Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he attended them. They continued for some time in custody.
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. When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” 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 them to me.” – Genesis 40:1-8 ESV
It is important to look back on an important detail from the previous part of the story. In chapter 39 we read, “And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison” (Genesis 39:20 ESV). A little later on, in chapter 40, we are told it is “the house of the captain of the guard” (Genesis 40:3 ESV). This was most likely a building attached or adjacent to Potiphar’s house so that he could keep his eye on these royal prisoners. Because Joseph had been a slave of Potiphar, captain of the king’s guard, he had been transferred from Potiphar’s house to the royal prison. Joseph had committed no crime against the king, but yet he was placed in this prison, even though he was a common slave. This is an important detail, because it is while Joseph is in this prison that he will “just happen” to meet two other individuals who will play a significant role in his future.
Before long, Joseph is joined by the king’s cupbearer and chief baker, both of whom had done something to make the king angry enough to throw them both in prison. We are not told their crimes, but they had both experienced the same meteoric fall in their fortunes that Joseph had. They were placed under Joseph’s care, because as we saw in the last chapter:
And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. – Genesis 39:22-23 ESV
Two men with close ties to Pharaoh are imprisoned alongside Joseph. Because of the Lord’s hand on Joseph’s life, he is placed in charge of them. And then the fun begins. Both of these men end up having dreams. Vivid dreams. Disturbing dreams. On the very same night. And we’re told that each dream had its own interpretation. But remember where they are: In prison. They have no access to wise men or magicians, astronomers or seers. How will they ever discover the meaning to their dreams. And why had they both had dreams on the very same night in the very same place?
The next morning, Joseph notices that something is wrong. The two men are visibly upset and, true to his role as their caretaker, Joseph asks them what is disturbing them. They both reply, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them” (Genesis 40:8a ESV). They seem to know that these dreams are not your garden-variety dreams. There is something significant about them and they are anxious to know what they portend. The response Joseph gives provides us with a glimpse into his theology – his view of God. He simply states, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me” (Genesis 40:8b ESV).
There is a great deal of similarity between this story and the one concerning Daniel and his interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Over the book of Daniel we read:
Then the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king. And the king said to them, “I had a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.” – Daniel 2:2-3 ESV
The king’s counselors and wise men respond, “Tell your servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation” (Daniel 2:4 ESV). But the king is adamant. He not only wants them to tell them what the dream means, he demands that they be able to tell him what he dreamed. If not, he will have them torn limb from limb. These men are dumbstruck. They find themselves in a life or death predicament and plead with the king.
“There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. 1The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” – Daniel 2:10-11 ESV
Enter Daniel. He tells the king:
“No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days” – Daniel 2:27-28 ESV
Long before Daniel lived and his story was written down in a scroll, Joseph held a similar view of God. His God was all-knowing and ever-present. His God was able to reveal mysteries and make known the unknowable. Joseph knew a thing or two about dreams. He had had a few of his own. Perhaps Joseph had been given the interpretation of his own dreams by God. By this time in the story, Joseph could have had a much more clear idea of his future and the role his two dreams were going to play. But whatever the case, Joseph is nonplussed by what the two men say and simply asks them to share their dreams so he can provide them with an interpretation – with the help of God.
Joseph held a high view of God – even in the lowest moments of his life. He refused to let his physical location or the state of his circumstances alter his view of God. His expectations of God were greater than any complications life might bring. Even in prison, his God was with him. And if his God was with him all the time and in all places, He was big enough to handle the interpretation of a few dreams.
“We should fix ourselves firmly in the presence of God by conversing all the time with Him…we should feed our soul with a lofty conception of God and from that derive great joy in being his. We should put life in our faith. We should give ourselves utterly to God in pure abandonment, in temporal and spiritual matters alike, and find contentment in the doing of His will,whether he takes us through sufferings or consolations.” – Brother Lawrence