Genesis 40 – Joseph Interprets Dreams in Prison
A. Joseph meets the butler and the baker in prison.
1. (1-4) The Egyptian royal butler and baker are put into prison.
It came to pass after these things that the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their lord, the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief butler and the chief baker. So he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison, the place where Joseph was confined. And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them; so they were in custody for a while.
a. It came to pass after these things: Joseph, still in prison, prospered in his circumstances. The end of Genesis 39 shows the great authority and responsibility Joseph had in the operations of the prison, even as a prisoner.
b. The butler and the baker of the king of Egypt: The butler was in charge of Pharaoh’s wine and the baker was in charge of Pharaoh’s food. They were imprisoned because they offended their lord, the king of Egypt. By how the account will develop, it is probable there was a plot to murder the Pharaoh (perhaps by poisoning), and these two were suspects.
i. They were probably there on suspicion of murder, but they were really there because God wanted them to meet Joseph. The LORD was with him.
c. The captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them: This favorable treatment of Joseph by the captain of the guard shows that Potiphar did not really believe the accusations his wife made against Joseph. We know this because Potiphar himself was the captain of the guard (Genesis 39:1).
d. And he served them: Though Joseph had a position of high authority in the prison, he did not use it to make others serve him. He used his high position to serve others.
2. (5-7) Joseph shows concern for the butler and baker.
Then the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison, had a dream, both of them, each man’s dream in one night and each man’s dream with its own interpretation. And Joseph came in to them in the morning and looked at them, and saw that they were sad. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in the custody of his lord’s house, saying, “Why do you look so sad today?”
a. Joseph came in to them in the morning and looked at them, and saw that they were sad: This is a window into the heart of Joseph. Men who are consumed with anger and bitterness do not often take a concern for the personal problems of others like this.
b. Why do you look so sad today: It would be easy – perhaps technically true – for Joseph to think that because of all the wrong done against him, everything should center on his own feelings and hurts. Instead, he cared that the butler and the baker looked so sad one day.
i. In this, Joseph shows us Jesus. An innocent Man came into our prison and lived our hardships and temptations, suffering worse than all, yet He never looks for our pity. He asks us, Why do you look so sad today? As Jesus lives His life through us, we will also care about the needs of others, even when our needs are apparent.
3. (8) Joseph invites them to tell him their disturbing dreams.
And they said to him, “We each have had a dream, and there is no interpreter of it.” So Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me, please.”
a. Tell them to me, please: This was not a case of mere discussion of dreams for the sake of curiosity or a form of fortunetelling. Joseph saw these men were clearly disturbed by their dreams, and approached the dreams from a desire to speak to their troubled souls.
b. Do not interpretations belong to God: Joseph had experience with dreams. His two dreams about his future greatness antagonized his family (Genesis 37:5-11), and he was mocked as the dreamer (Genesis 37:19-20).
i. Joseph was confident that God knew what the dreams were about. He was like the one boy who told another, “My father and I know everything.” When the other boy asked a hard question, the boy just said, “That’s one for my dad.” Joseph knew he and his Father together knew everything.
c. Do not interpretations belong to God: God may certainly speak through dreams, and many passages of the Bible show this.
· God spoke to the pagan ruler Abimelech in a dream (Genesis 20:3).
· God spoke to Jacob in dreams (Genesis 28:12, 31:11).
· God spoke to Laban in a dream (Genesis 31:24).
· God spoke to the Midianite in a dream (Judges 7:13).
· God spoke to Solomon in a dream (1 Kings 3:5).
· God spoke to Nebuchadnezzar in a dream (Daniel 2:1).
· God spoke to Daniel in a dream (Daniel 7:1).
· God spoke to Joseph in dreams (Matthew 1:20, 2:13, 2:22).
· God spoke to Pilate’s wife in a dream (Matthew 27:19).
i. In the Bible, God spoke to unbelievers or pagans in dreams almost twice as many times as He spoke to His people in dreams. We hear many stories today about how God speaks to people in the Muslim world with dreams about Jesus.
ii. It’s always important to remember that not every dream is a revelation from God. Dreams can come just because our minds are busy: A dream comes through much activity… For in the multitude of dreams and many words there is also vanity (Ecclesiastes 5:3, 5:7).
iii. The Bible warns that false prophets might use dreams to give weight to their message (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, Jeremiah 23:25-28).
iv. Still, we should be open to ways that God might speak – even if it might be in a dream. Our message is the same: Don’t look for messages from God anywhere else than the Bible – it is God’s voice. Yet we recognize that from time to time God will choose an unusual way to speak to us, yet never against the Bible or never even equal to the Bible.
v. Around 200, the early church leader Tertullian wrote of a woman in their congregation who was a prophet. She heard the Lord’s voice and saw visions during church services. She never interrupted the service with her prophecies, but told them to the leaders of the church after service was over. The messages were usually encouraging words, or some kind of supernatural knowledge or wisdom. She submitted the message to the church leaders for their judgment, and they carefully judged what she said. That’s a way that God might speak today in an unusual way.
B. Joseph interprets their dreams.
1. (9-11) The butler explains his dream.
Then the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, “Behold, in my dream a vine was before me, and in the vine were three branches; it was as though it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and its clusters brought forth ripe grapes. Then Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”
a. In my dream a vine was before me, and in the vine were three branches: Though this dream was from God, God used figures and pictures that made sense to the butler (a vine, grapes, and serving the Pharaoh wine).
b. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand: In his dream, the butler saw himself serve the Pharaoh again, restored to his former position.
2. (12-15) Joseph interprets the butler’s dream and asks a favor.
And Joseph said to him, “This is the interpretation of it: The three branches are three days. Now within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your place, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand according to the former manner, when you were his butler. But remember me when it is well with you, and please show kindness to me; make mention of me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this house. For indeed I was stolen away from the land of the Hebrews; and also I have done nothing here that they should put me into the dungeon.”
a. The three branches are three days. Now within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your place: There were aspects to this dream that could not have been guessed, such as the three branches representing three days. Joseph’s interpretation of this dream came from God, not from his own wisdom.
i. Joseph was bold enough to give an interpretation that could be proved right or wrong within three days. In only three days, everyone knew if Joseph was correct or not.
b. Remember me when it is well with you: Joseph asked the butler to work for his release. Though Joseph showed godly character in the Egyptian prison by not becoming angry and bitter in his heart, he wasn’t stupid either. He wanted to get out, and used appropriate means to do so.
i. Joseph wasn’t fatalistic; he used wisdom and common sense to get himself out of prison, even though God was with him in prison. Seeing God in your present circumstances doesn’t mean that God wants you in those circumstances forever.
3. (16-19) The baker tells his dream and Joseph interprets it.
When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said to Joseph, “I also was in my dream, and there were three white baskets on my head. In the uppermost basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, and the birds ate them out of the basket on my head.” So Joseph answered and said, “This is the interpretation of it: The three baskets are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head from you and hang you on a tree; and the birds will eat your flesh from you.”
a. When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good: The baker was encouraged that his companion had a good interpretation of his dream, and hoped for the same regarding his own dream.
b. Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head from you and hang you on a tree: Joseph was just as faithful to deliver the message of judgment as he was to deliver the message of deliverance. This is the mark of a godly messenger, who does not fail to bring the whole message of God.
i. “How many there are who are willing to preach the cupbearer’s sermon but are unwilling to preach the baker’s sermon!” (Boice)
c. The birds will eat your flesh from you: This was a disgraceful way to die, but Joseph must have understood that the fate of the butler and the baker were each according to justice. Whatever crimes they were suspected of, the butler was innocent but the baker was guilty.
4. (20-23) The dreams come to pass exactly according to Joseph’s interpretations.
Now it came to pass on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. Then he restored the chief butler to his butlership again, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.
a. Now it came to pass on the third day: The three days until Joseph was proved right must have been agonizing for the butler and the baker (though more so for the baker), yet Joseph was found to be a true messenger of God.
i. In trying to see ourselves in the Bible, we usually want to say, I am Joseph – God can use me to reveal His Word or His mysteries to others. There’s a place for that, but it’s not the best way to see ourselves here. More so, we are the butler and the baker. In this picture, Jesus is like Joseph to us.
· An innocent Man came into our prison and shared our condition.
· This Innocent Prisoner revealed God’s message to us.
· The Innocent Prisoner was proved true in three days.
· Joseph shows us Jesus, whose message from God brings life or death. If you are looking for a message from God, look to Jesus.
iii. We may also see a great difference or contrast between Joseph and Jesus: Joseph’s word only rescued the innocent prisoner, not the guilty one. The good news – the greatest news– is that the message and rescue of Jesus is for the guilty, also.
b. Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him: Here, Joseph was wronged again. He thought that butler’s kindness might mean his release from prison, but it was not to be. God had another purpose.
i. All men God uses greatly, He first prepares greatly. Few are willing to endure the greatness of God’s preparation. God was in both the steps and stops of Joseph’s life.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission