Like the Messiah Who comes forth from her, Israel has suffered death and will experience resurrection.
This chapter records the second of three pairs of dreams that mark important transitions in Joseph’s life. The first pair being those he shared with his brother’s and father, who became the interpreters of them (Gen. 37:5-11). The result being his sale into slavery (Gen. 37:18-38). The second pair, recorded here, are interpreted by Joseph, after he explains that the interpretation of dreams is a gift from God. Where the former dreams foretold Joseph’s future authority and almost resulted in his death, the dream of the cupbearer foretells his future reinstatement to his place of authority and the baker’s dream foretells his death.
This chapter is also filled with Messianic symbolism from start to finish: the bread (Chori: white linen/unleavened) and wine, the three days, the pit (As Joseph puts it), a metaphor for death, and the restoration of the cupbearer, a type for resurrection. All is pointing to the redemptive purposes of God for His chosen people Israel, to be carried out through Joseph (A type for the future Messiah).
1 And it came to pass after these ha-d’variym the words/things, the one who provided the king of Miytzrayim Egypt (double distress) with drink, incurred guilt due to an offence, as did the baker; against their lord, king of Egypt.
“After these words, things, events” is more than a reference to the physical events of the previous chapter. It is a reminder of the d’variym, the words themselves and their spiritual significance. This is seen in the repetition of the phrases, “HaShem was with him, and that which he did HaShem made to prosper”. These phrases form a foundation for what is about to unfold.
Both Yarchi and Rashi note that according to Midrash, with regard to the cupbearer’s offense, a fly was found in Pharaoh’s cup, and in the baker’s case a stone was found in the baked goods served to Pharaoh. This is more likely than the Targum Yonatan’s assertion that they both tried to poison the Pharaoh, given that such an act would have seen them executed immediately.
The cupbearer’s offense would have been considered less serious than the baker’s because a fly could have flown into the cup at any time and is therefore unlikely to be a premeditated act, whereas the stone had been baked into the goods and is therefore seen as a premeditated attempt to chock Pharaoh to death: or at very least, an attempt to cheat Pharaoh out of the true weight of the bread, a form of theft. It was not uncommon in ancient Egypt for various factions to seek to assassinate the Pharaoh in order to place a ruler on the throne of Egypt who would be sympathetic to a different political agenda. The conflict between the Pharaonic authority and the Egyptian priesthood is well documented. It’s possible that the baker belonged to such a faction.
The identities of the two princes of Pharaoh are of great importance with regard to the meta-narrative of Scripture. The cup and the bread will become central symbols for both Israel and the nations. We find that the cupbearer is a bearer of wine and the baker of broken bread. We are being introduced to the elements which will latter represent the poured out blood and broken body of our Messiah Yeshua.
2 And displeased, Pharaoh (Great house) placed the two into the custody of the official: the prince responsible for drink and the prince responsible for baking. 3 And they were given into a prison house of the prince of executioners into the house, ha-sohar the round place, where Yosef (HaShem: Mercy adds) was imprisoned.
In Genesis 39:1 Potiphar is called Pharaoh’s official and Prince of the executioners. In the present text the prince cupbearer and prince baker are given to the official (Potiphar), who gives them into the care of his sub commander (Prince of Executioners). Alternatively, both titles refer to Potiphar, just as they did in Genesis 39:1.
The Hebrew term ha-sohar apparently refers to the shape of the prison which was possibly built as a cylinder going down into the ground. This would explain Joseph’s use of the Hebrew ba’bor (well, pit) in verse 15.
4 And the prince executioner placed them in the care of Yosef (HaShem: Mercy adds) to vay’sharet (minister to) them, and it came to pass after yamiym (a year, many days) of confinement: 5 That the two men dreamed a dream, they dreamed in the one night, each man interpreting his dream, the one who provided drink and the baker to the king of Miytzrayim Egypt (double distress), who were imprisoned in the house, which was round.
As previously stated, “The prince executioner” probably refers to Potiphar’s subordinate but may refer to Potiphar. Either way, Potiphar is in the chain of command and at least partly responsible for giving Joseph this opportunity.
We notice that once again the Hebrew y’sharet (minister to, serve willingly) is employed to describe Joseph’s care of these men. Even in prison Joseph is a minister of God to those in his charge. His generous spirit and integrity are sustained because HaShem is with him.
The Hebrew yamiym can denote a period of up to a year. In the present context this means that the cupbearer and baker were in Joseph’s care for a period of at least a year before they had their respective dreams.
The Hebrew, “Ish c’fit’ron chalomo” is usually translated as, “each man according to the interpretation of his dream” and is said to mean that each man dreamed according to his station. I have rendered the phrase, “each man interpreting his dream”. I believe that the text is inferring that the men each attempted and failed to interpret their respective dreams to their satisfaction. This would help to explain the phrase “We have dreamed a dream and no one can interpret it” (v.8).
The belief that dreams could contain prophetic messages concerning the future was widely held throughout the ancient Near East and is attested to in part by Abimelech’s experience in Genesis 20:3. This makes Joseph’s offer of interpretation in the following verses an inviting proposition and gives him the opportunity to prove himself to be an accurate interpreter of dreams.
It is interesting to note that in verse 5 the cupbearer and baker are called by their occupations alone without the Hebrew sar (prince) being used to refer to their now former positions of authority.
6 And Yosef (HaShem: Mercy adds) entered toward them in the morning, and saw them and behold they were zoafiym (sad, angry, troubled and perplexed). 7 And he enquired of the s’riseiy (officials, eunuchs) of Pharaoh (Great house) who were with him in the place of confinement, house of their lord, saying, “Why are your faces full of raiym (bad, evil, worry, sadness, distress, and misery) today?”
We notice that Joseph, who has had Mercy Himself add comfort to him in his distress, now “adds mercy” to the troubled cupbearer and baker. Like all great men of God, Joseph allows the overflow of his experience of God’s love and mercy to affect those around him. He is looking for an opportunity to comfort these men who have been placed into his care.
The Hebrew raiym, used here to describe the faces of the men can be translated a number of ways and allows for an ambiguous interpretation. It may mean that the face of the cupbearer was distressed and the face of the baker was full of evil intent. If the conjecture concerning the sins of each of the men is true, it makes sense that the would-be assassin (baker) would be angered by his incarceration and what he perceived his dream to mean. The cupbearer on the other hand is simply distressed due to his inability to interpret his dream and troubled by his present predicament.
8 And they replied, “We have chalom chalam’nu dreamed a dream and no one can interpret it.” And speaking toward them Yosef said, “Is it not l'elohiym (to God, gods, judges) that interpretation belongs? Let me saf’ru (relate, number, recount, rehearse) for you.”
The phrase “We have dreamed a dream” can also be understood to say, “We have dreamed a firmly bound thing” or, “We saw a firmly bound firmly bound thing”. In other words, the doubling of the phrase establishes the certain nature of the dream outcomes. These matters have been established by God and will come to pass.
Neither the cupbearer nor the baker, nor any of the other prisoners, had been able to make sense of the dreams.
Joseph’s response may have been understood in a slightly different manner to his intended meaning. Alternatively, Joseph used the generic term elohiym (God, gods, judges) in order to make it easier for the Egyptians to accept the help of a Hebrew. To Joseph, elohiym referred to the God of the Hebrews but to the cupbearer and baker the term elohiym could be understood to refer to the Egyptian deities. Regardless, Joseph was saying that the accurate interpretation of dreams was made possible by God. It is only after Joseph establishes the authority of God that he offers to recount the meaning of the dreams.
9 And the prince of providing drink recounted his dream to Yosef and said, “In my dream behold, all of a sudden a vine grew before my face: 10 And on the vine three tendrils and it (she) sprouted buds as it (she) ascended and blossomed, and produced ripe grapes in a cluster of fruit. 11 And the cup of Pharaoh was in my hand and I took it and the grapes I pressed into the cup and gave the cup into the palm of Pharaoh.”
The writer of Genesis includes the title prince (sar) again, perhaps denoting the fact that the cupbearer is soon to be reinstated. The rapid growth of the vine and the singling out of three tendrils, as well as the quick ripening of the fruit, are all elements that indicate the imminent outcome. The specific nature of the fruit of the vine (Grape juice, wine) is important because it relates this easily identifiable symbol to the meta-narrative of redemption. The wine of the cupbearer’s dream, once it is joined by the bread of the baker’s dream, provides a foreshadowing of the blood and body of Messiah. This is also in keeping with the fact that Joseph is a type for the Mashiyach.
Another important aspect of the cupbearer’s dream is the fact that Pharaoh takes the cup directly from his hand without the cup bearer having drunk from it to test for poison (one of the most important steps in presenting a cup to a king). This denotes Pharaoh’s complete trust in the cupbearer (according to the dream), and infers future favor where the cupbearer is concerned.
12 And Yosef said, “This is the interpretation of it, the three branches are three days.
13 In three days you'll return and yisa par’oh et roshecha, Pharaoh will lift up your head vahashiyv’cha and return you to you position and you will give the cup into Pharaoh's palm in the way you did at first as the provider of drinks.
The idiom, “lift up your head” can mean to count (Exodus 30:12), meaning that the cupbearer will be once again counted worthy in Pharaoh’s sight. The same phrase can also mean to reestablish position (Psalm 3:3; 27:6). In addition, this phrase is used to describe the release of a prisoner (2 Kings 25:27; Jeremiah 52:31). The exact same phrase is used in verse
19, as a word play, followed by the qualifying terms, above and hang.
14 When this occurs remember me and show kindness toward me I plead, make mention of me to Pharaoh and bring me out from this the house.
Joseph is certain of the interpretation he has received from God. Thus he affirms his faith by requesting that the cupbearer use his position to help deliver him from prison.
Unfortunately the cupbearer will soon forget Joseph’s plight (v.23) and it will be two years before he recalls Joseph and his gift for interpreting dreams (41:1, 9-13).
15 For I was carried away from mei-eretz the land of Ha-Ivriym the Hebrews, and also here I've done nothing at all to warrant putting me in this ba’bor (well) pit.”
It’s worth noting that this is the first time that Joseph breaks his silence and protests his innocence.
The phrase, “Land of the Hebrews” shows that at very least Hebron and the surrounding area was known to belong to the Hebrews at that time in history (Approx.1900 BCE).
It is no coincidence that Joseph employs the same Hebrew word ba’bor (well, pit) used to describe the empty well he was thrown into by his brothers (Gen. 37:24). He sees the connection between these two injustices and longs for deliverance. Perhaps, based on the fact that he was freed from the former pit, he relates it to his present captivity because he believes that through his dreams God has shown him an already established future deliverance.
16 And the prince of baking seeing the good interpretation said, “I also dreamed and behold, all of a sudden three baskets of chori white bread (white linen) were upon my head.
The fact that the prince of baking spoke only after hearing the first interpretation, infers that he was not intending to take up Joseph on his offer at first.
The use of the rare verb chori (choor, charar), which comes from a root meaning white stuff, white linen, indicates that the bread in the baskets was unusual in some way. I understand this to be a concise way of presenting the idea of matzah unleavened bread in an Egyptian context prior to the establishment of Pesach and the days of unleavened bread. The Hebrew matzah is used only in Genesis 19:3 prior to its use in Exodus 12:8 and is used in the context of Avraham meeting face to face with a manifest representation of God. This seems to be a unique use that is intended to convey the time of year that the event occurred. The same need is not present here, nor has the Pesach been established, therefore it seems probable that the use of chori rather than lechem (yeast filled bread) in the present context, is intended to denote matzah or an historical Egyptian equivalent (unleavened bread).
The cupbearer saw events unfold before his face, but the baker sees the baskets on top of his head. This is the first indication that the dreams have tragically different meanings. The cupbearer witnesses the events of his dream from within his own body, whereas the baker witnesses the events of his dream from outside of his body. This is an almost universal representation of a transitional death experience.
17 And in the highest basket there was a selection of every kind of baked goods for Pharaoh, v’ha-oph and the birds (flying creatures) ate from the basket on my head.”
The Hebrew oph meaning flying creature, is used to refer to carrion that feed on the flesh of fallen corpses (1 Kings 14:11; 16:4). The fact that the birds are eating Pharaoh’s baked goods without fear, shows that the baker is absent. The phrase “every kind of baked goods” represents the full range of the prince baker’s responsibilities. The basket that is being plundered is on top of the baker’s head, the head being the symbol of authority. Therefore, the plundering is taking place over and above the authority of the baker. This is another way of conveying loss of position. In the case of the baker, he had already lost his position and had been imprisoned in a pit (metaphor for death), thus the dream must be speaking of a further demotion. The only demotion lower than prison is death.
18 And Yosef said “This is the interpretation of it: the three baskets are three days.
19 It will come to pass in three days yisa par’oh et roshecha, Pharaoh will lift up your head meialeycha v’talah otcha al eitz above and hang you upon a tree: and the birds will devour your flesh from above.
The similarities with the cupbearer’s dream end at the three days. Here, the phrase, “yisa par’oh et roshecha, Pharaoh will lift up your head” is employed as a sort of morbid word play and is qualified by the phrase, “meialeycha v’talah otcha al eitz above and hang you upon a tree”. There is historical evidence that the Egyptians practiced an execution method where the body of the victim was impaled on a long spiked stave and lifted into position outside of the city walls. This is probably the means of the baker’s coming execution.
There is of course a correlation with the “hanging on a tree” of the cursed (Deut. 21:23) and the crucifixion of Messiah, who is the bread of life (John 6:35).
20 And it came to pass that after three days it was the birthday of Pharaoh and he prepared a feast for all his servants. And he lifted up the head of the prince of the drinks and he lifted up the head of the prince of the baking in the midst of all his servants.
The repetition of the three days is an indication of God’s hand on the events and conveys a sense of completion and resurrection. The cup bearer is metaphorically dead in prison and after three days he is resurrected to face judgement and is given new life, whereas the baker is metaphorically dead in prison and after three days is resurrected to face judgement and is condemned to death. Both are lifted up, and each one is judged according to his deeds. This is of course a clear depiction of Yom Ha-Din (The day of Judgement).
The wine of the cupbearer’s dream is a foreshadowing of the blood of the Messiah, and the chori (matzah) unleavened bread in the three baskets symbolize the Messiah’s body and His resurrection is seen in the restoring of the cupbearer because the life is in the blood (wine).
21 And he lifted up the prince of the drinks to serve drinks again and he gave Pharaoh's cup into his palm. 22 And the prince of baking was hung (2 Samuel 21:9) according to the interpretation of Yosef.
Joseph is thus established as one whose interpretations are trustworthy. The events transpired just as he had interpreted they would.
23 And the prince of drinks did not remember Yosef, he ceased to care and forgot.
How soon we forget the charitable acts of others. While we’re in a place of torment and suffering we often turn to others for comfort and benefit from their care, but when we are free once more, we quickly forget those who remain in the place of torment that we had once endured. However, the forgetfulness of the cupbearer is part of God’s timing. The cupbearer will recall Joseph at just the right time so that he can have maximum exposure and gain high position from the Pharaoh.
This failure to remember Joseph is a prophetic link to the future of Israel. A future filled with the rhythm of being forgotten and redeemed (Exodus 1:8). We see here, that Joseph is also a type for his people Israel, a people whom a subsequent Pharaoh will not recognize. Like the Messiah Who comes forth from her, Israel will suffer death and experience resurrection.
The reinstatement (resurrection) of the cupbearer is followed by two years of waiting. Joseph awaits God’s deliverance and the crown of authority promised to him in his dreams. In many ways this is like our spiritual journey in Messiah. We meet Him and experience freedom/resurrection from sin but this is only the beginning. We must then continue to hold on to our trust in God as we await His kingdom come, when Messiah will return and we will enter the Olam Haba (World to come), the ultimate fulfillment of our hope in Him.
© Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.