By David Baumann
A Reading from Genesis 40:1-23
1 Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker offended their lord the king of Egypt. 2 Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, 3 and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. 4 The captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he waited on them; and they continued for some time in custody. 5 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 meaning. 6 When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. 7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officers, who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” 8 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.”
9 So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, 10 and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms came out and the clusters ripened into grapes. 11 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 Then Joseph said to him, “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days; 13 within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. 14 But remember me when it is well with you; please do me the kindness to make mention of me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this place. 15 For in fact I was stolen out of the land of the Hebrews; and here also I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon.”
16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, “I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head, 17 and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.” 18 And Joseph answered, “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days; 19 within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head — from you! — and hang you on a pole; and the birds will eat the flesh from you.”
20 On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he made a feast for all his servants, and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. 21 He restored the chief cupbearer to his cupbearing, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand; 22 but the chief baker he hanged, just as Joseph had interpreted to them. 23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.
When Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker are imprisoned and both have troublesome dreams, Joseph shows a new skill: he can interpret their dreams. He recognizes that his ability to do so is a gift and a responsibility from God. “Do not interpretations belong to God?” he asks them. He interprets both complicated dreams, and circumstances later show that he interpreted correctly.
We may wonder if Joseph ever thought back to his own dreams that he had shared with his brothers; surely he must have, though we are told nothing about it. Those dreams were not complicated, and their meaning was obvious, though details were not revealed. It was really one dream, duplicated, and this repetition shows that, though Joseph’s sharing of it may have been hurtful, it was an important dream, and in fact, God was behind it. Having a dream about events that were still years ahead served the purpose of laying in Joseph’s soul a testimony to the power of God that would bear fruit in its own time, and under conditions so strange that he could never have anticipated them. But God knew.
When he interprets the cupbearer’s dream, he adds a plea about his own wrongful imprisonment, and asks the cupbearer to appeal to Pharaoh for deliverance. He must have been disappointed when the cupbearer was indeed released, but there was no action from Pharaoh on Joseph’s behalf. The cupbearer had forgotten him. As in the case of Joseph’s own sinful family, human weakness affects the course that Joseph must follow. Yet there is no sign that Joseph’s hope diminishes, and no sign that his faith in God falters. God’s timing and methods involve working human frailties and even sins into the plan. So it was for Joseph; so it is for all the faithful of all time.
David Baumann served for nearly 50 years as an Episcopal priest in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Springfield; he retired last year. He has published nonfiction, science fiction, and short stories. Two exuberant small daughters make sure he never gets any rest.
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