Dreams, Nightmares, and Visions

1 Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he attended them. They continued for some time in custody.

And one night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation. When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.”

So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, 10 and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.” 12 Then Joseph said to him, “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. 13 In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer. 14 Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. 15 For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.” – Genesis 40:1-15 ESV

To understand the events recorded in this chapter, it’s essential to remember that Joseph was imprisoned in “the place where the king’s prisoners were confined” (Genesis 39:20 ESV). In a sense, this was a prison reserved for those whom we might consider guilty of committing “white-collar” crimes. This doesn’t mean their offenses were minor in nature, but that they were not petty criminals. As an official member of Pharaoh’s administration, Potiphar had been able to have Joseph confined to this minimum-security prison where he was surrounded by others who had been charged with crimes against the state.

And it was in this environment that Joseph would come into contact with two additional “officers” from Pharaoh’s court. One had served as Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer while the other had held the title of chief baker. Both of these men had committed offenses against Pharaoh that landed them in prison, where they awaited notification of their fate. Like Joseph, they had no way of knowing how long they would remain imprisoned or whether they would ever see the light of day again. And neither of these men had any way of knowing that God was going to use them as part of His sovereign plan for Joseph’s eventual release and meteoric change in social status.

Moses ended the previous chapter with a revealing statement regarding Joseph: “the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed” (Genesis 39:23 ESV). While it would be easy to view Joseph’s presence in prison in a negative light, Moses wants his readers to know that Joseph was under the gracious and all-powerful care of the sovereign God of the universe. This young man, who had been falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned, was right where God wanted him to be. And God was providentially overseeing every aspect of Joseph’s life, pouring out His unmerited favor and ensuring Joseph’s ultimate success. 

So, it should come as no surprise that God had preordained for the cupbearer and baker to be incarcerated in the very same prison as Joseph. And, not only that, but He had arranged for both of these men, on the very same night, to have their sleep disturbed by a dream. And when Joseph saw them the following morning, he could sense that something was wrong. Their countenance revealed that something had greatly disturbed them and he inquired as to the nature of their distress. When they revealed their desire to know the meaning of their dreams, Joseph offered to act as their interpreter.

“Interpreting dreams is God’s business,” Joseph replied. “Go ahead and tell me your dreams.”  Genesis 40:8 NLT

Joseph was familiar with dreams. After all, he had experienced a few of his own. And he knew from personal experience that the meaning behind a dream could produce some pretty serious consequences.In one of his own dreams, Joseph had envisioned he and his brothers as bundles of grain. And in the dream, all of the other “bundles” had bowed down before his. It was his brothers who had assessed the meaning of the dream, stating, “So you think you will be our king, do you? Do you actually think you will reign over us?” (Genesis 37:8 NLT).

And this dream had been followed by a second one that Joseph eagerly shared with his brothers, and with his father and mother.

“The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!” – Genesis 37:9 NLT

And as before, Joseph was given the interpretation, along with a stern rebuke from his father.

“What kind of dream is that?” he asked. “Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow to the ground before you?” – Genesis 37:10 NLT

So, for Joseph, discovering the interpretation of a dream didn’t seem to pose a big problem. If God was behind the dream, He could easily provide its meaning. Joseph wasn’t claiming to have the gift of dream interpretation. He simply believed that if God was behind the dream, its meaning would not remain obscure or hidden. After all, his father and brothers had managed to interpret his dreams without a problem.

Anxious to discover the meaning behind his dream, the chief cupbearer spoke first.

“In my dream,” he said, “I saw a grapevine in front of me. The vine had three branches that began to bud and blossom, and soon it produced clusters of ripe grapes. I was holding Pharaoh’s wine cup in my hand, so I took a cluster of grapes and squeezed the juice into the cup. Then I placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”  – Genesis 40:9-11 NLT

And almost as if he had done this a thousand times, Joseph boldly and confidently declared, “This is what the dream means…” (Genesis 40:12 NLT). Then he promptly shared his interpretation of the rather cryptic and surprisingly disturbing dream. Without batting an eye, Joseph stated, “The three branches represent three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift you up and restore you to your position as his chief cup-bearer” (Genesis 40:12-13 NLT). And that news was like music to the cupbearer’s ears. Much to his relief, whatever he had done to deserve imprisonment was not going to  result in his death or further confinement. In fact, within three days time, he would be released and restored to his former position.

Having delivered the good news, Joseph took the opportunity to appeal to the cupbearer’s sense of fair play. Since Joseph had given the cupbearer a new lease on life, he asked that the man show his gratitude by putting in a positive word for him to Pharaoh. Joseph explained that he was an innocent victim, having been sold tin slavery by his own brothers and then unjustly imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Joseph was hoping that a good word from the cupbearer might prompt Pharaoh to intervene on his behalf. He desperately wanted to get out of prison but it’s unlikely that Joseph believed he could be released from his status as a slave. Perhaps Pharaoh could find him a place to serve in the royal court. ”

But Joseph’s interpretation skills were still required. The baker, having witnessed the positive outcome of the cupbearer’s dream, eagerly divulged the content of his own personal nightmare. But his high hopes would soon come crashing to the ground as Joseph shared the less-than-promising interpretation of his dream.

But through it all, God was speaking, leading, working, and orchestrating every facet of Joseph’s complicated and highly conflicted and life. Nothing escaped His attention. No one was outside His range of influence. Even the dreams of men were subject to His sovereign authority. The cupbearer and the baker were in the prison because of their own crimes, but the timing and the place of their captivity had been completely up to God. The slowly unfolding story of Joseph’s life continues to point to the faithfulness and omnipotence of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.


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