One of the most clear indicators that God is involved in a situation is that the timing is perfect. That’s why it seems strange that Joseph remained in prison for two whole years (Genesis 41:1) after he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s chief baker and cupbearer. Genesis 40:23 states that the chief cupbearer “did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” Joseph’s interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream didn’t seem to have any impact on him. Even though Joseph predicted the exact day (Genesis 40:13) that the chief cupbearer would be released from prison, the cupbearer ignored Joseph’s desperate plea for help (Genesis 40:14).
It seems likely that the two years Joseph remained in prison after he had interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s officers was a period of time that God used to transform his inner character. Genesis 41:1 indicates that two whole years passed before anything else happened in Joseph’s life. The Hebrew word that is translated whole, yowm (yome) usually refers to complete cycles or measured periods of time like 24 hours (1 day) or 365 days (1 year) (H3117). The first biblical occurrences of yowm are found in Genesis 1:15-31 which indicates that God completed his cycles of creation in six 24 hour time periods. Genesis 1:15 states, “and the evening and the morning were the first day” .
The reason why two whole years passed after Joseph interpreted the chief baker and cupbearer’s dreams may have been because that was how long it took God to transform Joseph into a new person. The Apostle Paul described the process of transformation that occurs in believers as the renewing of the mind. Paul said, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).
The Greek word Paul used that is translated transformed, metamorphoo (met-am-or-fo’-o) means to change into another form, to undergo a complete change and the present continuous tense of this verb indicates a process” (G3339). Metamorphoo is used in Matthew 17:2 to refer to Jesus’ transfiguration. It says, “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:1-2). The transformation of Jesus’ outward appearance may have been intended to show his disciples that his glorified state wasn’t the result of being crucified and resurrected.
Unlike human transformation, Jesus’ transfiguration was not a process that had to be completed. John’s gospel indicates that Jesus was in a glorified state before the world existed (John 17:5). Apparently, what happened when Jesus was transfigured was that his glorified state was manifested or you might say revealed to his disciples Peter, James, and John. The physical change in Jesus’ appearance was likely just an outward expression of an internal adjustment that caused his deity to temporarily eclipse the physical constraints of his body. One way of describing what happened might be that Jesus’ glorified state burst through the physical constraint of his body and was able to be detected by the visual perception of his three disciples.
Jesus referred to his transfiguration as a vision and commanded his disciples to “tell no one the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead” (Matthew 17:9). The Greek word horama (hor’-am’ah) means “something gazed at” (G3705) and is comparable to the word optomai (op’-tom-ahee) which means “to gaze (i.e. with wide-open eyes, as at something remarkable)” (G3700). Dreams and visions such as the one that Jesus’ disciples had of his transfiguration may be related to one another in that they both tap into the spiritual realm where the past, present, and future seem to coexist. The dreams that Joseph had at the age of 17 connected him to a future that was very different from his current reality, but they instilled in him a belief that the events of his dream would one day take place.
Joseph had been a slave in Egypt for approximately eleven years and likely a prisoner in the king’s prison for much of that time when two men in his custody each had a dream the same night that caused them to be stirred up inside (Genesis 40:5-6). God may have used the dreams of Pharaoh’s officers to remind Joseph of his own dreams and to focus his attention on what what going on in the world outside his prison. After the chief baker and cupbearer were taken from the prison, Joseph was left to contemplate his own future for two whole years.
The human mind is intended to make meaning of things and when left to its own devices can be a very powerful weapon in Satan’s hands. During the two years that Joseph remained in prison, he may have experienced doubt and confusion and wondered why God had allowed him to suffer for so long. Joseph told the chief cupbearer, “I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit” (Genesis 40:15). The pit where Joseph was imprisoned was a dungeon, a large hole in the ground that was probably used for storing water before it became a prison. The Hebrew word that is translated pit in Genesis 40:15, bor (bore) is also used in Genesis 37:20 to describe the pit that Joseph’s brothers cast him into before they sold him into slavery. The similarity between these two places where Joseph lost his freedom may have caused him to think of both his imprisonment and being sold into slavery as one long, continuous cycle of unpleasant change.
The thing that Joseph never seemed to lose sight of that likely led to the transformation of his inner being, was the knowledge that God was in control of his circumstances. The Apostle Paul identified the source of personal transformation as renewing the mind. The Greek word anakainosis (an-ak-ah’-ee-no-sis) refers to “the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life; and stresses the willing response on the part of the believer” (G342). Joseph demonstrated an adjustment to the mind of God by being loyal to Potipher and refusing to sleep with his master’s wife (Genesis 39:8-9). Joseph was concerned about the well-being of Pharaoh’s officers (Genesis 40:7) and asked the cupbearer to be merciful to him after he was freed from prison (Genesis 40:14) rather than demanding that he be repaid for interpreting the chief cupbearer’s dream. Perhaps, the greatest testimony to Joseph’s willingness to do things God’s way was his hard work and responsible behavior in spite of being a slave in Egypt.
Genesis 41:1-8 indicates that after two whole years had passed, Pharaoh had two dreams that troubled him and his magicians and wise men were unable to interpret the dreams. “Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, ‘I remember my offenses today. When Pharaoh was angry with his servants and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, we dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own interpretation. A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. And as he interpreted to us, so it came about. I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.’ Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit” (Genesis 41:9-13).
Psalm 40:1-3 may reflect what was going through Joseph’s mind when he was released from prison. It states:
I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.
The phrase waited patiently “stresses the straining of the mind in a certain direction with an expectant attitude…a forward look with assurance” (H6960). Waiting patiently for God to do something usually involves the discipline of silence and a restraint from activity. It seems that Joseph’s transformation was a direct result of him doing nothing other than continuing to expect that God would one day deliver him from prison.
The Apostle Paul described the process of spiritual transformation as putting off your old self and putting on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Similar to changing the clothes that we wear, spiritual transformation or what Paul referred to as sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30), is an intentional effort to change the way we appear to others. The old self which is characterized by dulled spiritual perception (G4457) has to be replaced by a new self that is under the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit who directs its bent and energies Godward in the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (G365).
When Jesus was transfigured, a bright cloud overshadowed his disciples, “and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him'” (Matthew 17:5). God’s reference to Jesus as his beloved Son was meant to convey the special relationship between Jesus and his heavenly Father. It could be that Jesus’ transfiguration had something to do with the close connection he had established with God through intimate prayer. God said that he was “well pleased” with Jesus even before he had completed his assignment of dying on the cross for the sins of the world. The Greek word that is translated well pleased, eudokeo (yoo-dok-eh’) stresses “the willingness and freedom of an intention or resolve regarding what is good” (G2106).
One way of looking at eudokeo is to see it as a commitment that cannot not be broken. God being well pleased with Jesus meant that he would not change his opinion of his beloved Son regardless of the circumstances that might effect his viewpoint. Jesus’ assignment of bearing the burden of sin changed the way he appeared to his Father, but God was just as well pleased with Jesus after he was scarred and broken by the weight of sin and human depravity as he was before. Jesus’ transfiguration was evidence that his eternal state and status with God had already been secured before he died on the cross and was resurrected.
God instructed Jesus’ disciples to “listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). The Greek words akouo (ak-oo’-o) and autos (ow-tos’) mean more than just tuning into what someone is saying. It implies that there is a spiritual aspect to what is being said and a need for spiritual discernment to make sense of the message. Many of the things Jesus told his disciples didn’t make sense to them at first. It wasn’t until after he was resurrected that the disciples realized Jesus was going to establish his kingdom on earth by means of the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of believers, revealing and confirming the truths of God’s word (Matthew 16:18). Paul described this capability as “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” (Ephesians 1:18).
Joseph demonstrated spiritual enlightenment when he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s chief baker and cupbearer (Genesis 40:12-13, 18-19). As a result of his correct interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream, Joseph was brought before Pharaoh and asked to interpret two dreams that caused him to be troubled in his spirit (Genesis 41:8). Pharaoh’s astrologers and wise men were unable to interpret his dreams because of their unregenerate condition. The only way the dreams’ meaning could be deciphered was to open them up or you might say to unlock the truth that was contained within them.
Joseph’s preparation for the task of interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams was likely the long period of silence he endured after successfully interpreting the dreams of the chief baker and cupbearer. Two whole years of nothing happening while Joseph waited patiently for the LORD to deliver him from the pit may have been a type of spiritual exercise that strengthened Joseph’s faith and helped him to understand things from God’s perspective. Psalm 40:4-5 states, “Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!” The Hebrew word that is translated makes, siym (seem) has to do with the act of placing something in a permanent or secure location. In the context of making the LORD our trust, siym means to invite the Lord into our heart or to be saved.
Joseph’s inner transformation was followed by an external transformation that began when he was summoned from his prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Genesis 41:14 states, “Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh.” “Egyptians were normally smooth-shaven, while Palestinians wore beards” (note on Genesis 41:14, KJSB). This seems to suggest that Joseph was required to conform to Egyptian customs in order to speak to the king of Egypt, but it could be that Joseph voluntarily changed his appearance so that he wouldn’t offend Pharaoh out of respect for his position.
Pharaoh greeted Joseph with the statement, “‘I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it” (Genesis 41:15). Joseph could have taken credit for his interpretation of the cupbearer and baker’s dreams, but instead he let Pharaoh know that God was communicating with him. Joseph said, “God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (Genesis 41:16). The Hebrew term that is translated favorable, shalom (shaw-lome’) means peace and “signifies a state in which one can feel at ease, comfortable with someone. The relationship is one of harmony and wholeness, which is the opposite of the state of strife and war” (H7965). Joseph spoke these words before he had even heard Pharaoh’s dream, suggesting that God had already been talking to Joseph about the message he was going to relay to Pharaoh.
After Pharaoh told him his two dreams, Joseph said, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do” (Genesis 41:25). Pharaoh’s dreams contained information about the future, but he wasn’t able to utilize the information because of his unregenerate state. Paul described this condition as the futility of the mind (Ephesians 4:17). The Greek word mataios (mat’-ah-yos) “denotes communication that is devoid of force, truth, success, result; it is useless, of no purpose” (G3152). Nous (nooce), which is translated mind in Ephesians 4:17, means the seat of reflective consciousness, comprising the faculties of perception and understanding, and those of feeling, judging and determining” (G3563). Contrasted with Pharaoh’s dulled spiritual perception, Joseph’s ability to accurately interpret the dreams and provide guidance about how to utilize the information (Genesis 41:28-36) made him an extremely valuable resource to the king of Egypt.
Joseph’s plan to store up grain during seven years of abundant crops and then, distribute the grain during the seven years of famine that would follow may sound like he was just using common sense, but Pharaoh’s response showed that he could never have devised such a plan on his own. “Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God'” (Genesis 41:38). Pharaoh’s reference to God’s Spirit being in Joseph was a unique distinction. Before Jesus was born, the Holy Spirit didn’t dwell inside believers. Essentially, what Pharaoh was saying was that Joseph’s knowledge and understanding of God was so close to his actual character that what he was saying sounded like it was coming directly from the mouth of God. In other words, during the thirteen years Joseph had suffered as a slave, he had been transformed into the image of God.
Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the thrown will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” This he set him over all the land of Egypt. (Genesis 41:39-43)
Joseph’s mental acuity was recognized by Pharaoh as a divine gift from God. The fact that Pharaoh made him second in command, showed that Joseph was not only discerning and wise, but also a loyal servant that could be trusted with a great deal of responsibility.