JOSEPH, THE INTERPRETER OF DREAMS

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

    Lesson No.: 
    35
    Class: 
    Junior
    Memory Verse: 

    “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God”  (James 1:5).

    Notes: 

    Still in Prison
    The kings in the time of Joseph were very much like the dictators we have heard about in European countries in recent years. If someone displeased them, he would be put into prison without trial, and perhaps be forgotten for a long time.

    Thus Joseph found himself in prison -- not for any wicked deed he had done, but because a woman's pride had been hurt, and she wanted to get revenge. Soon two men who had had high positions in the king’s court joined him but they had done something to displease Pharaoh. Those wicked kings were always afraid someone was trying to poison them, or kill them in some way; and perhaps that was the reason these men were under suspicion. It was the duty of the chief butler to serve wine to the ruling monarch; and, of course, the baker had charge of all the bread and pastry for the royal table.

    Because of the favour God had given Joseph with his keepers, he was put in charge of the new prisoners. One morning when he came to them, perhaps to bring their breakfast, they looked troubled. Joseph was kind-hearted, and he was interested in knowing why they felt so sad. They told him about the dreams they had had.

    The Egyptian people had many wise men and magicians, some of whom sought to read fortunes by the stars. It does not seem to have been unusual for people to tell their dreams to such a person, and get some kind of interpretation, but here in the prison there was no one to tell them the meaning of the dreams. Joseph assured them that they did not need the astrologers and soothsayers, because God alone could give the proper interpretation.

    Joseph had been in Egypt about 11 years by this time, but in spite of his surroundings he had lived in such a way that he still had confidence that God would hear him when he prayed. He did not say: "Perhaps I will never get home again, so what does it matter how I live? None of my friends will know if I sin a little; and it will be much easier to get along with these people if I worship their gods." He lived to please God every day, remember-ing that God sees everything we do, and will reward us according to our works.

    Dreams Interpreted
    When this need arose for an answer from God, Joseph must have been happy indeed that he was in a position to get his prayers through. When he told the prisoners that interpretations belong to God, he could add with utmost confidence, "Tell me them [the dreams], I pray you." He was living so close to the Lord that he could claim oneness with Him, just as the Word speaks of the sanctified people: "For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Hebrews:2:11).

    The butler told his dream first, and was very happy to hear Joseph say that it foretold his release in three days. As Joseph did not deserve to be in jail, and he wondered if he had been forgotten, he asked the butler to remember him when he was set at liberty. The butler should have been grateful enough to Joseph to try to help him get out. But as soon as the butler was free he forgot to have compassion on someone else who was suffering wrongfully. God is watching the hardheartedness of sinners, and they will someday receive His judgment. Jesus said: "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal" (Matthew:25:45, 46).

    When the chief baker heard that the first interpretation was good he also told Joseph his dream. However, he was not so fortunate. It may be that he really had committed a deed worthy of punishment. He was taken from the prison in three days and beheaded and hanged on a tree just as Joseph had interpreted his dream.

    For two more years Joseph was forgotten in the prison. It must have seemed a long time for him, and he must have been very much disappointed that the butler had been so thoughtless. But God never forgets His own, and though things do not always come to us as soon as we think they should, remember that God knows best and will bring things to pass in His time and for His glory. He does not want us to fret at delays, but has said, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46.10). And again "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah:55:9). If we could only learn to trust Him fully!

    The King's Dreams
    After two years the king dreamed two dreams that he thought were important, and he called in all the wise men and magicians of his realm to explain what they meant. But God had given him the dreams, and the servants of the devil could not understand them. We need spiritual understanding to know the meaning of the things of God.

    Then the butler remembered what he should have done upon his release from prison. It would seem that the butler would have been so happy to have his old position back that he would have thought about it every day -- but he did not. He told the king that Joseph interpreted correctly the dreams he and the chief baker had had, and he believed the captive Hebrew could help the king. Pharaoh made haste to have Joseph brought before him, and he told Joseph the disturbing dreams. Joseph did not take any credit for his ability to interpret dreams, but gave God all the glory. We should always remember that God is the Giver of every good and every perfect gift; and if we do our work particularly well, or have some special accomplishments, we should not get exalted and think how good we are, but just thank God that He has given us these gifts.

    Joseph seemed to know that God was going to bless the king, because he said, "God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace."
    Life in Egypt depended upon the River Nile. There was almost no rain, but agriculture was possible through irrigation from the river. Every year it overflows its banks, leaving a rich deposit of silt on the farmland, and, also watering the ground for a time. In recent years dams have been built to control the floods and store water for the dry years, but in those days if the water came too high and stayed on the ground too long so that crops could not be planted in time, the result was famine. Likewise, if the water did not come high enough, crops could not grow, and again there would be famine. As the Egyptians realised their living depended on the Nile River they worshiped it as a god.

    As we can see by Pharaoh's first dream, the years of plenty would probably come from a favourable condition of the river; and the years of famine, which follow would also come from the condition of the river.

    In the second dream was added another terror -- that of the east wind. This wind blows across the Arabian Desert, and is very hot by the time it gets to Egypt. Travellers say they have seen it coming suddenly as a purple haze; and being warned by the natives, they would fall quickly on their faces to the ground in order to get enough air to keep alive. Even after such precaution, one tourist said he had breathed enough of that hot air to make it necessary for him to be in a cooler climate several months before he got over the effects of it. Any crops that might have come up in spite of the lack of water would be blasted by this terrible wind.

    The Interpretation
    Joseph told Pharaoh that God was showing him that He would send seven years of ideal conditions in which crops would grow abundantly but they would be followed by seven years of famine. Seven years without any crops would bring terrible suffering upon the earth, and many people would die unless provisions were made ahead of time. Joseph encouraged the king to save up food during the years of exceptional plenty to feed the people when the famine came.

    Questions: 

    1. Was Joseph correct in his interpretation of the dreams of the baker and the butler?
    2. What did Joseph ask the chief butler to do for him?
    3. Did Joseph take the credit for being able to interpret dreams?
    4. Why did God give Pharaoh two dreams with the same meaning?
    5. Do you think God had a purpose in permitting Joseph to be in Egypt?