of Israel.
Joseph is sitting in prison, because the wife of his master, Potiphar, lied and said he tried to assault her. How long he had been languishing in prison is difficult to know, but it was long enough that he gained the trust of the jailer.
Then something happened, and Pharaoh became angry with two high government officials: the official cupbearer, and the head baker.
Some time later, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker both offended their lord, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two attendants, and so he put the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard in the same prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard put Joseph in charge of the men, and Joseph took care of them as he did the others. They remained there in custody for some time.
Genesis 40:1-4 (VOICE)
These were NOT servant positions, though EVERYBODY was, by definition, subservient to Pharaoh. No, these men were likely right in line behind Potiphar in authority.
But, as is often the case with Orientals (remembering it was Orientals…Semites…. not Egyptians, now ruling Egypt), some unknown offense winds up costing men their freedom or their lives.
Likely as not, the Pharaoh was simply in a bad mood, or unknowingly (as these two officials were apparently Egyptian) they committed some foopah of Oriental sensibilities, and these two men wind up arrested; and like Joseph, held in the house of the prison captain…not the regular prison as the common folk had to suffer.
After some time Joseph noticed one morning that they both had puzzled and bothered countenances. He inquired what troubled them and they each reported that they had had a dream, and they couldn’t understand what it meant.
While they were in prison, Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker each had a dream one night, and each dream had its own meaning. When Joseph saw them the next morning, he noticed that they both looked upset. “Why do you look so worried today?” he asked them.
And they replied, “We both had dreams last night, but no one can tell us what they mean.”
“Interpreting dreams is God’s business,” Joseph replied. “Go ahead and tell me your dreams.”
Genesis 40:5-8 (NLT)
It wasn’t that these men saw danger in their dreams…it was that in prison there were no seers available…no dream interpreters…to tell them the significance of their night visions.
Dreams were considered to be important in that era, and so there were professional dream interpreters available for a fee. We begin to the see the level of faith to which all of Joseph’s sufferings had taken him, as he responds “don’t interpretations belong to God?” And, he says, tell me your dreams.
So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream.
Cupbearer: In my dream, there was a vine in front of me, and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms opened up and its clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and then I placed the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.
Joseph: This is what your dream means: the three branches are three days. Within three days, Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; you will place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer.
But I ask one thing. Remember me when things are going well for you. If you have the opportunity, do me a favor and mention me to Pharaoh. Perhaps he will get me out of this place. You see I was stolen from the land of my people the Hebrews, and I’ve done nothing to deserve being thrown into this pit.
Genesis 40:9-15 (VOICE)
They proceed, with the cupbearer going first. He speaks of a vine, with 3 branches, and grapes forming on the branches, which he makes into wine for the Pharaoh. Instantly, God gives Joseph the meaning, and Joseph tells the cupbearer some good news: within 3 days the Pharaoh will reinstate the cupbearer to his position, and all will be well.
This seems, now, to have emboldened the baker, who, undoubtedly as a result of witnessing the interpretation of the cupbearers dream, expected equally as good news.
When the chief baker saw that the cupbearer received such a good interpretation, he told Joseph his dream as well.
Baker: I’ve also had a dream: There were three baskets of fine cakes stacked on my head. 17 In the upper basket, there were all sorts of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds swooped down and kept eating Pharaoh’s food out of the basket on my head.
Joseph: This is what your dream means: the three baskets are three days. Within three days, Pharaoh will lift your head and remove it from you. He will impale your body on a tree and vultures will swoop down and eat the flesh from your bones.
Genesis 40:16-19 (VOICE)
The baker, who of course dreamt within the context of his life’s experiences, just as the cupbearer had done within his own, saw 3 baskets of bread on his head, apparently stacked one upon the other.
For, the uppermost basket attracted birds which came and ate the baked goods right from the basket, while still on the baker’s head. Joseph had to tell the baker the bad news that on the same day that the cupbearer was going to be restored, the baker would lose his life. And, of course, that’s exactly what happened.
On the third day, which also happened to be Pharaoh’s birthday, he prepared a huge feast for all of his servants. As they were gathered together, he lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and restored him to his former office. That day the cupbearer resumed placing the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. But Pharaoh lifted off the head of the chief baker and impaled him on a tree for the birds, just as Joseph had interpreted.
Genesis 40:20-22 (VOICE)
One little detail: many versions say that the baker was hung from a tree. That’s not really what was said; what was actually said is that he would be impaled on a tree. Hanging was not a typical manner of execution in this era, but beheading was. And, often the headless corpse was impaled on a stake (or a tree) as a warning to others.
Now, as an interesting aside: Egyptian hieroglyphs prove out many of the details of this story.
For instance, the idea of the baskets on top of the baker’s head; this was exactly the way males carried items in Egypt; they balanced them on their heads. The stacked baskets of bread on the baker’s head were simply a normal means of conveying the bread from the ovens to the palace, which the baker would have done several times a day. We’ve all seen this sort of thing on TV Travel shows.
But, here’s the thing: you would NEVER see an Egyptian woman put a load on her head; rather, Egyptian women toted things on their shoulders and back. And, this was exactly the opposite from the customary way the Oriental cultures toted loads.
So, this little insight is just one of many proofs of the authenticity of the Biblical narrative of Joseph’s, and eventually Israel’s, time in Egypt.
The last sentence of this chapter is a rather sad one, but so typical of mankind:
Sadly the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph at this time; instead, he forgot all about him.
Genesis 40:23 (VOICE)
Joseph, having shown kindness to the cupbearer, had requested that the cupbearer might do the same for him after being restored to his position. But, we are told that now that everything was back to normal for the cupbearer, he forgot about poor Joseph, and left him languishing away for a crime he had not committed.