The lesson progresses on Joseph’s life journey at prison. In this passage, not only does Joseph meet the two officials of Pharaoh in prison but he also gets the chance to interpret their dreams. Through the narrative, we will learn how the Lord gives us the opportunity to use our talents and shapes the events for His larger purpose in our walk of life.
Did You Know...?
- The butler (40:1): In Hebrew, the word can be literally translated as “one who causes to drink.”
- The baker (40:1): The word can literally be translated in Hebrew as “one who cook or bake.” Archeological findings show that Egyptians had conducted the arts of the confectioner and cook to a high degree of perfection. [ref]
- “[They] offended” (40:1): In Hebrew, the same word root is used interchangeably as a verb and as a noun. While the word refers to the offense against Pharaoh in Gen 40:1, the same word is used to refer to the sin against God in Gen 39:8. In the Scriptures, the word is mostly used to refer to the sin committed against the Lord (Lev 4:14;
1 Kgs 8:50; 2 Kgs 17:7; Ezek 37:23; Hos 4:7; Zeph 1:17; 2 Chr 6:39; Neh 9:29; Jer 33:8, 50:7).
- “He served them” (40:4): The word “serve” in Hebrew can be used as references to minister to the king (
1 Kgs 1:4; Est 1:10; 2 Chr 17:19), to minister in the house of God (Ezek 44:11), to minister to the congregation of Israel (Num 16:9) and to minister to the Lord God (Isa 56:6; Deut 10:8; 1 Chr 23:13).
- “They were sad” (40:6): The sentence can literally be translated as “they were dejected” or “they were out of humor” in Hebrew. In addition, the sentence can be translated literally in Greek-Septuagint as “they were at some point in the past in the state of having been disturbed or thrown into confusion.”
- Interpreter (40:8): In Greek-Septuagint, the word can literally be translated as “one who brings things together so as to form a unit.”
- Vine (40:9): Normally, the vineyard, after pruning to induce a greater nourishment, can be harvested for its grapes within nine months.
The chief butler’s dream of the vine suggested that the vine’s growth to bring forth ripe grapes in an instant did not necessarily follow the regular nine-month cultivation process.
- “Clusters of grapes” (40:10): The book of Isaiah mentions that a new wine is found in the cluster and there is a blessing in it (Isa 65:8). In other words, a brand new wine can be obtained from the fresh ripened cluster of grape.
- “In Pharaoh’s hand” (40:11): Literally, the sentence can be translated in Hebrew as “upon the palm of Pharaoh.”
- “Three days” (40:12): In the Scriptures, the mentioned expression is used to reference several significances. First, in the book of Joshua, the phrase expressed the numbered period of time spent before the children of Israel possessed the Promised Land (Josh 1:11). Also, a similar phrase in the book of Joshua was used to mark the period when the Israelite spies would be safe from the Jerichoan pursuers (Josh 2:16, 22). Lastly, a similar expression was used by Ezra as a deadline for the Israelites to gather at Jerusalem. Failure to obey such an instruction would cause all of their property to be confiscated (Ezra 10:7-8).
- Restore (40:13): The verb “restore” in Hebrew literally has several meanings, such as the act of God to restore a man to His righteousness (Job 33:26), the act of the angel of God to put back his sword to its sheath, withdrawing the plague of God (
1 Chr 21:27) and the act of Moses to report the words of the people to the LORD (Ex 19:8).
- “Remember me” (40:14): In the Scriptures, such an expression in Hebrew is used when one pleads with the LORD for strength and for deliverance (Judg 16:28;
1 Sam 1:11; Jer 15:15; Psa 106:4) and when the LORD states how mankind should remember Him (Isa 43:26; Zech 10:9).
- “Get me out” (40:14): The mentioned expression, in Hebrew, can have several usage in the Scriptures, such as when one pleads to be delivered from distresses (Psa 25:17), from battle (
2 Chr 18:33), from enemies ( 2 Sam 22:49) or when the Spirit of God brought out the prophet Ezekiel to the outer court in his vision (Ezek 46:21, 47:2). In addition, the phrase can also be used to express God’s deliverance to the way of light (Mic 7:9), from the hidden net of evil (Psa 31:4) and to a broad place away from enemies (Psa 18:19).
- “I was stolen away”(40:15): This expression in Greek-Septuagint can literally be translated as “I was stolen by means of theft.”
- Hebrews (40:15): In the Scriptures, the word “Hebrews” is used to refer to a certain distinguished ethnicity (Gen 14:13; Ex 1:19; Jon 1:9) or to a lower status or occupation (Gen 43:32;
1 Sam 29:3). In addition, the Scriptures refers to the God of Israel as the LORD, the God of the Hebrews (Ex 3:18, 5:3, 7:16, 9:1, 13, 10:3).
- Dungeon (40:15), in Greek-Septuagint, the word can literally be translated as “den” or “pit.” The word “dungeon” in Hebrew can have several literal translations, such as: pit (Gen 37:22; Isa 14:15; Ezek 26:20), cistern (Lev 11:36; Jer 38:6; Ecc 12:6), quarry (Isa 51:1), well (Jer 6:7) and symbolically, Sheol—the regions of dark and deep (Ps 88:6; Prov 1:12; Isa 14:15).
- White baskets (40:16): In Hebrew, the sentence can literally be translated as “baskets of white bread.” Alternatively, the sentence in Greek-Septuagint can literally be translated as “baskets of reed of cakes of coarse grain.”
- Baked goods (40:17): In Greek-Septuagint, the expression can literally be translated as “all kinds of food for Pharaoh, the work of a baker.”
- “On my head” (40:17): According to historical reference, Egyptian men commonly carried on their heads while Egyptian women, on their shoulders like Hagar (Gen 21:14). [ref]
- “[He] will lift off your head from you and hang you on a tree” (40:19): In Greek-Septuagint, the sentence can be literally translated as “he will detach your head by force and he will crucify you on a cross.”
- Banquet (40:20) in Greek-Septuagint, can literally be translated as “drinking party, a social gathering at which wine is served.”
- Birthday (40:20): The word can literally be translated as “the hour of birth” in Greek-Septuagint. According to historical reference, birthdays of the kings of Egypt were considered holy and were celebrated with great joy and rejoicing. All business were suspended and the people generally took part in the festivities. [ref]
- “He hanged” (40:22): In the Scriptures, hanging someone in the form of a death sentence can be performed on a tree (Gen 41:13; Deut 21:22; Josh 8:29), or specifically in an oak (
2 Sam 18:10), or at the public square of Beth-shan ( 2 Sam 21:12), beside the pool at Hebron ( 2 Sam 4:12), and on gallows (Est 2:23, 8:7, 9:25).
List the “coincidences” which proved God’s guidance over Joseph’s life.Hide Answer
There were several “coincidences” which proved God’s guidance over Joseph’s life in prison. First, the “coincidence” that the two chief officials were put under the custody of the same captain of the guard as Joseph’s. Second, the “coincidence” that the officials were in the same place where Joseph was confined (Gen 40:3). Third, the “coincidence” that the chief butler knew the Pharaoh who would later command Joseph to be released (Gen 41:14). Fourth, the “coincidence” that the officials each had a dream when they were in prison with Joseph (Gen 40:5-6). Fifth, the “coincidence” that the officials shared the content of their dreams to Joseph, who was not a magician of Egypt nor a wise man of Egypt (Gen 40:9). Sixth, the “coincidence” that Joseph was able to correctly interpret the meaning of the officials’ dreams (Gen 40:22).
Contrast the reason of Joseph’s confinement with that of the Pharaoh’s chief officers.Hide Answer
While Joseph’s confinement in prison was caused by a false accusation from Potiphar’s wife (Gen 39:19, 20), the chief officials’ confinement was caused by their offense against Pharaoh (Gen 40:1). In other words, Joseph did not deserve to be in prison, whereas the officials were in prison due to their wrongdoings.
Both the chief butler and the chief baker provoked Pharaoh’s anger by offending him. As the ones who held a high status, the chief of all butlers and bakers, those two officers carried a responsibility not to provoke Pharaoh, their lord. However, the writer of the book of Genesis emphasized that the two chief officials offended Pharaoh to his anger (Gen 40:1). On the contrary, Joseph as an overseer, the highest position in Potiphar’s house, carefully threaded his ways. Although there was a chance to misuse his power and status, Joseph strongly refused to wrong his master, Potiphar, and more importantly to sin against his God (Gen 39:8, 9).
There are several characters in the Scriptures who performed their services to a higher authority. The book of Deuteronomy 10:8 recorded that the Levites were separated to minister to the Lord (Deut 10:8). And in the book of
, the writer mentioned how Abishag the Shunammite was brought to serve King David. Furthermore, the author of the book of 1st Samuel recounted how Samuel learned to minister to the Lord since childhood ( 1 Sam 2:18). Lastly, the book of 2nd Chronicles documented that the captains of thousands served the king of Israel ( 2 Chr 17:19).
How was Joseph’s example of service to the two chief officials in Gen 40:4 seem unusual compared to the above examples in the Scriptures?Hide Answer
Compared to the above examples from the Scriptures, Joseph’s example in serving the two chief officials seemed unusual. On one hand, the characters listed in question 2a performed their service according to their willingness. The Levites and the priests were set apart to minister at the tabernacle and to the Lord. Abishag, the young woman who cared for the king, was brought to serve King David. Elisha who was a follower of Elijah dedicated himself to be Elijah’s servant. On the other hand, Joseph’s presence in the prison was under the duress of his master, Potiphar (Gen 39:20), and his service to the officials was under the command of the captain of the guard in the prison (Gen 40:4). Although Joseph served the two chief officers of Pharaoh in prison, he later emphasized to the chief butler that he had done nothing wrong to deserve to be in prison and that he was stolen away from his homeland (Gen 40:15).
What lesson can we learn about faithfulness in servitude from Joseph that in his prison-bound condition, he still served the two chief officials of Pharaoh? See Gen 39:4.Hide Answer
From Joseph’s example in serving the two chief officials of Pharaoh, we can learn a lesson about faithfulness in servitude. Previously, before Joseph was thrown into prison, he was serving Potiphar at his house (Gen 39:4). Though Joseph was sold and forced to be a slave in a foreign land, he still faithfully and obediently served his master, Potiphar. Later, when he was made a prisoner, following Potiphar’s wife’s accusation, Joseph still faithfully and obediently served the captain of the guard in the prison (Gen 39:22-23). Likewise, in our workplace or at church, having a personal difficulty or hardship does not mean that we should abandon and leave our work responsibility. Instead, we can follow the example of Joseph, by faithfully continuing our servitude and devotedly putting our hope in His mercy and kindness.
How were the butler’s and the baker’s dream in prison unique?
According to the Scriptures, there are several significances of dreaming a dream. While the book of Ecclesiastes 5:3 records that much activity can cause one to dream, the writer of the book of Deuteronomy warns us that a false dream can entice one to turn away from the Lord (Deut 13:5). Furthermore, the Scriptures tell us that God can use a dream as a media to appear or to speak to someone about a certain event which will come to pass (Gen 20:3, 31:11-13, 41:32;
1 Kgs 3:5; Job 33:15).
How did the dreams of the butler and the baker in Gen 40:5 prove God’s abidance with Joseph?Hide Answer
The butler’s dream and the baker’s dream in Gen 40:5 proved God’s abidance with Joseph. The dreams of Pharaoh’s officials paved the way for Joseph to use his God-given talent to discern the dreams. Later, the acknowledgment of the dream’s interpretation by the butler enabled Joseph to be brought to interpret Pharaoh’s dream (Gen 41:14). Through his God-given talent in discerning dreams, God finally led Joseph away from the dungeon.
Describe Joseph’s care toward the chief officers of Pharaoh from the passage.Hide Answer
The passage described how Joseph cared for the chief officers of Pharaoh. The two officers were charged under the service of Joseph by the captain of the guards (Gen 40:4). When Joseph came in to them in the morning, he looked at them (Gen 40:6), paying close attention to their well-being. Joseph immediately saw that the two officers were sad. Joseph asked them why they looked so sad that day (Gen 40:7). In other words, Joseph was attentive to their daily expression and well-being. Thus, when a change occurred through their countenance, Joseph noticed their sorrowful expression right away. Moreover, Joseph’s asking of their sadness was not a mere politeness or socialization; he was willing to help them solve the difficulty behind their grief. So when they told him they each had a dream and there was no interpreter, Joseph let them know that there was a solution to their problem and he offered to help (Gen 40:8).
From the example of Joseph’s care toward the chief officers, what lesson can we learn about the attitude of helping others?Hide Answer
From the example of Joseph’s care toward the chief officers, we can learn a lesson about the attitude of helping out other people. In the book of Genesis, we have learned that Joseph was charged by the captain of the guards to serve the two chief officers. As a prisoner under the supervision of the captain of the guard, Joseph was responsible only for the service he provided to the chief officials. Though Joseph was not required to counsel or to comfort their distress, he did it out of his sincere concern for them. Moreover, in spite of Joseph’s personal difficulty and predicament, he was willing to invest his personal time, energy and effort to listen to help solve the cause of their sorrows.
Likewise, from the above example of Joseph, we learn that the act of helping out other people requires not only a willingness to care but also a commitment to help find the solution. The gospel of Luke once mentioned the parable of the Samaritan and a stranger. At first, the priest and the Levite saw the half-dead man but they passed by on the other side (Lk 10:31-32). But when the Samaritan saw the man, he set aside his plans and immediately took action to care for him. The Samaritan even spent his time and his money on this person (Lk 10:33-35), for the sake of his healing. In helping out other people, instead of just being a passer-by—merely knowing and ignoring the issue but not offering any practical solution—we ought to act concretely and sincerely, without any feeling of reservation of losing the time, the effort or the money spent.
Why did the two officials “look so sad”?Hide Answer
The butler and the baker looked so sad because in one night each of them had a dream with its own interpretation. Yet, they were unable to have an interpreter for the dream (Gen 40:5, 8). Thus, they were in sorrow for having a dream, without the ability to understand each of its meaning.
What would they have done with the dream, if they had not been in prison?Hide Answer
In prison, the butler and the baker sadly told Joseph that there was no interpreter available to interpret their dream (Gen 40:8). In other words, their confinement in the prison limited their ability to gain access to the one who had a gift to interpret dreams, such as the wise men and the magicians of Egypt (Gen 41:8). If they had been free men, they most likely would have consulted those wise men and those magicians for the meaning of their dream.
How did the dreams affect both Joseph and the two officers, in regards of: Joseph’s confession of faith;Hide Answer
When the officials told Joseph of their desperation due to the lack of an interpreter, Joseph comforted their grief by confessing his faith in God. Joseph emphasized to the officials, ”Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Gen 40:8). In other words, Joseph gave a new insight to the two officials that dreams and their interpretations were not the privilege of humans but the domain of God. Joseph shared his belief with the officials of the God who is able to send a message through a dream, to give the interpretation of it, and to fulfill the meaning of the related dream.
Joseph’s realization of his gifts and its usefulness for others;Hide Answer
When Joseph listened to the dreams and shared their meaning of it to the officials, he discovered that his gift was in discerning the meaning of dreams (Gen 40:12-13, 18-19). Therefore, the gifts of Joseph were not just about the fulfillment of God’s purpose in his life, but also the revelation of other people’s journey of life.
The officials’ recognition of the true God;Hide Answer
After each one of them had a dream, both the butler and the baker were desperate to know the meaning of their respective dream. Before, they knew that only the wise men and the magicians of Egypt had the ability to interpret and discern the meaning of the dream (Gen 40:8, 41:8). But now through Joseph’s sharing of faith, both the officials could have the chance to know who was the God of Joseph and to learn of His power to give the interpretations of dreams through Joseph.
Describe the content of the chief butler’s dream.Hide Answer
The content of the chief butler’s dream was as follow: A vine was before him. The vine itself had three branches which budded, blossomed and brought forth ripe grapes. Then the chief butler took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, which was in his hand. At the end, he placed the wine-filled cup in Pharaoh’s hand (Gen 40:9-11).
Describe the content of the chief baker’s dream.
Compare and contrast the content of the dreams between the chief butler’s and the baker’s. The presence of Pharaoh;Hide Answer
In the chief butler’s dream, not only was the cup of Pharaoh in his hand, but the chief butler delivered the cup directly to the hand of Pharaoh (Gen 40:9-11). In the passage which described the chief butler’s dream, the word ”Pharaoh” was mentioned three times. Both Pharaoh’s cup and Pharaoh himself were present in his dream. On the contrary, in the chief baker’s dream, Pharaoh himself was not present at all (Gen 40:16-17).
The grapes vs. the baked goods;Hide Answer
Both the chief butler and the chief baker were presenting the best products for Pharaoh. While the chief butler had clusters of ripe grapes for Pharaoh (Gen 40:10), the chief baker had all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh (Gen 40:17). Interestingly, in the chief butler’s dream, all three branches of the vine budded, blossomed, and brought forth clusters of ripe grapes (Gen 40:9-10). However, in the chief baker’s dream, out of the three white baskets all kinds of baked goods were located only in the uppermost basket (Gen 40:16-17).
The cup vs. the birds;Hide Answer
On one hand, in his dream, the chief butler already had the cup of Pharaoh in his hand,and he actively pressed the grapes into the cup. At the end, the chief butler personally delivered the fresh new wine to Pharaoh’s hand (Gen 40:11). On the other hand, in the chief baker’s dream, not only did he fail to guard the baskets and to scare the birds away from devouring Pharaoh’s food, he also lost the opportunity to deliver all kinds of baked goods to Pharaoh (Gen 40:17).
How did Joseph interpret the chief butler’s dream?Hide Answer
Joseph interpreted the chief-butler’s dream as follows: The three branches symbolized three days (Gen 40:12). Moreover, the chief butler pressing the grapes into the Pharaoh’s cup and delivering it to Pharaoh signified the restoration of his former office, to be the chief butler of Pharaoh again (Gen 40:13).
How did Joseph interpret the chief baker’s dream?Hide Answer
Joseph interpreted the chief baker’s dream as follows: The three baskets represented three days (Gen 40:18). Furthermore, the devoured and empty uppermost basket symbolized the chief baker’s death sentence by being hanged on a tree. Lastly, the birds which ate all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh indicated the way of his death, his flesh being eaten by the birds (Gen 40:19).
How did the Scriptures view the chief baker’s type of death? See Deut 21:23Hide Answer
In regards to the chief baker’s type of death, the Scriptures had strong views. The writer of the book of Genesis mentioned that the chief baker would be hanged on a tree and the birds would eat his flesh from him (Gen 40:19). According to the book of Deuteronomy, the one who is hanged on the tree is considered the accursed of God (Deut 21:22-23). Furthermore, in the Scriptures, carnivorous birds dining on corpses is a common prophecy of God’s judgment against the wicked (Jer 34:17-20; Ezek 39:17–20; Rev 19:17–18). The carnivorous birds were not only religiously considered as an abomination (Lev 11:13-19) but also as unclean (Deut 14:12-18). Thus, the Scriptures viewed the chief baker’s death as the one who was accursed of God, abominable and unclean.
What did Joseph request of the chief butler?
Why did Joseph plead his case to the chief butler?Hide Answer
Joseph pleaded his case to the chief butler because he knew that the chief butler would soon be released from the prison and would be restored to his former occupation as Pharaoh’s chief butler (Gen 40:13). With this knowledge at hand and the chief butler’s first-hand relationship with Pharaoh, Joseph hoped that the chief butler could inform Pharaoh about Joseph’s mistreatment to let Joseph go.
How would Joseph feel that the chief butler “did not remember Joseph, but forgot him”? Joseph’s distress;Hide Answer
From the pleas of Joseph to the chief butler, we can sense Joseph’s distress. Joseph plainly stated that he was “stolen away from the land of the Hebrews” and he did not deserve to be put there (Gen 40:15). Thus, he pleaded with the chief butler to mention his name and make an effort to get him out of the house (Gen 40:14). But when he got out, the chief butler did not remember Joseph and forgot him (Gen 40:23). His forgetfulness would only add to Joseph’s distress inside the prison.
Joseph’s discovery;Hide Answer
In spite of his distress for being forgotten by the chief butler (Gen 40:23), now Joseph discovered that the interpretation of the chief butler’s dream had come true. Thus, God secured Joseph’s talent as a dream interpreter and showed His guidance in his life through the fulfillment of the dreams of both chief officials.
What caused the chief butler to forget Joseph? See also Ecc 9:15 and
2 Chr 24:22.Hide Answer
The chief butler did not remember Joseph and forgot him due to several reasons. First, he did not remember Joseph’s kindness. In the book of
2nd Chronicles, the writer mentioned how King Joash did not remember the kindness which Jehoiada, his father, had done ( 2 Chr 24:22). Similarly, the chief butler did not remember the kindness which Joseph had performed to him. Second, he despised Joseph’s words of plea. In the book of Ecclesiastes, the author mentioned how no one remembered and despised a poor wise man who had delivered the city (Ecc 9:14-16). Likewise, Joseph had pleaded with the chief butler to show kindness to him (Gen 40:14). But he despised Joseph’s words of plea and did not make any effort to mention Joseph’s name to Pharaoh, or make any effort to get him out of prison (Gen 40:15).
In the Scriptures, list God’s faithfulness in remembering His people. And how do they relate to Joseph’s and our condition when we are forgotten by people around us. See also Psa 9:12, 98:3, 105:8, 42, 115:12 and 136:23.Hide Answer
In the book of Psalms, the author shares several examples of how God is faithful in remembering. Not only does God not forget the cry of the humble (Psa 9:12) He also remembers His holy promise since the time of Abraham (Psa 105:42). He remembers His covenant forever for a thousand generations (Psa 105:8). Furthermore, the author mentions how the Lord remembers His people in their lowly state, because His mercy endures (Psa 136:23, 98:3). In addition, the author confirms how the Lord has been mindful of His people and He will bless them (Psa 115:12).
These psalms serve as a consolation for us, knowing that throughout history, the Lord has been faithful and has remembered His people’s cry, just as the Lord remembered Joseph when he was in prison. These examples show that God’s faithfulness in remembering His people are uncomparable toward those of men. Since His faithfulness to remember endures forever, we can have a continual hope in patience to rely on His guidance and providence according to His time.
Share an experience of how God faithfully remembered you in your distress.(The answer is empty)Hide Answer