Improving My Preaching (4)

Interaction with the NIV Application Commentary (Completing 4 of 25 hours of Prep)

In his entry in the Application Commentary on Genesis 40, John H. Walton writes:

Since two years separate the dreams of this chapter from Joseph’s elevation to high position (41:1)  and he is thirty years old when elevated (41:46), Joseph spends eleven years in Potiphar’s house and in prison, though there is no indication how that time period divides.  The officers whom Joseph encounters in prison are high ranking members of the court.  they are responsible for safeguarding two of the ways that a potential assassin could strike the king.  they not only had to be extremely trustworthy individuals of unquestioned loyalty to the king; they also had to be fine judges of character lest an enemy with intent to poison pharaoh infiltrate their staffs.

Genesis 40 gives no hint what sequence of events has landed these officials in Joseph’s care.  Offenses against Pharaoh certainly could take many forms. Whether these officials are suspected of involvement in a conspiracy or just guilty of displeasing the king in the disposition of their duties is impossible to tell.  Perhaps Pharaoh got sick from a meal and they have come under suspicion.  Perhaps they are under house arrest, awaiting investigation of charges against them.

In the ancient Neat East, dream interpretations were sought from experts who had been trained in the techniques and methods of the day.  Both the Egyptians and the Babylonians compiled what are called “dream books,” which contain sample dreams along with a key to their interpretation.  Though some of the interpretations in the biblical accounts may seem transparent or self-evident, dreams often depended on symbolism, and the symbols might not stand for what was most logical.  the dream books preserved the empirical data concerning past dreams and interpretations and therefore offered the security of scientific documentation.  It was believed that the gods communicated generally through dreams but that they revealed the meanings of dreams by giving wisdom in the expert’s research.

Joseph was not familiar in any of the “scientific” literature and would not have had access to it, so he consulted God.  Regardless, his interpretation follows the way the dream literature interpreted comparable symbols.    A full goblet, for instance, was indicative of having a name and offspring.  carrying fruit on one’s head was indicative of sorrow.  As is common in Mesopotamian literature, Joseph draws a time indication from a number featured in the dream.

The operative difference between the interpretations given for the two men turns on the phrase, “Pharaoh will lift up/off your head” (40:13, 19).  In Hebrew the phrase is exactly the same, but the surrounding context gives each a different meaning. For the cupbearer, the king will lift up his head (i.e. give him favor and forgiveness) and restore him.  For the baker, the king will lift up his head also, but the added prepositional phrase “from upon you” changes the idiom from one of favor to one of execution.  In the ancient world hanging was not typically a form of execution but a way to dishonor the corpse of an executed person.  In this case the baker would have been beheaded and then “hung” – usually by having his body impaled on a stake (see NIV footnote) – in public view for birds and insects to devour.

The third day, Pharaoh’s birthday, brings about exactly the result that Joseph’s interpretation had indicated.  Literature from Egypt only evidences the granting of amnesty on Pharaoh’s birthday in the Greek period, though there is more ample evidence of amnesties being extended on the anniversary of his accession to the throne, which can also be described as his birth as a god.  The cupbearer’s good fortune, however, goes for naught as in his joy at being restored, he forgets (for the time being) his debt to Joseph.

Reading further in John Walton I was really affected by an analogy which he used to describe how God is sovereign over the free will of the actors in the narrative.  He describes how he, John H. Walton, plays chess against the computer.  The computer knows all the permutations and knows how to react to the moves which Walton makes.  In the end the computer’s victory is assured even though Walton is exercising his free will.  He describes that the computer is like a small picture of God.  He allows us to make our choices and he does not make the bad things happen.  He uses our horrible situations to bring about his will and his eventual victory is assured.

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About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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