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Joseph    part 3

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Story of his life:

Summary of part one and two in the series

We have seen so far how Joseph's brothers were envious of him and so conspired to sell him into slavery in Egypt. The man in Egypt who bought Joseph was called Potiphar and he was an officer of Pharaohs’. Joseph did very well in the house of Potiphar and made it prosper with the result that he was put in charge of the household. However, Potiphar’s wife lusted after him with the result that one day when the wife and Joseph were alone in the household she grabbed his coat and made sexual suggestions to him. Joseph ran from the house leaving the garment in her hand. Later on, she falsely accused Joseph of making advances to her and as a result he was thrown into jail.

The Pharoah's cup-bearer and baker

While all this was happening in the prison, things had heated up in the court of the Pharaoh. Amongst the officials that attended the Pharaoh was the cup-bearer or as is interpreted sometimes the butler. This was a position of great honour in ancient courts. The Pharaoh would have put great trust in this man. He not only served the Pharaoh, but protected him from the fear of assassination by poisoning.

Another official of importance to the Pharaoh was the baker. He was the officer who prepared the Pharaoh’s food, and was one whom Pharaoh placed similar confidence. Some of the reliefs in Egypt show a bakery and men carrying baskets heaped with loaves and cakes on their head, which is exactly what the chief baker did in the presence of Pharaoh.

Egyptian hyroglifics of the baker

It came to pass that cup-bearer and the baker offended Pharaoh. As to what they did we don’t know. But it was enough to make the Pharaoh extremely angry with them. As a result they were assigned to the same prison that Joseph was in and both were committed into Joseph’s care. To Joseph, these circumstances were commonplace, and he was not aware of the fact that God was moving on his behalf. Similarly, seeming unimportant circumstances in our lives can be the result of the hand of the Lord in our affairs. Therefore, as it says in the scriptures, let us commit our ways unto him. Who knows the purpose behind some apparently minor incident in our life?

As in most things in Joseph’s life, there is a parallel here to the life of Jesus and his brethren:

Prison in a number of places through the scriptures is referred to as representing the grave. In other words, in the case of Joseph going into prison, it is like Christ at his crucifixion and subsequent death. At Christ’s crucifixion there were two criminals crucified with him, one of whom, however, escaped the fate of the other by the intercession of the Lord. In like manner there are two classes to be present with the Lord at the Judgment Seat. There will be the accepted and the rejected.

And that is what we see here, there are two criminals thrown into prison, the baker was subsequently hanged, but the cup-bearer was restored to his position.

Whilst the men were in the prison they both had a dream on one night. They looked sad the next morning and Joseph asked them what the was problem. They then proceeded to tell Joseph of the dreams:

The dream of the cupbearer

This is the dream of the cupbearer:

So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened into grapes. 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.” Then Joseph said to him, “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh's cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer. Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.”  Genesis 40:9-15 ESV

This man was the cup-bearer, so the vine was appropriate to his position. In the dream he took the grapes that had become ripe and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup and then put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand. Wine in the scriptures is a symbol of a life dedicated to his master. So it implies here that the cupbearer would be restored to his position and render good service unto his Lord. The cupbearer is then told that within three days shall Pharaoh lift up his head.

The prophet Hosea also talks about being lifted up after three days:

“Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Hosea 6:1-2 ESV

In these verses we are being told that Israel would be restored after three days.

So the dream of the cupbearer is repeated here in Hosea to describe Israel’s national rejection and ultimate restoration. They would be saved by the coming of a deliverer, in the form of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Joseph asked in verse 14 of Genesis chapter 40 that the cup-bearer should remember him. In like manner, Christ asked us as the new Israel (if we are baptised) to remember him in the bread and wine we take every Sunday at church.

The dream of the baker

The chief baker was encouraged by the obviously true explanation of the cupbearer’s dream given by Joseph. So he told Joseph of his dream:

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, 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.” And Joseph answered and said, “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days. In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from you!—and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat the flesh from you.”   Genesis 40:16-19 ESV

The words in verse 16 which say “I had three white baskets on my head” should be translated “three baskets of white bread on my head”. And other versions besides the King James Version do translate it that way or similar. This suggests leavened bread, which is a symbol of wickedness.

Paul wrote a letter to the church at Corinth in which he talked unleavened and leavened bread:

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 ESV

We are to purge out the old leaven which is the man of sin within us and take on the unleavened bread which is the Lord Jesus Christ. The baker was carrying leavened bread which was a symbol of wickedness. The fact that he carried it on his head suggest to us that he had a wicked mind. This is in contrast to the active hands of the cupbearer who, in his dream, was actively engaged in doing something to the pleasure of the Pharaoh. Likewise we must be doers of the Word, not hearers only, deceiving our own selves.

The uppermost basket of the baker had all manner of bake-meats for Pharaoh. If we take the literal Hebrew here, the words are saying that the basket contained “the food of Pharaoh, the work of the baker”. So the basket was full of the works of the Baker. In other words, the works of human skills. The cup-bearer, on the other hand, had the fruit of the vine, which is the work of God.

The message coming across strongly to us from this is that God is pleased with the fruits of the Spirit-Word, not with the works of the flesh. Indeed this lesson is taught many times through the Bible.

Returning to the dream, the baker had this bread in baskets on his head, when some birds came along and ate the bread out of the basket. All the fine man-made breads displayed on the head of the baker were consumed by those for which it  was not intended. They were prepared for the benefit and pleasure of Pharaoh, but they were consumed by the birds.

This is a strong warning to us, let us beware, for the things we do, even in the cause of the truth, can be swallowed up by the flesh, if we start doing them for self-satisfaction and personal glory. Let us always review our motives for doing things in the work of God. So that we don't do it for personal satisfaction as opposed to Godly satisfaction.

The birthday of Pharoah

On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, the things came to pass that were in the dreams:

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. Genesis 40:20 ESV

It was common practice for Pharaoh’s to celebrate their birthdays by holding feasts and granting pardons to offenders. So the third day represents the day of judgment. It can be compared to a birthday, for it will bring in a new era which will see established on the earth a new ruling power and a new kingdom. At this new kingdom there will be newly born children of Zion.

“Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children.  Isaiah 66:7-8 ESV

The children of Zion born here refers to the children of the resurrection (at God's coming kingdom). They are those who belonged to Christ. Or as it puts it elsewhere in the Bible this is a new nation born at the start of the new kingdom. And this all starts from the day of judgment.

This is why the third day, the day of judgment, coincides with the birthday of Pharaoh.

As I mentioned before the cup-bearer and the baker represent the two classes to be present at the judgment seat. The cup-bearer, the man of the vine, represent those who will be accepted. The baker, the man who relies on his own skills and ways instead of God’s, represents those who will be the rejected at the judgment seat.

So as Joseph correctly interpreted, the cup-bearer was restored to his previous position and the baker was put to death.

He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand. But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them. Genesis 40:21-22 ESV

The dream of Pharoah

Two years passed and Joseph was still in prison for the cup-bearer had completely forgotten about Joseph. Joseph had now reached the age of thirty.

It was at this time that Pharaoh had a dream. It was repeated to emphasise its importance and certainty.

and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows. And Pharaoh awoke. And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump, full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. Genesis 41:2-7 ESV

Pharaoh was confused by the dreams and called the magicians. The magicians were an order of Egyptian priests who understood the sacred hieroglyphic writings. They cultivated a knowledge of art and science, interpreted dreams, practiced soothsaying and divination, and were supposed to possess secret arts. They were men of great influence in Egypt, and were esteemed and highly honoured. This is why Pharaoh called for them.

Pharaoh also called for the wise men, who were the king’s counselors. They were made up of learned men capable of judging and advising.

Yet despite all this “fire power” in court officials, they couldn’t understand the dreams.

It was at this point that the cupbearer remembers the time he was in prison when he and the baker had dreamed and Joseph had interpreted their dreams.

So Joseph was sent for. He was shaved and his clothing was changed. Contrary to the custom of the Hebrews, the Egyptians shaved closely. The Egyptians of the upper classes paid great attention to their personal appearance. As a rule men shaved off their beards, but not the hair of their head.

Again this ties in with Jesus. As I mentioned before, the prison Joseph was in represented the grave. So when Joseph left the prison it represented Christ being resurrected from the grave. Joseph was shaved and we know from Leviticus that shaving symbolised the state of one who had been cleansed. Jesus was physically cleansed after he had risen from the dead.

Joseph then had a change of raiment. This points to a change of nature.

The prophet Zechariah also talks about this:

And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.”  Zechariah 3:4 ESV

So a change of raiment points to a change of nature as Jesus experienced at his resurrection.

Then Joseph came before Pharaoh, as the Lord did unto his Heavenly Father. This whole scene can be summarised in the book of Acts:

this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. Acts 2:23-24 ESV

In the context of Joseph these verses should be read in relation to him being thrown into prison and then his subsequent release. In the context of Jesus, it reads of his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection.

Joseph interprets Pharoah's dream

So, we see Joseph appearing before Pharaoh. Pharaoh proceeds to tell him of the dream after which Joseph interprets it, refusing to take any credit for the interpretation saying that it was God and not him who had interpreted the dream.

The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine.  Genesis 41:26-27 ESV

Joseph says later that the famine that followed would be very grievous. There is a inscription on a rock on the island of Sahal, which tells of a seven year famine which took place in the reign of Pharaoh Djoser who reigned about 1000 years before Joseph. It reads :

“I was in distress on the great throne, and those who are in the palace were in affliction of heart because of a very great evil, for in my time, the Nile has not overflowed for seven years. There was scarcely any grain; fruits were dried up; and everything which they ate was short. Every man robbed his neighbour. The men who want to walk cannot move, the child wails, the young man drags his body about, and the hearts of the older men are crushed with despair. Their legs give way under them, they sink down on the ground, and they clutch their bodies with their hands (in pain). Their nobles have no counsel to give, and there is nothing to be obtained from the storehouses, but wind. Everything is in a state of ruin”.

The inscription was in existence in Joseph’s day so that the Pharaoh of the time would have realised the dreadful news that seven years famine would bring. In another seven year famine in 1066 in Egypt people got so desperate that they resorted to cannibalism. So the people of Egypt were very dependent on the Nile river.

Joseph, realised that the situation was urgent so he recommended that immediate steps be taken to fight the problem. He suggests that one-fifth of the crops in the seven good years be set aside so that it could be used in the seven famine years.

He goes on to suggest that a man be appointed to examine the situation.

Joseph appointed second in charge of Egypt

The suggestion was applauded as being excellent and it was recognised that Joseph has all the qualifications necessary to implement it. Pharaoh says to Joseph `”there is none so discreet and wise as thou art”. In a similar way the apostle Paul wrote in Colossians that “in whom (Christ) are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. Again Joseph pointed towards Christ. As a result, Joseph is appointed to the position. He was made second in charge with only Pharaoh above him. Jesus was also second in charge with only God greater than him.

Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it on Joseph’s hand. Great importance was attached to the signet ring, which contained the owner’s name. The impression from the ring in a seal was the same as a written signature in modern day. This ring therefore was the seal of authority

In a similar way John chapter 6 tells us that Christ was sealed with divine authority.

As well as being given the ring, Joseph was also dressed in fine clothes and was given a gold chain for his neck. Again as a sign of his authority to rule.

Pharaoh then made Joseph ruler over all the land. Again we see the parallel to Christ as ruler over all the earth.

Joseph was given a new name “Zaphnath-paaneah” and he was given a wife Asenath who was the daughter of Potipherah priest of On. Joseph was thirty years of age when he stood before Pharaoh. Thirty was also the age that the Levites commenced their duties and was also the age that David began to reign in Hebron. More significantly, it was the age at which the Lord Jesus Christ commenced his public ministry before his Father.

The famine

So Joseph left Pharaoh and went out and started performing his duties. All the corn was collected and put into the granaries. At first he kept a very careful record of the amount of corn received in order that it might be fairly apportioned in the years of famine. But ultimately, as it was seen that sufficient was gathered in, he stopped recording the quantity.

It was at this time that to Joseph were born two sons. The first child born was Manasseh. The name Manasseh means forgetting. And Joseph goes on to explain why he gave his son this name when he says, that it was because God has made him forget all his troubles. The name of the second child was Ephraim which means double fruit or fruitfulness. Again Joseph explains why he was given this name when he says that it was because God had made him fruitful in the land of his suffering. So it is obvious from this comment that Joseph viewed his present glory as of a temporary natures.

Egypt still remained for him the land of his affliction or suffering. So there was seven years of plenty and this was then followed by seven years of famine. The famine was very extreme so that it spread beyond the borders of Egypt. Even though the famine was severe There was plenty of bread in Egypt thanks to Joseph’s stockpile of grains. People could come to him to be feed. In a similar way, there is a spiritual famine in this world we live in, yet we can go to the Lord Jesus Christ to be fed spiritually. There is always spiritual food where Christ is.

So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Genesis 41:56 ESV

So the famine covered the whole earth, and Joseph opened the storehouses and sold the grain. Granaries were found all over Egypt, and every facility was designed in such a way to not only house the grain but also make it easy to deliver it. Some of the granaries were low flat-roofed buildings, divided into rooms or vaults, into which the grain was poured from bags. So it was from these granaries that Joseph dispersed the corn to the people.

The famine covered the face of the earth and it increased in severity as food became increasingly scarce. And all the countries of the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy corn. As a result, Joseph became the symbol of salvation to the ends of the earth.

The prophet Isaiah records the following:

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6 ESV

So in a similar way Christ was source of salvation to the very ends of the earth. There is a spiritual famine in the earth at present, and men must seek Christ like they did Joseph if they want to be fed. And if we seek and are subsequently fed by Jesus then God willing we will be with him as he reigns over the future kingdom yet to be set up on this earth.

The next part in the series on Joseph

In part four, we will consider the final installment in Joseph’s life as he is reunited with his brothers and his father.

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Last Updated: Sunday, 08 March 2015