Genesis (Part 180)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 40:1-8

40 Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he attended them. They continued for some time in custody.

And one night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation. When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.”


Wow, we’re in Chapter 40! This chapter represents the first steps in Joseph’s final ascension. I suppose that’s fitting as we near the book. We’ll start with the note on verse 1 from Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(1) Butler.—Heb., one who gives to drink, cupbearer. As we learn in Genesis 40:11 that it was grapewine which he gave the king to drink, this chapter has been the main dependence of the new critics for their proof that the Book of Genesis was not written by Moses. For Herod. (i. 77) says, “The Egyptians make use of wine prepared from barley, because there are no vineyards in their country.” As Herodotus was thirteen centuries later than the time of Joseph, they argue not only that the vine could not have been introduced into Egypt at so early a date, but that the records of Joseph’s life could not have been put together by anyone acquainted with Egypt, in spite of their exact knowledge in all other respects of Egyptian customs. But when we turn to Herodotus himself, we find the most complete refutation of the previous statement. For, in Book ii. 37, speaking of the liberal treatment of the priests, he says, that they had an allowance of “grape-wine.” Again, in Genesis 39:0, he tells us that it was the custom to pour wine on a victim about to be sacrificed. To one used to the extensive vineyards of Greece and Asia Minor, the comparative scarcity of the vine, and the use of another ordinary drink in its place, would be striking; but that he was guilty of gross exaggeration in his statement is proved by evidence far more trustworthy than his own writings. For, on the tombs at Beni-hassan, which are anterior to the time of Joseph, on those at Thebes, and on the Pyramids, are representations of vines grown in every way, except that usual in Italy, festooned on trees; there is every process of the vintage, grapes in baskets, men trampling them in vats, various forms of presses for squeezing out the juice, jars for storing it, and various processes, even of the fermentation, noticed. Numerous engravings of the sculptures and paintings on these ancient monuments may be seen in Wilkinson’s Egypt; and most abundant evidence of the culture of the vine in ancient Egypt has been collected, and an account of the vines grown there given in Malan’s Philosophy or Truth, pp. 31-39. It neither is nor ever was a great wine-producing country, but the vine existed from one end of the country to the other, as it does at this day.

Baker.—Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptians, ii. 38, 39, gives proof from the monuments, that they had carried the art of making confectionery to very great perfection.

This note addresses the argument that a mention of grape-wine somehow refutes Moses as the author of Genesis. The refutation, as the note makes clear, is not strong. It’s also possible – very possible – that Egyptians could import wine from its not-so-distant wine producing neighbors.

On the subject of the authorship of this book, it would require probably several lengthy posts to lay out the various arguments. BlueLetterBible provides a brief argument on behalf of the traditional belief in the authorship of Moses. Below is an excerpt from the argument for Moses.

Evidence For Moses’ Authorship

There is, however, a large amount of evidence that the author or compiler of the Book of Genesis was Moses.

1.He Was Qualified

First, Moses was qualified to write the books. Moses was the adopted son of the daughter of Pharaoh. We are told that he was trained in all the wisdom and knowledge of Egypt.

And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. So she called his name Moses, saying, Because I drew him out of the water (Exodus 2:10).

In the New Testament, the martyr Stephen said.

And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds (Acts 7:22).

Writing was common at his time. Since Moses personally lead the people out of Egypt to the Promised Land there is no reason why he would not record their experiences.

2.He Had The Information

We also know that Moses had the necessary information to write the Pentateuch. He was the most prominent person in the events that transpired in Exodus through Deuteronomy. In his farewell address (Deuteronomy 1-3) Moses displays intimate knowledge of their history. He, more than any of his contemporaries, had the ability to write about the nations experience.

3.He Had The Time

Moses also would have had the time to write these books. For forty years he led the people through the wilderness and though he was busy as their leader and judge, we also know that he appointed rulers of each tribe to relieve him of the trivial matters (Exodus 18:13-26). As he would be dealing with only the most important issues, Moses certainly would have had time to compose the history of the people.

4.He Wrote Some Of It

We have internal testimony from the Pentateuch that Moses wrote at least part of it.

Then the Lord said to Moses, Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven (Exodus 17:14).

And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord, and he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel (Exodus 24:4).

Then the Lord said to Moses, Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words, I have made a covenant with you and with Israel (Exodus 34:27).

Now Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the Lord. And these are their journeys according to their starting points (Numbers 33:2).

Now therefore, write down this song for yourselves, and teach it to the children of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me against the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:19).

So it was, when Moses had completed writing the words of this law in a book when they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying: Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there as a witness against you (Deuteronomy 31: 24-26).

Returning to the text with The Pulpit Commentaries in verse 2:

Genesis 40:2

And Pharaoh was wrothliterally, broke forth (sc. into anger)—against two of his officers (vide Genesis 37:36against the chief—sar: the word occurs in one of the oldest historical documents of ancient Egypt (‘Inscription of Una,’ line 4, sixth dynasty), meaning chief or eunuch (vide ‘ Records of the Past,’ 2.3)—of the butlers,—an office once filled by Nehemiah in the Court of Persia (Nehemiah 1:11), and Rabshakeh (Aramaic for “chief of the cupbearers”) in the Court of Assyria (2 Kings 18:17)—and against the chief of the bakers. Oriental monarchs generally had a multitude of butlers and bakers, or cupbearers and Court purveyors, the chiefs in both departments being invested with high honor, and regarded with much trust (Herod; 3.34; Xenoph; ‘Cyrop.,’ 1.3, 8).

Joseph is about to meet some new people in prison. Continuing with Ellicott:

(3, 4) In the house of the captain of the guard.—That is, of Potiphar. As he is said to have charged Joseph with the care of these two high officials, he must, ere this, have become aware of his innocence. But as the wife in ancient times in Egypt was endowed with all the husband’s property, and was a formidable person, as we learn from many of the records now being translated and published, Potiphar may not have wished to offend her.

He served them.—Used only of light service. (See Note on Genesis 39:4.)

I find it interesting that though the text refers to Potiphar here, and though we have “met” him by name previously, the text ceases the use of his name and only mentions him by position. The effect for the modern reader seems to be that it downplays the extent to which Potiphar almost certainly now believes Joseph was innocent of the crime of which he was accused. It seems, Potiphar continues to respect and believe in Joseph. Continuing on with The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 40:5

And they dreamed a dream both of them (on dreams cf. Genesis 20:3), each man his dream in one night (this was the first remarkable circumstance connected with these dreams—they both happened the same night), each man according to the interpretation of his dream (i.e. each dream corresponded exactly, as the event proved, to the interpretation put on it by Joseph, which was a second remarkable circumstance, inasmuch as it showed the dreams to be no vain hallucinations of the mind, but Divinely-sent foreshadowings of the future fortunes of the dreamers), the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, which were bound in the prison.

Genesis 40:6Genesis 40:7

And Joseph came in unto them in the morning (a proof that Joseph at this time enjoyed comparative freedom from corporeal restraint in the prison), and looked upon them, and, behold, they were sad. The word זֹעֲפִים from זָעַף, to be angry, originally signifying irate, wrathful, τεταραγμένοι (LXX.), is obviously intended rather to convey the idea of dejection, tristes (Vulgate). And he asked Pharaoh’s officers that were With him in the ward of his lord’s house, saying, Wherefore look ye so sadly today?—literally, knowing what (מַדּוּעַמָה יָדוּעַ—τί μαθών) are your faces evil, or bad (πρόσωπα σκυθρωπὰLXX.; tristier solito, Vulgate), today?

It’s notable that just as Joseph has two dreams, when he was still among his brothers, concerning his eventual rulership of them, that here we see both of the new prisoners each having a dream. The divine dream does not then occur alone in either instance. It is confirmed by a second dream.

In verses 6 and 7, we see that Joseph is running the prisoner, as a prisoner himself. He exercises quite a bit of freedom in that, too. If you are helpful enough to the Warden, even in ancient Egypt, there are significant perks. Joseph’s life is a story of a man whose blessings increase as the treatment of him grows increasingly unfair. It is also the story of a man who remained faithful in those moments of unfairness.

Returning to Ellicott for verse 8:

(8) There is no interpreter.—In Egypt it was the business of men trained for the purpose, called in Genesis 41:8magicians and wise men, to interpret dreams, and to such the butler and baker could have no access from their prison. But Joseph denies that art and training can really avail, and claims that the interpretation belongs to God.

The note discusses the Egyptian practice of dream interpretation and Joseph’s view of it. We will see that play out more fully later in the book. From The Pulpit Commentaries, also on verse 8:

Genesis 40:8

And they said unto him, We hays dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it—literally, a dream have we dreamt, and interpreting it there is none. This must be noted as a third peculiarity connected with these dreams, that both of their recipients were similarly affected by them, though there was much in the butler’s dream to inspire hope rather than dejection. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God?—literally, Are not interpretations to Elohim? i.e. the Supreme Being (cf. Genesis 41:16Daniel 2:11Daniel 2:28Daniel 2:47). The Egyptians believed ὅτι ἀνθρώπων μὲν οὐδενὶ προσκέεται ἡ τέχνη μαντικὴ τῶν δὲ θεῶν μετεξετέροισε (Herod; 2:83). Tell me them, I pray you. Joseph’s request implies that the consciousness of his Divine calling to be a prophet had begun to dawn upon him, and that he was now speaking from an inward conviction, doubtless produced within his mind by Elohim, that he could unfold the true significance of the dreams.

This note echoes the same interpretation as the note from Ellicott and it sets up the circumstances for Joseph’s ascension within the nation of Egypt – which we will see later.

If you have followed the story of the patriarchs, though, there is something else of which to make note: Abraham met with God (or depending on your interpretation, the Angel of God), walked with God, dined with him before the destruction of Sodom, and was described as a friend of God. Isaac’s generation saw this closeness seem to decrease. Jacob experienced this same decreasing also, and rather than dining with God as Abraham did, he wrestled with a divine being. Jacob saw his family grow less righteous (with the exception of Joseph.) Joseph, the son of Jacob, does not interact directly with God at all – at least not directly as previous generations had done – but seems somewhat more limited to communication through dreams.

What caused this change? Despite the change, God is no less faithful to Joseph than He had been for previous generations.