JOSEPH, THE INTERPRETER OF DREAMS

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    [Genesis:40:1-23]; [Genesis:41:1-36].

    Lesson No.: 
    35
    Class: 
    Senior
    Memory Verse: 

    "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths" (Proverbs 3:6).

    Cross References: 

    I The Dreams of Pharaoh's Servants and Their Fulfilment
    1. The butler and the baker are confined in prison because they offended Pharaoh, [Genesis:40:1-4]; [Numbers:32:23].
    2. Their dreams cause them deep concern and they confide in their fellow-prisoner, Joseph, [Genesis:40:5-8].
    3. Joseph, a true man of God, gives God honour concerning interpretations, [Genesis:40:8].
    4. The butler relates his dream and Joseph gives an interpretation of it together with a pathetic plea for his future kindness, [Genesis:40:9-15].
    5. The baker relates his dream and Joseph interprets it, [Genesis:40:16-19].
    6. The dreams are fulfilled, but Joseph is forgotten for two years, [Genesis:40:20-23]; [Genesis:41:1].

    II Pharaoh's Dream and Its Interpretation
    1. Pharaoh's two dreams, which the magicians could not interpret, cause his spirit to be troubled, [Genesis:41:1-8].
    2. The butler remembers Joseph and confesses his fault to Pharaoh, [Genesis:41:9-13].
    3. Joseph is brought before Pharaoh, who relates his dreams, [Genesis:41:14-24].
    4. Joseph interprets the dreams, again giving full honour and glory to God, [Genesis:41:16], [Genesis:41:25-32]; [Genesis:2:27-28].
    5. Joseph, always a diligent, faithful servant, recommends a far-reaching plan for the salvation of Egypt during the famine, [Genesis:41:33-36]; [Genesis:39:2-6]; [Proverbs:9:10].

    Notes: 

    In all sacred and secular history there is no account that is so beautiful, pathetic, and instructive as that of the life of Joseph -- with the obvious exception of the life of Jesus, our Lord. The story of the Prodigal Son, in the New Testament, is probably the nearest contender for the place that Joseph's life story holds, but it falls far short of the complete satisfaction that this story gives.

    Such good conduct, as Joseph's, is so exceedingly rare that his example has stood on the records of time as almost without a parallel. He is admired by all and applauded by most, but imitated by too few who read of his sterling character and shining example.

    He is somewhat like another man who lived at a much later period in Israel's history: the man of God and president of Babylon, Daniel. Both were carried captive in their youth, but still remained model young men. Both served in their king's court, lived pure lives in idolatrous nations, and were unjustly persecuted, yet retained their Christian graces through it all. Both were exalted to rulership through their God-inspired interpretations of dreams, and both became noted statesmen.

    Joseph was in prison -- in a dungeon, perhaps -- for a time, and we find that his godly conduct there won him favour with the keeper of the prison. He became the chief to the captain of the guard, in charge of all that the captain possessed. We read also that two others were confined with him. They were the chiefs of the butlers and the bakers in Pharaoh's household, who had displeased Pharaoh in a way that merited this punishment for their sins. As we know, Joseph was innocent of the commission of any crime, being placed in prison for revenge, on a false accusation made by the wife of his master, Potiphar.

    Some students of the Bible see another parallel here between the life of Joseph and that of our Saviour. It is true that there is this similarity that both were innocent of sin or crime, and both suffered punishment for the sins of another; during the execution of which their companions were two malefactors, criminals worthy of punishment.

    Joseph's two fellow-prisoners had dreams on the same night, which were evidently not ordinary dreams because of the deep concern they caused the two men. They must have felt that the dreams had some particular meaning or prophetic import, because when Joseph went in to them he found that they were sad, bemoaning the fact that they did not have access to an interpreter who could make known the meanings of the dreams to them. But Joseph let a ray of light shine upon their sadness, for he said, "Do not interpretations belong to God?" He convinced them of the truth of that fact; and since they no doubt were already convinced that he was a man of God they did not hesitate to reveal their dreams to him -- and to accept the interpretations he gave. The chief baker saw that the interpretation of the butler's dream was good, so he also told his dream to Joseph, knowing that he, too, would receive a correct explanation from this man they all admired.

    Joseph's only request for compensation was that he be remembered by the butler when Pharaoh had restored him to his place, by asking Pharaoh to give Joseph a rehearing, or appeal, that his innocence might be established and that he might be given his liberty. Being a foreigner he probably had none of the rights that a convict might ordinarily have in that country which was ruled by a despotic and absolute monarch. Joseph would languish in prison until he died, unless he could obtain a hearing before Pharaoh; and to receive such a favour would require the intervention of someone who was interested enough in him to intercede before that haughty ruler.

    We see again, in the actions of the butler, the truth of the sacred Proverb: "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel" (Proverbs:12:10). He received his freedom and was again exalted to his former place of honour in serving his king, but he forgot the man who had done so much for him in the hour of his great need.

    All the good in the world originally comes from God, for we read in the Bible that "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above" (James:1:17); from God, the Father, Who "maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew:5:45).

    We have God to thank for every good thing, every moment of happiness and joy, every day of peace the world knows, every breath of air, and every item of food and drink that we receive. And yet how few thank God for these bountiful blessings that we all partake of daily! Man, in his sinful state, is fundamentally ungrateful and unappreciative; but when the love of God comes in, it changes that sinful nature. A Christian gives thanks daily, hourly -- momentarily -- for all the blessings that he receives. "Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you" (I Thessalonians:5:16-18).

    One cannot blame Joseph for making this request of the butler, that he might be free. When one is in the furnace of affliction it is a very difficult thing to see how the trial can fit into God's eternal plan, but we are assured by His eternal Word that "all things work together for good to them that love God" (Roman:8:28); and if we but stay in God's hand and in His will we shall be delivered from our affliction and suffering in due time, with a substantial blessing from the Giver of every good and perfect gift. Then as we look back over the experience, we shall be able to see how God permitted it for His glory and for the working out of some perfection in our life or in the lives of others.

    Deliverance came in God's time. He remained faithful to God, no matter how adverse or disappointing the circumstances were, and God saw that he could be trusted. Some people are good Christians when they have to lean heavily and completely on the Lord for their existence, but they forget Him entirely when all is going well. God needs men who will love, serve, and honour Him; not only when they have to depend upon the grace of Heaven for strength and courage and every breath of their life, but who will not forget Him when the highest honours, fortunes, and blessings that the world can give are laid at their feet. And God saw that Joseph was that kind of man; and after he had suffered a while he was made perfect, established, strengthened, and settled by the grace of God, Whom he loved.

    The dreams that God gave Pharaoh were significant: first, the fat and the lean cattle; and then, the full and the blasted ears of corn. In both, the lean and blasted devoured the fat and full, and were none the better for it. The interpretation that God gave Pharaoh, through His servant Joseph, was that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. It has been remarked that the two phases of the dream probably showed that all branches of agriculture would be affected. The dream of the cattle foretold that livestock would be abundant in the first period and so diminished and impoverished in the final period that they would be of no value as food for hungry people; while the dream of the corn showed that the products of the field -- the grains and vegetables -- would grow in great profusion in the first period and be killed by the hot, dry, and blasting winds from the eastern desert in the later period.

    The Nile River was the source of the wealth of Egypt. Its overflowing at certain periods of the year brought the silt down from higher plateaus, fertilizing and revitalizing the lower plains and also furnishing a regular irrigation, without which the land would be dry and barren. The significant fact that the cattle came out of the river might show that the blessings of the plentiful years would accrue from a bountiful overflowing of the river, and the famine of the drought years would result from a failure of that natural waterway to bring its blessing to the land. Even in present times the Egyptians depend upon the river to such an extent that crops, and the prosperity of their other agricultural activities, can be predicted by the height the floodwaters reach in their season. The best height of the flood, in one location, is reported to be about 24 feet, according to an authority of some years ago; and if the waters reach only the 18-foot level, a famine is sure. Hunger is prevalent when the waters reach only the 19½ or 20-foot mark, while everyone rejoices if they go to 21 feet. At 22½ feet the land is assured of perfect security, and when they climb to 24 feet all may have the luxuries of life.

    Joseph again gave all honour and credit to God for the interpretation of the dreams and, guided by the Spirit of God, recommended a wise, prudent, and far-reaching plan for the deliverance of the world during the trying period that was ahead of them. This he did without any thought of himself; for in his lowly state as a foreigner in a strange land and as a prisoner there, he could hardly believe that such an office would be given to him. In a later lesson we shall see how he was favoured with that position and how well he filled it, faithfully discharging his duties before man and God.

    Questions: 

    1. Why was Joseph put in prison?
    2. What responsibility did Joseph have toward his two fellow-prisoners, Pharaoh's chief butler and chief baker?
    3. Describe the dreams of these two prisoners.
    4. To whom did Joseph ascribe the honour for the correct interpretations?
    5. What kindness did Joseph ask of the chief butler?
    6. What compensation did Joseph receive from these two prisoners for his interpretations?
    7. Describe the dreams of Pharaoh.
    8. What was the interpretation that Joseph gave Pharaoh?
    9. Why did the people of ancient Egypt worship the Nile River?
    10. What other man of God reached a high place in the government of a pagan nation by the interpretation of a dream?