Chapter 40

Some time after Joseph’s imprisonment, the cupbearer and baker of Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, gave offense to their sovereign. Targum Jonathan indicates that both men came to be implicated in a plot to poison Pharaoh. The wrath of Pharaoh was aroused against them, and he had them put in custody in the prison where Joseph was confined. It appears that the imprisonment of the cupbearer and the baker was temporary until determination was made of their guilt and their merited punishment. The chief jailer assigned Joseph to attend to both men. (40:1-4)

One night the cupbearer and the baker, each one of them, had a distinct dream that conveyed a personal message to them. When Joseph came the next morning to attend to them, he noticed that they were troubled and, therefore, asked them why they were downcast. They explained that they each had a dream but that no one was available to provide the interpretation. Joseph responded with the words, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” He then requested that they tell him their respective dreams. The cupbearer related his dream, one that related to his position as cupbearer. Joseph interpreted the three branches of the vine the cupbearer saw in his dream to mean three days, and the other features of the dream to indicate that he would again be in the service of Pharaoh in three days as he had been formerly. Joseph then asked that, after everything went well for the cupbearer, he do him the kindness of mentioning him to Pharaoh so that he might be released from unjust confinement. In referring to his lot, Joseph did not cast any dispersion on his half brothers or make any direct accusations against anyone else but said, “I was indeed kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, nor have I done anything here [in Egypt] that they should have put me into the dungeon.” (40:5-15)

The favorable interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream encouraged the baker to relate his dream. This particular dream also pertained to his occupation. Joseph interpreted the “three baskets” the baker saw in his dream to mean three days. From the topmost one of the three baskets, birds were feeding on the baked goods for Pharaoh. Joseph interpreted the dream to mean an unfavorable outcome for the baker. In three days, he would be executed, his corpse would be suspended from a pole, and birds would feed on his flesh. (40:16-19)

On the third day thereafter, Pharaoh observed his birthday. He restored the cupbearer to his position and he had the baker hanged, just as Joseph had said when interpreting their respective dreams. Targum Jonathan indicates that the cupbearer had been found guiltless of involvement in the plot to poison Pharaoh, whereas the guilt of the baker had been established. Though everything went well for the cupbearer, he forgot all about Joseph. (40:20-23)