Genesis (Part 181)

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

Genesis 40:9-15

So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, 10 and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.” 12 Then Joseph said to him, “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. 13 In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer. 14 Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. 15 For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.”


Joseph had dreams of his own earlier in Genesis. Here, rather than have his own dreams, he is called upon to assist in the interpretation of the dreams of others. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 40:9-11

And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, In my dream, behold, a vine was before me—literally, in my dream (sc. I was), and behold a vine (gephen, from the unused root gaphan, to be bent, a twig, hence a plant which has twigs, especially a vine; cf. Judges 9:13; Isa 7:1-25 :43; Isaiah 24:7) before me. The introduction of the vine into the narrative, which has been pronounced (Bohlen) an important factor in proof of its recent composition, since, according to Herodotus (ii. 77), the vine was not cultivated in Egypt, and, according to Plutarch (‘De Is. et Osir.,’ 6), it was not till after Psammetichus, i.e. about the time of Josiah, that the Egyptians began to drink wine, has now by more accurate study been ascertained to be in exact accordance, not only with Biblical statements (Numbers 20:5Psalms 78:47Psalms 105:33), but likewise with the testimony of Herodotus, who affirms (2:37) that wine (οι}noj a)mpe&lenoj) was a privilege of the priestly order, and with the representations on the monuments of vines and grapes, and of the entire process of wine-making. And in the vine were three branches:—sarigim, tendrils of a vine, from sarag, to intertwine (Genesis 40:12Joel 1:7)—and it was as though it budded, and her blossoms shot forth;—literally, as it budded (Murphy); or, as though blossoming (Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch); it shot forth its blossom (Keil); or, its blossoms shot forth (Rosenmüller, Kalisch, Murphy)—and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes:—more correctly, its stems caused to ripen, or matured, clusters, the אֶשְׁכֹּל being the stalk of a cluster, as distinguished from the עֲגָבִים, or clusters themselves, though interpreters generally (Kalisch, Keil, Murphy) regard the first as the unripe, and the second as the ripe, cluster—and Pharaoh’s cup—כּזֹס, a receptacle or vessel, either contracted from כֵּגֶס, like אִישׁ for אֵגֶשׁ (Gesenius), or derived from כּוּא, to conceal, to receive, to keep, connected with the idea of bringing together, collecting into a thing (Furst)—was in my hand: and I took the grapes, and pressed themἐξέθλιψα (LXX.), expressi (Vulgate), a translation adopted by the most competent authorities (Gesenius, Furst, Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, et alii)though the sense of diluting with water is advocated by Dathe, Havernick (‘Introd.,’ § 21), and others as the most appropriate signification of שָׁחַט, which occurs only here. That Pharaoh is represented as drinking the expressed juice of grapes is no proof that the Egyptians were not acquainted with fermentation, and did not drink fermented liquors. In numerous frescoes the process of fermentation is distinctly represented, and Herodotus testifies that though the use of grape wine was comparatively limited, the common people drank a wine made from barley: οἵνῳ δ ἐκ κριθέων πεποιημένῳ (2:77)—into Pharaoh’s cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand—literally, I placed the cup upon Pharaohs palm, כַּףused of Jacob’s thigh-socket (Genesis 32:26), meaning something hollowed out.

The note again mentions an old claim that the mention of vines and wine proves the later time period for the authorship of the writing, and again mentions that subsequent information shows that win did exist in Egypt earlier than previously believed. Continuing on:

Genesis 40:12-15

And Joseph (acting no doubt under a Divine impulse) said unto him, This is the interpretation of it (cf. Genesis 40:18Genesis 41:12Genesis 41:25Judges 7:14Daniel 2:36Daniel 4:19): The three branches (vide supra, Genesis 40:10are three days:—literally, three days these (cf. Genesis 41:26)—yet within three days (literally, in yet three days, i.e. within three more days, before the third day is over) shall Pharaoh lift up thine head,—not μνησθήσεται τῆς ἀρχῆς σου (LXX.), recordabitur ministerii tui (Vulgate), a rendering which has the sanction of Onkelos, Samaritan, Jarchi, Rosenmüller, and others; but shall promote thee from the depths of thy humiliation (Gesenius, Furst, Keil, Kalisch, &c.), to which there is an assonance, and upon which there is an intentional play, in the opposite phrase employed to depict the fortunes of the baker (vide infra, Genesis 40:19and restore thee unto thy place:—epexegetic of the preceding clause, the כֵּן (or pedestal, from כָּגַן, unused, to stand upright, or stand fast as a base) upon which the butler was to be set being his former dignity and office, as is next explained—and thou shalt deliver Pharaoh’s cup into his hand, after the former manner when thou wast his butler. After which Joseph adds a request for himself. But think on me when it shall be well with thee (literally, but, or only, thou shalt remember me with thee, according as, or when, it goes well with thee)and show kindness, I pray thee, unto me (cf. Jos 2:12; 1 Samuel 20:141 Samuel 20:152 Samuel 9:11 Kings 2:7), and make mention of me unto Pharaoh,—literally, bring me to remembrance before Pharaoh (cf. 1 Kings 17:18Jeremiah 4:16Ezekiel 21:28)—and bring me out of this house: for indeed I was stolen (literally, for stolen I was stolen, i.e. I was furtively abducted, without my knowledge or consent, and did not voluntarily abscond in consequence of having perpetrated any crime) away out (literally, from) of the land of the Hebrews:—i.e. the land where the labrum live (Keil); an expression which Joseph never could have used, since the Hebrews were strangers and sojourners in the land, and had no settled possession in it, and therefore a certain index of the lateness of the composition of this portion of the narrative (Block, ‘Introd.,’ § 80); but if Abram, nearly two centuries earlier, was recognized as a Hebrew (Genesis 14:13), and if Potiphar’s wife could, in speaking to her Egyptian husband and domestics, describe Joseph as an Hebrew (Genesis 39:14Genesis 39:17), there does not appear sufficient reason why Joseph should not be able to characterize his country as the land of the Hebrews. The Hebrews had through Abraham become known at least to Pharaoh and his Court as belonging to the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:15-20); and it is not a violent supposition that in Joseph’s time “the land of the Hebrews” was a phrase quite intelligible to an Egyptian, as signifying not perhaps the entire extent of Palestine, but the region round about Hebron and Mamre (Nachmanides, Clericus, Rosenmüller)—scarcely as suggesting that the Hebrews had possession of the land prior to the Canaanites (Murphy). And here also have I done nothing (i.e. committed no crime) that they should (literally, that they have) put me into the dungeon. The term בּוֹר is here used to describe Joseph’s place of confinement, because pits or cisterns or cesspools, when empty, were frequently employed in primitive times for the incarceration of offenders (el. Jeremiah 38:6Zechariah 9:11).

This section again addresses another point, often brought up in argument for a later dating of Genesis (the mention of Hebrews), and again this section makes an argument for why that argument might not hold up when pressed by context. I also think it’s worth the reminder that the Egyptians may have considered Joseph something of an oddity inasmuch as his great-grandfather may well still be remembered (and perhaps favorably so) within Pharaoh’s court. In addition to the favor that God shows Joseph in all that he does, the history of his family may also play a role in his (mostly) favorable treatment in Egypt. Ellicott’s Bible Commentary makes a note about verse 15 as well:

(15) I was stolen.—Joseph here speaks only generally, as his purpose was to arouse the sympathy of the Egyptian by making him know that he was free born, and reduced to slavery by fraud. It would have done harm rather than good to have said that his sale was owing to family feuds; and, moreover, noble-minded men do not willingly reveal that which is to the discredit of their relatives.

Land of the Hebrews.—Jacob and his race had settled possessions in Canaan at Hebron, Shechem, Beer-sheba, &c. The term Hebrew, moreover, was an old one; for in the ancient record of the invasion of Palestine by Chedorlaomer, we saw that Abram was described as “the Hebrew” (Genesis 14:13). But Joseph did not mean that the land of Canaan belonged to them, but that he was stolen from the settlements of these “immigrants,” and from the land wherein they sojourned.

Joseph, of course, is not remembered by the cupbearer any time soon. And the message he has in his other dream interpretation is quite different than his first interpretation as we will see in the next section.