David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
GENESIS 40 - JOSEPH INTERPRETS DREAMS IN PRISON
A. Joseph meets the butler and the baker in prison.
1. (Genesis 40:1-4) 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. The butler and the baker of the king of Egypt: The butler was in charge of Pharaoh’s wine. The baker was in charge of Pharaoh’s food. They were imprisoned because they offended their lord, the king of Egypt. It is difficult to tell if it was in a minor or a major way. Considering how the account will develop, it is probable there was a plot to murder the Pharaoh (perhaps by poisoning).
i. But we never lose sight of the over-arching reason: whatever external reason they were sent to prison, they were really there to meet Joseph.
b. 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).
c. And he served them: Though Joseph had a position of high authority in the prison, he did not use it to make other serve him. He used his high position to serve others.
2. (Genesis 40:5-7) 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 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 revolve around his own feelings and hurts. Instead, he cared that the butler and the baker looked so sad one day.
i. This is one of the keys to living like Jesus: being an others-centered person. Joseph could have justified certain self-centeredness in his life (“I have to take care of myself right now”), but he did not.
3. (Genesis 40:8) 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 fortune telling. Joseph saw these men were clearly disturbed by their dreams, and approached the dreams from a desire to meet their needs.
b. Do not interpretations belong to God? Joseph has 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 dream was 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 Scripture show this (Genesis 20:3; Gen_28:12; Gen_31:11; Gen_31:24; Numbers 12:6; 1 Samuel 28:6; Joel 2:28; Matthew 1:20; Mat_2:13; Mat_2:22). However, not every dream is a revelation from God. We must be careful about putting too much weight on dreams.
i. 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; Ecc_5:7).
ii. The Bible warns of false prophets using dreams to give weight to their message (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, Jeremiah 23:25-28).
B. Joseph interprets their dreams.
1. (Genesis 40:9-11) 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).
2. (Genesis 40:12-15) 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 are 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 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 will know 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 could have had “fatalistic faith,” saying, “Well, if the LORD wants me out of prison, He will do it, and I won’t have to do anything.” It is true that Joseph will not get out of prison until the LORD wants it. But none of that precludes Joseph taking wise and good steps to accomplish what he thinks to be God’s will. The butler won’t remember until God wants him to anyway.
3. (Genesis 40:16-19) 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, but he found out his dream did not tell of good to come.
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 heavy message as he was to deliver the happy message. This is the mark of a godly preacher, who does not fail to bring the whole counsel 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 is a disgraceful death, but Joseph must have understood that the fate of the butler and the baker was each according to justice. Whatever crime they were suspected of, the butler was innocent but the baker was guilty.
4. (Genesis 40:20-23) 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.
b. Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him: Here Joseph is 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 orders both our steps and stops.
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