Genesis 40 Study Notes


40:1-4 After Joseph had been imprisoned for a number of years and was now twenty-eight years old (41:1,46), Pharaoh “became furious” (was angry; Hb qatsaph) with two high-ranking officials (Hb saris), the chief cupbearer and the chief baker. Though Potiphar was also a “captain of the guard,” this detention center was apparently located in someone else’s house since it was the same location where Joseph was confined. Because of their high rank, the cupbearer and baker were given certain privileges even in prison: Joseph, as a young Hebrew slave, was assigned as their personal attendant. The officials stayed in prison for “days” (some time).

40:5-8 During their confinement the royal cupbearer and baker both had a dream on the same night—the third and fourth non-Israelites to have dreams with divinely inspired meanings (cp. Abimelech, 20:3; Laban, 31:24). When they awoke the men were distraught (lit their “faces were bad”) because there was no professional Egyptian dream interpreter present. Joseph told them that accurate interpretations belong to God. And since the Lord was with Joseph even in prison (39:2,21,23), the men were directed to tell their dreams to him.

40:9-15 The chief cupbearer, who was an adviser and security officer for Pharaoh, was the first to tell his dream to Joseph. While aspects of the dream seemed to portray something positive—blossoms . . . grapes, placing the cup in Pharaoh’s hand—other aspects were doubtful, particularly the three branches. Joseph explained that the branches represented the next three days, after which Pharaoh would lift the cupbearer’s head (or release him from prison; cp. 2Kg 25:27) and restore him to his position. Confident that the interpretation was accurate, Joseph pleaded for the cupbearer to remember him, mention him to Pharaoh, and arrange to get him out of prison. Joseph’s release was a matter of simple justice since he had done nothing to deserve imprisonment. However, the cupbearer forgot about Joseph’s request (v. 23).

40:16-19 Heartened by Joseph’s positive interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream, the chief baker shared his dream. As with the previous dream, this one contained ambiguous elements—particularly the three baskets of white bread and the birds—that needed a clear interpretation. This time the meaning was a dark one: Pharaoh would decapitate the chief baker and hang him on a tree (or possibly “impale” him “on wood”). The birds eating white bread symbolized the birds that would eat the baker’s body.


Hebrew pronunciation [khah LAM]
CSB translation dream
Uses in Genesis 14
Uses in the OT 29
Focus passage Genesis 40:5,8

The word dream is a translation of a Hebrew verb (chalam), a Hebrew noun (chalom; 65x), and an Aramaic noun (chelem) in Daniel (22x). Dreams are of great importance in the Bible. While six passages can refer to ordinary dreams (e.g., Jb 7:14), the rest pertain to dreams that are or claim to be supernatural in origin. This does not imply that most dreams are supernatural, but dreams are used as an avenue of communication between God and humans. God may appear in the dream (Gn 28:12-15) or may disclose his message through symbols that the dreamer or another person must interpret (Dn 2:4). Occasionally an angel will interpret a dream (Dn 7:16). God regularly used dreams to give revelation to his prophets (Nm 12:6). A dream could consist of several visions, or scenes (Dn 7:1-2,7,13).

40:20-23 Consistent with the dreams’ divinely inspired interpretations, the two officials were released from prison three days later, on the festive occasion of Pharaoh’s birthday. The “birthday” could either refer to Pharaoh’s physical birth or to his accession day, the day he became king and thus was believed to have become a son of the Egyptian god Horus. Just as Joseph had foretold, Pharaoh restored the chief cupbearer to his previous position, but hanged the chief baker.