Genesis 40 Revisited

Genesis 40 presents a short story that 1) establishes Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams, and 2) provides a connection to the Pharaoh later on (when he has disturbing dreams). As such, the chapter feels like connective tissue for the larger narrative, not really significant in itself, but important because it connects the larger story. I really had not given this story much thought on it’s own, until I began to notice significant details, it seems to me, carefully chosen details, that demonstrate significant prophetic elements of the Christ and His dual nature.

To summarize, the story is about two servants of Pharaoh, the cupbearer and the chief baker, who for unknown reasons are thrown into prison where Joseph is. They both have striking dreams which make them unsettled. As Joseph interprets both dreams they discover their unique fates three days hence. The cupbearer will be restored to Pharaoh’s service. The chief baker will be beheaded and impaled on a tree. As you read through the chapter, it becomes obvious that elements of Christ’s story are involved.

The cupbearer represents Christ’s divine nature. He was sent to prison, just as Christ was sent to earth, where he resided for some time. Since he is called a cupbearer, he resembles Christ’s role to the One who bears the cup of God’s wrath. It is because of Pharaoh’s fierce anger that the cupbearer is in prison. But this cupbearer will be resurrected after three days and restored to his position in Pharaoh’s court, just as Christ died, was in the grave three days, and was resurrected to the right hand of the Father. Christ bore the full cup of the wrath of God in Himself, and even prayed that the cup would pass from Him in the garden. Christ was the divine Cupbearer raised to life.

The chief baker, on the other hand, did not see life at the end of three days. As the baker of bread, he represents the body of Christ, just as the cupbearer represents the blood. The baker’s specific charge is never given, just as Jesus was innocent before God. The baker’s three days preceded his death, both beheaded and impaled. He could never be hung by a rope as hanging by gallows had not been invented yet, and he had no head to hang him. He was impaled on a tree.

The specifics to each man, their dreams, and their fulfillments could have been anything. All that was needed was to get Joseph established as an interpreter of dreams and a man at Pharaoh’s side at the right time, and yet, these two men and their two dreams offer pieces of the Christ story to those who look for them. Though the two men themselves are incidental, it seems to me that their stories, intertwined with Joseph, are intended to point to the Savior, Jesus Christ. Joseph in many ways is the Savior of Israel in Genesis. So when we see an episode like Genesis 40 that contains “a filler story”, we need to stop, take a look around, and ask questions like, “why is this story here?” Even insignificant stories in the Bible are important.

The same God who gave these men their dreams also gave Joseph their interpretation. Though no one realized it at the time, God was telling Joseph the story of His own Son, His death by crucifixion, His sacrificial death, even though He’s done no wrong. For the Father’s fierce anger over sin He would bear that wrath, but would also be raised to glory, through these two men, caught in circumstances bigger than themselves, God would tell the story of His Son, who is both bread and cup, flesh and blood, Man and God. All the pieces are there. They are just in a different order.

The problem with this is that no one else in Scripture picks up on it. No one tugs at this thread to unravel the story and show it as Christological. Far less significant texts in Genesis are dealt with Christologically, like Genesis 3:15, the character of Adam, the “seed” of Abraham, the character of Abraham and his justification by faith, the opposition of Hagar and Sarah as Sinai and Zion, etc. Joseph is never treated Christologically in the New Testament. He’s never considered a type of Christ formally, and he,s only mentioned in Acts 7 in Stephen’s sermon, in Hebrews 11:22 and Revelation 7:8. Only Stephen takes any time with Joseph, but not as a Christ figure. In the Old Testament, it seems his progeny, Ephraim, soiled the name of Joseph, as Ephraim became synonymous with the rebellious northern Kingdom of Israel.

So as it is, take this interpretation with a grain of salt. There is no New Testament precedent for taking this story for any more than it is, but as it stands, the details are fascinating. As some have said, Jesus can be found in all the books of the Old Testament. As Jesus said, those with eyes to see and ears to hear will find the kingdom. Maybe this is one place to look.

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I've been in ministry in the Christian Churches/ Churches of Christ for 20+ years. Finished my doctorate in Biblical Studies in 2015. Serve today as a Hospital Chaplain.

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