Joseph, the Interpreter of Dreams

I. The Butler and the Baker (Genesis 40

A. Two “officers” of Pharaoh

1. “Officer” = Eunuch – The Hebrew word is specific.

2. Both were “Chief” of their functions.

a. The Hebrew for “chief” (SAR) normally means “prince”, “ruler”.
b. The likelihood is that both were senior court “princes” in charge of a major function in the palace.

B. The “Butler” was a close confidant of rulers.

1. He was in charge of protecting the ruler from assassination.

2. He would have been a close friend or, perhaps, a family member.

3. The office is frequently cited in Scripture.

a. Solomon’s “cupbearers” awed the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:5).
b. Assyria’s King sent “Rabshakeh” (his cupbearer – secular literature) to fight against Israel (2 Kings 18:17).
c. Nehemiah was Artaxerxes’ (of Persia) cupbearer and was granted unlimited authority to rebuild Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:1).

C. The “Baker” was a “prince” over the food service in the palace.

1. He would have been in charge of many “employees”.

2. He would have overseen food preparation for hundreds.

3. He would have had opportunity to do great damage to the court.

D. The two came under the “anger” of Pharaoh.

1. Perhaps a plot to overthrow or kill Pharaoh was uncovered.

2. Perhaps the imprisonment was a precaution until the truth could be determined.

a. They were both “put in ward” (under guard).
b. They were both put in the “house” where Joseph was.
1)   Probably in the estates of Potiphar
2)   Probably under Potiphar’s control
3)   Probably a place for the ruling class, not for common criminals

II. The Dreams of the Butler and the Baker (Genesis 40:5-19)

A. The imprisonment is really quite short.

1. They “continued for a season” (Genesis 40:4).

2. The Hebrew is YOWM = “day” – the English phrase is from one word.

3. They dreamed together in “one night” (Genesis 40:5).

4. They were “sad” and Joseph “ministered” to them.

a. They had an “evil” look on their faces.
b. Two Hebrew words are used.
1)   Verse 6 is ZAAPH = “angry” - Carries the idea of “worry” or “fretting” resulting in anger(Proverbs 19:3; 2 Chronicles 26:19)
2)   Verse 7 is RAHOR = “evil” - Carries the idea of “impotent frustration” (Genesis 2:9 - Tree of knowledge of …evil; Proverbs 3:7 and 4:27)

5. Note: A possible paraphrase of this passage (40:6-7) could be rendered:

a. “Joseph came to them in the morning and inspected them; they were agitated and angry [the Butler because he was innocent and the Baker because he was caught – opinion is mine].  Joseph asked Pharaoh’s officers that were with him in his lord’s house (speaking of Potiphar) and said to them: ‘Why are you in such a snit today?’”

B. Joseph offers to interpret the dreams (Genesis 40:8).

1. The use of this word is confined to Joseph and Daniel.

2. The other words imply either human wisdom or skills.

a. Gideon “broke the code” of a dream (Judges 7:15).
b. Elihu (Job’s friend) notes the need for rare skills (Job 33:23).
c. Solomon’s proverbs require a wise man of understanding (Proverbs 1:5-6).

3. The “interpretations” of Joseph and Daniel “belong to God”. (Deuteronomy 29:29).

C. The dream of the Butler (Genesis 40:9-15)

1. There was a vine with three branches.

a. The branches budded and produced beautiful fruit.
b. The grapes were prepared for the Pharaoh’s use.
c. The Butler gave the cup into the hand of Pharaoh.

2. The image of the vine has a long trail in Scripture.

a. Israel is a “vine” brought out of Egypt (Psalm 80:8).
b. Israel is a “noble vine” turned degenerate (Jeremiah 2:21).
c. Israel becomes an “empty vine”, only bearing fruit for itself because their “heart is divided” (Hosea 10:1-2).
d. Jesus is the “true vine” and we are the “branches” (John 15:1-6).

3. The interpretation of the Butler’s dream (Genesis 40:12-15)

a. The three branches are three days.
b. The Butler is to be restored to his office in Pharaoh’s court.

4. The request to be remembered is not accomplished (40:14-15).

a. The syntax seems to support a strong statement, not a request.
b. The word implies a “return” to memory after a long time.
c. God “remembered” Noah (Genesis 8:1; 9:15).

D. The dream of the Baker (Genesis 40:16-19)

1. Three white baskets of “bakemeats” were on his head.

2. They contained “workmanship” of the Baker’s.

3. They were stacked one on top of the other (“uppermost”).

4. The birds ate the “workmanship” off of the Baker’s head.

5. Joseph interprets the Baker’s dream.

a. Joseph ties the dream to the time of three days.
b. Joseph tells the Baker of his upcoming death.

E. Pharaoh celebrates his “birthday” and judges his officers (40:20-23).

1. The YOWM of Pharaoh – three days after Joseph’s interpretation

a. This could be a formal court or judgment.
b. This could be Pharaoh’s “day” (sign, birth, anniversary, etc.)

2. Pharaoh elevates and restores the Butler.

3. Pharaoh condemns and hangs the Baker.

F. The Butler promptly forgot Joseph (Genesis 40:23).

1. The Hebrew word can mean “ignore.”

2. The whole incident appears to be forgotten by everyone.

III. Joseph is brought before Pharaoh (Genesis 41).

A. Pharaoh has back-to-back dreams (Genesis 41:1-7).

1. Two years have elapsed since the Butler was restored.

2. The first dream deals with livestock.

a. Seven “kine” (cattle) appear that are fat and healthy.
b. Seven cattle appear that are small and ugly.
c. Both sets come out of the “river” (the Nile).
1)   The Nile is the source of Egypt’s prosperity.
2)   The Nile is worshiped as the fertility god Hapi.

3. The small and ugly cattle ate up the fat and healthy cattle.

4. The second dream deals with agriculture.

a. Seven “ears of corn” that are full and sweet come upon one stalk.
b. Seven ears appear that are shriveled and blasted from the East wind.
1)   The East wind comes from the desert.
2)   The East wind is often symbolic of disaster in Scripture.
3)   Job 15:2; Jeremiah 18:17; Ezekiel 19:12; Hosea 12:1, etc.
c. The seven shriveled and blasted ears devoured the good ears.

B. Pharaoh calls for the “magicians” and the “wise men” (Genesis 41:8).

1. The magicians are astrologers and/or diviners.

2. The wise men are the “cabinet” or counselors.

3. Neither is able to “interpret” the dreams.

4. This is very similar to Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:2).

C. Pharaoh is told of the Hebrew interpreter of dreams (Genesis 41:9-13).

1. The Butler “remembers his faults” – that he forgot Joseph.

2. The Butler recounts the incident that restored him to favor.

D. Pharaoh demands to see Joseph and hear his answers.

1. Joseph shaved and put on suitable clothing.

2. Joseph tells Pharaoh that “God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.”

a. Elohim will “respond” to Pharaoh.
b. Elohim will give SHALOM (health, peace) to Pharaoh.

3. Joseph appears to already know what God is intending to do.

E. Pharaoh retells the two dreams in their entirety.

1. The first dream deals with the livestock and wealth.

2. The second dream deals with grain and food.

3. The telling is emphasized for its frightening aspects to Pharaoh.

a. He “never saw” such “badness” in cattle (41:19).
b. He noted that the “ill favored” cattle were worse off after they had eaten the fat cattle (40:21).
c. He adds the adjective “withered” (small) to the memory of the agricultural dream.
d. He reiterates the failure of the magicians and wise men.

IV. Joseph interprets the dreams for Pharaoh (Genesis 41:25-36).

A. Joseph knows that the two dreams are but one revelation.

1. There will be seven years of great plenty.

2. There will be seven years of famine.

3. This will be throughout all the land of Egypt.

a. The famine will be over all the land.
b. The famine will “consume the land.”
c. The famine will be “very grievous.”

4. This prophecy is revealed by Elohim to Pharaoh.

a. Elohim has established the events.
b. Elohim will bring this about “shortly.”

B. Joseph provides a solution to the upcoming events.

1. Pharaoh is to find a “discreet and wise” man to oversee the land.

2. Pharaoh is to appoint “officers” under him to carry out the plan.

3. Pharaoh is to tax 20% on all produce of the land.

4. Pharaoh is to store the surplus to prevent starvation in the future.

C. Joseph is recognized by Pharaoh and his court as “the” man.

1. Joseph has the “spirit of Elohim.

2. Joseph has had this understanding directly from Elohim.

3. Joseph is superior, “discrete and wise”.

4. Joseph is promoted to the second in command of all Egypt.

The Patriarchs
ch. 40-41


Living in His Light and His Love

A Life of Loving God's Word in Psalm 119

The Power and Perseverance of Grace

A New You and a New Life

A series of lessons on chapters 1-11 of Genesis

The People and Power of Christ

A series of lessons on the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph

A series on the book of Revelation

Loving God and Loving Others in Exodus 20

Go to top