Interpretation of Meaning: A Reflection on Genesis 40

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Life needs interpretation. Interpretation is needed when things don’t make sense. Life does not make sense.

We crave meaning. We want to know that our lives are meaningful. Depending on the way a person is treated, they interpret their meaning. If someone is loved, that is meaningful to them. If someone is respected, wanted, listened to, invited, talked to; those things mean something to a person. If someone is abused, neglected, ignored, forgotten; those things also mean something to a person. Depending on the way a person is treated, they interpret their meaning.

Joseph has been sold into slavery at a cheap price. He has been tempted by an aggressive woman, and he did the right thing, he did the thing he felt like God wanted him to do, refuse her. So he did and she accused him of rape. Now Joseph is in prison for doing the right thing – as a convicted rapist. In the end of Genesis 40 Joseph will be forgotten by a man he helped. He will be forgotten for two years.

Life does not make sense.

When you are mistreated by people it is painful, but to believe that God is in control; that He has the power to make things different, but He doesn’t . . .that is something that is very difficult to interpret. What does it mean? Is God mistreating me? Has God forgotten me?


God knows all things, and we know God knows all things. Everything makes sense to God. Joseph understood this. While in prison Joseph met two men, a butler and a baker, both former employees of Pharaoh. Both of them had dreams. Neither of them knew what their dreams meant. They said to Joseph, “We each have had a dream, and there is no interpreter of it.” No one could make sense of their dreams. Joseph asked them a question that affirmed his belief that God knows, “Do not interpretations belong to God?”

Everything makes sense to God.

The Butler and the Baker found meaning in their dreams. God gave them an interpretation that meant everything to their life. For one man it meant release and restoration. God wanted to give the butler good news. Good news is meaningful. The baker felt that since the interpretation of the butler’s dream was favorable that he should submit his dream as well. But God wanted this man to know he was going to die – and Joseph gave him the interpretation.

Bad news is equally as meaningful as good news.

Every message God sends may not be pleasant, but it is meaningful. Everything that happens to us may not be pleasant, but it is meaningful. To know your days are numbered is not a happy time, but it is amazing how some people who realize death is near are able to make every remaining moment incredibly meaningful. We all know we are going to die; only a few of us actually get to find out when. Sadly, we are prone to waste most of the days leading up to that point. So now a baker raised in a world full of gods gets the news with three days left in his life that there is only one God who knows. That is a meaningful message, an epiphany. The Bible doesn’t say how he responded, but the baker now has the opportunity to have three of the most meaningful days of his life.

We are all sinners. The Bible tells us that we must pay the penalty of sin. The Bible and the fact that funeral homes are franchised just like McDonald’s tells us that we are all going to die. That is not a pleasant message, but it is meaningful. It is a message that entices us to seek rescue. It awakens us to rightly interpret the biggest problem; the fact that we will not survive life.

No one survives life.

As equally meaningful as bad news, is good news. The good news is that there is rescue. God has provided a way, through the cruel punishment and death of His son, for you and I to have life. When Jesus died on the cross it meant that I would no longer be required to pay the penalty of my sin. Jesus died for me. Jesus died for you. His death was the most meaningful and purposeful interpretation of God’s love we have ever witnessed. As gruesome as it was, the death of Jesus was incredibly meaningful.

So if God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us . . . why is it that from time to time it feels like we are mistreated by the very God who loves us? If God loves us, why is Joseph a cheap rapist in jail? The terrible irony to the story is that Joseph has helped two men understand that God knows the meaning of their lives; but no one can help Joseph understand the meaning of his.

And please remember me and do me a favor when things go well for you. Mention me to Pharaoh, so he might let me out of this place. For I was kidnapped from my homeland, the land of the Hebrews, and now I’m here in prison, but I did nothing to deserve it.” Genesis 40:14-15 (NLT)

Perhaps the hardest thing about knowing God knows, about knowing that everything makes sense to God, is when God withholds interpretation. There are times when God doesn’t speak. We are suffering things we do not deserve, that’s what victims do, and we are tempted to think about the way we are being treated, we begin to grope for meaning, we begin to seek interpretation . . .but it all seems pointless, senseless, meaningless. We try to seek God even in this, but even still life does not make sense. And we enter an intense struggle to believe.

Somehow Joseph did not allow his victimization to interpret his life. We must confide in that which Joseph believed, that God knows. Even though I am not where I want to be, God knows where I am. Even though I am suffering, suffering is meaningful. Even though God isn’t speaking, He is saying something in all of this.

For Joseph his time as a cheap rapist in prison will become incredibly meaningful. Though he is in prison he is closer to the throne. God knows this, but He isn’t telling Joseph.

They bruised his feet with fetters
and placed his neck in an iron collar.
Until the time came to fulfill his dreams,
the Lord tested Joseph’s character.
Psalm 105:18-19 (NLT)


Tyrone Ferrara said…
You stated that "God knows this, but He isn’t telling Joseph."

I believe Joseph was still holding on to the dreams he had as a child. I believe God gave Joseph those dreams as a child to keep his hope alive to withstand the hardships he was about to experience. In other words, God had already told Joseph were he was going.

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