Genesis 40:1-23

1 It came to pass after these things that the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their lord, the king of Egypt.

And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief butler and the chief baker.

So he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison, the place where Joseph was confined.

And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them; so they were in custody for a while.

Then the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison, had a dream, both of them, each man’s dream in one night and each man’s dream with its own interpretation.

And Joseph came in to them in the morning and looked at them, and saw that they were sad.

So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who 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 each have had a dream, and there is no interpreter of it.” So Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me, please.”

Then the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, “Behold, in my dream a vine was before me,

10 and in the vine were three branches; it was as though it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and its clusters brought forth ripe grapes.

11 Then Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”

12 And Joseph said to him, “This is the interpretation of it: The three branches are three days.

13 Now within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your place, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand according to the former manner, when you were his butler.

14 But remember me when it is well with you, and please show kindness to me; make mention of me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this house.

15 For indeed I was stolen away from the land of the Hebrews; and also I have done nothing here that they should put me into the dungeon.”

16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said to Joseph, “I also was in my dream, and there were three white baskets on my head.

17 In the uppermost basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, and the birds ate them out of the basket on my head.”

18 So Joseph answered and said, “This is the interpretation of it: The three baskets are three days.

19 Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head from you and hang you on a tree; and the birds will eat your flesh from you.”

20 Now it came to pass 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 butler and of the chief baker among his servants.

21 Then he restored the chief butler to his butlership again, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.

22 But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them.

23 Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.

Joseph was 17 years old when he was sold into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37:2), and 30 years old when he appeared before Pharaoh and was put in charge of the nation’s grain (Genesis 41:46).

The chief butler of Pharaoh was the overseer of his vineyards and wine cellar, as well as his personal cupbearer, responsible to see that all drinks served the king were both safe and of best quality. Likewise the chief baker was responsible for the food which Pharaoh ate. It is said that both of these men were “officers,” but again the word used is (as in the case of Potiphar) actually the Hebrew word for “eunuchs.”… In some way, these two men had offended (literally “sinned against”) Pharaoh, and so were thrown into the same prison where Joseph was. … They were imprisoned in “the house of the captain of the guard.” This was Potiphar’s title … — this was the prison over which Potiphar had jurisdiction. — Morris, page 569.


All the officers in the employment of the ancient kings of Egypt were taken from the most illustrious families of the priesthood in the country; no slave or common person being ever permitted to serve in the presence of the king. As these persons were of the most noble families, it is natural to expect they would be put, when accused, into the state prison. — The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, page 28.

The passage doesn’t say whether the dreams of the butler and baker were sent by God to enable Joseph to demonstrate his ability to interpret them. It seems probable.  Joseph had had experiences of his own with dreams (Genesis 37:6-9).

The interpretation of the butler’s dream seems pretty straightforward. Joseph’s contribution largely lies in his determining that the three branches represent three days. Joseph explained that he, like the butler, was wrongly imprisoned, and asked the man to remember him and speak on his behalf. Joseph only mentioned that he was “stolen away from the land of the Hebrews,” and didn’t mention that his own brothers had sold him.

It was only after the baker saw that the interpretation of the butler’s dream “was good,” that he decided to tell Joseph his own dream. He had dreamed that he carried three baskets, the topmost one filled with bread, but before he could serve the food to Pharaoh, birds ate the bread. Joseph informed him that the three baskets were three days, but that he would be hung on a tree and the birds would eat his flesh.

Apparently Pharaoh had delayed announcing the findings of his investigation and his resultant verdict until the date of his own birthday, which was, as it turned out, the third day after the two dreams.

It was customary for the king to give a banquet for his servants on his birthday. … One might speculate that whatever plot had been laid against Pharaoh might have been intended to be consummated on this occasion; if so, this would lend peculiar significance to its exposure and punishment at this time. … Two full years (Genesis 41:1) were to lapse before [the butler] would remember and bring Joseph to Pharaoh’s attention. — Morris, pages 574-575.


God’s hand in the affair now becomes more explicit as he prepares the way to Joseph’s elevation—and thus Israel’s preservation—via the dreams he gives to two newly-arrived prisoners from Pharaoh’s court. [Although Joseph’s interpretation proved true] the chief cupbearer … forgot him (v.23). In this Joseph is undoubtedly continuing to learn what it means to wait upon the Lord as He continues to prepare the present path of deliverance and maneuver “the heart of the king … like channels of water in (His) hand” (Proverbs 21:1). A notable parallel, moreover, which is clearly intended to bear out the same theological principle, may be found in the “forgetting” of king Ahasuerus to reward Mordechai’s deed (likewise concerning two of the king’s officials) until that time when it is most effectively suited to the delivery of Israel (and not just the elevation of Mordechai; see Esther 6. — Wechsler, pages 253-254.

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