Genesis 40:1-40:23 Dreams of Wine and Gallows

wroth… two officers… minister well… free to respond… confidence and humility… obvious if wrong… prior experience… kept dreams alive… longed for freedom… not happy endings… ungrateful fool… God with him…

Genesis 40:1-40:23

And Pharaoh was wroth against two [of] his officers, against the chief of the butlers, and against the chief of the bakers.

Maybe its just the phrasing, but I find it odd that people keep getting thrown in prison just because someone’s mad (qatsaph) at them.

And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them: and they continued a season in ward.

An amazing subtext. Joseph was nominally just another prisoner, but clearly he’s earned the trust of the captain (sar). I suspect the captain is familiar enough with Pharaoh’s moods to know that today’s prisoner could again be tomorrow’s dignitary, so it is important to minister (sharath) well to their needs. Which Joseph does:

And Joseph came in unto them in the morning, and looked upon them, and, behold, they [were] sad.

Again, I am amazed at Joseph’s character — as well as the implication that they are so well taken care of that being sad (za`aph) in prison is noteworthy! I have a hard enough time caring about the needs and feelings of others when beset by my own petty irritations. Somehow Joseph has managed to release that anger and self-pity, so that he is free to respond to others.

If the Bible hadn’t shown itself so brutally honest in discussing the flaws of previous characters, I’d accuse it of making Joseph up! Plus, I’ve met saints like Joseph before — flawed people, to be sure, who nevertheless transcend their own problems to minister to others.

And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and [there is] no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, [Do] not interpretations [belong] to God? tell me [them], I pray you.

A remarkable mixture of confidence and humility. His focus is on God (‘elohiym), but that doesn’t stop Joseph from commanding them to tell (caphar) him. Which they do:

And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, In my dream, behold, a vine [was] before me; And in the vine [were] three branches: and it [was] as though it budded, [and] her blossoms shot forth; and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes: And Pharaoh’s cup [was] in my hand: and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.

Joseph, as far as we can tell, doesn’t hesitate to give an interpretation (pithrown):

And Joseph said unto him, This [is] the interpretation of it: The three branches [are] three days: Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head, and restore thee unto thy place: and thou shalt deliver Pharaoh’s cup into his hand, after the former manner when thou wast his butler.

Fascinating. It certainly seems plausible, but I am more impressed by the absolute confidence Joseph displays. After all, this is a very specific prediction, and it will be very obvious if Joseph is wrong.

The only explanation I can think of for Joseph’s confidence is that he must’ve had practice — that is, prior experience of God revealing the interpretation of dreams. Which implies to me that God must’ve given Joseph numerous dreams, interpretations, and fulfillments over the course of his captivities.

Which would explain a lot. As the saying goes, you can live a long time without food or water, and even for a while without air, but you can’t live without hope. Somehow, through the long dark of betrayal and isolation God kept Joseph’s dreams alive.

Not that this hope in God prevents him from seeking human help:

But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and shew kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house: For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon.

Joseph was not without feelings. He was well aware of the injustice of his situation, and clearly longed for freedom. Somehow, that makes his ministering spirit all the more remarkable.

When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said unto Joseph, I also [was] in my dream, and, behold, [I had] three white baskets on my head: And in the uppermost basket [there was] of all manner of bakemeats for Pharaoh; and the birds did eat them out of the basket upon my head.

Alas, not all dreams have happy endings:

And Joseph answered and said, This [is] the interpretation thereof: The three baskets [are] three days: Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and shall hang thee on a tree; and the birds shall eat thy flesh from off thee.

At least Joseph told it to him straight; I wonder if the baker believed enough to make his peace with God before he died. Anyway, things happen exactly as Joseph said:

And it came to pass the third day, [which was] Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand: But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them.

Interesting how being lifted up (nasa’) can go either way. Alas, though God remembers Joseph, the butler does not:

Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him.

Ouch! To be so close to freedom, and have it snatched away at the last second by an ungrateful fool. That had to hurt. Joseph must’ve argued that one with God for a long time — at least if he’s anything like me. Yet, I suspect that Joseph ultimately made peace with the situation. God had showed him time and time again that He was present, working for Joseph’s good despite the cruelty and callousness of man. Joseph himself must’ve recognized that he wasn’t the man he’d been — or would’ve been — before God tempered him through suffering.

Ultimately, I believe Joseph would’ve come to trust that God was with him, even in this. And believe that somehow God has something even better in store.

Which He does.


God, I want to be a man of dreams. Someone thoroughly grounded in Your plans for me, and thus liberated to help others recognize their own dreams. I don’t want to be bound by the walls of my circumstances, or trapped in the chains of self-pity. Grant me the grace to recognize Your hand, even in the cruelty and injustice of others which seems to thwart your purpose. Guard my heart against the day of my redemption, which will surely come, though I see it only with the eyes of faith. Amen. So be it!