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In Between Times 17.7: Between Sleep and Awake: Joseph


Issue 364


This week we continue with our series on ‘in between’ times. Currently we are concentrating on the subject of ‘between sleep and awake’ as a way of exploring biblical examples of dreams and visions. This edition continues our look at that archetypal dreamer, Joseph, and today we address the question of dream interpretation.

Joseph is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Before you gloss over that phrase, you might like to reflect on how many times you feel guilty, or that you are paying a price, for something when you did nothing wrong. Just a passing thought, but Joseph did not let that stop him functioning, and rose to a position of responsibility while he was there, becoming a trusted manager in the prison context. So we are looking at a workplace situation, and for those of you who feel your work is a prison, you may also like to stay with the story. It is in this environment that Joseph notices the dejection on the faces of two of his fellow inmates. Again, before you move on, observe how sensitive Joseph was to the mood of others – his spiritual antenna was highly tuned and, even though he was in an unjust situation, he still noticed the souls of others. Joseph wasn’t a detached dreamer – his awareness translated into his connections to others.

The reason his contacts are dejected is because they are confused by their dreams. I will guarantee that some people you know are in such circumstances; you may like to try asking, out of curiosity, whether any of your colleagues have recurring dreams; many will be only too happy to describe the weird and confusing nature of these dreams.

Joseph’s response is first a question: “do not interpretations belong to God?” and then an invitation: “tell me your dreams”.

In these two phrases a whole world opens up. It is amazing that in today’s marketplace and in church places, there are millions of Christians who believe in the unseen world; you may quite openly on Sundays sing songs, say prayers, read verses and hear sermons full of such thinking; yet these two statements pass by the world of work and church like the priest and Levite on the Jericho road.

In this series, we are beginning to see that dreams can come from God. The bible is not only teeming with examples, but dreams are seen as one of the specific signs of God’s Spirit being poured out in the current era as a direct result of Pentecost (older men, especially, are those who will dream). Joseph is also saying that understanding and interpreting dreams comes
from God. He does not, however, go on to say “so why don’t you just have a go?” he says, “Tell me”. In that second phase, he is illustrating what you know to be true in other spiritual disciplines: God may be speaking, but you may need a specialist (teacher, leader, pastor, etc) to help you understand what is being said. There is a risk that Christians can move away from such things and the vacuum be filled by others. It might be worth asking how many people would think of going to a church to discover the interpretation of their dreams?

Let me earth this for you: the exchange takes place in the working environment; Joseph does not let the injustice and pain of his personal life stop him being sensitive to others; he recognises that God speaks to anyone (not just believers) in their dreams; he explains that God can make sense of their dreams; he uses his specialist experience and gifting at this point.

There were three outcomes of this story: firstly, one man was freed; secondly, the other man was executed; neither of these outcomes was Joseph’s doing, but he merely gave insight; as for Joseph, he remained ‘in between’ for another two years until he was remembered – for what? -being an interpreter of dreams; this time, however, he was going to the top; finally Joseph’s own dreams were going to be fulfilled – the result, a new job; we’re back at work again. So the next time someone says ‘dream on’ – do it.


Genesis 40:4-41:14

4 The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them. After they had been in custody for some time, 5 each of the two men-the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison-had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. 6 When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected. 7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?” 8 “We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.” 9 So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, 10 and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.”12 “This is what it means,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. 13 Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. 14 But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. 15 I was forcibly carried off
from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.”

16 When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favourable interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. 17 In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.” 18 “This is what it means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days. 19 Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and impale your body on a pole. And the birds will eat away your flesh.” 20 Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: 21 He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand- 22 but he impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation. 23 The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

1 When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile, 2 when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. 3 After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. 4 And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up. 5 He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. 6 After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted-thin and scorched by the east wind. 7 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream. 8 In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him. 9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. 10 Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. 11 Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a
meaning of its own. 12 Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. 13 And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was impaled.” 14 So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.

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Geoff Shattock

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