The Prophetic Captive

“And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said to them, Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me them, I pray you.”   Genesis 40:8

God moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform! With this truth we are deeply impressed as we continue to learn from the fascinating life of the young saint Joseph. As a young man we found him rejected by his brethren in his father’s house. After his brothers have sold him as a slave for a few shekels, he is taken to Egypt and in the house of Potiphar his faith and holiness are severely tried; but they are found strong with the result that for right­eousness sake he is cast into prison. There he was “laid in iron, and his feet hurt with fetters.’’ (Psalm 105:18) All these things befell him not by chance but by the hand of God Who works in mysterious ways for the purpose of bringing about great wonders. The hand of God often leads His children through the valleys and ravines of trouble in order that through them they may be brought to exaltation and honor and strength.

Today we find Joseph in this prison. According to the last part of Genesis 39 this outstanding young man had once again risen to a position of great prominence. At home, in Potiphar’s house, and now in the prison, this stalwart character manifests his abilities and integrity. Soon he is in virtual control of the entire prison. And as he labored in this high position, everything he did prospered for the Lord was with him. As the overseer of the prison, his lot was eased consider­ably, but he is still a prisoner in a strange land. Sometime after he had been cast into jail, he is approached by two of his fellow prisoners, and what began as a little chat regarding a couple of dreams turns out to be very important, both for Joseph personally and from the point of view of prophecy.

One day the chief butler and the chief baker of Pharaoh’s household, due to some wrongdoing, are commit­ted to the care of Joseph as prisoners. Since both these men labored in things pertaining to the king’s table, it is very likely that their crime was a conspiracy to get rid of Pharaoh, perhaps by poisoning. These servants were men of high repute in the Egyptian civil service. The duty of the butler had been to present the cup to the king after having tasted a portion of its contents, thus insuring that the king would not receive wine that was sour or poisonous. Since he is designated as the chief of the butlers, he served not only as cupbearer but also as overseer of the royal vineyards and cellars; he was in complete control of the produc­tion of wine. The baker had the super­intendence of everything relating to dainties for the royal table. He was over a host of other bakers and confectioners. So both officers were men of high rank and importance, both had access to the king’s household and presence, and both were very likely of nobility as well.

For a season, perhaps for a year, these men continued in the prison ward under the care and supervision of Joseph. On a certain night, both of them dreamed a dream. Ordinarily this might pass without comment for dreams are common – everyone dreams whether they can give a lucid account of them or not. Also today, dreams comprise a part of our lives, and undoubtedly we will be judged accord­ing to those things which we dream as well as for our conscious activities. It is, of course, difficult to explain the working, or the mechanics, of any dream; but we can all agree that there is a rich sub consciousness in every person that is far broader and richer than one’s conscious experience. When we are awake the contents of this sub consciousness is controlled by our will and judgment, but when we sleep these restraints are removed, so that various images arise out of our souls and tread over the threshold of our mind. The result is that without our control, frequently strange combina­tions of images and events appear. Such are our natural dreams.

But in the Holy Scriptures, dreams were often-times the medium of divine revelation. That the dreams of the butler and baker formed a certain speech of God is evident from the facts, first, that these dreams created an indelible impression upon these men, and second, that a definite interpreta­tion was given to them. When a dream is from God, the Spirit of God works upon a man, influencing the subcon­scious mind to select and combine certain images, so that they form a symbolic whole. In this way God makes known His will and counsel. It was through this kind of a process that the butler and baker went one night.

The next morning, when Joseph observes their melancholy, depressed faces, and after he learns that this was due to the dreams they had had, and that there was no interpreter for these dreams, he responds with the words, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me them I pray you.” He did not claim to be God, but he did confess that God was with him. And, he did not scoff at the idea of dreams; he did not say, “Oh, I have had my dreams too, and once they seemed important to me, but they have only mocked me and they will do the same to you.” No, Joseph’s readiness to interpret their dreams reveals that he still believed that his own dreams will be realized and that he held fast to the truth that with God all things are possible!

You can read these rather well- known dreams in Gen. 40:9-19. To the dream of the butler Joseph immed­iately gives this interpretation: “The three branches are three days. Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head and restore thee into thy place, and thou shalt deliver Pharaoh’s cup into his hand, after the former manner when thou wast his butler.” To the baker’s dream Joseph responded: “The three baskets are three days; yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and shall hang thee on a tree. And the birds shall eat thy flesh from off thee.” The alien in a strange land has become the Lord’s prophet!

Generally when we think of a prophet, we think of a man who has the ability to narrate events before those events take place. Though it is true that prophecy often-times includes the ele­ment of predicting the future, that is not the essential idea of prophecy according to Scripture. Prophecy is not interested in history or the future as such, but prophecy had to do with the development and realization of the Kingdom of God! Further, prophecy is based on the principle that God’s covenant people, being His friends, are called to know God, to enter into His secrets, that they may be His witnesses in this world. Thus, a prophet is one who is commissioned by God to speak His Word and is so filled by the Spirit and Word of God that he bubbles over with the revelation of God. Thus it makes no difference if his declarations have to do with the past, present or future. The important point is that the prophet reveals the will of God! In the office of prophet Joseph functions while in prison. “Do not interpretations belong to God?’’ God will give the meaning; Joseph is only His mouth­piece.

Now what is the Word of God through Joseph at this point? The simplest answer is that the destinies of the butler and baker is set forth here. Or, in light of Gen. 41:12, we could say that the future of Joseph himself is tied in with these dreams. But you sense immediately that this history, recorded so faithfully and in such detail in the Scriptures, must have a broader sig­nificance that that! Let us list the outstanding features of this history. 1.) This bit of history takes place in a prison, and we know that Egyptian prisons were terrible places, dark, gloomy places where the prisoners either died very quickly or endured a living death. 2.) The butler and the baker were in this terrible place because of their own guilt. Joseph was unjustly accused and innocent. 3.) As the prophet of God, Joseph set forth the Word of God in this horrible dungeon of death. Now if we put these things together, we see: 1.) That Joseph is a beautiful type of Christ Who is sent of God to be the Light that shineth in darkness, the great revela­tion of God in our flesh. 2.) The prison stands for this world of darkness in which all men are held ensnared by their sins and guilt. 3.) And the two rightful prisoners represent the whole of humanity, all of mankind, which has involved itself in ruin by transgressing the will of the King in Heaven! 4.) The words that Joseph speaks to the prisoners proclaim that in three days there will be a general resurrection (a lifting up). Both the butler and the baker will be lifted up, the one will be raised to glory and honor as he is reinstated to this high position in the king’s house, the other will be raised unto shame and disgrace, for he will be beheaded and hung on a tree. Both were at fault, both were guilty of crimes against the king, both were under condemnation. But the king decides the outcome. On the third day one is given life and the other death.

What Genesis 40 sets forth here are the great events that transpire centuries later on Calvary’s hill. Once again, three individuals are involved. There is Jesus, the Son of God, numbered with the transgressors but actually the Lord of all! He has been anointed “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those that are bound.” (Is. 61:1) On His right and left hands are the malefactors, criminals of the worst kind who had fallen under similar condem­nation. And, at the first, both sneered at the Just One. But by the amazing grace of God the one repented of His sin and believed on this King of the Jews, and he is assured of a resurrec­tion unto life when the Savior of His sheep speaks these wonderful words of life, “Today thou shalt be with Me in paradise.” The other persists in his unbelief and is raised unto desolation and death.

That’s what Joseph proclaimed in Egypt’s prison, what Jesus tirelessly preached during His earthly ministry, and what the Church must continue to hold forth today! God alone determines the eternal destinies of men! All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. All are under a just condemna­tion. All come into this world as guilty children of wrath, shut up in the prison house of sin, out of which there is no human way of escape. But in eternal love and abounding grace, God has chosen some to escape the awful prison, to know the friendship of the King, to be restored to a wonderful place of service in His house, and to have the promise of a resurrection unto everlasting life in the kingdom of heaven where we will have new names!  This will happen on the third day; perhaps we can distinguish three great days on the clock of God’s counsel: the great day of creation, the long awaited day of Christ’s incarnation, and the final day of the resurrection and judgment. Then all shall be lifted up to receive according as they have done in the body, whether it be good or evil.

Yes, God alone determines the destinies of all the men in this world. It is not of him that runneth, or of him that willeth, but of God which showeth mercy. Men like to question the wisdom and the righteousness of the Most High. But the truth cannot be changed. Joseph said it. Jesus said it. The Word continues to say it without ambiguity. God sovereignly chooses, redeems, and glorifies whom He wills. And God sovereignly reprobates, con­demns, and destroys, in the way of their sins, those whom He wills. Because He is God! Is it not lawful for God to do what He wills with His own? Jesus said, “Even so, my Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” Shall we also say, with humility and fear, “Even so!”

“We must seek peace, with all earnestness. Bitterness, ill will, malice, and love of dispute should never characterize a Christian in his defense of the truth. Instead, there should be a sincere interest in the honour of God and the well-being of our fellowmen. Paul says, “As much as lieth in you, live peaceable with all men.”

Having then purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit, unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently. Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, will all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one-another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

And may the God of mercy and peace, the God of order and unity, grant that we may be of one mind and may together praise Him in unity of faith, now and eternally.” A. Kuyper