1 And it came to pass after these things, that the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker had offended their lord the king of Egypt.
The King of Egypt is offended by his baker and his butler.
2 And Pharaoh was wroth against two of his officers, against the chief of the butlers, and against the chief of the bakers.
Wait. This king is also called Pharaoh? Is he the same Pharaoh that Abraham swindled? Of course not, but I wish I knew why this narrative persists in using Pharaoh like a proper noun, an idea supported in the previous line where he is referred to as the king of Egypt, distinguishing his title from the word Pharaoh which implies that Pharaoh is his name.
3 And he put them in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was bound.
A-ha, I was wondering why we needed to know about Pharaoh's displeasure with his food production and delivery arrangements. It's all coming together now.
4 And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them: and they continued a season in ward.
5 And they dreamed a dream both of them, each man his dream in one night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, which were bound in the prison.
People dream. I imagine after being thrown in prison you might have some pretty bad dreams.
6 And Joseph came in unto them in the morning, and looked upon them, and, behold, they were sad.
7 And he asked Pharaoh's officers that were with him in the ward of his lord's house, saying, Wherefore look ye so sadly to day?
Joseph asks the men why they are sad.
8 And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you.
Hmm. While reading Genesis 37 I had wondered why Joseph's brothers thought that dreams were indicators of the future. I still don't know the why of it but I can at least see that the belief is commonplace at this time, even among people from different cultures. If the men were not in prison would they have had a dream interpreter to hand? When did dreams stop being predictors of future events, modern empirical studies have shown that dreams do not serve this function.
Joseph tells the men that God should be the interpreter, but then goes on to ask them to the dreams to him anyway? Does he think he is equal to God in the dream interpreting business?
9 And the chief butler 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, and her blossoms shot forth; and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes:
11 And Pharaoh's cup was in my hand: and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh's cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand.
It seems that the butler has had a dream pertinent to his former job. No surprise there I guess.
12 And Joseph said unto him, This is the interpretation of it: The three branches are three days:
What would make him believe that?
13 Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head, and restore thee unto thy place: and thou shalt deliver Pharaoh's cup into his hand, after the former manner when thou wast his butler.
I suppose at least this interpretation serves to give the man hope. How is Joseph so confident that he is right? The narrative so far only shows other people interpreting Joseph's dreams and not him interpreting other peoples. What experience of dream interpretation does he have that gives him the idea that he might be able to predict the future based on the machinations of this butler's subconscious mind?
14 But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and shew kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house:
Ahh, he's effectively laying a wager against his prediction. If his prediction somehow becomes a reality he is expecting a reward, if it doesn't he's no worse off. Does he have good reason to expect that his prediction will come true?
15 For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon.
I'll ask again, If he is innocent and is favoured by God, why is he incarcerated? I'm not certain I'd want the LORD advocating for me in court if this is the outcome. Surely the LORD could have saved Joseph from unwarranted imprisonment if he had wanted to.
16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said unto Joseph, I also was in my dream, and, behold, I had three white baskets on my head:
These people really hold stock in dream interpretations. The baker, seeing that Joseph gave an optimistic prediction based on the butler's dream and evidently believing that the act of interpretation has set the butler's future in stone, wants a similar outcome for himself and tells Joseph his dream.
17 And in the uppermost basket there was of all manner of bakemeats for Pharaoh; and the birds did eat them out of the basket upon my head.
18 And Joseph answered and said, This is the interpretation thereof: The three baskets are three days:
Why is Joseph convinced that the 'three' motif is indicative of days? Does he know that something noteworthy is going to occur in three days?
19 Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and shall hang thee on a tree; and the birds shall eat thy flesh from off thee.
Oh. The poor baker has been given a rather less encouraging dream interpretation than the butler. Again I am wondering what could possibly make Joseph confident enough in his evaluation of a dream to tell a man that he'll die in a few days. We aren't given any details of the men's sentences. Is it possible that these outcomes are things that Joseph already knows? He is after all their effective jailor having been given the responsibility by the captain of the guard. Has he been given details that he is not sharing?
20 And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants.
21 And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand:
22 But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them.
Now we see a bit of what's gone on. Everyone in the nation would have been aware that it was Pharaoh's birthday. Three day's prior Joseph would have been entirely safe in predicting a major event would occur. Furthermore, The prison would have been informed in advance that Pharaoh was going to visit and as such Joseph would be able to safely weave Pharaoh into the predictions. Lastly, and this is largely assumption, but if one of the prisoners was to be released and one executed, I find it pretty likely that the captain of the guard would have been informed and from what we know of the trust he gives Joseph, Joseph must surely have known too. Joseph is a fraud. All he has done is attempt to take information that he has about the release of the butler and turn it into some gain for himself by convincing the butler that he was somehow instrumental in his release by magically interpreting his dream and being the bearer of a good omen. This is nothing but a self serving con-job, a method that Joseph's ancestors can attribute most of their success to.
23 Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him.
Alas, Joseph's con failed with the butler forgetting to speak up for him. Isn't the LORD supposed to be with this guy?
So What can we make of this tale?
All this story seems to be telling us is that Joseph is an opportunist scam-artist. Two men of high rank are admitted to the prison he is being kept in. They are left in his charge. Knowing their sentences he tries to secure a route to a pardon by fraudulently convincing the man who is going to be released that he, Joseph, is somehow instrumental in the man's good fortune via the 'magical' interpretation of a dream. Ultimately he fails as the man forgets to mention Joseph's 'help' to Pharaoh.
Will Joseph get out of prison in Genesis 41?