Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 40:20-23

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.

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

Just as Joseph foretold, three days later the fate of the chief butler and the chief baker were forever changed. It happened to be Pharaoh’s birthday, a time for refreshing, and the ruler turned to the cases of these two men and brought each to their final conclusion. One was elevated back to Pharaoh’s good graces, the other consigned to death.

This idea of judgment and dichotomy is a powerful image in our society. It immediately calls to mind the great judgment that awaits us all after we die, on the one hand to the justifying and redeeming of the innocent, and on the other to condemning and damning of the guilty.

As for Joseph, though, he remains in purgatory, forgotten in prison and still awaiting his own judgment. He knows that in the day of evaluation that he will be worthy, but that time has not yet arrived. After all the other virtues he had already displayed, he still must exercise the one of patience.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 40:16-19

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.

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.

Encouraged by the chief butler’s happy result, the baker ventures to offer his dream for interpretation as well. Similar to the chief butler, the dream is directly related to his prior office. Where the butler dreamt of wine in a cup, the baker dreamt of bread in a basket. But where the butler’s dream had been full of positive omens, there is one starkly negative sign for the baker. In his there are birds, pecking the bread out of the baskets upon his head.

It doesn’t require a prophet to know that this dream does not bear good news, but the exact nature of it is more difficult to tell than that of the butler’s. But Joseph is no less bold in his interpretation of this more ambiguous dream. To the same degree of detail as before he explains that three days will pass, and then the man shall be executed, and his body feasted upon by the birds.

This is, of course, terrible news to deliver, I imagine that if I were in such a position I would be tempted to make up some happier story. But that wouldn’t be the truth. This is the great burden for those who genuinely speak for the Lord. They don’t share the happy revelations only, they must say whatever comes, whether for positive or negative.

Ever since the vision of binding sheaves with his brother, Joseph has steadfastly spoken the truth that God gave him, even when that news was to his own hurt. And though he didn’t know it, by being willing to give the bad news along with the good he was paving the way for his great calling in life. Surely the butler would not later on recommend Joseph to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams if Joseph had decided to modify the truth in this instance.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 40:14-15

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.

Joseph had just interpreted the dream of the chief butler, and by it he learned that the man was about to be in the good graces of the most powerful man in all the land. Thus far we have not heard one word of his grief for being sold into slavery and cast into prison, but here at last we see him pleading for help. Joseph attests that he has been doubly wronged, put twice in bondage. He was stolen from his native land and now imprisoned under false charges.

Of course, there is many the guilty perpetrator who will feign innocence, persistently maintaining that “you’ve got the wrong guy,” even when they have been caught red-handed. But it just so happened that in Joseph’s case he really was “the wrong guy.” The life he was living was not in harmony with who he really was. His conscience was clear and free, but his body imprisoned. This was genuine injustice, and he pled with the chief butler to help him out of it.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 40:9-13

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.

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.

There are all manner of positive signifiers in the chief butler’s dream. For starters there is new life: a budding vine with blossoms growing, and clusters that bring forth good grapes. There is no mention of death or decay, and no ominous sigil. Then there is the other good sign of turning the grapes into wine, and giving that wine to Pharaoh. This clearly represents him being returned to a position of trust with his former master. For if a ruler will receive a drink of another man, that means he trusts that other man to have not poisoned it!

And so, frankly, the interpretation of this dream seems fairly obvious. As we will see, though, this is the first in a procession of three dreams brought to Joseph, and each is more inscrutable than the last. One might accuse Joseph of simply making the obvious connection in this dream, but the interpretation he is about to give to the baker and afterwards to the Pharaoh will be far more impressive.

In any case, Joseph does not only give the basic interpretation to the butler, but he also even elaborates on the finer details, such as how the three branches represent three days’ time before Pharaoh will elevate the man. That is a boldly specific declaration, but as we will see, he is exactly right in it.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 40:5-8

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.

Joseph was an attentive servant, and paused to ask the men under his care what the cause of their sadness was. As soon as he heard that they had strange, uninterpreted dreams, he immediately offered to translate the visions for them.

Frankly I envy his confidence in the matter. In my own path of discipleship I often feel anxious about my spiritual “performance.” I strain to bear my testimony better, to discern another’s feelings more deeply, to magnify God’s light more brightly. Just a couple days ago I had a spiritual conversation with a brother, and I found myself racking my brain, trying to come up with something insightful and meaningful to say, like I had an obligation to provide something of substance.

And the thing is, I know perfectly well that I’m doing this wrong. I know that I need to surrender making it my work and let it be His work. I need to stop worrying about whether I can come up with the right answer and leave it up to Him to provide it instead. Or leave it up to Him to not provide the right answer, and in that case not feel like I have to fill that void with myself.

I imagine Joseph was able to speak with confidence because he really knew that “interpretations belong to God,” and thus there was no pressure on him to personally rack his brain and figure out the correct meaning. God would provide it…. Or maybe He wouldn’t. Joseph didn’t actually promise that he would be able to provide an answer or not, just that he was willing to listen to the dreams and then listen for whether God had anything to say on the matter. And that was enough.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 40:1-4

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.

I never noticed before that the two men Pharaoh consigned to prison were not just “a butler” or “a baker,” they were “the chief of the butlers” and “the chief of the bakers.” These men were not mere servants, they were officers, overseers of a band of workers, responsible for entire sectors of the royal household. It might even be that it was not these two men who offended the Pharaoh, but some of their subordinates, and they were being held responsible for not managing them better.

These men’s higher station might also explain why in verse four it says Joseph “served them.” It would seem that even in prison they retained a more exalted state than the rest of the prisoners. In the last chapter it sounded as though Joseph was an overseer of the other prisoners, but when the captain of the guard needed someone trustworthy to be a servant, Joseph was the one to fill that role as well.

This, of course, reminds me of the example of the Savior, who taught his disciples the idea of a servant-leader. Though he was the undisputed head of his followers, Jesus also washed their feet. This combination of roles requires one to have great capability and power, but also great humility and care. As we will see in the following verses, Joseph did indeed show great care to these men, concerning himself with their trouble and helping them with it as best he could.

The fact that Joseph was in a position of service to these men might also explain why the butler failed to remember him after he was restored to Pharaoh’s house. Perhaps in the pride of his lofty station he failed to give the proper space in his mind for the plea of his lowly servant Joseph.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 39:21-23

21 But the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.

22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it.

23 The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper.

I love the opening passage in today’s verses, that the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy. Here he is at the lowest point of his story, but he is not alone. This is a common theme in the stories of the patriarchs: that they are alone in a wild or dangerous place, with no one for their companion but God.

It is often said that the travesties that befell Joseph were all part of God’s plans, and even Joseph will later tell his brethren to not be angry with themselves, because God was sending him to preserve life all along. And while this is true, I believe it is worth noting that God being present in the process is not the same as saying that God threw him into the well or God cast him into prison. Those were evil actions, and it was evil men and women who did those things, not God. What God did was to be with Joseph in those low points and miraculously turn them into something good.

In verses 22 and 23 we hear a description of Joseph coming into the full trust of the keeper of the prison and having the entire operation put into his hands. It is identical to what we heard of Joseph earlier when he came to manage the entire estate of Potiphar. This is the second of the three-part repetition on this theme, and so it would seem there was no situation so low that Joseph couldn’t flourish in it.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 39:16-20

16 And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home.

17 And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me:

18 And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out.

19 And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled.

20 And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.

The theatrics that Potiphar’s wife gets up to are laughable. She lays out Joseph’s stolen garment and waits beside it all day, so that her husband will walk in to find her still at the very scene of the crime, languishing in the throes of trauma! The pageantry is ridiculous… but it does work. Before reading today’s verses I had wondered whether Potiphar had some suspicion of what really happened. It would seem conceivable that he suspected his wife’s deceit but found it more convenient to turn out a slave than his own wife. However, in verse nineteen we read that his wrath was genuinely kindled against Joseph, suggesting that he bought into the whole charade.

Thus, Potiphar was a blind fool, manipulated by his wife into turning out the best man he had in his household. I can’t help but wonder if his wife continued with her adulterous streak, and if he ever found out about it and realized he had been played. Perhaps it is worth considering whether we have also allowed the wool to be pulled over our eyes also. Rumors that are sensational give us cathartic pleasure, and there is a temptation to believe in them simply because it is exciting to feel the powerful emotions they evoke. Indeed, some of us can become addicted to drama and gossip, holding to the ideas that are interesting, more than the ones that are actually true.

As for poor Joseph, he is out of the frying pan and into the fire! He has gone from being a free man, the son of a powerful father, to a slave, and a stranger, and now a prisoner. Here, at last, he has truly found his nadir.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 39:13-15

13 And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth,

14 That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice:

15 And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled, and got him out.

Potiphar’s wife could see that Joseph would never commit adultery with her, and having been frustrated in her lust she now determined to ruin him. I am struck by her language saying “he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us.” She isn’t just casting stones at Joseph, she is disparaging his entire culture. “He brought in an Hebrew” feels to me like it is spoken with revulsion, as though her husband has let a dirty thing into the house like a rat. Hebrews are untrustworthy, Hebrews are dangerous, Hebrews aren’t principled like the rest of us.

And in truth, Joseph had done nothing wrong. But a false image of him had to be erected for Potiphar’s wife to conceal her own shameful behavior. In this tactic Potiphar’s wife shows a similar mentality to that of Joseph’s brothers, who could not stand to have his worthiness reveal to them their own guilty conscience. There is a tendency among the wicked to silence their shame by smothering whatever source of purity is stinging it. Vitriolic and abusive retaliation only reveals how guilty the conscience of the crier really is.

Disagreement and difference of opinion are inevitable in life, but attempted murder and assassination of character were not proportional responses from Joseph’s brothers and Potiphar’s wife! The magnitude of their reaction shows that they did not merely disagree with Joseph, they felt threatened in their guilty souls.