July 25, 2016

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART IV: JOSEPH AND HIS BRETHREN (Gen. 37:1-50:26)

 

 

Topic #C: JOSEPH BECOMES GOVERNOR OF EGYPT. Gen. 39:1-41:57.                                                                                                                                                       

 

 

Lesson IV.C.4: He Interprets Dreams. (Gen. 40:1-23)


 

Genesis 40:1-23 (KJV)

Introduction

In His loving kindness, God gave Joseph little tokens to show that he was not forgotten.  The jailer came to appreciate and trust him.  For “the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison . . .  The keeper of the prison looked not to anything that was under his hand; because the Lord was with him and that which he did, the Lord made to prosper” (Genesis 39:21-23). Potiphar’s loss was the jailers gain.

The love displayed by Joseph was clear to anyone who could see.  He won the confidence of the other prisoners.  He cared for them and treated them as human beings.  He was touched, as it were, with the feelings of their infirmities.  Before long he not only had a position in that prison, he had a ministry there t0o, so much so that the two most notable prisoners in the cells were willing to share their anxieties with him.

 

 

Commentary

 

VERSES 1-4: The hand of God is seen in daily life.  The two men to whom Joseph was servant proved to be a link in the chain of providence.  Joseph was faithful, while silent about his troubles.

 

 

1 And it came to pass after these things, that the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker had offended their lord the king of Egypt.

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

3 And he put them in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was bound.

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

“And it came to pass after these things” (1a). What “things” is the author talking about? They are those things that happened to Joseph before he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s [2]baker and [1]butler; such as being sold into slavery by his brothers, being falsely accused of rape and placed in prison, and being promoted in the prison, etc.It seems that Joseph had been in prison for some time before he encountered the baker and the butler.

“That the butler of [6]the king of Egypt and his baker had [4]offended their lord the king of Egypt” (1b).In most versions “butler” has been translated “cupbearer.” He was the person who prepared the king’s food, therefore, he would have to be a trusted individual, since his primary responsibility was to taste all of his lord’s food and drink and thus prevent his lord from being poisoned.  Both officers (butler, baker), but especially the butler, were, in ancient Egypt, always persons of high rank and importance; and from the confidential nature of their employment, as well as their access to the royal presence, they were generally the highest nobles and princes of the royal bloodline. And because of their special relationship with the king they acted as his advisors.

We are not given the details of their offence, but offences against Pharaoh certainly could have taken many forms. Nevertheless, in some way, they had offended (or sinned against) their lord, the king of Egypt—whom they had possibly attempted to poison,one by poisoning his drink, the other by poisoning his bread or sweets (This is according to the Targum of Jonathan.), though this of course is only conjecture in the absence of specific information.

There is yet another theory of how they “had offended their lord.” It says that there were several butlers and bakers that belonged to the king, who were employed in providing wine and food for him, and there was one of each who was over the rest. They were responsible for seeing that those under them did their work well. When they didn’t perform well or committed some infraction the principal officers were answerable for it. In this case they had not been guilty of anything criminal themselves personally, yet they might have neglected to look after those that were under them, and so were culpable, and thus drew upon them the wrath and resentment of their lord and sovereign.

“And Pharaoh was wroth against two of his officers” (2a). Working for this pharaoh may have been dangerous, for he evidently had a quick temper and would send his servants to prison at the drop of a hat, or have them killed. 

The word for “officers” is the same word translated as “eunuch” in 37:36.

“Against the chief of the butlers, and against the chief of the bakers.”(2b). Oriental monarchs generally had a multitude of butlers and bakers (cupbearers). The chief (or head man) in both departments were sometimes invested with high honor, and highly trusted by their master or employer.  Both of these officials had to be beyond the influence of the monarch’s enemies.  It was common practice in ancient times for rulers to castrate some of their servants and/or advisers in order to subdue and pacify them.  Both these occupations and ranks in Pharaoh’s Court are indicated in existing ancient Egyptian documents.

“And he put them in ward (Any of the separate divisions of a prison.) in the [5]house of the captain of the guard, into the prison” (3a). The butler and the baker were state criminals and they were put in the same “prison” (a prison for holding political prisoners)with Joseph, whom we learned from the preceding chapter, Genesis 39:20, was the king's prison. Another very telling observation is that the prison was in the basement of Potiphar’s house (40:3, 7). 

All the officers in the employment of the ancient kings of Egypt were, according to Diodorus Siculus, taken from the most illustrious families of the priesthood in the country; no slave or common person was ever permitted to serve in the presence of the king. Since these persons were from the noblest families, it is natural to expect they would be put, when accused, into the state prison.

“The place where Joseph was bound” (3b),that is, where Joseph was a prisoner.  Joseph was confined in the royal prison located in the outer part of Potiphar’s house.  It would seem that Potiphar was by this time convinced of the innocence of the young Hebrew; though, probably, to prevent the exposure of his family, he deemed it prudent to detain him in confinement.

“And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them” (4a).Now that he has been placed in charge of all the prisoners, he was no doubt free from his bonds. Seeing that Joseph was his slave, and these were high-ranking state prisoners, “the captain of the guard” (Potiphar) assigned him to wait upon them while they were awaiting the disposition of the charges against them. It is probable that Joseph's reputation and standing had been somewhat restored during his residence in the prison.

“And they continued a season in ward” (4b).How long is a season? That is a matter of pure speculation, because we are not told. It could be literally days, but many suppose the word signifies a complete year; and since Pharaoh announced their fate on his birthday, Genesis 40:20, Calmet supposes they had offended on the preceding birthday and thus had been in prison for one whole year.

 

VERSES 5-19: Joseph’s quickness in seeing the bewilderment of his fellow prisoners shows his unselfish concern for others.  Then came his inquiry, immediately followed by their answer, and his testimony to God.  “Faithful in a very little” was Joseph’s secret of life.  In the interpretation of the first dream he reveals a human touch as he refers to himself.  The words show what he felt while maintaining his silence.  The second dream was interpreted with equal frankness.  Joseph did not swerve from the pathway of truth.

 

5 And they dreamed a dream both of them, each man his dream in one night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, which were bound in the prison.

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

7 And he asked Pharaoh's officers that were with him in the ward of his lord's house, saying, Wherefore look ye so sadly to day?

8 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.

“And they dreamed a dream both of them, each man his dream in one night” (5a).  Consider, if you will, the special providence of God, which sent unusual [7]dreams to these two prisoners (both in the same night), which made extraordinary impressions upon them, and carried with them evidence of a Divine origin. God has immediate access to the spirits of men, which He can make to serve His own purposes whenever He pleases, and without them knowing it.  To Him all hearts are open, and in ancient times he spoke not only to his chosen people but to others, in dreams (Job 33:15). 

“And Joseph came in unto them in the morning, and looked upon them, and, behold, they were sad” (6).The word “sad” can refer to either a grim mood or to the grim facial expression that it produces.  Because both the narrative report in this verse and Joseph’s words in the next verse make it clear that he sees something is wrong when he looks at their faces.

“And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it” (8a).  If they had been at liberty, they would have called upon the professional interpreters available to them in the court.  They were like a sick man without a doctor, an emotionally disturbed man without a counselor, a dying man without a pastor.

“And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you” (8b).  He understood their dreams to be from God and realize that God was beginning to work His will through two more dreams.

In Egypt, the interpretation of dreams was regarded as a science, and formal instruction in techniques of dream interpretation was given in schools called “house’s of life.” Both the Egyptians and the Babylonians compiled what we call dream books, which contain sample dreams along with the key to their interpretation.  It was believed that the gods communicated through dreams but not that they revealed the meanings of dreams.

 

9 And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, In my dream, behold, a vine was before me;

10 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:

11 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.

“And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph.” (9a). First Pharaoh’s butler, banished to prison for some trivial offense, shared with Joseph a dream that had disturbed him during the night.The “chief butler” said that his dream was of a “vine,” which had “three branches” that produced “ripe Grapes.” The butler took “Pharaoh’s cup,” squeezed the [8]juice of the “grapes” into it, and put it into “Pharaoh’s  hand.”  This would be consistent with his duty as the cupbearer to the king, he dreamed of a drink prepared for Pharaoh.  It was a sign that he would be released and returned to his position.

As Joseph listened he could tell at once that it was a dream that bode well for the butler.  “Cheer up, man,” he said, “Do not interpretations belong to God (8b) In three days Pharaoh will restore you to your office” (13a).  And then, my lord, please remember me.  I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews; and here also have I done nothing that they should put me in this dungeon” (15).

 

12 And Joseph said unto him, This is the interpretation of it: The three branches are three days:

13 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.

“And Joseph said unto him, This is the interpretation of it” (12a). The three branches are three days” (12b).  That Joseph did not lose faith in God’s promise is proved by his willingness to interpret dreams.  He was still convinced that God’s revelation in his two previous dreams (37:5-7, 9) would be fulfilled.

Joseph’s “interpretation” was that “the three branches are three days” (12).

 “Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head, and restore thee unto thy place” (13a). Within that time the butler would be restored to his old job.  “Lift up thine head” may be better rendered as “released you” or “summon you.”

 

14 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:

15 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.

“But think on me . . . and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house” (14). Joseph pleads with the baker, “When you are restored, my lord, please remember me.  The butler quickly forgot Joseph (23), until his memory was prompted just at the right moment two years later (41:1, 9).

“And make mention of me unto Pharaoh.” As far as the Genesis record is concerned, there are only two instances of Joseph displaying unbelief; and this is the first one.  (The second is in 48:8-20 when Joseph tried to tell Jacob how to bless the two grandsons.) Knowing that the cupbearer would be released and have access to Pharaoh, Joseph ask him to speak a good word for him and get him out of the prison.  Joseph was placing his trust in what a man could do instead of depending on what God could do.  He was getting impatient instead of waiting for God’s time.

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” (15).  The expression “land of the Hebrews” is used as an argument for a date later than Moses for the completion of Genesis.  It would probably have been meaningless to the butler, unless it referred to “the land of the Habiru”—Palestine, not Israel as such.

Joseph didn’t mention his brothers or accuse them of evil.  He only said he was “stolen” (kidnapped) from home and therefore was not a slave but a free man who deserved better treatment.  Joseph was speaking just as you and I would speak when we want people to sympathize with our plight: “this place is the pits (a dungeon)!”

It was remarkably incisive thinking that caused the author of the Joseph story to teach that God’s providential care of his own does not guarantee them freedom from affliction, but preservation in the midst of adversities. 

“I have done nothing,” Someone has said that the largest group of “innocent” people in the world is shut up in prison.  Joseph spoke as a prisoner would, not a servant.

 

16 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:

17 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.

“When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said unto Joseph, I also was in my dream.” (16a)“The chief Baker,” encouraged by the butler’s good news, took courage.  He too shared with Joseph a dream that he had received, in which he was carrying “three white baskets” (16b). “And, behold, I had three white baskets on my head” (16b).“White” is a good translation of this term if it is understood to refer the color, but the same phrase can mean wicker baskets. “Bakemeats” refers to confectionery.

“And in the uppermost basket there was of all manner of bakemeats for Pharaoh” (17a). The “bakemeats” were carried to the table upon the head in three baskets, one piled upon the other; and in the uppermost, were the bakemeats. 

“And the birds did eat them out of the basket upon my head” (17b). And in crossing the open courtyards, from the kitchen to the dining rooms, the removal of the bakemeats by a vulture, eagle, ibis, or other voracious bird, was a frequent occurrence in the palaces of Egypt, as it is an everyday incident in the hot countries of the East still.  The risk from these carnivorous birds was even greater in the cities of Egypt, where they were considered sacred, and it was unlawful to destroy them; and they swarmed in such large numbers that they became a great annoyance to the people.

 

18 And Joseph answered and said, This is the interpretation thereof: The three baskets are three days:

19 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.

“And Joseph answered and said, This is the interpretation thereof” (18a). Joseph’s face grew grave as he listened, for he recognized that the dream was a prediction which sealed the baker’s fate.  Sadly he told him to prepare for death and, no doubt, put his arm around the poor fellow’s shoulders and sought to kindle in his pagan breast knowledge of the true and living God.

“The three baskets are three days” (18b). Again the number “three” designated “three days.”  But this man would not be restored.  In three days the Baker would be hanged. 

“Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and shall [3]hang thee on a tree” (19a).  Joseph is credited with saying, Pharaoh shall lift up thy head from off thee,” but that is actually a reference to a “hanging.”  The baker would not simply suffer execution, but his corpse would be impaled and publicly exposed.

“And the birds shall eat thy flesh from off thee” (19b). The “birds” pecking at the baked goods gave this fearful premonition, for they would consume his “flesh” while his body was hanging “on a tree.” The Egyptians believed that after a stay of 3000 years in the unseen world, the soul reentered its former body, and commenced a fresh existence on the earth.  They therefore took the greatest pains to preserve the bodies of the dead (15:2).  For a body to be devoured by the birds, as Joseph foretold, would be regarded as a terrible fate.

 

VERSES 20-23: And then came disappointment and two years of waiting.  What a test it was!  And yet it was probably the foundation of all the self control that he showed later on.

 

20 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.

21 And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand:

22 But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them.

“And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants” (20a).  This was a holiday, celebrated in the courtyard with great majesty and splendor, and marked by a free pardon for prisoners.

Birthdays of ancient kings were especially festive occasions.  At first it seemed that Joseph’s predictions were only half right, for at the feast both former officers were given conspicuous places.  It must have been due to a dramatically sadistic trait in Pharaoh.  He wanted somehow to make the baker think all was forgiven.  After having restored the butler to his office, he called for the other former aide supposedly to reinstate him also.  With full intonation he suddenly ordered the execution, amid the swooning of women and the dismay of the baker.  At least Joseph had prepared the unfortunate man.

“And he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants” (20b).The term “lifted up the head” is employed for the third time to denote release from prison.  The butler was set free and allowed to return to his former position of chief butler.  I would imagine that he was overjoyed by his good fortune and probably didn’t think about Joseph at all, or of Joseph’s God.

“But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them” (22).  The Baker was not as fortunate as the butler, for instead of being released Pharaoh ordered him to be hanged. The sentence was probably carried out immediately as part of the king’s birthday celebration.  Pharaoh did this in a place where all of Pharaoh’s servants could observe everything that transpired in order to both warn and encourage the servant household.

Hanging was a way of dishonoring the corpse of an executed person (see Joshua 8:29; 2 Samuel 4:12).  It may involve suspension from a rope around the neck or impalement on a stake.  There was also the belief that the exposure created by a public hanging prevented the soul from resting in the afterlife (Deuteronomy 21:22).  Stoning or beheading were also forms of execution used in ancient times.

The significant fact for Joseph was that he was correctly interpreting dreams.  He did not misunderstand God’s revelations to him by dreams. Joseph’s skill in interpreting dreams was one indication that God was still with him (8), but deliverance was the ultimate proof of God’s support and presence, and that eluded Joseph. He might not have understood his imprisonment, but he was encouraged in his faith.

 

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

The “chief butler” forgot about Joseph, which is an example of vile ingratitude. Joseph deserved to be treated in a good way by him; he had ministered to him, sympathized with him, given him a favorable interpretation of his dream; and yet he forgot him.  This was human nature.  How prone are men to forget and neglect in prosperity, those who have been their companions in adversities (Amos 6:6)!  But although reflecting no credit on the butler, it was wisely ordered in the providence of God that he should forget him.  The divine purposes required that Joseph should obtain his deliverance in another way, and by other means.

A few days went by, swift as a flash, Joseph expecting every moment to hear that Pharaoh had commanded that he be released.  The days lengthened into weeks, and still no word.  Undoubtedly the butler was busy and had a lot to do, but surely he would not forget.  The weeks became months and the months became a year, then another and another and another.  Joseph learned to hope no longer in man.  All human help was now gone.  So much for turning to people for help instead of waiting on the Lord.  “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. . . . Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—the Lord who remains faithful forever” (Psalm 146:3, 5-6).

Joseph’s thoughts, however, did not creep down slimy stairways to grovel in base thoughts of suicide; instead they borrowed Jacob’s ladder and lifted Joseph up to heavens halls.  The butler may have forgotten about Joseph, but God did not.  In this hope Joseph had a persistent faith.  Faith was not destroyed by his circumstances.

 

There was a lesson for Joseph in this; he learned by his disappointment to trust in God only.

 

 

 

Special Notes:

[1] Butler. The one who gives drinks to Pharaoh and an officer who looked after the king’s cellar and the royal vineyards; also called the “cupbearer.” As we learn in Genesis 40:11, it was grape wine which he gave the king to drink. He probably had hundreds of people under him.

[2] Baker (cook). There is proof from the monuments discovered that the Egyptians had perfected the art of making confectionery (a sweet preparation, such as candy or jelly).In Genesis 40:2Genesis 40:22 he is called “the chief baker,” an officer who looked after the king’s bake house and cooked his food.  He probably supervised everything having to do with providing and preparing of foodstuffs for the royal table.  These officials filled high positions at the Egyptian court (Genesis 37:36).

[3] Hang.  Hanging was not a common means of execution anywhere in the ancient Near East, and there is evidence elsewhere that the same word was used for impalement, which was frequently practiced.  The baker’s dire fate would seem to be first decapitation and then exposure of the body on a high stake.

[4] Offended stands for the word ordinarily translated as sinned. 

[5] House.  The reference to the “house” implies a type of house arrest associated with, but not in, the prison itself.

[6] The king of Egypt.  He should be identified as Senusert II, 1894-1878 b.c.

[7]Dreams. Oneiromancy, the science or practice of interpreting dreams flourished in ancient Egypt because dreams were thought to determine the future.  Deuteronomy 13:1-5 shows that such dream interpreters were part of ancient false religions and were to be avoided by God’s people.  Unlike Joseph neither butler nor Baker understood the significance of their dreams (37:5-11).

[8]Juice of the “grapes.” Grape juice mixed with water is used as a refreshing drink in the East.  Among the inscriptions on the temple of Edfu is one in which the king is seen with a cup in his hand, and underneath are the words, “They pressed Grapes into the water and the keen drinks.”

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