Before the end of the day Joseph was stripped of his prosperity and position, and thrown – without the aid of judge or lawyer – into a miserable hole. It was a den that he found himself in with two or three little rooms crowded with prisoners. He looked down the large gloomy, windowless hall, stepped on the filthy black-flagged floor and nearly lost his courage. Almost he could have become surly and bitter as he moved to the tune of the weary clank of fetters around manacled feet.
As he dragged himself slowly over the floor, or around and around the huge stone columns the chains were riveted to, he dreamed of the days of his youth when he wondered freely on the broad Syrian plains.
He had many hours to think and to question himself. Why was he here in this dark, musty, filthy hole? Did not good come to those who were good and evil come to those who did evil? Was prosperity not a sign of Divine favor and adversity of Divine anger? And Joseph had always tried to be good. He had obeyed his father and behaved righteously, although his brothers were men of evil report and tried to teach him to do evil too.
He had kept his integrity, but what had it gained him? His gain was the murderous jealousy of his own family members. He had, in the full flesh of youthful passion, resisted the seduction of the beautiful Egyptian woman because he refused to sin against his God and his master; and what did that get him? It got him the brand of an adulterer and rapist – and underserved punishment.
He was always kind to his fellow prisoners, he was a good listener and gave comfort when it was needed; and what good would that do him? He had sown seeds of holiness and love and he was reaping nothing but disappointment, loss, suffering, and hate.
What about those dreams of his youth? Were they not from his Diety after all? He had always believed they were from Yahweh, and his father, who had talked to his God many times, had agreed. They could not be his imagination, nor could they have been mocking lies. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not lie. And the God who would not – could not – lie would not forsake him. And yet – Joseph was misunderstood, misrepresented, falsely accused, and wrongfully punished.
“But,” Joseph said in his heart, “who am I to reply against Yahweh? Does not he who formed me in father Adam’s loins – formed me from the dust of the ground – have the power to mold me as he desires? I will delight myself in the desire of my God. As the Almighty God lives, while I have breath in me and the life of Yahweh abides in my nostrils, my lips shall not speak wickedness, nor shall my tongue utter deceit. I will not put my integrity from me and I will hold fast to righteousness. Righteousness belongs to my Maker, who gives songs in the night.”
And the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy. He poured strength into his bones, tenacity into his character, and power into his soul. He gave him wisdom, modesty, courage, and manly resolution. And he taught him to hold his peace and wait.
Oh, Joseph didn’t see the changes as they were being made. He just submitted his will to Yahweh’s and the changes came as a natural result. When Joseph looked into the darkness of the cell, and saw the bright light of Yahweh’s mercy, he grew strong, sure, and powerful.
The keeper of the prison was rough, mean, and prejudiced; copying the dislikes of his master, the great Potiphar. He was predisposed to make Joseph’s life truly bitter; but Joseph’s God can take the hardest heart and turn it to his will – and the keeper ended up favoring Joseph.
It wasn’t long before Joseph was entrusted with the total care of the royal prisoners. Life took on new meaning; he was again in a position of trust and responsibility. But this time he had the trust of many who were more unfortunate than he. He took a deep human interest in each separate life, noticing their expressions and their pain. He listened to their tales and helped bear their burdens. He brought balm to their wounds and love to their heartaches and, in doing so, he told the prisoners of the love and mercy of his great God – the Creator of heaven and Earth and all that is therein.
And as he listened, comforted, and wiped the falling tears he discovered his own load was lighter and the marshes of salt tears in his own life were healed.
The Lord was bringing forth Joseph’s righteousness as the light and his judgment as the noonday. He was learning to walk by faith and not by sight.
Among the prisoners, there came two from Pharaoh’s house – his chief butler and his chief baker.
Pharaoh had indigestion and he was not supposed to get indigestion. The leading baker and the principal Butler were responsible to see that Pharaoh did not get an unsettled stomach. Pharaoh was offended! Then the stomachache turned into something more serious and Pharaoh spent many royal hours with his physicians losing the entire contents of his guts in a royal basin. Pharaoh was furious! Someone was to blame and both the leading baker and the prime butler should suffer until it was determined just who was to blame. They were responsible for Pharaoh’s royal digestive system and should have prevented it somehow, no matter who had actually done the foul deed. So he sent them into the custody of the captain of the guard (Potiphar) and he, in turn, sent them to Joseph and charged him with their care.
They, like other prisoners, confided in Joseph and Joseph told them of his God who is full of mercy and truth and knows the hearts of all men. He told them how the Lord had turned his mourning into dancing, put off his sadness, and filled him with gladness by his great mercy.
The chief butler listened eagerly. He said, “If I put my trust in your God, will he show me mercy also?”
Oh, yes,” Joseph said. “His loving kindness is first-rate. You can put your trust under the shadow of his wings and you will be abundantly satisfied with the magnitude of his care. He will give you drinks from the river of his pleasures; with him is the fountain of life and in his light, you will see light.”
But the chief baker put his nose in the air and sniffed disdainfully.
Then the morning came when both men arose from their sleep looking so dejected Joseph had to ask, “Why are you so sad today?”
They explained they had both had disturbing dreams the night before and there was no magician or wise man in the dungeon to interpret them.
“Oh, but interpretations belong to God,” Joseph said. “Tell me your dreams please.”
The chief baker smiled indulgently and turned away, but the head butler was of a different disposition.
“Listen,” he said, “to what I saw in my dream. There before me was a vine and in the vine were three branches. The vine suddenly budded before me – it’s blossoms simply shot forth, and its clusters were soon full of ripe grapes. Then Pharaoh’s cup appeared in my hand and I was pressing the grapes into the cup. Then I put the full cup into Pharaoh’s hand.”
Joseph sat for a moment with his head bowed. When he looked up his eyes sparkled with gladness.
“This,” he said, “is the interpretation of your dream. The three branches represent three days before Pharaoh will restore your self-respect and your position. You will give Pharaoh his cup again just as you always have.”
The chief butler was overjoyed! “Oh thank you! You were right about your God showing me mercy and I will never forget your kindness. I assure you, if there is ever anything I can do for you, just let me know. ”Well, yes,” Joseph answered, “there is something you can do. Please don’t forget me; as soon as you are in good standing again, show your kindness toward me by telling Pharaoh about me and get me out of here. I was snatched from the land of my people, the Hebrews, and sold here. Then, too, I didn’t do the awful thing I was accused of when they put me in here.”
“Wait,” said the key baker. “Listen to my dream.” He had been thinking that if the chief butler’s dream brought such a good interpretation, he’d like to get his interpreted with good tidings too.
Accordingly, he said, “I dreamed there were three baskets on my head. The top basket had all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh and the birds ate them out of the basket while it was on my head.”
But, when he saw the grave, almost sad look in Joseph’s eyes, apprehension filled his being and he was almost afraid to listen to the interpretation.
“This is what it means,” Joseph said, “The three baskets also represent three days in your dream. Within three days Pharaoh will take you from here and hang you on a tree, and the birds will eat your flesh from off your bones.”
The chief baker turned white and Joseph said gently, “You must make your peace with God; with whom you will find mercy and grace. He is your Creator and he loves you. He is always ready to restore the repentant soul to his kingdom.” But the chief baker returned his nose to the air and said haughtily, “What do I have to do with your God, or you? You aren’t a magician! You have lied to me and I will not listen further, thank you!”
And all Joseph’s pleading was to no avail. He simply refused to listen and Joseph finally gave up and returned his thoughts to others.
Three days later was Pharaoh’s birthday. What could he do to celebrate? He would make a feast for all his servants! Well, he wouldn’t make it of course. Pharaohs didn’t cook meals and serve their servants. But he would make them prepare a feast and then he would make them eat it. And. Oh yes, his chief baker and chief baker must be brought up from the dungeon to complete the party. No one must be missing. Everyone in his obsequious household must be present to give him honor on this his birthday. So he had the two prisoners brought up and attired in the grab of their positions.
The chief butler had such a sweet look of peace and gladness about him that Pharaoh immediately had him restored to his full butlership and he served pharaoh on the spot by placing the cup in his hands.
But when he saw the fear and dread in his former chief baker’s eyes he said, “Alas! So my chief baker has a guilty conscience, does he? Off with him! Hang him swiftly! This is my birthday present to me.”
Therefore, Joseph’s interpretations were proved correct! But in all the excitement, the chief butler forgot all about him.