Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 1 2019 - Genesis 40:1-23 – Joseph interprets dreams

Joseph has been unjustly accused of attempted rape and thrown into prison. He was soon joined there by two of Pharaoh's officials, his chief cupbearer and his chief baker. Both had offended Pharaoh in some undisclosed way. Joseph, as a trusted prisoner, has access to these officials, perhaps bringing them their daily food.

One day he noticed that they both seemed troubled. In response to Joseph's enquiries they told him that they had both had strange dreams and there was no-one to interpret them. By this they probably mean that here in the prison they did not have access to the 'magicians' and 'wise men' of Pharaoh's court who were considered to be gifted in interpreting dreams. Joseph does not claim to be like those magicians; he simply claims that if these dreams have a meaning, God alone is able to disclose what that meaning is. Moreover, in inviting these two men to tell him their dreams, Joseph is claiming to know the living God and to be in communication with him.

His fellow prisoners tell Joseph their dreams, and he is able to give each man its interpretation. In three days, the chief cupbearer will be restored to his job at Pharaoh's side, but the chief baker will be executed. Joseph pleads with the cupbearer to remember him when he regains his position in Pharaoh's court, since he (probably unlike the cupbearer) has been unjustly imprisoned.

It all happens just as Joseph had told them. But, when the chief cupbearer was restored, he "did not remember Joseph; he forgot him."

We should not suppose from such Bible passages that all dreams have a deep meaning requiring interpretation. Most of our dreams are forgotten before we are fully awake and those we remember are the construction of our uncontrolled minds rather than a revelation from God – though I would not wish to deny the influence of God, or of Satan, on our unconscious life of dreams. Speaking for myself, the dreams I do remember when waking are often a highly peculiar and incoherent pastiche of various scenes from my childhood mixed with others arising from a demented imagination.

But these particular dreams were clearly given to these officials by the living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and of Joseph. And this God was also the one who gave Joseph their interpretation. Despite the chief cupbearer's forgetfulness, God was at work to fulfil his purposes through Joseph – purposes that will unfold in the subsequent chapters.

Before we leave this passage it is helpful to highlight a notable contrast with an incident from the New Testament. Joseph, the innocent prisoner, asks the guilty cupbearer to remember him when he is restored to his place at the side of the king; but Joseph is forgotten. The guilty, dying thief, asks the guiltless Christ to remember him when he is restored to his kingdom; he is not forgotten. Jesus promises freedom from the imprisonment of sin and death and a place with him in Paradise. He never fails to remember his promises.

Living God, I recognise that, left to myself, I am a prisoner of sin and under sentence of death. Thank you that the Lord Jesus left his throne in glory to come and share my imprisonment. Thank you that he suffered my fate that I might go free. Thank you Risen Saviour that you have returned to glory and there remember all those who have placed their faith in you. Our names are written on the palms of your hands and you plead our case in the courts of heaven. Because of your promise and your faithfulness I know that I shall be brought safely at last into your presence.

Peter Misselbrook