Joseph’s experience in the house of Potiphar was both rewarding and disappointing. His experience was rewarding because he was able to make an impact on the life of Potiphar, to such an extent, that Potiphar put Joseph in charge of all he had. In addition, Potiphar could see that Joseph was a man dedicated to his God because Joseph’s God prospered everything Joseph did.
Joseph’s greatest disappointment came out of his interaction with Potiphar’s wife. Because Joseph was a handsome man, Potiphar’s wife became infatuated with Joseph and wanted to have sex with him. When Joseph refused, Potiphar’s wife accused Joseph of rape. Because of his position in the Egyptian government, in order to save the honor of his wife, Potiphar had to send Joseph to prison, even though he probably believed that Joseph was innocent.
Joseph in Prison
Although Joseph was innocent of the charges leveled against him and although Joseph was unjustly incarcerated, Joseph once again demonstrated the strength of his character by becoming a model prisoner. Joseph was sent to the same prison where Pharaoh’s prisoners were kept. Since Joseph’s alleged crime was committed against a high official of Pharaoh, Joseph’s offence was considered an offence against Pharaoh himself.
Joseph was in prison, but he was not alone, “the LORD was with him” (Genesis 39:21). In prison, God was present with Joseph with his unchanging love. Because the Lord was with Joseph, the warden noticing Joseph, his demeanor and his attitude toward other prisoners, placed him “in charge of all the prisoners who were in that prison. Joseph became responsible for everything that they were doing” (Genesis 39:22).
After Joseph had spent some time in prison, two important persons in the Egyptian government were put in prison with Joseph, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and Pharaoh’s chief baker. The cupbearer was the Egyptian officer who was responsible for Pharaoh’s cellar. The chief baker was the officer responsible for Pharaoh’s baking staff.
The text does not say the reason the men were sent to prison. Probably, it was a serious offense against Pharaoh because they were sent to the place where Pharaoh’s prisoners were confined (Genesis 39:20). Because the two prisoners were palace officials, the warden assigned the two prisoners to Joseph to take care of them (Genesis 40:4).
The Cupbearer’s Dream
One night, when they were in prison, both the cupbearer and the baker had a dream that same night, but they were unable to understand the meaning of their dreams. In the morning, when Joseph came to attend them, Joseph noticed that they were upset. Joseph asked them, “Why are your faces so sad today?” (Genesis 40:7). Joseph questioned them because he wanted to help them. They told Joseph that they had a dream but could not understand what the dream meant.
Joseph told them that God could reveal to them the meaning of their dreams. When Joseph said that God knew the meaning of the dreams, Joseph used the word elohim, a Hebrew word meaning “God” or “gods.” In a polytheistic society like Egypt, the Egyptian officials may have thought that Joseph was referring to one of the many gods of Egypt. But Joseph was talking about the true God, the God of the Hebrews, not the gods of Egypt.
The cupbearer told Joseph his dream. The cupbearer said, “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand” (Genesis 40:9–11).
Joseph said to the cupbearer, “Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer” (Genesis 40:13). Joseph assured the cupbearer that his dream would come true because God was speaking to him. Joseph also told the cupbearer to remember him when he was restored and to plead with Pharaoh to release him from prison.
Joseph gave two reasons for his request. First, Joseph said that he was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews. When the word “Hebrew” is used in the Old Testament, the word is used to designate the person as a foreigner or an outsider. Joseph was “kidnapped,” not taken by force to Egypt. The second reason Joseph provided for his plea was that he was innocent of the charges presented against him and that he had not done anything to deserve being put into prison.
The Chief Baker’s Dream
When the chief baker heard Joseph’s interpretation of the dream of his fellow officer and of his future exaltation by Pharaoh, the baker was excited because he wanted to be restored to his position in Pharaoh’s house. So, he decided to tell Joseph his dream.
The chief baker told Joseph his dream: “On my head were three baskets of bread. In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head” (Genesis 40:16–17).
Joseph told the chief baker that the three baskets represented three days. In three days you will come before Pharaoh and he will cut off your head, he will impale you on a pole, and the birds will eat the flesh from your dead body.
Two days later, what Joseph had predicted, happened. That day was Pharaoh’s birthday. Pharaoh prepared a special banquet for all his officers and for those who served him. On that day, Pharaoh summoned the chief cupbearer and the chief baker to come before him. He restored the chief cupbearer to his official position. On that day, the cupbearer began to serve Pharaoh again. Then, Pharaoh condemned the chief baker to death by hanging, just as Joseph had predicted.
The restoration of the cupbearer to his official position was an indication that God was with Joseph and that he had given him the ability to interpret dreams. After the cupbearer was restored to his position, he forgot the promise he had made to Joseph, he “did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (Genesis 40:23). Because the cupbearer forgot to keep his promise, Joseph remained in prison two more years, “to all appearances forgotten by man and God” (Brueggemann 1982:325).
It is possible that the cupbearer was reluctant to give credit for his restoration to a Hebrew slave. Maybe he was afraid of the consequences of revealing that he already knew that he would be restored to his official position. Maybe he just forgot what Joseph had done for him. Years later, a new Pharaoh arose in Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph. The Egyptians had forgotten Joseph and all he did to save their nation from starvation (Exodus 1:8).
Joseph in Pharaoh’s Court
Two years after the restoration of the chief cupbearer to his official position, Pharaoh had a dream. In his dream he saw seven beautiful and fat cows. Then he saw seven cows who were sick and skinny. Pharaoh had a second dream in which he saw seven heads of grain, healthy and good and then seven heads of grain thin and scorched by the east wind.
Pharaoh was very troubled by his dreams. In the morning he called his magicians and the wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but the wise men of Egypt were unable to tell Pharaoh the meaning of the dream. It was at that time that the cupbearer remembered Joseph.
Joseph had made an impact on the life of the cupbearer. Joseph was correct when he had interpreted his dream and now that he was serving Pharaoh again, he recognized that the God of Joseph knew the meaning of Pharaoh’s dream. The cupbearer told Pharaoh that while he was in prison, he met a Hebrew slave who could interpret dreams. He also said that he had made a promise to the Hebrew man, but he had failed to keep his promise.
Joseph was summoned to come before Pharaoh. But before he came, Joseph shaved and changed his clothes. Most English translations say that Joseph shaved himself. The Septuagint, however, says that Joseph was shaved. The reason Joseph was shaved was because Semites preferred to be bearded while Egyptians were clean shaven.
When Joseph came before Pharaoh, Pharaoh told Joseph, “I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it” (Genesis 41:15). Joseph told Pharaoh that he could not interpret dreams. He said that God was the one who knew what dreams meant and that God would give him the correct interpretation of his dreams.
Joseph told Pharaoh that the two dreams were in reality the same dream dreamed twice. God was showing Pharaoh that there would be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. Joseph also explained that the reason for the same dream dreamed twice was because “the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon” (Genesis 41:32),
When Pharaoh heard Joseph’s words, he asked his officers, “where can we find a man who can help us solve this problem?” Pharaoh recognized that Joseph was a man who was guided by his God. Pharaoh then appointed Joseph to be in charge of his palace and in charge of all of Egypt. Pharaoh gave Joseph authority to do anything necessary to solve this coming crisis.
After Pharaoh appointed Joseph to his position, he gave Joseph a new name, an Egyptian name. Joseph’s new name was Zaphenath-paneah. The meaning of the name is debated, it probably means “God speaks, and he is alive.” Pharaoh also gave Joseph Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife. Out of Joseph’s marriage with Asenath, two children were born, Manasseh and Ephraim. Joseph’s two sons became two tribes in Israel.
On September 12, 2021, my pastor Jeff Griffin, Senior Pastor of The Compass Church preached a sermon on Genesis 40:1—41:44 titled “Joseph – Impacting Others.” The post above is based on Jeff’s sermon.
In his sermon Jeff emphasized how Joseph had an impact on the lives of many people throughout his stay in Egypt. Joseph made a profound impact on Potiphar. Potiphar became convinced that God was blessing his house because Joseph’s God was with him. Potiphar put Joseph in charge of everything he had. Joseph made an impact on the warden of the prison because of his demeanor. As a result, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners.
Joseph made such an impact on the cupbearer of Pharaoh that he was willing to recommend him to Pharaoh as a faithful interpreter of dreams. Joseph made an impact on Pharaoh. Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph that he made him the most important official in the Egyptian government. Joseph impacted people spiritually because God was with him.
In his sermon Jeff also used Joseph’s experience and what he did to help Christians make an impact on people’s lives. Jeff listed four principles taken from Joseph’s life on how to make a spiritual impact on people’s lives.
The first principle is based on the fact that Joseph recognized God’s activity in his life. Twice the Bible says that God was with Joseph while he was in Potiphar’s house. Twice the Bible says that God was with Joseph while he was in prison. Joseph’s success was because he believed that God was present with him, notwithstanding his situation as a slave or as a prisoner. Joseph believed that his encounter with Pharaoh was God’s plan, that God was working behind the scenes to bring about this encounter.
The second principle is based on the fact that Joseph gave credit to God for all he did. Potiphar saw that Joseph was successful because God was with Joseph. Joseph told the cupbearer and Pharaoh that the one who could give the right interpretation for their dreams was God, not him. Christians can impact people by letting them notice God in what they do.
The third principle is based on the fact that Joseph showed others that God was pursuing them to bless them. Joseph told the cupbearer that God was speaking to him through his dream. Joseph told Pharaoh that God was warning him about the coming famine because God cared for him and for the people of Egypt. Joseph was sent to Egypt in order to show the sovereignty of God and that he was in control of everything.
The fourth principle is based on the fact that Joseph described God accurately to people who did not know the true God. Through the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream Joseph was telling Pharaoh what God was like. People have many misconceptions about God. Joseph told Pharaoh what kind of God God is, a loving and caring God.
The Sermon: Joseph – Impacting Others – A Sermon by Jeff Griffin
Claude F. Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1982.
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Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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