Devotional Thoughts for Today
“We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.” 9 So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, 10 and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.” 12 “This is what it means,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. 13 Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. . .. 16 When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. 17 In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.” 18 “This is what it means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days. 19 Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and impale your body on a pole. And the birds will eat away your flesh.” 20 Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: 21 He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand— 22 but he impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation.
Dreams and their interpretation have probably fascinated people since they first started sleeping (when Adam lost his rib to Eve? 😊). Most dreams seem to linger in the half-slumber of early morning only to fade away by the time we are done brushing our teeth; but with some dreams we know as soon as we wake up that we’ve just experienced something out of the ordinary, and we ask ourselves, “What does this mean?” We aren’t taught to seek meaning; it is just instinctive: we know that without a good interpretation, a dream is just a dream. So where do interpretations come from, and how do they come about?
In today’s passage, we see that the revelation Joseph received was certainly divine, but we can also see that this kind of revelation may not be as mysterious and inaccessible as it may seem. When he heard the dreams, did the interpretations just come to him out of the blue heavens? Did Joseph just know? It may have all come together for him in that moment, but it appears that elements could also have been naturally revealed in a way that set the backdrop. From this, some possible principles of the art of dream interpretation:
First principle: Look at the imagery. For both dreams, the imagery gave strong clues as to the overall message. In the cupbearer’s, there was fruitful imagery and an actual scene of him doing what he used to do. Not hard to arrive at, “Maybe it means you’re going to get your old job back,” even without God’s help. The baker’s dream was less straightforward, but birds eating the bread that had been meant for Pharaoh was certainly something a baker would not have wanted to see happen professionally, and it would have been natural for any listener to lean towards an unfavorable interpretation based on the imagery alone.
Second principle: Connect to what is going around you. It would not be a stretch to assume that Joseph (as well as the dreamers) knew that Pharaoh’s birthday was coming in three days— perhaps knowledge they were all the more privy to, being imprisoned in the home of an official who would have been invited to the party. But when Joseph heard the cupbearer’s description of the three branches (the clusters ripening suggesting the fullness of time had come, the vine’s blossoming as soon as it budded suggesting this time was coming quickly), it’s not hard to imagine how he could have arrived at “in three days” with some help from God.
Third principle: Go with what God is doing in the moment. If we look at the two dreams, the first seems “easier” (i.e., more intuitive) than the second. But when the baker asks Joseph to interpret his second, more difficult dream, because God had just revealed certain themes in the first (i.e., work-related, to be fulfilled in three days), Joseph could see the baker’s dream as running along parallel lines. For instance, Joseph may not have arrived at “three days” or “in the fullness of time” solely based on the three baskets on the baker’s head, but the number three connected the second dream to the first, and in this way the interpretation of the second, more difficult dream, flowed out of the first.
Through all of the above, seeing how the interpretation of a dream can come about can encourage us to take a stab at something that should not just be relegated to the realm of “fortune tellers” or other strange types of people. As Joseph said, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” So let’s take back, as we are doing in other areas as well, what belongs to Him.
Prayer: Lord God, be both in my waking and in my sleeping. Help me to be more aware of You at work all around so that I may, understanding the times and what You are doing in the moment, learn to interpret the signs You give. And when You reveal, may I be ready to respond. Amen.
Bible Reading for Today: Numbers 16