Dreams, Providence, and Patience; Genesis 40
It has been pointed out that perhaps the one verse that we can go to in the New Testament that is a backdrop verse, a doctrinal umbrella, for interpreting and organizing that is going on in the life of Joseph is Romans 8:28. "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." Those who love God refers to the mature believer, and not all believers love God. To love God you have to know God. To know God you have to study His Word, you have to spend time developing that relationship. Love is something that comes as a result of growth. There is a second category, an explanation, in that verse: "to them who are the called according to his purpose." In the next verses, verse 29 and 30 there is a contextual definition of who the called are. "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." The called are, first of all, those whom He foreknew, then whom He foreknew he predestined. The called and the predestined are the same group. All these terms refer to all the believers in the body of Christ throughout the history of the church. All believers are going to be glorified when we are absent from the body and face to face with the Lord. So in the context those who are the called according to His purpose refer to every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, not just those who are mature. So what we have in verse 28 is that God works all things together for good to those who love God [mature believers], but also not just to mature believers, to every believer, everyone who is called, justified and are going to be glorified.
That is what we see with Joseph. Joseph is maybe twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old and is a fairly mature believer. Romans 8:28 gives us the framework that we see in chapters 37-50 where God is working in the background in Joseph's life. We don't see God in the foreground like we do with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The major theme in this section is how the blessing of God on the seed of Abraham works itself out in history when they are out of the land. That is important, because who is reading this for the first time? It is those Jews who have been slavery in Egypt for 400 years and out of the land. So part of the message here is that God had not forgotten them, he was at work behind the scenes. So throughout this part of Genesis we will see God working covertly instead of overtly. In that we see a foreshadowing of how God works in the church age. God works covertly, not overtly; we don't see the manifestations of miracles or special revelation with dreams and visions. What we see is that God has revealed His Word to us, the canon is completed, and the issue now is: are we going to study His Word and learn what he has revealed and apply that, rather than becoming dependent upon the overt activities and actions of God?
Joseph is the eleventh son of Jacob, the first of Rachel. He is Jacob's favorite which angers and provokes his other brothers to jealousy. In a way it foreshadows how God's later favor on the Gentiles today, according to Romans 11, is designed to provoke the Jews to jealousy. That is what Romans 11 is all about, that God has transferred blessing to Gentiles, to include Gentiles as a wild olive branch grafted on to the olive tree during this age that we might provoke the Jews to jealousy. It is taking time but eventually they will turn back to God and they will want that blessing at the same time. So we see this foreshadowed in the actions of the brothers, that Jacob gives his blessing to the one son, Joseph, and it provokes those brothers to anger, jealousy.
Joseph is sold into slavery, elevated to the house of Potiphar, and then imprisoned, but behind the scenes God is working. Joseph doesn't see the fabric of all this, he doesn't understand what is going on. The only thing that he has of any form of doctrine to latch on to is a) the Abrahamic covenant; b) the two dreams that he had back in chapter 37 which indicated that he would have a position of prominence over his brothers and that they would bow down to him obeisance. That is all he has and he is latching on to that because he knows that God has a plan and a purpose, even though he is in prison. He continues to be faithful to the Lord in whatever responsibilities he is given and he fulfills them well.
The keeper of the prison recognizes that Joseph has tremendous abilities, and se we are told that the Lord was with Joseph. He showed him mercy and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. So God, again, in the one who is elevating Joseph. Then principle here is that you are not promoted until God promotes you. The psalmist said that he who builds a house labors in vain unless God builds it. The keeper of the prison puts everything under Joseph's authority. And time goes by. Whatever Joseph did, we are told in the last verse of genesis 39, the Lord made it prosper. God was continuing His promise to Abraham. We have to understand what God is doing in Joseph in light of the promise of the Abrahamic covenant. God is using Joseph to put him in a position of prominence as the prime minister of Egypt so that he can bring the whole family down to Egypt and for the next forty years they will be protected in the womb of Egypt and the nation will grow into two or three million people.
Genesis 40:1, "And it came to pass after these words [some time went by], that the butler [cup bearer] of the king of Egypt and his baker had offended their lord the king of Egypt." We know that a period of thirteen years passes from the time he was initially sold into slavery and then imprisonment before he is finally released into a position of prominence in Pharaoh's court. The word for "offended" in the Hebrew is the same word we have for sin. They missed the mark, they violated the commandment, they sinned against Pharaoh. They committed some kind of crime against Pharaoh and it seems it was something of quite significance because when we look at the end of the story we know that the baker is going to be executed in a horrible manner for his crime. So that means he didn't do something of minimal offence. The "butler" refers to someone of great influence, he wasn't just someone who was waiting on the Pharaoh and opening the bottles of wine. He was often a taster, so he would have to be someone the Pharaoh would put a tremendous amount of trust in. He has a very significant position.
Genesis 40:2, "And Pharaoh was wroth against two of his officers, against the chief of the butlers, and against the chief of the bakers." In the Hebrew there is an idiom here: his nose burned. There is no word for anger. So it is a picture of tremendous wrath or anger.
Genesis 40:3, "And he put them in the custody of the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was bound." Two or three years has gone by and it may not be Potiphar again but it very likely still could be. This is in Pharaoh's private prison again and they are in with Joseph. But it is the hand of God again that is working behind the scenes because Joseph has been there for some time now and has been elevated to a position of authority. The captain of the guard puts them under Joseph's charge.
Genesis 40:4, "And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them: and they continued a season in custody." Joseph takes care of them and so a few more months goes by. Maybe as much time as a year or a year and a half has gone by while Joseph is in prison, and then the major event of the chapter takes place in verses 5-9. "And they dreamed a dream both of them, each man his dream in one night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream" – each man had a dream and each dream was distinct. They didn't have the same dream, there wasn't going to be the same meaning assigned to it, but this is emphasizing that there was no collusion, and it was clear that there was a different interpretation to both of these dreams—"the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, which were bound in the prison. And Joseph came in unto them in the morning, and looked upon them, and, behold, they were sad." The word translated "sad" here is a much stronger word in the Hebrew and should be translated "dejected." It describes the raging sea in Jonah 1:15. They are having an inner struggle and turmoil and were deeply vexed by what they have seen in these dreams and they are fretting over it. There is a storm of emotion going on in their lives.
"And he asked Pharaoh's officers that were with him in the custody of his lord's house, saying, Why do you look so sad today? And they said to him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it." "And Joseph said to them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you." The word translated "sad" here is a different Hebrew word than in the previous verse and it means "evil." It is often used to indicate someone whose façade or countenance is depressed. There was something about these dreams that weighed heavily upon them. What we have here is divine revelation but they don't know that, they just know that there is something significant about these dreams.
"And Joseph said to them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you." He just slaps them in the face. This is as polemical and challenging a statement as possibly can be made.
Inverses 9-13 we have the cupbearer's dream. This is positive because it reveals that he is going to be restored to his former position. "…a vine was growing before me; and in the vine were three branches: and it was as though it budded, and her blossoms shot forth; and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes: and Pharaoh's cup was in my hand: and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh's cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand. And Joseph said unto him, This is the interpretation of it: The three branches are three days: yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up your head, and restore you to your place: and you will deliver Pharaoh's cup into his hand, according to the former manner when you were his butler."
In verses 14 and 15 we have an interlude because Joseph is going to set forth a request to the cupbearer. "But remember me when it shall be well with you, and show kindness to me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and get me out of this house: for indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon." Whether it is appropriate or inappropriate for Joseph to make this request he still has to wait on the Lord. God always answers prayer, in three ways: yes, no, wait. Waiting is teaching us how to trust God, to make sure we are truly trusting Him. Psalm 25:3, 21; 62:5. It is God's plan in our life that we need to be concerned about, not our plan. The "land of the Hebrews" tells us that Joseph understands that the land of Canaan has been deeded to them by God, and even though the Canaanites are living there they don't have title deed.
Next we have the baker's dream in verses 16, 17: "When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said unto Joseph, I also was in my dream, and, behold, I had three white baskets on my head: and in the uppermost basket there was of all manner of baked goods for Pharaoh; and the birds did eat them out of the basket upon my head."
Joseph answers: "And Joseph answered and said, This is the interpretation of it: The three baskets are three days: within three days shall Pharaoh lift of your head from you, and hang you on a tree; and the birds shall eat your flesh from you." Then we have the fulfillment of the dream in verse 20.
Remember what we have in Deuteronomy. We have a test for the validation of a prophet in Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:22. "If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, Let us go after other gods, which you have not known, and let us serve them; you shall not listen to the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God tests you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul."
What this text is saying is that when you have someone claiming to speak from God and their miracles really do come to pass. What matters is the doctrine, not the actions. What happens is a true miracle is performed but the message violates accepted canon of Scripture. The test for the validity of the miracle and the source of the miracle is the content of the message, not the validity of the miracle. That is what God says. So when we have a guy coming along and their doctrine is wrong don't get distracted or confused by the fact that you have a healer on your hands, somebody who can really perform a miracle. So what! Just because they can perform real miracles doesn't mean they are from God. In other words, when the Word of God is more real to you than the miracles and the healings, then you love God. When you get distracted by the miracles and the healings and the message doesn't fit the canon of Scripture, then you don't love God; you love stimulation, emotion, and you are in love with biblical ignorance. God says that He allows this to happen to test people to see if they love God.
Deuteronomy 13:4, "You shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and you shall serve him, and hold fast unto him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he has spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God." God doesn't want competition. The first test is doctrinal consistency. It is not the miracle, it is the message. It is the content of doctrine that is being taught that validates the miracle, not the other way around.
The second test is in Deuteronomy 18:22, "When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen, or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken, but the prophet has spoken it presumptuously: you shall not be afraid of him." Everything has to come to pass. There is 100 per cent validation here. Nobody has the right to say, Thus says the Lord, unless the Lord really is speaking.
Applying those tests to what happens with Joseph, he interprets a dream but his doctrine doesn't violate Scripture. Secondly, we see what he says comes to pass. Genesis 40:20-22, "And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that he made a feast to all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand: but he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them." In other words, Joseph passes the test.