The Butler and the Baker
Genesis 40. The role of the butler and baker in the story of Joseph primarily becomes a link in a chain of providential events that leads to Joseph’s own dreams being fulfilled. Joseph would never have been remembered before Pharah if he had remained in Canaan at his father’s side, or if he had remained in Potiphar’s house. He had to go from the prison to the palace. The butler’s dream really forms the next link in that chain of God’s working “all things together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose”. Joseph is a type of Christ in this way, as the rejected Son of man. The Gentiles, in being the unwitting instrument who put Christ to death, accomplished a link in the chain of God’s purposes for the blessing of Christ, and the blessing of the whole universe under the glorified Son of man. You could think about it this way: “the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified” (Luke 24:7), but in response to this, “then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). But in addition to this, Genesis 40 is a type of the role of prophecy during the time of Christ’s rejection. The two royal prisoners represent all of mankind. The butler represents those who, though they have offended God, have faith. The butler’s dream represents the role of prophecy toward the faithful; i.e. it gives the hope of coming deliverance and blessing, which sustains the soul through trials. The baker represents those who reject the light of God’s grace. The baker’s dream represents the role of prophecy toward the enemies of God; i.e. a warning of inevitable judgment.1
The Butler and Baker Imprisoned (vv.1-8)
1 And it came to pass after these things, that the cup-bearer of the king of Egypt and the baker offended their lord the king of Egypt. 2 And Pharaoh was wroth with his two chamberlains — with the chief of the cup-bearers and with the chief of the bakers; 3 and he put them in custody into the house of the captain of the life-guard, into the tower-house, into the place where Joseph was imprisoned. 4 And the captain of the life-guard appointed Joseph to them, that he should attend on them. And they were several days in custody. vv.1-4 Manu years had passed. Joseph went into Egypt when he was 17 years old, and he was exalted by Pharaoh when he was 30 years old. We do not know how long he was in Potiphar’s house, it could very well be that Joseph was in prison for around ten years (two years minimum). We do not read of one word of complaint from Joseph; in his humility he is a type of Christ. Joseph not only goes to prison, but he goes even lower and serves the prisoners! Pharaoh had a number of trusted officers or “chamberlains” aside from Potiphar. Two of them “offended” Pharaoh, and were put in the royal prison where Joseph was. These were the chief of the cup-bearers, and the chief of the bakers. This verse helps us to understand Joseph’s situation a little better. The “tower-house” or royal prison where Joseph was held was with the house of “the captain of the life-guard” who was Potiphar, or possibly Potiphar’s successor. No doubt Potiphar was content to leave Joseph in prison because he was in charge of the prison. There was another officer who was under Potiphar, directly over the tower-house, called “the chief of the tower-house” (ch.39). But Joseph was so successful in his duties that he was completely trusted by the prison-chief. Joseph was also trusted by Potiphar, because he committed these two political prisoners directly to Joseph, not to the prison-chief. This shows how well Joseph was regarded by all around him, including the man who had likely imprisoned him!
5 And they dreamed a dream, both of them in one night, each his dream, each according to the interpretation of his dream, the cup-bearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were imprisoned in the tower-house. 6 And Joseph came in to them in the morning, and looked on them, and behold, they were sad. 7 And he asked Pharaoh’s chamberlains that were with him in custody in his lord’s house, saying, Why are your faces so sad to-day? 8 And they said to him, We have dreamt a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said to them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me your dreams, I pray you. vv.5-8 The royal prisoners each had a dream, and they had a premonition that their dreams were significant, but had no way of knowing what the dreams meant. Joseph was responsible to take care of these two royal prisoners, and when he sad they were sad, he noticed. Joseph actually cared for those who were committed to his responsibility. This is how love can rise over evil. The cause of the sadness was bewildering dreams that both men had. Joseph replied, “interpretations belongs to God”. This is interesting considering Joseph’s own history of dreams. Perhaps Joseph was growing in his soul? Joseph had confidence in God, because of his own dreams in childhood.
The Butler’s Dream and the Interpretation (vv.9-15)
9 Then the chief of the cup-bearers 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: its blossoms shot forth, its clusters ripened into grapes. 11 And Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand. 12 And Joseph said to him, This is the interpretation of it: the three branches are three days. 13 In yet three days will Pharaoh lift up thy head and restore thee to thy place, and thou shalt deliver Pharaoh’s cup into his hand, after the former manner when thou wast his cup-bearer. 14 Only bear a remembrance with thee of me when it goes well with thee, and deal kindly, I pray thee, with me, and make mention of me to Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house; 15 for indeed I was stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon. vv.9-15 In the butler’s dream, like many dreams, the images in the dream came from very ordinary events that the butler would have experienced from day to day, except they were weirdly compressed into almost an instant of time. It takes months for a vine to “blossom”, for fruit to “ripen”, but here it happens instantly. It takes months or years to ferment wine, but all of that is unimportant to the interpretation, so it is skipped over. Grapes are put into a vat, then a winepress squeezes them out, and the juice is stored in jars. None of these steps are given. The grapes are pressed by hand into the cup, and the cup given to Pharaoh. It is a picture of the grace of God; we cannot work for it, we must simply reach out and take the cup ofThe important details are: the three branches associated with time, and the fact that the butler performed his duty to Pharaoh; i.e. the cup ended up in Pharaoh’s hand. God gave Joseph wisdom to see that the three branches represented three days, at which time the butler would be given his job back. How did he know the branches represented days, rather than weeks, months, or years? “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him” (Psa. 25:14). The three days might also represent the death and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:3-4). The same three days for the butler and baker had opposite consequences; so the death and resurrection of Christ for those believe, and for those who reject (compare 1 Thess. 4:14 and Acts 17:31). In type, the blood of Christ has satisfied God, and the believer is accepted. The interpretation of the butler’s dream no doubt caused Joseph a pang of hurt as -he knew the butler would be freed from prison, but had no such timetable as “three days” in the fulfillment of his own dreams. This led Joseph to explain his history, the evils that had befallen him, and to ask for kindness, that the butler would “make mention” of Joseph before Pharaoh when it went well with him. He did not ask for royal favors, but simply to be mentioned. Is this a failure of faith? It would be hard to say. Yet there is a different tone in “I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews” versus “God sent me before you to preserve a posterity on the earth” (Gen. 45:7). But as a type of Christ, it would remind us of the Lord’s desire; “this do in remembrance of me”. We can speak well of Christ to His Father.
The Baker’s Dream and the Interpretation (vv.16-19)
16 And when the chief of the bakers saw that the interpretation was good, he said to Joseph, I also was in my dream, and behold, three baskets of white bread were on my head. 17 And in the uppermost basket there were all manner of victuals for Pharaoh that the baker makes, and the birds ate them out of the basket upon my head. 18 And Joseph answered and said, This is the interpretation of it: the three baskets are three days. 19 In yet three days will Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and hang thee on a tree; and the birds will eat thy flesh from off thee. vv.16-19 The baker, hopeful that his dream would be equally positive, asked Joseph to interpret his dream as well. The result would be terrifying! There is a difference between baked goods and fruit; one comes from God hand, the other from man’s hand. Works apart from the blood of Christ will never save you. Birds in scripture often speak of the emmisaries of Satan. The baker was unable to discern the difference in his dream from the butler’s. Three baskets was certainly comparable with the three branches, meaning three days. But while the butler gave the cup to Pharoah, the baker’s white bread never made it; “the birds ate them out of the basket”. God revealed the meaning to Joseph; the baker would be hung, and his body scavenged by the birds. One thinks of the second vision of John in Rev. 19:17-18, and angel in heaven summoning the ravenous birds to the great supper of God. This presents the aspect of prophecy in which God warns the wicked of coming judgment. Joseph did not ask the baker to mention him; there was no use. Neither does the Christian have anything to say to the present evil world, except to pronounce its judgment. To individuals, the Christian proclaims the gospel of God’s grace. But for the system which cast out Christ, there is nothing left but inevitable destruction.
The Interpretation of both Dreams Fulfilled (vv.20-23)
20 And it came to pass the third day — Pharaoh’s birthday — that he made a feast to all his bondmen. And he lifted up the head of the chief of the cup-bearers, and the head of the chief of the bakers among his bondmen. 21 And he restored the chief of the cup-bearers to his office of cup-bearer again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand. 22 And he hanged the chief of the bakers, as Joseph had interpreted to them. 23 But the chief of the cup-bearers did not remember Joseph, and forgot him. vv.20-23 The dreams that Joseph had interpreted were fulfilled exactly has he had predicted. Perhaps this would have encouraged Joseph concerning his own dreams. The third day was Pharaoh’s’ birthday, and though it may have seemed an arbitrary choice to those looking on, he unwittingly fulfilled the prophecy of God. But a third wrong was done to Joseph by the chief of the cup-bearers. He who had benefited from Joseph’s interpretation, and who Joseph had simply asked to be mentioned before Pharaoh, did not mention him at all, and instead forgot Joseph. He was hated by his brothers whom he had sought, falsely accused by the wife of Potiphar whom he faithfully served, and now forgotten by the chief butler whom he had graciously helped. “I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind” (Psa. 31:12). Each wound was very difficult to take, but Joseph did so without complaint. All this time the Word of the Lord was testing Joseph’s faith. Go was saying, do you still believe what I told you years ago in your dreams? “He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant: whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron: until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him” (Psa. 105:17-19).
God Speaking through Dreams. Does God speak to people through dreams today? Certainly, although it is very uncommon in places where people have access to the written Word of God. Job said, “For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, That he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword” (Job 33:14-18). In scripture we have many examples of God speaking to people through dreams, either to encourage people or warn them.