In Genesis 39, Joseph gets a bad deal. For honoring God when it counted most, for honoring the man who owned him, he is thrown into jail.
That’s where we’re picking up the story in Genesis 40-41. Look with me at Chapter 40, verse 1.
Then it came about after these things, the cupbearer and the baker for the king of Egypt offended their lord, the king of Egypt.
I love that Moses starts this chapter with the words, “then it came about.” It’s like saying, “And it just so happened…” It’s something we might say when we’re thinking about a seemingly random circumstance.
It just so happened that the villain was allergic to her perfume. When he got a whiff of it, he violently sneezed, moving his head out of the path of the bullet that’d been perfectly aimed from the neighboring building.
It just so happened.
When Moses uses this phrase, he doesn’t want us to think of the world as a random series of events. He’s setting us up.
It came about because God brought it about, exactly how he wanted it.
It came about because of God’s providence.
All things, all the details, were planned and purposed by God before time. He brings about all his plans and purposes, all the time, without any change.
Celtic beat Rangers under the providence of God.
The exact way this grape explodes in my mouth when I bite down is because of God’s providence.
Everything we’ve read so far in Genesis has been a display of the providence of God. But here, in these two chapters, Moses gives us a particularly sweet view.
Joseph’s in Potiphar’s jail.
Then Pharaoh’s chief butler and baker offend Pharaoh. I don’t know how sensitive Pharaoh was. I don’t know if he had a habit of jailing men for minor offenses, like marijuana possession. Maybe they just happened to piss him off on the wrong day.
This butler and baker were chief butler and chief baker. Maybe someone under their authority messed up or did something wrong.
Part of being in authority is taking the hit when a mistake or wrong is done.
An old Jewish teaching on this passage says that these guys got caught planning to poison the king’s wine and food. Maybe that’s true.
Whatever the crime, big or small, we do know this: The king is offended.
2Pharaoh was furious with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker. 3So he put them in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, in the jail, the same place where Joseph was imprisoned.
In these verses, we get a taste of what we’ll see even more clearly in Exodus. Moses shows us Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world, and he asks us, “Who is in charge?”
Pharaoh is furious. Pharaoh puts the butler and baker in jail. But Pharaoh is not in charge. God is in charge. God purposes Pharaoh to put them into a specific jail, Potiphar’s jail, the exact jail where Joseph was imprisoned.
Why does God do this?
They need to meet Joseph…
because Joseph needs to interpret their dreams…
because Joseph needs to rise from the pit and save the world as the Ruler and Bread of Life.
4The captain of the bodyguard put Joseph in charge of them, and he took care of them; and they were in confinement for some time.
In verse 4, a surprising detail teaches us about how God, in his providence, has made the world work.
Who is the captain of the bodyguard? Potiphar.
Who put Joseph in jail? Potiphar.
Who’s put Joseph in charge in the very jail where he’s imprisoned? Potiphar.
Potiphar recognizes that Joseph remains dependable, responsible, hard-working, trustworthy.
There was apparently a lack of such men in Egypt. Joseph’s character is clear, and God blesses him, even in suffering, as others recognize and honor it.
Young men especially need to pay attention to this. The world is still the same.
Plenty of folks are getting university degrees. A decent number of folks go to college and get apprenticeships.
But there’s a lack of skilled workers who are actually dependable, trustworthy, willing to show up on time, sweat for 8 hours, and do it all again the next day.
Dave was a laborer for a guy, pouring concrete. He got the job through an agency. After the job was done, he heard through the agency that the guy kept calling, asking for Dave.
Why? Dave didn’t even come into the job with expertise or training. But he showed up on time. He worked his tail off for an entire shift without complaining. He went home.
If you have a Protestant character and Protestant work ethic, you will excel in life.
That’s how God has made his world work.
5Then the cupbearer and the baker for the king of Egypt, who were confined in jail, both had a dream the same night, each man with his own dream and each dream with its own interpretation.
The butler and baker both have dreams given by God. That’s why Moses specifically tells us that they actually each have their own individual interpretation. This isn’t the product of a bad kebab, mistaken as some charismatic experience. These are dreams from God.
Dreams were one of the ways that God gave revelation to people back in the day. Now, the Scripture is sufficient for us. In the Bible we’ve got all the answers for what we should believe and how we should live. But when Joseph is in Egypt, not only are the Scriptures not fully given, but Moses wasn’t even born to begin writing.
That’s why dreams are such a big deal in Genesis.
6When Joseph came to them in the morning and observed them, behold, they were dejected. 7He asked Pharaoh’s officials who were with him in confinement in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?”
Notice Joseph’s competence. He’s a good manager of men. He notices something as small as the expressions on their faces.
And look at his character. If I was in Joseph’s shoes, I don’t think I would’ve cared if other prisoners were feeling sad. He cares.
God uses suffering to harden or soften.
The promise he gives Christians is that suffering always makes us better.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
8Then they said to him, “We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.”
Joseph’s confidence is in God. It’s the same confidence we see in David when he faces Goliath. Joseph knows God. God gives revelation and understanding.
This is a change from earlier in Joseph’s life. He doesn’t interpret his dream when he tells it to his family. It seems that God has now given him the gift of interpretation.
As Joseph takes no credit for the gift given him by God, neither should we take any credit for the gifts God has given us. That means if I can teach the Bible, I can only credit God and use it for him.
It means that we can only credit God for salvation. Any doctrine that takes any credit for salvation away from God and gives it to man is a false doctrine, a perversion of truth.
9So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, “In my dream, behold, there was a vine in front of me; 10and on the vine were three branches. And as it was budding, its blossoms came out, and its clusters produced ripe grapes. 11“Now Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; so I took the grapes and squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.” 12Then Joseph said to him, “This is the interpretation of it:
Look at how Joseph begins his response to the butler. He doesn’t say, “I think this could mean…I think God may be telling you…” There is nothing vague about his language. “This is the interpretation…”
Joseph speaks for God knowing that what he says is accurate. And so he does not take the Lord’s name in vain.
Charismatics today do take the Lord’s name in vain. They do this not only by ascribing to God words and deeds He has not said or done. They also take his name in vain by presuming to speak on his behalf without authorization.
God actually gave the dreams. He actually gave Joseph the interpretation. So Joseph speaks.
This isn’t the modern charade of vague impressions from God and spiritualized guesswork.
If you speak for God and what you say isn’t firmly rooted in the Bible, you are out of line. That’s why everything we do as a church is centered on the Word. It’s why we are doing the catechism. It’s why we encourage Bible reading and memorization in your one-to-one’s.
Joseph is certain about the interpretation. And here it is:
the three branches are three days; 13within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you will put Pharaoh’s cup into his hand according to your former custom when you were his cupbearer. 14“Only keep me in mind when it goes well with you, and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh and get me out of this house. 15“For I was in fact kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon.”
Because God has revealed it, Joseph knows that the butler is going to be released and given back his old job. He knows it’ll go well with him.
Though he hasn’t complained against God for his own situation, he does look for a way out. Just because he is content in God does not mean that Joseph is content to do nothing to change his situation.
He’s in Egypt because his brothers committed a capital offense; they kidnapped him. He’s in jail because of a lie. There has been no fair trial.
So he’s appealing to the highest authority in the land, the king himself.
16When the chief baker saw that he had interpreted favorably,
The baker is listening to Joseph’s interpretation for the butler. And his response is like Simon the Magician in Acts. He sees the work of God, hears the Word of God, and thinks he can use God for his own gain. He doesn’t care about God. He just wants to advance in life.
Plenty of folks in Lochee are going to face and give into this temptation. Some of the ladies at the weekly, evangelistic Bible study want nothing to do with Jesus, but simply want the nicer life they see us living.
That’s idolatry. And it isn’t good enough.
he said to Joseph, “I also saw in my dream, and behold, there were three baskets of white bread on my head; 17and in the top basket there were some of all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, and the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.” 18Then Joseph answered and said, “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days; 19within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head from you and will hang you on a tree, and the birds will eat your flesh off you.”
Joseph doesn’t pad the interpretation to make it nicer. He doesn’t change it to protect the baker’s feelings, or make him happy. God’s Word for the baker is plain. It is one of judgment and death. So Joseph tells him about judgment and death.
God’s servants are not allowed to change God’s message. We are required to tell sinners about hell and judgment.
There is nothing good or wonderful ahead of those who will not repent and follow Christ.
20Thus it came about on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. 21He restored the chief cupbearer to his office, and he put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand;22but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had interpreted to them.
It’s all happening exactly as God said it would. Both butler and baker are lifted up, one to success, one to death.
To be lifted up has this double meaning of death and exaltation. We see it with Jesus. In Isaiah 53, Jesus, the suffering servant is lifted up, both on the cross and in his resurrection and ascension to the throne of heaven.
The baker is now dead. The butler is back in office. And, if I’m writing this story, here is the end. He does what Joseph asked. He tells Pharaoh about Joseph. Joseph is set free and goes home to his father.
But that’s not what happens. If I was the author, I’d have forgotten the big detail of Joseph’s family bowing to him as grain.
God is the Author. And He’s good at his job.
So verse 23 happens.
23Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.
Joseph is left in prison.
God does not govern the world in order to keep our suffering to a cozy minimum. He is in control of everything. It all happens because he purposes it to happen.
And his people still get shafted.
Joseph is not a fool. He does not angrily blame God or grumble against God.
When we suffer, we are to praise God from whom all blessings flow and get on with things.
1Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream, and behold, he was standing by the Nile.
Here is a turn in the plot, again introduced with the words, “Now it happened…”
Pharaoh is not just going to hear about Joseph. God is going to bring Joseph before Pharaoh. Because we get an after-the-fact perspective on this story as readers, we think, “Oh man, this is brilliant.”
But when things don’t go our way in life, we whine and whinge.
Learn from Joseph’s story. No matter what happens to us as Christians, if we had all God’s information, if we knew all he knows, we’d always look at how he orchestrates and orders our lives and say, “Oh man, that’s brilliant.”
2And lo, from the Nile there came up seven cows, sleek and fat; and they grazed in the marsh grass. 3Then behold, seven other cows came up after them from the Nile, ugly and gaunt, and they stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile.
By the way, Moses calls this second group of seven cows ugly. Not just in his opinion, but objectively ugly. Yes, truth is objective. Yes, goodness is objective. And yes, these cows were objectively ugly as moldy bogies.
4The ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven sleek and fat cows. Then Pharaoh awoke. 5He fell asleep and dreamed a second time; and behold, seven ears of grain came up on a single stalk, plump and good. 6Then behold, seven ears, thin and scorched by the east wind, sprouted up after them. 7The thin ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears. Then Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. 8Now in the morning his spirit was troubled, so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh.
Again, we get a preview of what is to come in Exodus. Then, God uses Moses. Now, Moses writes of Joseph’s front row seat to Egypt’s humiliation. Pharaoh gathers all his magicians and wise men and none can interpret his dreams. They’re as useful at interpreting dreams as Church of Scotland ministers are at interpreting Scripture. They have as much power from on high as Hillsong and Bethel.
God has set this situation up not just to save his people through Joseph, but to put false gods and their worshipers to open shame.
This is exactly what he does through Jesus. Jesus saves his people. And he makes a mockery of his enemies, putting them to open shame.
9Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh, saying, “I would make mention today of my own offenses. 10“Pharaoh was furious with his servants, and he put me in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, both me and the chief baker. 11“We had a dream on the same night, he and I; each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream. 12“Now a Hebrew youth was with us there, a servant of the captain of the bodyguard, and we related them to him, and he interpreted our dreams for us. To each one he interpreted according to his own dream. 13“And just as he interpreted for us, so it happened; he restored me in my office, but he hanged him.”
Better late than never, the butler finally speaks of Joseph to Pharaoh. It’s no coincidence that he remembers Joseph as soon as it’s likely to make himself look good, to win him favor with Pharaoh.
Folks are self-interested.
How easily do we find ourselves treating one another with personal gain as the primary motivation? How many teachers always consider how they’ll be received before they say or write something?
How blessed would we be as a church if we obeyed God’s law and loved God over our reputations, loved one another over and above our own convenience?
14Then Pharaoh sent and called for Joseph, and they hurriedly brought him out of the dungeon; and when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came to Pharaoh. 15Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” 16Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”
Presented with the chance to have the most powerful man in the world praise him, Joseph points to his God.
May we decrease, that Christ’s name might increase here in Lochee.
17So Pharaoh spoke to Joseph, “In my dream, behold, I was standing on the bank of the Nile; 18and behold, seven cows, fat and sleek came up out of the Nile, and they grazed in the marsh grass. 19“Lo, seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and gaunt, such as I had never seen for ugliness in all the land of Egypt; 20and the lean and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows. 21“Yet when they had devoured them, it could not be detected that they had devoured them, for they were just as ugly as before. Then I awoke. 22“I saw also in my dream, and behold, seven ears, full and good, came up on a single stalk; 23and lo, seven ears, withered, thin, and scorched by the east wind, sprouted up after them; 24and the thin ears swallowed the seven good ears. Then I told it to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me.”
25Now Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has told to Pharaoh what He is about to do.
By saying that the dreams are one and the same, Joseph means that they reveal the same thing. What is that? “What God is about to do.”
Joseph understands providence. Even as he is about to explain weather events and farming outcomes in the future, he says that all of this is what God is doing.
All of history is the accounting of the work of God. By telling this to Pharaoh, Joseph is clear on the pecking order in this world. Not even the most powerful man in the world can thwart the working of God.
26“The seven good cows are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one and the same. 27“The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven thin ears scorched by the east wind will be seven years of famine. 28“It is as I have spoken to Pharaoh: God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do. 29“Behold, seven years of great abundance are coming in all the land of Egypt; 30and after them seven years of famine will come, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine will ravage the land. 31“So the abundance will be unknown in the land because of that subsequent famine; for it will be very severe. 32“Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about.
This is what God will do in Egypt.
Similarly, this fits the pattern of what will be. There is abundance now. Even the wicked prosper in the land. But God will bring a famine, a desolation, a wrath.
Unless Pharaoh listens to what Joseph tells him to do, he and his entire nation will perish. If sinners do not listen to what we tell them to do, they too will perish in the day of desolation, when the abundance of today is forgotten before the overwhelming misery.
33“Now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34“Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land, and let him exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance. 35“Then let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and store up the grain for food in the cities under Pharaoh’s authority, and let them guard it. 36“Let the food become as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land will not perish during the famine.”
I want to point out two things from these verses.
The first is really practical. None of us has the advantage of knowing the seasons ahead of time. We don’t know the future. We’re not Pharaoh. There is no Joseph to tell us what next month or next year will be like.
So, guess what? We need to be physically prepared for when a “famine” season comes.
That means knowing how many resources God has given us, how much money God has given us, and planning how to use those resources well. It means saving money so we can respond well to emergencies.
The world is full of surprises. Wise Christians prepare as well as possible for those surprises.
Here’s the second thing to notice from these verses.
There is only one way for the nation to be saved from the coming famine. Likewise, there is only one way for men to be saved from the coming wrath of God. The end of 1 Thessalonians 1 told us what that way is: through faith alone in Christ alone, who died and rose again.
You can only be saved if you bow the knee. You can only be saved if you purposefully trust Jesus.
Pharaoh had two options: obey Joseph or die. We all have two options: Christ or hell.
37Now the proposal seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his servants. 38Then Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is a divine spirit?” 39So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are. 40“You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you.” 41Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 42Then Pharaoh took off his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put the gold necklace around his neck.43He had him ride in his second chariot; and they proclaimed before him, “Bow the knee!” And he set him over all the land of Egypt. 44Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Though I am Pharaoh, yet without your permission no one shall raise his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” 45Then Pharaoh named Joseph Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, as his wife. And Joseph went forth over the land of Egypt.
In God’s providence, he’s made Joseph a type of Christ. I mean that Joseph’s life, in specific ways, is like a picture of what would come with Jesus.
Joseph is the virtuous son who is thrown into the pit, only to rise from the pit and take the seat of power. This is no accident.
By giving us types of Christ through history, God prepared his people to anticipate the Messiah. When it was promised that the Messiah would crush the head of the snake, they could picture what a head-crusher looked like by thinking of David. When it was promised that the Messiah would be the Son of God, who would be the sacrificial lamb to die in the place of the people, they could think of Isaac on the mountain with his father, Abraham.
When it was promised that the Messiah would first be a Suffering Servant before being King of the World, they could think of Joseph in Egypt.
Though Joseph is a type of Christ, and a uniquely good example for us, he is still a sinner in need of salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. Moses makes sure to tell us that Joseph received a wife from Pharaoh, Asenath. She is the pagan daughter of a pagan priest. It just doesn’t go well for God’s men when they marry pagan women. This sin, of a believer joining in marital union with an unbeliever, basically always leads to more sin for the husband. We’ll see that a few verses down.
Joseph should have remembered his earliest dream from God, that his family would bow before him. He should have known that it means he most certainly will be reunited with his family. He should have waited in faith until the Lord provided an approved wife.
46Now Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt. 47During the seven years of plenty the land brought forth abundantly. 48So he gathered all the food of these seven years which occurred in the land of Egypt and placed the food in the cities; he placed in every city the food from its own surrounding fields. 49Thus Joseph stored up grain in great abundance like the sand of the sea, until he stopped measuring it, for it was beyond measure.
Before we see Joseph’s sin increase, we yet again see him as a great example for us in godly manhood. Men are to lead, provide, and protect, and that’s what we see him doing on a massive scale.
50Now before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore to him. 51Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” 52He named the second Ephraim, “For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
Moses again highlights that Asenath is the daughter of the priest of On. I think this is his way of making sure we think of her as a pagan woman. Despite Joseph’s marriage to her, he hasn’t stopped being faithful to God. Men of God will sin. When they do, they must repent and press on.
Why did I say that his marriage to Asenath leads to more sin? Look at what we see has crept into his heart. God blesses Joseph with two sons. He names the first Manasseh, for “God has made me forget all my trouble…” This is a sweet thing to say at your son’s birth. “Son, you are a prize so precious to me, that all the suffering I’ve gone through to bring me to this point was more than worth it.”
But that’s not all Joseph says. “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”
In the midst of his success, in his marriage to Asenath, he’s forgotten the people of God. He’s forgotten his family. His suffering couldn’t do this to him. He only sinned in forgetting when he faces success.
This is a warning to us. Joseph is a better man than all of us put together. And even he sinned in prosperity. Prosperity is great. Joseph’s prosperity was directly brought about by God’s blessing and his own hard work and character. But prosperity is dangerous for the heart. It so easily can make us forget.
If God gives you prosperity in life, thank him. But guard your heart by keeping the sufferings of Christ always in mind, daily meditating on it in Scripture, and guard your heart by living so as to suffer with Christ.
What do I mean by that? I mean obey Jesus, even when it will cost you. I mean tell that one family member the gospel, including all the sin and judgment stuff. That will help add suffering to the prosperous mix.
53When the seven years of plenty which had been in the land of Egypt came to an end, 54and the seven years of famine began to come, just as Joseph had said, then there was famine in all the lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. 55So when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph; whatever he says to you, you shall do.” 56When the famine was spread over all the face of the earth, then Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians; and the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57The people of all the earth came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the earth.
These last verses help remind us of tonight’s main doctrine: God’s providence. God has predetermined all things, and brings all those predetermined things about.
That’s why we have types of Christ through Biblical history, pictures that give us a sneak peak at the work of Jesus. We’ve noticed that Joseph is a type of Christ in going down to the pit and rising to the throne. In this last part of chapter 41, he is the one in whom is found the bread of life. The whole world is lost in famine. The only way to eat and live is to come to Joseph. So the whole world comes to him for grain.
Salvation from the famine is found in Joseph.
Later, in Exodus, when God’s people are without food in the wilderness, God will literally send bread from heaven.
And both of these events point forward to Jesus. He is the Bread of Life, sent by his Father from heaven to earth, that all who come to him and eat his flesh and drink his blood in faith will not perish, but have everlasting life.
This is Joseph in Genesis 40-41. A sinner. A model man. A picture of Jesus, up from the pit to the throne. The savior of the hungry.