Genesis (Part 182)

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

Genesis 40:16-23

16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, “I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head, 17 and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.” 18 And Joseph answered and said, “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days. 19 In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from you!—and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat the flesh from you.”

20 On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he made a feast for all his servants and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. 21 He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. 22 But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them. 23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.


The next dream interpretation done by Joseph is for the chief baker. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 40:16Genesis 40:17

When (literally, and) the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he (literally, and he, encouraged by the good fortune predicted to his fellow-prisoner) said unto Joseph, I also was in my dream, and, behold, I had three (literally, and behold three) white baskets—literally, baskets of white bread; LXX; κανᾶ χονδριτῶνVulgate, canistra farince; Aquila, κόφινοι γύρεως (Onkolos, Pererius, Gesenius, Furst, Keil, Kalisch, Murphy, et alii); though the rendering “baskets of holes,” i.e. wicker baskets, is preferred by some (Symmachus Datbius, Rosenmüller, and others), and accords with the evidence of the monuments, which frequently exhibit baskets of wickerwork—on my head. According to Herodotus (2.35), Egyptian men commonly carried on their heads, and Egyptian women, like Hagar (Genesis 21:14), on their shoulders. And in the uppermost basket (whose contents alone are described, since it alone was exposed to the depredations of the birds) there was of all manner of bake-meats for Pharaoh—literally, all kinds of food for Pharaoh, the work of a baker. The monuments show that the variety of confectionery used in Egypt was exceedingly extensive. And the birds—literally, the bird; a collective, as in Genesis 1:21Genesis 1:30 (cf. Genesis 1:19)—did eat them out of the basket upon my head.

Ellicott’s Bible Commentary also includes a note for these two verses:

(16, 17) Three white baskets.—Rashi explains the phrase of baskets of wicker-work, but most commentators agree in rendering it “baskets of white bread.” The “bakemeats” were all preparations of pastry and confectionery, as throughout the Bible meat does not mean flesh, but food. (Comp. Luke 24:41John 21:5.)

On my head.—The Egyptian men carried Burdens on their heads; the women on their shoulders (Herod. ii. 35).

Bakemeats.—Heb., All sorts of work for Pharaoh the work of a baker.

Continuing on, from The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 40:18Genesis 40:19

And Joseph answered and saidThis is the interpretation thereof (the exposition was supplied by God, and, however willing or anxious Joseph might be to soften its meaning to his auditor, he could not deviate a hair’s-breadth from what he knew to be the mind of God): The three baskets are three days: yet within three days—literally, in three days more (ut supra, Genesis 40:13)—shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee (i.e. deprive thee of life, the phrase containing a resemblance to that employed in Genesis 40:13, and finding its explanation in the words that follow), and shall hang thee on a tree—i.e. after decapitation (cf. Deuteronomy 21:22Deuteronomy 21:23Joshua 10:262 Samuel 4:12), which was probably the mode of execution at that time practiced in Egypt (Michaelis, Clarke, Keil, Murphy, Alford, Inglis, Bush), though some regard the clause as a description of the way in which the baker’s life was to be taken from him, viz; either by crucifixion (Onkelos, Rosenmüller, Ainsworth) or by hanging (Willst, Patrick, T. Lewis), and others view it as simply pointing to capital punishment, without indicating the instrument or method (Piscator, Lapide, Mercerus, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’). And the birds shall eat thy flesh from off thee. “The terror of approaching death would be aggravated to the poor man by the prospect of the indignity with which his body was to be treated” (Lawson).

Joseph does not deliver good news to the baker. Yikes.

Returning to the text with Ellicott at verse 20 for an explanation of an interesting phrase:

(20) He lifted up the head.—From its use in this verse some have supposed that the phrase must mean “to put them on their trial,” or “take account of them” (whence the margin reckon)More probably the words are used to point out the exact fulfilment of Joseph’s interpretation of their dreams.

Finally we conclude the section in The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 40:21Genesis 40:22

And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand (literally, Set the cup upon Pharaohs psalm): but he (i.e. Pharaoh) hanged the chief baker (vide supraGenesis 40:19): as Joseph had interpreted to them.

Genesis 40:23

Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph (as Joseph had desired, and as he doubtless had promised), but forgot him—as Joseph might almost have expected (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:15Ecclesiastes 9:16).

For anyone who might be curious about Biblical dreams, Joseph is a really good place to go for study. I found an interesting dreams article at titled “Joseph and the Dreams of Many Colors” by Prof. Jack M. Sasson. I’ve included some excerpts below:

The other two sets of dream-sequences embedded in the Joseph story prove more prosaic in their adherence to ancient oneiric tenets and criteria: They feature dreamers but also interpreters; their viability is bolstered by the proximity of manifestations; their veracity is hardly in doubt, given their origin and purpose; and their import is promptly fulfilled in one case, in the other eventually so.

The Cup-Bearer and the Chief Baker

The first set (Gen 40) involves two major officials in pharaoh’s court, both disgraced, having a dream on the same night. The first (a cup-bearer) had a dream gravitating to the benign. The second (the chief baker) needed reassurance before reporting, for his dream was ominous. As often occurs in divination and dream interpretation, the exegesis depended on coordinating numbers (3 branches/baskets = 3 days) and on establishing meanings for the same idiom that prove opposite in consequence: nāśāʼ ʼet-rōʼš, “to lift up the head” of someone is metaphoric for “honoring” and concrete for “decapitating.” Eventually, one official was honored while the other beheaded.

I encourage you to read the entire article (linked above.)