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.