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Joseph interprets the dreams of the cupbearer (butler) and the baker

Sometime later, the king’s cupbearer (chief butler) and baker offended the king. Pharaoh was angry with his two officials and placed them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard (where Joseph was held). The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph and he attended them.

Joseph interprets the dreams of the cupbearer (butler) and the bakerAfter they had been in custody for some time, each had a dream during the same night. When Joseph arrived the next morning, he could see that they were dejected. He asked them, “Why do you look so sad today?”

“We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them for us.”

Joseph responded, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”

So the chief cupbearer told Joseph about his dream saying,

“In my dream, I saw a vine in front of me and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, and squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and put the cup in his hand.”

“This is what the dream means,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. Within three days, Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position and you will put his cup into his hand just as you did when you were his cupbearer.”

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Joseph told him,

“But when all goes well, remember me and mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of prison. I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put into a dungeon.”

When the chief baker heard the cupbearer’s favorable interpretation of his dream, he said to Joseph,

“I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.”

“This is what it means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and impale your body on a pole – and the birds will eat away at your flesh.”

The third day following was Pharaoh’s birthday and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and chief baker in presence of his officials. He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, but he impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had told them in his interpretation of their dreams.

The chief cupbearer however, did not remember Joseph. He forgot about him.

oseph and the Butler and Baker (Joseph Interprets the Pharaoh’s Servants’ Dreams), by Del ParsonWhat the story means to us today

Failures are only temporary setbacks – always trust in God

Although he cupbearer “forgot about Joseph” despite Joseph interpreting his dream, later we will find that ultimately Joseph’s unique skill is recognized by those in power, freeing him from bondage and providing Joseph the opportunity to obtain stature and importance in the kingdom which will be used by God to complete his plan for Israel. On the surface, the story appears to be about failure (Joseph’s analysis of a dream all for naught), but this “failure” is just another step in God’s plan. Modern life often works the same way.

Sometimes events in our lives seem to be failures. As humans, we have no way to know what the future holds nor how our “failures” are used to further our spirituality or the spirituality of others. As Joseph did, we must trust in God – in good times and bad.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Why use a supernatural means (dreams) to promote God’s plan?

Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams came from God (Genesis 37:5). It is logical that God would use a supernatural means such as dreams to promote his plan. Egyptians were fond of the supernatural and dream interpretations were a clear means to convince them that Joseph was a messenger of God. As we will soon see, Joseph gains great power and ultimately proves key to God’s plan – and it all began with Josephs ability to interpret dreams.

The difficulty with interpreting dreams

When reading the description of the cupbearer’s dream, some believe they too could figure out the meaning of the dream just as Joseph did. However, the baker’s dream, although similar in content, bears an entirely different interpretation – one that only Joseph could understand. Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams is a gift from God.

The science and history behind the story

The chief cupbearer and baker

The position of chief cupbearer, who was responsible for serving the king’s wine and other drinks, was given only to the king’s most trusted confidants. They were considered highly trusted officers of the royal court. Since the position involved the king’s drink, it provided ample opportunity for assassinating the king via poisoning. Similarly, the chief baker was in charge of Pharaoh’s food. Both jobs were unique in that they were critical to the king’s safety.

Ancient drawing of Egyptian cupbearer to the king (Pharaoh)Notes on Biblical translation

The Pharaoh will “lift up your head”

Joseph tells the chief cupbearer that the Pharaoh will “lift up your head”. The phrase is a common Hebrew phrase, an idiom for showing someone favor, acknowledgement, or pardoning of a misdeed. Using a play in words, Joseph tells the chief baker that the king will “lift off your head”.

Bible Text

NIV

40 Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. 2 Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, 3 and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. 4 The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them.

After they had been in custody for some time, 5 each of the two men—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison—had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own.

6 When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected. 7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?”

8 “We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.”

Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”

9 So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, 10 and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.”

12 “This is what it means,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. 13 Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. 14 But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. 15 I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.”

16 When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. 17 In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.”

18 “This is what it means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days. 19 Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and impale your body on a pole. And the birds will eat away your flesh.”

20 Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: 21 He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand—22 but he impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation.

23 The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

Joseph interprets the dreams of the cupbearer (butler) and the bakerThe New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The Message

4 40 As time went on, it happened that the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt crossed their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was furious with his two officials, the head cupbearer and the head baker, and put them in custody under the captain of the guard; it was the same jail where Joseph was held. The captain of the guard assigned Joseph to see to their needs.

4–7 After they had been in custody for a while, the king’s cupbearer and baker, while being held in the jail, both had a dream on the same night, each dream having its own meaning. When Joseph arrived in the morning, he noticed that they were feeling low. So he asked them, the two officials of Pharaoh who had been thrown into jail with him, “What’s wrong? Why the long faces?”

8 They said, “We dreamed dreams and there’s no one to interpret them.”

Joseph said, “Don’t interpretations come from God? Tell me the dreams.”

9–11 First the head cupbearer told his dream to Joseph: “In my dream there was a vine in front of me with three branches on it: It budded, blossomed, and the clusters ripened into grapes. I was holding Pharaoh’s cup; I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and gave the cup to Pharaoh.”

12–15 Joseph said, “Here’s the meaning. The three branches are three days. Within three days, Pharaoh will get you out of here and put you back to your old work—you’ll be giving Pharaoh his cup just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. Only remember me when things are going well with you again—tell Pharaoh about me and get me out of this place. I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews. And since I’ve been here, I’ve done nothing to deserve being put in this hole.”

16–17 When the head baker saw how well Joseph’s interpretation turned out, he spoke up: “My dream went like this: I saw three wicker baskets on my head; the top basket had assorted pastries from the bakery and birds were picking at them from the basket on my head.”

18–19 Joseph said, “This is the interpretation: The three baskets are three days; within three days Pharaoh will take off your head, impale you on a post, and the birds will pick your bones clean.”

20–22 And sure enough, on the third day it was Pharaoh’s birthday and he threw a feast for all his servants. He set the head cupbearer and the head baker in places of honor in the presence of all the guests. Then he restored the head cupbearer to his cupbearing post; he handed Pharaoh his cup just as before. And then he impaled the head baker on a post, following Joseph’s interpretations exactly.

23 But the head cupbearer never gave Joseph another thought; he forgot all about him.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

The NET Bible

40:1 After these things happened, the cupbearer to the king of Egypt and the royal baker offended their master, the king of Egypt. 40:2 Pharaoh was enraged with his two officials, the cupbearer and the baker, 40:3 so he imprisoned them in the house of the captain of the guard in the same facility where Joseph was confined. 40:4 The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be their attendant, and he served them.

They spent some time in custody. 40:5 Both of them, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison, had a dream the same night. Each man’s dream had its own meaning. 40:6 When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were looking depressed. 40:7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officials, who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?” 40:8 They told him, “We both had dreams, but there is no one to interpret them.” Joseph responded, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me.”

40:9 So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph: “In my dream, there was a vine in front of me. 40:10 On the vine there were three branches. As it budded, its blossoms opened and its clusters ripened into grapes. 40:11 Now Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, so I took the grapes, squeezed them into his cup, and put the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”

40:12 “This is its meaning,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches represent three days. 40:13 In three more days Pharaoh will reinstate you and restore you to your office. You will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you did before when you were cupbearer. 40:14 But remember me when it goes well for you, and show me kindness. Make mention of me to Pharaoh and bring me out of this prison, 40:15 for I really was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews and I have done nothing wrong here for which they should put me in a dungeon.”

40:16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation of the first dream was favorable, he said to Joseph, “I also appeared in my dream and there were three baskets of white bread on my head. 40:17 In the top basket there were baked goods of every kind for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them from the basket that was on my head.”

40:18 Joseph replied, “This is its meaning: The three baskets represent three days. 40:19 In three more days Pharaoh will decapitate you and impale you on a pole. Then the birds will eat your flesh from you.”

40:20 On the third day it was Pharaoh’s birthday, so he gave a feast for all his servants. He “lifted up” the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker in the midst of his servants. 40:21 He restored the chief cupbearer to his former position so that he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand, 40:22 but the chief baker he impaled, just as Joseph had predicted. 40:23 But the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph—he forgot him.

Joseph interprets the dreams of the cupbearer (butler) and the bakerBiblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

King James Version

40 And it came to pass after these things, that the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker had offended their lord the king of Egypt. 2 And Pharaoh was wroth against two of his officers, against the chief of the butlers, and against the chief of the bakers. 3 And he put them in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was bound. 4 And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them: and they continued a season in ward. 5 And they dreamed a dream both of them, each man his dream in one night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, which were bound in the prison. 6 And Joseph came in unto them in the morning, and looked upon them, and, behold, they were sad. 7 And he asked Pharaoh’s officers that were with him in the ward of his lord’s house, saying, Wherefore look ye so sadly to day? 8 And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you. 9 And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, In my dream, behold, a vine was before me; 10 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: 11 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. 12 And Joseph said unto him, This is the interpretation of it: The three branches are three days: 13 Yet within three days shall Pharaoh ||lift up thine head, and restore thee unto thy place: and thou shalt deliver Pharaoh’s cup into his hand, after the former manner when thou wast his butler. 14 But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and shew kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house: 15 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. 16 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: 17 And in the uppermost basket there was of all manner of bakemeats for Pharaoh; and the birds did eat them out of the basket upon my head. 18 And Joseph answered and said, This is the interpretation thereof: The three baskets are three days: 19 Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and shall hang thee on a tree; and the birds shall eat thy flesh from off thee. 20 And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he ||lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. 21 And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand: 22 But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them. 23 Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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