Bible Study Notes – Genesis 40.

Joseph interprets Dreams whilst in Prison,

  • Had God forgotten Joseph or was it within his sovereign timing & control?
  1. Introduction & setting the context.

Have you ever woken up from a dream that troubled you because it had seemed so real at the time? 

  • In this chapter, we have the story of two men who had such dreams & observe how God used them in the life of Joseph & ultimately his sovereign plan for the family Israel!!
  • Why was Joseph in prison in Egypt & what reputation had he established? 
    • As we saw last week Potiphar – Joseph’s Egyptian master had him put in prison because of the acquisitions of his wife (39:19 & 20).
    • Having already established a trustworthy reputation with Potiphar (39:3-6) Joseph continued to enhance this reputation when in prison (39:21-23).
  1. Pharaoh’s Cupbearer & Baker are put in prison – read Genesis 40:1-4.
  • Why were the two men put in prison?
    • The King of Egypt (identified as Senusert II 1894-1878 BC) had committed them there for unspecified offences.
    • Note that both positions – the Cupbearer who provided the King’s drinks & the Baker who cooked his bread – had to be trustworthy & beyond the influence of the monarch’s enemies.
    • As we noted last week the prison could well have been within Potiphar’s compound – Pharaoh having given them over to his captain of the guard – Potiphar – for imprisonment.
  • Reflect on the characteristics Joseph portrayed whilst in prison.
    • His reputation for trustworthiness continued – Joseph was appointed by the prison guard to attend to and be with these important prisoners (40:4).
    • Although in prison the Cupbearer & Baker probable still saw “themselves a cut above the rest’ because of the position they had in Pharaoh’s household.
    • Joseph despite his position in Potiphar’s household did not use it to make others serve him but to serve others.
  • Application: 
    • Another small example to us of how our actions are observed by others – even in the extreme of circumstances – with God able to make use of them. 
    • Have you ever had an experience of the Lord being able to use you because of your reputation with others?
    • Despite all his disappointments to date – leaving his family, being sold into slavery in Egypt & now in prison Joseph remained positive & useful to the Lord.
    • As we will observe in the Lords sovereign plan the Cupbearer & Baker were really there to meet Joseph.
  1. They dream & Joseph shows concern – read Genesis 40:5-8.
  • How would you characterise Joseph’s response when learning that the men had dreamt?
    • He showed concern asking why they look so downcast (40:7).
    • Requested they tell him of their dreams careful to give the Lord the credit - “interpretations belong to God” (40:8)
  • What past experience had Joseph with dreams?
    • When his dreams were interpreted that his family would bow down to him (Genesis 37:5-11).
    • He had been mocked by his brothers as the dreamer (37:19&20).
    • These dreams had yet to become a reality at this stage in his life.
  • Recall what other dreams are recorded in scripture.
    • Daniel, the only other Hebrew whom God allowed to accurately interpret revelatory dreams (Daniel 2:28).
    • John MacArthur comments that significantly, God chose both men to play an important role for Israel whilst serving monarchs - stepping forward to interpret their dreams & reveal their futures!!


  • Even at a relatively young age - he was 17 when he was sold by the brothers (32:2) & it is estimated to be no more than 30 at this stage -  Joseph still remembered his upbringing in Jacobs house & knowledge of God – despite what had happened to him.
  • He showed concern - not anger & bitterness despite his personal problems.
  • Contrast this with his brother Judah recorded in chapter 38.
  1. Joseph interprets each man’s dreams.
  • How did God use each of the men’s individual background to ensure the dream was real & get their attention?
    • God used figures & pictures which made sense to each man.
    • Note also there were aspects of the dreams that could not have been guessed – such as the 3 branches representing 3 days – the interpretation came from God & not Joseph’s own wisdom!

4.1 The Cupbearer – read Genesis 40;9-15.

    • He dreamt of a vine that had 3 branches which produced wine from the grapes & he was able to pass the wine in a cup to Pharaoh.
    • It got his immediate attention as this was his duty with Pharaoh.
    • Joseph interpreted the dream as the branches being 3 days within which Pharaoh would restore him to his role & he would again be serving his wine. 

4.2 The Baker – read Genesis 40:16-19.

  • The Baker told his dream next being encouraged by the favourable outcome predicted by Joseph for the Cupbearer (40:16).
  • He had dreamt that he had 3 baskets of food on his head baked with all sorts of food for Pharaoh – again portraying his role – with birds eating out of one of the baskets (40:17&18).
  • Joseph’s prediction was not so favourable for the Baker – Pharaoh would hang him & birds would eat his flesh (40:19).
  • Read Deuteronomy 13:1-5 - which dream interpreters did God indicate were part of ancient false religion & to be avoided.
    • Moses was warning that false prophets would arise indicating they had dreams & there would be signs that would come to pass.
    • This would be a test for them not to “go after other gods” and be tempted into idolatry. 
    • What spiritual place could dreams have today? 
  • It could be the Lord speaking – there are stories of people coming to God thru revelation of dreams.
  • Application: In all cases the predications should be tested against scripture 
    • If the message contradicts Gods commands they were to trust God & his word rather than such experiences (Deut. 13:4),
    • Remembering the first commandment given to Moses (Ex. 23:3).
    • The apostle Peter experienced dreams,
      • Quoting the prophet Joel in his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:17).
      • The vision in Acts 10:9-16 when called to preach to the Gentiles. 
  1. The outcome & how this impacted Joseph – read Genesis 40:20-23.
  • What was the outcome for Joseph & each man during Pharaoh’s birthday?
    • In 3 days - on his birthday - Pharaoh had a feast.
    • He restored the Cupbearer to his role & he placed a cup in Pharaoh’s hand as predicted by Joseph (40:21).
    • Pharaoh hanged the Baker, again as Joseph had predicted (40:22).
  • Joseph remained in prison,
    • He had asked the Cupbearer to do him a kindness & remember him before Pharaoh (40:14&15).
    • When freed & back in Pharaoh’s service the Cupbearer had forgotten Joseph (40:23).

Reflect on any personal applications & takeaways from reading this chapter.

  • The Lord remains in control and continues to use his servant Joseph,
    • We shall see in the coming chapters how this was part of the Lords sovereign plan & how Joseph was part of this.
    • The butler did not remember until God wanted him to!
  • Joseph, despite his circumstances, continued to remain humble giving God the credit & glory,
    • Would we respond so faithfully in such circumstances?
    • Awaiting his timing if it be his sovereign will.
  • Although not specifically recorded in scripture Joseph must have been exposed to the Lord & heard of his past dealing with the family which God used to condition him for his time in Egypt.
  • Be careful with dreams & cults portraying and highlighting wondrous things that take place – they should always be tested against Gods word & his commands. 
  • Back to the question posed at the beginning,
    • Had God forgotten Joseph or within his sovereign timing & control?
    • No, the Lord had not forgotten Joseph - we shall see in the coming chapters this was in his plan & timing for the family Israel.