16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, “I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head, 17 and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.” 18 And Joseph answered and said, “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days. 19 In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from you!—and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat the flesh from you.”
20 On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he made a feast for all his servants and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. 21 He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. 22 But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them. 23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.
1 After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, 2 and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows, attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. 3 And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. 4 And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows. And Pharaoh awoke. 5 And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. 6 And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. 7 And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump, full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. 8 So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh. – Genesis 40:16-41:8 ESV
Joseph had provided Pharaoh’s cupbearer with a favorable interpretation of his dream, and this caught the ear of the second royal official who had been imprisoned by Pharaoh. The chief baker had also experienced a vivid and rather disturbing dream and desired to know its meaning. Hopeful that he too would receive a positive interpretation, he shared its contents with Joseph.
“I had a dream, too. In my dream there were three baskets of white pastries stacked on my head. The top basket contained all kinds of pastries for Pharaoh, but the birds came and ate them from the basket on my head.” – Genesis 40:16-17 NLT
Whereas the cupbearer’s dream had featured three branches that bore grapes, the baker dreamed of three baskets full of pastries. Each envisioned something having to do with their particular occupation in the royal court. But while Joseph had informed the cupbearer that Pharaoh would restore him to his former position, the baker received much more disturbing news. Without a moment’s hesitation, Joseph told the anxious baker that his dream was a dark omen foreshadowing his death.
“This is what the dream means,” Joseph told him. “The three baskets also represent three days. Three days from now Pharaoh will lift you up and impale your body on a pole. Then birds will come and peck away at your flesh.” – Genesis 40:18-19 NLT
Joseph made no attempt to soften the blow and there’s no expression of sorrow or regret in his delivery of the fateful news. He simply blurts out the details of the dream’s meaning in a rather blunt and matter-of-fact manner. And Moses provides no details regarding the baker’s response to this shocking news. He simply indicates that, three days later, Pharaoh invited the cupbearer and baker to join all the other royal officials at a birthday banquet in his honor. It’s likely that they were allowed to bath and provided with clean garments to wear in the Pharaoh’s presence. And this invitation from Pharaoh must have left both men in a state of high anxiety. How were they to know that Joseph’s interpretations had been accurate? The cupbearer had been told he would be restored to his original position, but there was no way to know if Joseph was right. And the baker must have been beside himself with fear as he considered Joseph’s prediction of his pending death.
As they stepped into the royal court, both men quickly discovered that Joseph’s interpretations had been spot on. In the midst of the royal birthday party, Pharaoh restored the cupbearer to his former position and then had the baker impaled. And the one person in the room who would have recognized the significance of Pharaoh’s actions was the cupbearer. He had heard both of Joseph’s interpretations and had just witnessed the proof of their accuracy. Everything had all turned out just as Joseph had predicted. In a sense, Pharaoh, whom the Egyptians considered to be a god, had done exactly what the God of Joseph had said he would do.
But in the heat of the moment, and having just witnessed the execution of his associate, the cupbearer was glad to be alive. And Moses indicates that he forgot all about Joseph. Restored to his former position and resplendent in his royal robes, the cupbearer put the prison and his former cellmate in the back of his mind.
…the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. – Genesis 40:23 ESV
It’s important to recall that Joseph had explicitly begged the cupbearer to remember him and put in a good word to Pharaoh on his behalf.
“…please remember me and do me a favor when things go well for you. Mention me to Pharaoh, so he might let me out of this place. For I was kidnapped from my homeland, the land of the Hebrews, and now I’m here in prison, but I did nothing to deserve it.” – Genesis 40:14-15 NLT
But for the greatly relieved cupbearer, Joseph was soon out of sight and out of mind. With a new lease on life, he simply moved on and allowed Joseph to become a distant and fading memory.
Meanwhile, back in the prison, life went on as usual for Joseph. When neither the cupbearer nor baker returned to their cells, Joseph must have been convinced that his interpretations had been accurate. But as the days passed, he must have grown increasingly more concerned that he had not been summoned before Pharaoh. Had the cupbearer forgotten him? Or did the story of his unjust imprisonment fail to sway the mind of Pharaoh? Perhaps Potiphar had intervened and demanded that Joseph remain imprisoned for his purported attack on his wife.
For two long years, Joseph remained in prison, suffering for a crime he hadn’t committed. And we’re provided with no details concerning his life during that long delay. But it’s safe to assume that Joseph continued to enjoy a remarkable measure of success even in those less-than-ideal circumstances, because “The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed” (Genesis 39:23 NLT).
God had not forgotten Joseph. And while the days passed by with painstaking regularity, God was actively orchestrating his divine plan for Joseph’s release. From a human perspective, two years is a long time, but for an infinite and eternal God who operates outside the confines of time and space, Joseph’s two-year delay was little more than the time it takes to blink. As the psalmist wrote:
For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night. – Psalm 90:4 ESV
God operates on an eternal calendar that spans well beyond the days of a man’s life or the centuries of a nation’s existence. Joseph’s extended incarceration was a necessary part of God’s plan because His timing is impeccable and “his way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30 ESV).
The Lord is righteous in all his ways… – Psalm 145:17 ESV
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord. – Lamentations 3:25-26 ESV
Joseph continued to work and wait. And as he did, his God was working behind the scenes, preparing for just the right moment to unveil the next phase of His redemptive plan for Joseph, the people of Israel, and the nations of the world. And it’s not surprising that the next chapter of Joseph’s amazing life began would include yet another dream. But this time, it wasn’t Joseph, a cupbearer, or a baker who were awakened from their sleep by a God-ordained dream, it was Pharaoh.
One of the most powerful men in the world was shaken from his slumber by a disturbing vision. This so-called deity was being robbed of rest by Yahweh, the one true God. And Pharaoh would receive two different, yet similar visions that left him disturbed and disconcerted. Yet, none of his court magicians or royal conjurers could explain the meaning behind his dreams. And this vacuum within Pharaoh’s royal court would prove to be a God-ordained opportunity for Joseph to utilize his interpretive skills one more time. Pharaoh had a dream. Joseph had a gift. And God had a plan.
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.