Dreamers are often misunderstood. No one learned that better than Joseph. His dreams landed him in prison.
The Almighty kept his promise to Abraham of a descendant that would bless all of humanity. When Abraham was 100 years old, the miraculous power of God was manifest in Sarah’s barren womb carrying the promised son, Isaac. Isaac married Rebekah, and they bore two sons: Esau and Jacob. Esau forsook his birthright, and Jacob stole Esau’s blessing.
Fearing for his life, Jacob fled to his mother’s family. And there, Jacob married Leah and Rachel, and fathered twelve sons. And these sons didn’t always get along.At least not with the next to the youngest, Joseph. Joseph was the firstborn son of Rachel, the wife that Jacob loved the most. And Jacob lavished his blessing on Joseph, even gifting him with a “coat of many colors.” Joseph’s older brothers didn’t appreciate this.
Then Joseph had a couple of dreams, and things went from bad to worse:
And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more. And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed: for, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf. And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.
And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me. And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth? And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying. – Genesis 37:5-11 KJV
What would you do if your little brother came to you and your parents, declaring that God had told him that you would bow before him someday? It would be a little hard to swallow. Joseph’s brothers decided to dispatch Joseph with extreme prejudice.
And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him. And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams. – Genesis 37:18-20KJV
But then, the oldest brother, Reuben, thought better of the plan and stepped in:
And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him. And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again. – Genesis 37:21-22 KJV
Reuben walked away, probably to try and figure out what to do next. He came back to an even bigger mess. Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery. Not exactly “brotherly love.”
But Joseph was faithful to honor the Almighty, regardless of his circumstances. He served his slave-master, Potiphar, well. And eventually he was even given authority over everything that belonged to his master, save his wife. But Potiphar’s wife had her own plans for Joseph.
Day after day, she used all her wiles to try to seduce Joseph. Joseph resisted. But when she was finally able to get Joseph alone, things got out of hand:
And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within. And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out. And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth, that she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice: and it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled, and got him out. And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home. And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me: and it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out. And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled. And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison. – Genesis 39:11-20 KJV
Joseph didn’t sit around wallowing in self pity. He continued to honor the Almighty with his work, and eventually was given control authority over all of the other prisoners. Then a couple of other “dreamers” got thrown into prison right there alongside of him.
The royal butler and baker got on Pharaoh’s bad side and were awaiting their fate in prison with Joseph, when they each had a dream. The butler dreamt that he saw a vine with three branches. When the branches ripened, he took the grapes and pressed them into wine and presented them to Pharaoh.
Joseph had a little experience with dreams, and told the butler that this meant that in three days he would be restored to his position before Pharaoh.
The baker heard Joseph’s interpretation, and decided that since things were going to go well for the butler, he would share his dream with Joseph also. In the baker’s dream, he saw himself carrying three baskets on his head, when suddenly a flock of birds swooped down and attacked him, eating everything in the baskets. Joseph understood this dream as well, but it wasn’t such good news. He told the baker that in three days, he would be executed by Pharaoh, who would hang him from a tree so the birds could have a four course meal. In three days, both dreams came true. Good for the butler, but not so good for the baker.
Before the butler left the prison, Joseph asked for only one favor in return:But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and shew kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house: for indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon. – Genesis 40:14-15 KJV
The butler should have been gracious. Instead, he forgot all about Joseph until years later when Pharaoh, himself, had a very troubling dream:
And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed: and, behold, he stood by the river. And, behold, there came up out of the river seven well favoured kine and fatfleshed; and they fed in a meadow. And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river, ill favoured and leanfleshed; and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river. And the ill favoured and leanfleshed kine did eat up the seven well favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke. And he slept and dreamed the second time: and, behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good. And, behold, seven thin ears and blasted with the east wind sprung up after them. And the seven thin ears devoured the seven rank and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, behold, it was a dream. And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all the wise men thereof: and Pharaoh told them his dream; but there was none that could interpret them unto Pharaoh. – Genesis 41:1-8 KJV
Finally, the butler remembered Joseph. He told Pharaoh all about the dream he’d had in prison. Pharaoh hadn’t heard anything from his pagan sorcerers and soothsayers that made any sense to him, so why not try the Hebrew slave?
Pharaoh told Joseph the dream, and God have him the interpretation:
And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, The dream of Pharaoh is one: God hath shewed Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good kine are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one. And the seven thin and ill favoured kine that came up after them are seven years; and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine. This is the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh: What God is about to do he sheweth unto Pharaoh. Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt: and there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land; and the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following; for it shall be very grievous. And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass. Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. And that food shall be for store to the land against the seven years of famine, which shall be in the land of Egypt; that the land perish not through the famine. – Genesis 41:5-36 KJV
Pharaoh took note. He elevated Joseph to his second in command; his grand vizier. And Joseph went to work building. Eventually, the wealth of the entire world flooded into the coffers of Egypt.
The story is familiar. You’ve heard it since you were 5 years old, sitting on tiny chairs in a Sunday School classroom with flannel-graph images stuck on a light blue background in front of you. And you already know the rest of the story. Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt seeking provisions. Joseph hides his identity from them until he is able to see his younger brother, Benjamin. Then, in tears, he reveals himself. Jacob and the rest of the family come to Egypt. They settle in Goshen. Jacob dies. The End of Genesis. That’s it.
If Joseph was such a critical figure in the history of Egypt, it would be reasonable to believe that stories of him would be painted on the walls of the pyramids and engraved on cuneiform tablets throughout Cairo and Memphis. But historians and scholars have gone on record adamantly declaring that there is no record of Joseph outside of the Hebrew Scriptures; that if Jews and Christians want to believe that Joseph was real, the only evidence to base that belief on is in the Bible.