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GENESIS - CHAPTER FORTY
Eleven years had gone by since Joseph’s prophetic dreams that he would rule over his brothers. Realization of this prophecy seemed remote. Joseph had spent much of this time as a slave, first to Potiphar, and then in prison on false charges. One of the lesser faith may have been tempted to give up in despair, and conclude that God would not keep His word. But Joseph remained true to Jehovah and His righteous principles.
Two of Pharaoh’s chief officers incurred his displeasure for some offense. The "chief butler" was the chief cup-bearer, whose duty it was to serve the king, and to pre-taste his food before serving him. The "chief baker" was in charge of preparing the king’s food. The arrest and imprisonment of these two high officials may imply a conspiracy to assassinate the king by poisoning him. Both these officials were placed in the royal prison and remanded to the custody of the captain of the king’s body-guard. This was the position occupied by Potiphar, but the text does not reveal if he still held this office.
The arrest and imprisonment of these high officials may seem unrelated to the saga of the Chosen People. But God was setting in motion a plan that would have a definite bearing upon them.
A short time after the chief butler and chief baker were imprisoned, they each had a remarkable and significant dream. The first thing of significance was that they both had a dream on the same night. The second thing was that the dreams were fulfilled in exactly the manner Joseph predicted. The third was that the number "three" figures prominently in each.
Prophetic events were at times revealed in dreams, even to people who did not recognize Jehovah Elohim as the true God. An example is that of Nebuchadnezzar (Da 4). Such prophecies as these related specifically to events involving God’s purpose regarding His children, either directly or indirectly.
Both officers were disturbed by reason of their dreams. They were unable to determine the meaning of the dreams. Joseph assured them that interpretation of dreams belongs to God, Elohim. He offered to unfold the meaning of the dreams, but only through the wisdom and power of God. This would demonstrate the superiority of Elohim over the gods of Egypt.
The butler told his dream first. Joseph interpreted it to mean that in three days, he would be restored to his former office, and once more serve the king in his capacity as chief cup-bearer.
Joseph then requested that when the chief butler was restored to his office, he would intercede on his behalf with Pharaoh. He told the butler that he was abducted from "the land of the Hebrews," literally, "the land where the (brim live." For at least two centuries, since Abraham’s visit to their land, the Egyptians were familiar with the term "Hebrew" (Ge 14:13). Use of this term by Potiphar’s wife (Ge 39:14, 17) shows that this was still a familiar term in Joseph’s day. Joseph asked that the butler plead his case before Pharaoh, in return for his favor in interpreting the dream. He was innocent of any charges which justified his continued imprisonment.
Joseph’s interpretation of the butler’s dream encouraged the baker to ask for the meaning of the dream he had which was similar. Joseph could offer no word of hope. This dream meant that the baker would be executed within three days. The text indicates that this execution would be by decapitation, and then crucifixion. This was a common mode of capital punishment practiced in Egypt.
Three days after Joseph interpreted the two dreams, there was a festive occasion: Pharaoh’s birthday. The Scripture narrative is faithful down to the most minute detail. Historians record that the birthdays of the Pharaohs were holy, because they were considered descendants of the gods. They were celebrated amid national rejoicing. A legal holiday was declared; all business was suspended. People throughout the land partook of the celebration.
On this occasion, the king took both the chief butler and the chief baker from the prison. The context suggests that the chief butler was found innocent and acquitted of all charges, while the chief baker was found guilty and was executed, just as Joseph had predicted. Pharaoh restored the chief cup-bearer to his former position. This proud official forgot his promise to the Hebrew slave who had interpreted his dream, and Joseph remained forgotten in prison. But God was still working in his life. His time of training and preparation was almost over. He still needed a two years’ course of, patience.
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Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Genesis 40". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany