Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them. Genesis 40:1-4a
The chief cupbearer was in charge of all the butlers and an officer of high rank in royal courts, whose duty it was to serve the drinks at the royal table. On account of the constant fear of plots to assassinate the king, a person must be regarded as thoroughly trustworthy to hold this position. He must guard against poison in the king’s cup, and was sometimes required to swallow some of the wine before serving it. His confidential relations with the king often gave him a position of great influence. Nehemiah rose to the high ranking palace position of cupbearer to King Artaxerxes.
The chief butler was in charge of the staff that provided drinks for the Pharaoh and his court, while the chief baker would have been in charge of the staff that provided food for the royal table. The chief baker would also have to be a responsible man.
Pharaoh was angry with his two officials and may have suspected that one or the other had plotted to poison him. Although Potiphar’s wife had accused Joseph of having made sexual advances towards her, Potiphar knew that Joseph was trustworthy and the LORD was with him. Therefore, Potiphar put Joseph in charge of the cupbearer and baker.
After they had been in custody for some time, each of the two men—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison—had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own.
When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected. So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?”
“We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.”
Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.” Genesis 40:4b-8
Joseph had experienced two significant dreams himself. He and his family clearly understood their meanings. Both his dream about his brothers’ sheaves bowing before his sheaf, and the dream of the sun, moon and stars bowing before Joseph meant that he would rule over them. Joseph’s brothers were so enraged by these dreams that they plotted to kill this dreamer, but ended up throwing him into a cistern and then selling him into slavery.
Joseph knew that His God had given Pharaoh’s officials their dreams and God would know their significance.
So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, “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
The cupbearer’s dream speaks of a vine and branches. Jesus said in John 15:5:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
The cupbearer said that in his dream he squeezed the grapes into Pharaoh’s cup. On the night that he was betrayed, during the Passover Seder (which recalls the escape of the Hebrews from Pharaoh’s bondage), Jesus also took a cup and said:
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. Luke 22:20
“This is what it means,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. 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 40:12-13
In three days the cupbearer would symbolically pass from death to life and be restored to his high position. The cupbearer’s dream speaks of the blood of the new covenant in which we can pass from spiritual death to eternal life because Jesus rose to life on the third day from the prison of his tomb.
But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.” Genesis 40:14-15
Although it has been ten years or so since Joseph was sold into slavery, this is the first record of Joseph speaking of his innocence.
When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I too had a 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.”
“This is what it means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and impale your body on a pole. And the birds will eat away your flesh.” Genesis 40:16-19
In three days, while the cupbearer’s head would be lifted up, the bakers head would be lifted off. While the cupbearer’s dream speaks of the atoning blood of Christ, the baker’s dream speaks of sin and the evil one.
Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Corinthians 5:8
In the baker’s dream the variety of baked goods were made with leaven which is symbolic of sin, wickedness and malice. The baker symbolically had sin upon his head.
As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Matthew 13:4
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. Matthew 13:18-19
The birds which ate the seeds in the parable of the sower represented agents of Satan. The birds in the baker’s dream symbolized the carrion-eating, unclean birds which would eventually eat away the baker’s flesh.
Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand— but he impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation. Genesis 40:20-22
This account of Pharaoh’s officials symbolizes the gospel. The prophetic dreams of the cupbearer and the baker are pictures of atonement and resurrection to eternal life, and of sin, punishment and eternal death.
The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him. Genesis 40:23
It would be two more years before Joseph would be remembered by the chief cupbearer. Joseph would spend a total of 13 years between the time he spent serving as a slave in Potipher’s house and then being imprisoned in a dungeon. Yet, he did not complain but served as unto the LORD.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9
Let us all take heart and learn from Joseph’s example.