Much of the Christian life is a battle to trust promises that have yet to be fulfilled, for we live by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). As Joseph languished once again in the “pit”’ (Gen. 40:15), he had only his two dreams to give him hope of a brighter future. But in His kindness, God sent two men, with two more dreams, to remind Joseph that all God’s promises would come true.

The dreams of the butler and baker were simple enough. The butler dreamed that he was serving Pharaoh wine, and the baker dreamed that birds ate the bread and delicacies he had prepared for the king. God again gave Joseph the interpretation. Both dreams were about being “lifted up,” a repeated phrase in the account in Genesis 40. For the butler, it was good news: he would be lifted up and restored to service. For the baker, it would be a “lifting up” as well, but unfortunately of his head from his body, as Pharaoh would order his execution. Joseph told the men each verdict would be delivered on the third day, and so it happened.

Surely, this was an encouragement to Joseph to persevere in hope. These two dreams came true, and reassurance that his own two dreams of being lifted up to glory as his family bowed down would also come true. Remember, Joseph was seventeen when he was sold into slavery and thirty when Pharaoh eventually called him to service. That’s thirteen years waiting, with nothing to cling to but God’s promise. The fates of the butler and baker showed Joseph that God never goes back on His word.

But reading the account as Christians who know where the whole story of Scripture leads, we might detect a deeper pattern. Two elements are particularly emphasized in the dreams of the palace servants: that they would both be lifted up (Gen. 40:13, 19, 20) and that it would happen on the third day (“three” and “third” are repeated nine times in Gen. 40:9–20). The third day is the day of being raised up, which brings triumph or tragedy. In his great chapter on the resurrection, Paul tells the Corinthians that Christ was “raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4). We think of Jonah as a prediction that Christ’s resurrection would be on the third day, and maybe Hosea 6:2. But perhaps even in Genesis 40 we are taught that the third day is the day of being lifted up. Certainly, Christ’s resurrection brings both triumph for Him and those who are united to Him and tragedy for all who stand against Him, including death itself (1 Cor. 15:54–55).

Be that as it may, Joseph had the prophecies of his own lifting up strengthened by seeing God’s words confirmed in the lifting up of the butler and baker. As Christians, we have promises that one day we will be raised to glory and given resurrection bodies. And alongside the promise of God’s words we have seen in history the resurrection of Christ: He has already been lifted up on the third day as the firstfruits of the harvest to come (1 Cor. 15:20). It’s not just that He has been raised so we know God is capable of doing it again with believers. Rather, our resurrections are intimately connected to Christ’s: He is the firstfruits of the one harvest. If Christ has been raised, so will His people be, united as they are to their King. We have the prophetic word made more sure.

Alongside the promise of God’s words we have seen in history the resurrection of Christ

Two long years passed, but eventually Joseph’s own “lifting up” arrived. In the third pair of dreams of the Joseph story, Pharaoh was given visions of thin cows that ate fat cows without gaining weight and seven thin ears of corn that swallowed seven fat ears without growing larger. When the court magicians were left baffled, Joseph was summoned to interpret. Pharaoh was so impressed that he raised Joseph to the second-highest position in Egypt, below only Pharaoh himself. And what was the sign of this newfound status? Joseph was clothed again in finery, robed in glory just as he had been when his story began (Gen. 41:42). Eventually, of course, his dreams were fulfilled, and his family joined him in Egypt. Joseph was the one to whom all the world had to go in order to find food (Gen. 41:55). Only he could provide feasting in the famine. In this he foreshadowed the true bread of life, Jesus Christ, who gives life to the world (John 6:33).

Our life is often one of famine and hardship, but God has raised up a Ruler to feed the nations. He gives us not bread that will perish but food that will grant us eternal life. Where else can we go? Only by believing in Christ, feeding on Him, do we receive eternal life and escape the death we deserve. Days of feasting will come, but until then we live by faith in the Son of God who gave His life for us. He alone can sustain us; He alone can feed us.

As Joseph’s days drew to a close, he revealed to his brothers that “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20). Notice the two intentions behind the one wicked act. The brothers intended evil as they stripped and beat Joseph, selling him into slavery. But mysteriously, at the same time God used their evil act to save tens of thousands who would otherwise have perished in the famine. If Joseph hadn’t been in that prison cell with the disgraced butler, he would never have been introduced to Pharaoh and called to a position where he could save both Israelites and Egyptians, Jews and gentiles. Among those saved from starvation was his brother Judah, from whose line, ultimately, would come the Lord Jesus Christ. In that sense, the undeniably wicked action of the brothers resulted in the salvation not just of starving citizens in the ancient Near East but of the countless multitude rescued by Christ through His death on the cross.

Likewise, Jesus’ death was a deplorably wicked act. But it, too, was also planned and purposed by God. The guilt and evil of crucifying Christ lay with men, but God had purposed it for good in the mystery of His sovereign will. As Peter says in his Pentecost sermon, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).

In his suffering and in his being raised up to glory, Joseph foreshadows Jesus Christ. Christ has died to make atonement for us and is now raised up to guarantee our own resurrection and to feed us from the right hand of God the Father on our journey home. For now, the Christian life is one of faith rather than sight, but we have His Word, His Son, and His gospel to give us a sure and certain hope that one day we will be gathered to His presence. There we will meet not an angry ruler, out for revenge on His people who spurned and rejected Him. Rather, we will at last be reunited with our compassionate older brother who willingly gave Himself that we might live. When Joseph finally revealed his identity to his brothers, “he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him” (Gen. 45:15). So it will be when we see Jesus face-to-face. Who can imagine what the great heavenly family reunion will be like? Who can imagine what it will be like to be embraced and kissed by the One we betrayed but who loves us to death? Who can imagine the glories of talking with Him?


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on December 9, 2020.

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