The Butler, the Baker, and the Dreammaker
Topic: Sovereignty of God Passage: Genesis 40:1–40:23
“THE BUTLER, THE BAKER, AND THE DREAMMAKER”
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. 2 And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, 3 and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. 4 The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he attended them. They continued for some time in custody.
5 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. 6 When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. 7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house. “Why are your faces downcast today?” 8 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 me.”
9 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 hands, 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.”
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.
Hymn writers and poets have at times struggled to find words appropriate in describing the providence of God. Such was not the case when in 1773 William Cowper wrote a poem entitled “Light Shining Out of Darkness.” The words have been set to a variety musical forms, and has for two centuries appeared in hymnals of nearly every Christian denomination. As you listen to these lyrics, bear in mind that William Cowper lived nearly all of his life under a heavy cloud of melancholia and deep depression. In fact, hear then in the context of a man who often despaired of life:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain:
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
What we have been saying over these past several weeks, and will continue saying until our study of the life of Joseph concludes, is that God is sovereign over all things...even the most difficult and/or remote circumstances of our lives.
At those times when we wonder “Why?,” He simply says “Trust me!” That can be so hard to do at times. And yet again and again, as we release our grip on our own faulty reasonings and place our hands in His, He proves Himself worthy of our trust...time and again. Though his ways are indeed “mysterious,” “Behind every frowning providence He hides a smiling face.”
Just ask Joseph. His life has been a roller-coaster for more than a decade now. Loved by his father, but sold into slavery at age seventeen (cf. Genesis 37:2) by the brothers who hated him and transported against his will to Egypt. There he was made the trusted servant of a wealthy and influential Egyptian official, whose wife accused him of attempted rape. He was thus cast into prison, which is where we find him as chapter 40 opens. He has been there for “some time.” So, where is God in all of this, we might ask. Why, He is right there, alongside of him.
Soon Joseph is about to be joined in that prison by two other men, who will inadvertently play significant roles in the next phase of his life...just as God brings unexpected people into your life for a reason. Although we are never told these men’s names, this chapter opens by introducing them to us. The first four verses serve to set the stage for the storyline to follow It begins by telling us about...
The incarceration of Pharaoh’s officers (Genesis 40:1-4).
Although Joseph is a prisoner, while being detained he has earned the respect and trust of “the keeper of the prison” and put “in charge” of all the other prisoners (cf. Genesis 39:21-23). All them, that is, except the two most recent ones.
These “new arrivals” were not of the common “riff raff” who typically ended up “behind bars.” These men had until recently been “officers” in Pharaoh’s court, namely his personal “cupbearer” and “baker.” In other words, they had held important positions in the governmental hierarchy.
The “chief cupbearer” would have been the overseer of Pharaoh’s vineyards and wine cellar, as well as the one who served the king by first tasting and testing the wine in order to assure that it was both safe and of the very best quality. Similarly, the “chief baker” was responsible for the security and excellence of the food Pharaoh ate.
At some point, we are told that both men “committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt.” Interestingly, the word that is used to describe the “offense” (“hata”) is the same term that we saw in the last chapter, when Joseph responded to the seductive attempt of Potiphar’s wife by saying, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin (that’s the word) against God?” (Genesis 39:9). It means “to miss the mark” or “to violate a prescribed standard.” Whatever it was that these two men had done, it was considered by Pharaoh to have been a grievous offense. It may have been treasonous, or it could have been something as trifle as being served a sour beverage or an undercooked portion of meat.
Pharaoh’s response was to “put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard.” A glance back to the first verse of chapter 39 reveals that to have been Potiphar’s title. It would appear that the “prison where Joseph was confined” was in close proximity to Potiphar’s house, perhaps even adjoining it. In an interesting twist of circumstances, we find Joseph “attending to” or “waiting on” these two men in the “prison.”
The days passed and the men awaited their fate. Then “one night” they each had a troubling dream, and Joseph volunteered to give...
The interpretation of the prisoner’s dreams (Genesis 40:5-19).
Verse 5 points out that “each (man had) his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation.” In most ancient religions—and even some today—dreams were considered mediums of divine revelation. Centuries later in Babylon, we read how Daniel was called upon to interpret the dreams of King Nebuchadnezzar (cf. Daniel 2 and 4).
Here, in the scene before us, we are told that the following morning Joseph took note of the “troubled” and “downcast” countenance of his fellow prisoners, and asked why they were so agitated. They explained that they had each had dreams the night before and “there (was) no one to interpret them.” Without pause, Joseph responded, “Do not interpretations belong to God?”
By linking those two statements together, Joseph was either intentionally or inadvertently putting himself in the place of God’s messenger. What makes this interesting is that the last time Joseph had anything to do with dreams (cf. Genesis 37:5-11), it didn’t work out well for him. It had, in fact, landed him in his present situation. Nevertheless, he offered to attempt to interpret their dreams, adding, “Please tell me.”
Before looking into the content and interpretation of the two dreams, we might do well to ask what we are to make of dreams today. Does the Lord continue to communicate His word and His will that way? It is a good question that deserves a thoughtful—and biblical—response.
Certainly dreams play a strange and curious role in our lives. Who among us has not awoken suddenly to a dream that hasn’t seemed as real as life? And who among us has not wondered what the odd symbolism of a “night vision” we have just had might mean? Barely a week goes by when Terry and I do not share the content of some dream that one of us has had the night before. At times our dreams are pleasant and comforting, while at other times they can be sad, and disturbing. We are multifaceted beings with intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual components, but that fact does not eliminate the Scriptures from providing an answer.
As those who believe that Scripture is able to provide definitive answers to the complexities of life, what should be our answer to the question as to whether God speaks to us through dreams today? I believe it is found in Hebrews 12, verses 1 and 2, where we read:
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”
In other words, with the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, the fullness of God’s revelation to man is now complete and final. F.F. Bruce has written, “The story of divine revelation is a story of progression up to Christ, but there is no progression beyond him.”
The point is, the Bible is not being written today. It is complete, it is sufficient, and it is relevant in terms of God’s direction for our lives. It is truthful and applicable for teaching God’s truth to God’s Church in every age. The “Living Word”—Christ—has confirmed the “written Word.” There is no need for subsequent revelation. The Scriptures are complete, and they are our counsel for all of life.
That is not to deny that the Lord can use dreams to unsettle us, to apply His Word directly to us, to prompt someone to search for Jesus...just as we see happening among Muslims and others in “closed places” today. But these offer no new revelation. They are part of God’s amazing grace to get us to the full and final revelation of God found in the Scriptures and ultimately in Jesus Christ.
As we return to the story before us in Genesis 40, we find both the “cupbearer” and the “baker” sharing their dreams with Joseph, who offers to each the interpretation. There are similarities in the two dreams, but their meanings are far from being the same.
The “chief cupbearer” goes first. His dream consisted of a vine having three branches, which budded and bloomed and became a cluster of grapes. In his hand he held Pharaoh’s cup, into which he pressed the freshly ripened grapes into a drink and gave it to his lord. Without delay—so it would seem—“Joseph said to him, ‘This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. 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.’”
The phrase “lift up (the) head” implies simply “taking up one’s case for review or sentencing.” We would liken it today to the arrival of a “court date” and being placed on “the docket.”
In return for interpreting the “cupbearer’s” dream, Joseph then makes this request: “When that happens, please ‘remember me... please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh and so get me out of this house. 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.’” Interestingly, the word “pit” (“bor”) is the same one used to describe the place where Joseph’s brothers discarded themselves of him in chapter 37(:22).
Seeing that the “cupbearer” had received a “favorable” interpretation, the “chief baker” stepped forward to describe his dream. In it, he had upon his head three basket-containers filled with “all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh.” Unlike the “cupbearer” in his dream, the “baker” was having a hard time in delivering his baked goods to Pharaoh because he could not “shoo away” “the birds” that were picking at them. This time, Joseph’s interpretation was not a positive one. It would have, in fact, have been very hard to give: “The three baskets are three days.” So far, so good, but then Joseph adds with a twist of irony, “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.” To be precise, the term “hang” (“quiver”) might actually men “impale.” The picture is that of a public execution in which the victim is utterly exposed to public disgrace.
Two men, two dreams, and two very different interpretations. Although we do not know the nature of either official’s “offense” against Pharaoh, we may still be tempted to ask why Joseph was led to assign to them such differing meanings. In George Lawson’s 18th-century Lectures on the History of Joseph, he writes,
Let us remember that divine providence is under no obligation to be equally kind to us all. And that prosperity, adversity, life and death, are distributed to men by One who has the right to do what he will with his own.
As the chapter draws to a close, we discover...
The ingenuousness of Joseph’s interpretation (Genesis 40:20-23).
If you don’t happen to be familiar with the word “ingenuousness,” it refers to “complete honesty and candidness.” Its opposite—“disingenuousness”—is possibly the term we hear and use more often. Despite what was at stake—and having attributed the interpretations to God—Joseph was completely forthright in revealing them.
Three days later happened to be “Pharaoh’s birthday.” On that day he ordered “a feast for all his servants,” and called for the two imprisoned officials to be brought forward in order to review their cases and to properly dispose of them. In verse 21, we read that “He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand”...just as Joseph had foretold in verse 13. But when the “chief baker” stood before him, we are told rather abruptly that “he hanged (him)...as Joseph had interpreted to them.”
Joseph’s interpretations had clearly been something that the Lord had revealed to him. And they had come to pass precisely as they had been interpreted.
Later on, Moses would tell the Israelites how they would be able to recognize a true prophet of God. Deuteronomy 18:22 reads, “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.”
Later still, Jeremiah (28:9) reminded the people, “When the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent that prophet.” To which Ezekiel (33:33) added, “When this comes—and come it will!—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”
By those descriptions, Joseph fulfilled the role of a prophet of God. The Lord had given him an inerrant word to pass along to the “chief cupbearer” and the “chief baker.” We know that because his interpretations of their dreams were fulfilled exactly as he had said. One can only imagine the polar opposite extreme of emotions experienced by these two men. For one, sheer delight, but for the other complete despair.
Flash back, if you will, to verse 14. Remember the request that Joseph had made of the “cupbearer”? “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.” Now look at verse 23: “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.”
Humanly speaking, the “forgetfulness” on the part of the “cupbearer” was not a psychological act of having a thought pass from one’s consciousness. It seems rather to have been an intentional “forgetting”—a “forsaking,” if you will—of another, simply because it would have been too inconvenient of bothersome to have remembered.
Consumed by his own newfound lease on life, the “cupbearer” gave no further thought to the young Hebrew who had foretold his fate. In the course of time, he would (cf. Genesis 41:9-13). But not yet. It wasn’t God’s time. In fact, if you glance ahead to the first verse of the next chapter, you will see that “two whole years” would pass before we hear anymore about Joseph or the “cupbearer.”
Joseph’s hopeful expectations for release had been dashed. Fortunately, he did not entertain a “victim mentality,” as you and I may tend to do during difficult times. He felt no “sense of entitlement” or “special privilege.” On the surface, it looked like he had been forsaken...but, as we shall see, he was far from forgotten. Even in what is described as “the pit,” God’s sovereign plan for this young man’s life was being carried out. Even though he could not have foreseen the destination of where this plan was taking him, Joseph did not see himself as a helpless “victim of circumstances.” Without much to go on, he seems to have been able to see the sovereign hand of Almighty God.
In the days before the fall of the Soviet Union, prisoners were often sent to forced labor camps known as “gulags.” They were places of horrible existence, where many died from torture or neglect. In 1973 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn described his own experience in his book, The Gulag Archipelago.” Despite the inhumane hardships he endured, he tells of the spiritual awakening that came about during his incarceration. Remarkably, he was able to declare, “So, bless you, prison, for having been in my life.”
A few years ago I began wading into the writings of the 16th and 17th-century English Puritans. “Wading” is the correct word, because they must be read slowly and thoughtfully, because the writing is so precise and profound. Among the Puritans, Thomas Watson has emerged as one of my favorites, given his ability to make the reader pause and reflect upon many of God’s mysterious truths. In his book, All Things for Good, he writes,
God...can make the worst things imaginable turn to the good of the saints. He can by divine chemistry exact gold out of dross...It is God’s great design to set forth the wonder of His wisdom. The Lord made Joseph’s prison a step to preferment. There was no way for Jonah to be saved but by being swallowed up. God suffered the Egyptians to hate Israel, and this was the means of their deliverance. The apostle Paul was bound with a chain, and that chain which did bind him was the means of enlarging the gospel. God enriches by impoverishing; He causes the augmentation of grace by the diminution of an estate...He brings order out of confusion, harmony out of discord. He frequently makes use of unjust men to do what is just...God often helps when there is least hope, and saves His people in that way which they think will destroy. He makes use of the high priest’s malice and Judas’ treason to redeem the world...God’s ways are “past finding out.” They are rather to be admired than fathomed. There is never a providence of God, but has either a mercy or a wonder in it. How stupendous and infinite is that wisdom, that makes the most adverse dispensations work for the good of His children!
The psalmist has expressed it in this manner:
“Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I keep your word...
It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your statutes.
The law of your mouth is better to me
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” (Psalm 119:67, 71-72)
The tapestry that the Lord weaves in the lives of His children is made “one stitch at a time,” and sharp is the tip of needle with which He sews. C.S. Lewis put it this way: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
This chapter comes to a sudden ending, but it serves to set the stage for the events of chapter 41. There we will find Joseph interpreting yet another dream, one of even greater significance than the two we have looked at this morning, and one that will chart the course for the rest of his story, as well as the story of his people for generations to come.
Some trials can be prepared for, while others strike us unexpectedly and without warning. The believer’s solace comes in knowing that the Lord is in control of all of our circumstances—both pleasant and painful—and that He is using them all for good of His people and for the glory of His great name.
Charles Spurgeon said, “When you go through a trial, the sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which you lay your head.”
So, sleep well, child of God. Our Lord is always in control.
Most merciful and gracious Heavenly Father—the One who is sovereign over all things—we fall before You now with humility and contrition, recognizing that You are holy and righteous in all Your ways, and that it is our sin which has separated us from You. We are also filled with gratitude and praise that You have in love prepared the way by which depraved humanity is able to be reconciled to You. It is because of Jesus—Your Son, Deity become flesh—that we are able to approach Your throne now.
We thank You for the blessings of another week and for the privilege of coming together once again as church family. As we prepare to open Your Word, please prepare our hearts just now to be receptive to what have to say to us through Your Word. Wherever the Church gathers in the name of Jesus today, accomplish that which is in Your sovereign plan to do. May You find within Your people the readiness to follow You and to obey.
We confess to You our “double-mindedness” at times. We recognize that we are without strength—and sometimes without the will—to overcome the sin that tends to hold us in its grip. Rather than living in defeat or looking for overnight “quick-fixes,” help us to understand that sanctification is a life-long struggle. May we not despair, but neither might we relax our guard. Remind us that the weapons of spiritual warfare can never be laid down or discarded. Help us, we pray, in our sin-soaked nature to avail ourselves of every provision of victory through the presence of Your Holy Spirit and the power of Your Word.
As we pray for this local fellowship, we ask that You would create within us the desire to offer to You our very best in terms of devotion and service. Create within us a love for You that manifests itself in a love for one another, and then through us loves our community for the sake of the Gospel. You have commanded us to go and we have been slow to do so. So now You are sending to us those You would have us to reach.
We pray for the ministries of our deacons, Tyrell Samuels and Cyril Pickering, as they labor both individually and together in overseeing the ministries of outreach and education, respectively. Give their foresight and give them wisdom as they direct these labors, and cause their labors to be fruitful and Christ-glorifying. Raise up those who are willing to work alongside of them, so that the ministry of the Word may grow both within and outside of these church walls.
As our ESL ministry gets underway tomorrow evening, we acknowledge our dependence upon You. Thank You for burdening the hearts of our ESL team who will be interacting with, teaching, and loving the international students You send our way. May Christ be lifted up through their efforts, and may many to come to know Him in a saving way. Please provide for every need of this outreach ministry, and allow its impact for the Gospel be felt for many years to come.
We pray for our members meeting which follows this service. Remind us that these meetings are integral to the ongoing ministry before us and we all have a share. Give us wisdom as we approach the coming days in making wise decisions that will advance the cause of Christ among us and through us. Thank You for the faithfulness of those who serve us well, often without recognition or thanks. Raise up more from this body who count it more important to serve than to be served.
For our brothers and sisters in other churches nearby, we lift them before Your throne this morning. We pray for the ministry of Restoration Church in Northwest DC and the preaching ministry of Nathan Knight and Joey Craft. May Your name be exalted and may You be pleased to draw many from the Tenleytown community to Yourself. Thank You for the vision and support You have provided through them toward the planting of Iglesia Biblica Sublime Gracia in Columbia Heights. We are grateful for the work that You have been pleased to begin through our brother Alejandro Molero, and the vested interest we as a church have in this ministry through our own Juan Vega-Rodriguez. As they plan their covenant service in another few weeks, we commit them to You, asking for grace to begin well. May they look to You for all their needs, knowing that You who are beginning a good work through them will perfect it in the Day of Christ Jesus.
We pray on behalf of those in our wider church family—husbands, wives, parents, children— who are in need of salvation. Open the eyes of those who have thus far been blinded to their need for repentance and faith, and open the eyes and ears of those You are calling to Yourself.
We also pray for those who are in need of physical healing today. We think especially of our sister Blanche Thomas, who has been released from the hospital and recovers at her daughter’s home. Raise her up, we pray, as we look forward to her return to worship among us.
We ask on behalf of those who are unemployed or underemployed, and for all who struggle to make ends meet. Remind them of the words of the psalmist, who said, “I have never seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging bread.” Encourage them by knowing that “Great is Your faithfulness, and that Your mercies are new every morning.”
Take our diversity and differences and create a unity that can only be attributed to Your saving and sanctifying grace. Cause those who see us and hear us to catch a glimpse of Jesus as we walk in obedience to Your Word and in love with one another. May even the guests who worship among us today sense that You are here among us. May we say or do nothing that would detract from Your holy and righteous character.
If the Gospel is not true, O Lord, then our lives are without hope or purpose. But we believe it is true. We have, in fact, staked our very lives and beyond upon it? To where else would we go, to whom else would we turn...You alone have the words of eternal life. Which is why it is in the name of Jesus Christ, that we offer this prayer. Amen.