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Bailey Sadler Class



Study Theme: Overcome: Living Beyond Your Circumstances

What This Study Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

The focus of this study is on the fact that our circumstances sometimes tempt us to give in to the feeling that God has forgotten us. Looking at Joseph’s life we will see that God never forgets and when we focus on Him our circumstances will not defeat us. 



Oct. 19

Overcome Betrayal


Oct. 26

Overcome Temptation


Nov. 02

Overcome Being Forgotten


Nov. 09

Overcome Hard Times


Nov. 16

Overcome Bitterness


Nov. 23

Overcome an Earthly Mindset


Keep doing what God has gifted you to do.


Genesis 39:21-23; 40:5-8,20-23





Stay Focused (Gen. 39:21-23)

Care For Others (Gen. 40:5-8)

When Forgotten (Gen. 40:20-23)

OVERVIEW OF BACKGROUND PASSAGE:  Genesis 39:21-23; 40:5-8,20-23

  In return for his purity and integrity in refusing the advances of his master’s wife, Joseph wound up in prison.  You would think that Joseph had hit rock bottom, but not so.  Even there God blessed him and gave him favor in the warden’s eyes.  Why?  Because Joseph was a man of integrity and did for the prison warden what he had done for Potiphar—he lived out God’s blessing in his life during a time when most men would have given up.  But God continued to bless him.  Seeing the big picture, God used two of Pharaoh’s out-of-favor officials who were in prison  to further His plan for Joseph’s life.  Each official had disturbing dreams which Joseph, with God’s insight, interpreted, asking only that one official who was about to be restored to Pharaoh’s service remember Joseph when that day came.  However, the official forgot.

Overview is adapted from the following sources:

Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


 Most of us have experienced times when we were in less than ideal circumstances.  Probably everyone has an occasional “bad day” either at work or at home.  But sometimes life’s circumstances may be very challenging.  Maybe your job is not as satisfying as you expected, or your retirement has not worked out like you thought it would.  Perhaps your marriage relationship has grown stale, or your children didn’t turn out the way you would have liked.  Or maybe a child  has chosen a life-style that has built a barrier between you two and destroyed your relationship with that child.   This study focuses on a time in Joseph’s life when his dreams as a teenager seemed hollow.  Rather than being an important person, he wound up in prison, falsely accused of a crime he didn’t commit.  When he thought he has found a possible way out of prison, he was forgotten! 


Stay Focused (Gen. 39:21-23)

21 But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him. He granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.  22 The warden put all the prisoners who were in the prison under Joseph’s authority, and he was responsible for everything that was done there.  23 The warden did not bother with anything under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him, and the Lord made everything that he did successful.

1.     What has happened to Joseph since he ran from Potiphar’s wife advances to engage in sexual sin?

2.     Based on verse 21, how would you describe Joseph’s relation to God while he was in prison?

3.     In what ways does this episode parallel Joseph’s rise to success in Potiphar’s house?

4.     What kinds of behavior do you think Joseph exhibited to gain the prison warden’s favor (v. 21)?

5.     What does verse 22 tell us about the relationship Joseph had developed with the warden?

6.     What evidence suggests that Joseph made diligent effort even in dark circumstances (v. 23)?

7.     Based on verse 23, how did Joseph demonstrate leadership?

8.     Ultimately, to what was Joseph’s success to be attributed?

9.     Based on this passage, how would you describe God’s involvement in Joseph’s life to this point?

10.  God allowed adversity to come into Joseph’s life for what purpose?

11.  How do we remain faithful when we find ourselves where we didn’t expect to be?

12.  What’s your first reaction when someone acts unjustly toward you?

13.  Why do you think this happens?

14.  Do you sometimes find it difficult for you to continue to serve God in adverse circumstances?

15.  If so, why do you think this happens?


Lasting Lessons in Gen. 39:21-23:

1.  We can use our God-given abilities in many life contexts.

2.  Non-believers often notice our wise use of our God-given abilities.

3.  God will be with us in all our difficult moments.

4.  God will not always reveal Himself to us in a dramatic way, but He continues to love and care for us.



Care For Others (Gen. 40:5-8)

5 The Egyptian king’s cupbearer and baker, who were confined in the prison, each had a dream. Both had a dream on the same night, and each dream had its own meaning.  6 When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they looked distraught.  7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?”  8 “We had dreams,” they said to him, “but there is no one to interpret them.” Then Joseph said to them, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”

1.     What two court officials joined Joseph in prison?

2.     Based on verse 1-4, what do we know about these two men?

3.     According to verses 1-4, what was Joseph’s relationship with these two men?

4.     What does verse 4 tell you about the trust the warden had in Joseph?

5.     What was a cupbearer?

6.     In addition to being in prison, what else caused them to be troubled?

7.     Why do you think the dreams of the two officials troubled them?

8.     What words or actions suggest Joseph was sensitive to and concerned about their well-being?

9.     Do you think we (believers) should be sensitive to and concerned about the well-being of others?  Why, or why not?

10.  What are some things that allow us to demonstrate concern for others?

11.  What are some little things that allow us to demonstrate God’s concern to others?

12.  How did Joseph have the ability to interpret dreams (v. 8)?

13.  Do you think it is important that we (believers) should give God the credit for all the gifts He has given us?

14.  What do you find most remarkable about Joseph’s faith?


Lasting Lessons in Gen. 40:5-8:

1.  We should be concerned about others who share difficult circumstances with us.

2.  God reveals Himself in many different ways.

3.  God enables some to interpret His revelation to others.

4.  For all gifts we have, we should give God the credit and call attention to Him, not to ourselves.



When Forgotten (Gen. 40:20-23)

20 On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he gave a feast for all his servants. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker.  21 Pharaoh restored the chief cupbearer to his position as cupbearer, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.  22 But Pharaoh hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had explained to them.  23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

1.     What happened between verses 9-19?

2.     What was the cupbearer’s dream and what was Joseph’s interpretation of his dream?  (See verses 9-13.)

3.     How do you think the cupbearer felt about this interpretation?

4.     What did Joseph ask of the cupbearer? (See verses 14-15.)

5.     Why do you think Joseph told the cupbearer that he was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and that he had done nothing that they should put him in the dungeon? (See v. 15.)

6.     How did the baker respond to Joseph’s interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream? (See verse 16.)

7.     What was the baker’s dream and how do you think he felt about Joseph’s interpretation of his dream? (See verses 18-19.)

8.     Why do you think Joseph was willing to help these two with the interpretation of their dreams?

9.     Why do you think the cupbearer forgot Joseph and what Joseph had asked of him?

10.  Why do you think that sometimes the good we (believers) do is not always rewarded immediately?

11.  Does this cause you to feel like God has forgotten you?  If so, why?

12.  How does it make you feel when you know God is using you for a specific purpose?  Why?

13.  If you, like Joseph, had been rejected by his family, sold into slavery, falsely accused, and forgotten in prison; just how would you feel as a result of all this adversity in your life?  How do you think it made Joseph feel?

14.  What does this tell us about Joseph’s relationship with God?

15.  How do you think he was able to maintain a positive outlook in such circumstances?

16.  What comfort can we gleam from the knowledge that God gets the final word—always?

17.  Do you believe turning from what God has gifted you to do—even when you feel forgotten—should never be an option?  Why, or why not?

18.  What are some things we can do to support each other to keep doing what God has gifted us to do?


Lasting Lessons in Gen. 40:20-23:

1.  Our good deeds are not always rewarded immediately.

2.  God never forgets us or abandons us.

3.  Sometimes people fail to keep their promises to us.

4.  God will reward those who are His faithful servants.



Sometimes people forget about each other, but God doesn’t.  He has come personally to us in Jesus Christ to offer us forgiveness of sin and eternal life with Him.  Therefore, we need keep doing what God has gifted each of us to do.  We need to praise Him for not only who He is, but for what He is doing for each of us.  It can be easy for us to slip into a trap of thinking we are forgotten, but we need to remember that God never forgets us.  He is never finished with us this side of heaven.  We need to remember that we don’t have to do something on a grand scale—we just need to do something!  We need to listen for what God wants us to do and obey.

Do you use your God-given abilities?  How faithful have you been in using these abilities to help others?  How faithful have you been in fulfilling the promises you have made to: (a) God and (b) other people?  Have you been faithful in forgiving a person who has not kept a promises he/she made to you?  On a scale of 1 (very little) to 10 (all God want me to do) rate yourself on each of the above five (5) questions.  What does your rating look like?  Add your rating of all five together, divide by five and see your average rating?  Do you think your rating pleases God?  If not, what do you want to do about it?  Ask God to show you how to improve yourself on each individual rating.  He will, if you are serious in your request!

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.


Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.



“Overcome Being Forgotten” — Lesson Outline




Stay Focused (Gen. 39:21-23)

Care For Others (Gen. 40:5-8)

When Forgotten (Gen. 40:20-23)

Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

King James Version: Genesis 39:21-23; 40:5-8,20-23:

39:21 But the LORD was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.   22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it 23 The keeper of the prison looked not to anything that was under his hand; because the LORD was with him, and that which he did, the LORD made it to prosper.

40:5 And they dreamed a dream both of them, each man his dream in one night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, which were bound in the prison.  6 And Joseph came in unto them in the morning, and looked upon them, and, behold, they were sad.  7 And he asked Pharaoh’s officers that were with him in the ward of his lord’s house, saying, Wherefore look ye so sadly today?  8 And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you.

40:20 And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants.  21 And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand: 22 But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them.  23 Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him.   (KJV)

New International Version: Genesis 39:21-23; 40:5-8,20-23:

39:21the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.  22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there.  23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

40:5 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 are your faces 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.”

40:20 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 hanged£ 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.    (NIV)

New Living Translation: Genesis 39:21-23; 40:5-8,20-23:

39:21 But the LORD was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the LORD made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden.  22 Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison.  23 The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The LORD was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.

40:5 While they were in prison, Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker each had a dream one night, and each dream had its own meaning.  6 When Joseph saw them the next morning, he noticed that they both looked upset.  7 “Why do you look so worried today?” he asked them.  8 And they replied, “We both had dreams last night, but no one can tell us what they mean.”  “Interpreting dreams is God’s business,” Joseph replied. “Go ahead and tell me your dreams.”

40:20 Pharaoh’s birthday came three days later, and he prepared a banquet for all his officials and staff. He summoned£ his chief cup-bearer and chief baker to join the other officials.  21 He then restored the chief cup-bearer to his former position, so he could again hand Pharaoh his cup.  22 But Pharaoh impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had predicted when he interpreted his dream.  23 Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer, however, forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another thought.    (NLT)


 (NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from three sources: Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Old Testament,The Pulpit Commentary,” andThe Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)

Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Old Testament; Genesis 39:21-23; 40:5-8,20-23

Verses 19-23:

Here is, 1. Joseph wronged by his master. He believed the accusation, and either Joseph durst not make his defence by telling the truth, as it would reflect too much upon his mistress, or his master would not hear it, or would not believe it, and there is no remedy, he is condemned to perpetual imprisonment, v. 19, 20. God restrained his wrath, else he had put him to death; and that wrath which imprisoned him God made to turn to his praise, in order to which Providence so disposed that he should be shut up among the king’s prisoners, the state-prisoners. Potiphar, it is likely, chose that prison because it was the worst; for there the iron entered into the soul (Ps. 105:18), but God designed to pave the way to his enlargement. He was committed to the king’s prison, that he might thence be preferred to the king’s person. Note, Many an action of false imprisonment will, in the great day, be found to lie against the enemies and persecutors of God’s people. Our Lord Jesus, like Joseph here, was bound, and numbered with the transgressors. 2. Joseph owned and righted by his God, who is, and will be, the just and powerful patron of oppressed innocence. Joseph was at a distance from all his friends and relations, had not them with him to comfort him, or to minister to him, or to mediate for him; but the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, v. 21. Note, (1.) God despises not his prisoners, Ps. 69:33. No gates nor bars can shut out his gracious presence from his people; for he has promised that he will never leave them. (2.) Those that have a good conscience in a prison have a good God there. Integrity and uprightness qualify us for the divine favour, wherever we are. Joseph is not long a prisoner before he becomes a little ruler even in the prison, which is to be attributed, under God, [1.] To the keeper’s favour. God gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison. Note, God can raise up friends for his people even where they little expect to find them, and can make them to be pitied even of those that carry them captive, Ps. 106:46. [2.] To Joseph’s fitness for business. The keeper saw that God was with him, and that every thing prospered under his hand; and therefore entrusted him with the management of the affairs of the prison, v. 22, 23. Note, Wisdom and virtue will shine in the narrowest spheres. A good man will do good wherever he is, and will be a blessing even in bonds and banishment; for the Spirit of the Lord is not bound nor banished, witness St. Paul, Phil. 1:12, 13.

Verses 5-8:

Observe, I. The special providence of God, which filled the heads of these two prisoners with unusual dreams, such as made extraordinary impressions upon them, and carried with them evidences of a divine origin, both in one night. Note, God has immediate access to the spirits of men, which he can make serviceable to his own purposes whenever he pleases, quite beyond the intention of those concerned. To him all hearts are open, and anciently he spoke not only to his own people, but to others, in dreams, Job 33:15. Things to come were thus foretold, but very obscurely.

II. The impression which was made upon these prisoners by their dreams (v. 6): They were sad. It was not the prison that made them sad (they were pretty well used to that, and perhaps lived jovially there), but the dream. Note, God has more ways than one to sadden the spirits of those that are to be made sad. Those sinners that are hardy enough under outward troubles, and will not yield to them, yet God can find out a way to punish; he can take off their wheels, by wounding their spirits, and laying loads upon them.

III. Joseph’s great tenderness and compassion towards them. He enquired with concern, Wherefore look you so sadly today?   v. 7. Joseph was their keeper, and in that office he was mild. Note, It becomes us to take cognizance of the sorrows even of those that are under our check. Joseph was their companion in tribulation, he was now a prisoner with them, and had been a dreamer too. Note, Communion in sufferings helps to work compassion towards those that do suffer. Let us learn hence, 1. To concern ourselves in the sorrows and troubles of others, and to enquire into the reason of the sadness of our brethren’s countenances; we should be often considering the tears of the oppressed, Eccl. 4:1. It is some relief to those that are in trouble to be taken notice of. 2. To enquire into the causes of our own sorrow, “Wherefore do I look so sadly? Is there a reason? Is it a good reason? Is there not a reason for comfort sufficient to balance it, whatever it is? Why art thou cast down, O my soul?

IV. The dreams themselves, and the interpretation of them. That which troubled these prisoners was that being confined they could not have recourse to the diviners of Egypt who pretended to interpret dreams: There is no interpreter here in the prison,      v. 8. Note, There are interpreters which those that are in prison and sorrow should wish to have with them, to instruct them in the meaning and design of Providence (Elihu alludes to such, when he says, If there be an interpreter, one among a thousand, to show unto man his uprightness, Job 33:23, 24), interpreters to guide their consciences, not to satisfy their curiosity. Joseph hereupon directed them which way to look: Do not interpretations belong to God? He means the God whom he worshipped, to the knowledge of whom he endeavours hereby to lead them. Note, It is God’s prerogative to foretel things to come, Isa. 46:10. He must therefore have the praise of all the gifts of foresight which men have, ordinary or extraordinary. Joseph premises a caveat against his own praise, and is careful to transmit the glory to God, as Daniel, ch. 2:30. Joseph suggests, “If interpretations belong to God, he is a free agent, and may communicate the power to whom he pleases, and therefore tell me your dreams.”

Verses 20-23:

Here is, 1. The verifying of Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams, on the very day prefixed. The chief butler and baker were both advanced, one to his office, the other to the gallows, and both at the three days’ end. Note, Very great changes, both for the better and for the worse, often happen in a very little time, so sudden are the revolutions of the wheel of nature. The occasion of giving judgement severally upon their case was the solemnizing of Pharaoh’s birthday, on which, all his servants being obliged by custom to attend him, these two came to be enquired after, and the cause of their commitment looked into. The solemnizing of the birthday of princes has been an ancient piece of respect done them; and if it be not abused, as Jeroboam’s was (Hos. 7:5), and Herod’s (Mk. 6:21), is a usage innocent enough: and we may all profitably take notice of our birthdays, with thankfulness for the mercies of our birth, sorrow for the sinfulness of it, and an expectation of the day of our death as better than the day of our birth. On Pharaoh’s birthday he lifted up the head of these two prisoners, that is, arraigned and tried them (when Naboth was tried he was set on high among the people, 1 Kings 21:9), and he restored the chief butler, and hanged the chief baker. If the butler was innocent and the baker guilty, we must own the equity of Providence in clearing up the innocency of the innocent, and making the sin of the guilty to find him out. If both were either equally innocent or equally guilty, it is an instance of the arbitrariness of such great princes as pride themselves in that power which Nebuchadnezzar set up for (Dan. 5:19, whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive), forgetting that there is a higher than they, to whom they are accountable. 2. The disappointing of Joseph’s expectation from the chief butler: He remembered not Joseph, but forgot him, v. 23. (1.) See here an instance of base ingratitude; Joseph had deserved well at his hands, had ministered to him, sympathized with him, helped him to a favourable interpretation of his dream, had recommended himself to him as an extraordinary person upon all accounts; and yet he forgot him. We must not think it strange if in this world we have hatred shown us for our love, and slights for our respects. (2.) See how apt those that are themselves at ease are to forget others in distress. Perhaps it is in allusion to this story that the prophet speaks of those that drink wine in bowls, and are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph, Amos 6:6. Let us learn hence to cease from man. Joseph perhaps depended too much upon his interest in the chief butler, and promised himself too much from him; he learned by his disappointment to trust in God only. We cannot expect too little from man nor too much from God.

Some observe the resemblance between Joseph and Christ in this story. Joseph’s fellow-sufferers were like the two thieves that were crucified with Christ—the one saved, the other condemned. (It is Dr. Lightfoot’s remark, from Mr. Broughton.) One of these, when Joseph said to him, Remember me when it shall be well with thee, forget him; but one of those, when he said to Christ, Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom, was not forgotten. We justly blame the chief butler’s ingratitude to Joseph, yet we conduct ourselves much more disingenuously towards the Lord Jesus. Joseph had but foretold the chief butler’s enlargement, but Christ wrought out ours, mediated with the King of kings for us; yet we forget him, though often reminded of him, though we have promised never to forget him: thus ill do we requite him, like foolish people and unwise.

SOURCE: Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Old Testament; Parsons Church Group, A Division Of Findex.Com; Omaha Nebraska


The Pulpit Commentary – Volume 1: Genesis and Exodus: Genesis 39:21-23; 40:5-8,20-23

Gen. 39:20.

And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, — literally house of enclosure; sohar, from sahar, to encircle, meaning probably a turreted, arched, or rounded building for the confinement of prisoners — a place where the king's prisoners (i.e. State offenders) were bound: and he was there in the prison. This, which some regard as having been a mild punishment (Delitzsch, Keil), since, according to Diodorus Siculus, the laws of the Egyptians were specially severe in their penalties for offences against women, is represented by a Hebrew psalmist (Psalm 105:18) as having been accompanied with bodily tortures, at least for a time; for his speedy elevation to a place of trust within the prison almost gives countenance to the idea (Kurtz, Lange, &c.) that Potiphar did not believe his wife's story, and only incarcerated Joseph for the sake of appearances. That Joseph was not immediately punished with death is not improbable (Bohlen), but exceedingly natural, since Joseph was Potiphar's favorite (Havernick).

Verse 21.

But (even if Joseph was harshly treated in the tower of Heliopolis) the Lord — Jehovah (vide on ver. 5) — was with Joseph (vide ver. 2), and showed him mercy (literally, extended kindness unto him), and gave him favor in the eyes of the keeper (or captain) of the prison (or round house).

Verses 22, 23.

And the keeper of the prison (captain of the round house, or chief officer of the tower) committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it — literally, and all that they (the prisoners) were doing there, he was the person doing it, or attending to it; i.e. the keeper gave him charge to see that the prisoners obeyed whatever orders were issued for their regulation; and, having implicit confidence in Joseph's probity, the keeper of the prison looked not to anything that was under (or in) his hand (i.e. he did not trouble himself about anything entrusted to Joseph); because the Lord (Jehovah) was with him, and that which he did, the Lord (Jehovah) made it to prosper.

Gen. 40:5.

And they dreamed a dream both of them (on dreams cf. Genesis 20:3), each man his dream in one night (this was the first remarkable circumstance connected with these dreams — they both happened the same night), each man according to the interpretation of his dream (i.e. each dream corresponded exactly, as the event proved, to the interpretation put on it by Joseph, which was a second remarkable circumstance, inasmuch as it showed the dreams to be no vain hallucinations of the mind, but Divinely-sent foreshadowings of the future fortunes of the dreamers), the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, which were bound in the prison.

Verses 6, 7.

And Joseph came in unto them in the morning (a proof that Joseph at this time enjoyed comparative freedom from corporeal restraint in the prison), and looked upon them, and, behold, they were sad. The word זׄעֲפִים from זָעַפ, to be angry, originally signifying irate, wrathful, τεταραγμένοι (LXX.), is obviously intended rather to convey the idea of dejection, tristes (Vulgate). And he asked Pharaoh's officers that were With him in the ward of his lord's house, saying, Wherefore look ye so sadly today? — literally, knowing what (מַדּוּעַמָה יָדוּעַτί μαθών) are your faces evil, or bad (πρόσωπα σκυθρωπὰ, LXX.; tristier solito, Vulgate), today?

Verse 8.

And they said unto him, We hays dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it — literally, a dream have we dreamt, and interpreting it there is none. This must be noted as a third peculiarity connected with these dreams, that both of their recipients were similarly affected by them, though there was much in the butler's dream to inspire hope rather than dejection. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? — literally, Are not interpretations to Elohim? i.e. the Supreme Being (cf. Genesis 41:16; Daniel 2:11, 28, 47). The Egyptians believed ὅτι ἀνθρώπων μὲν οὐδενὶ προσκέεται ἡ τέχνη μαντικὴ τῶν δὲ θεῶν μετεξετέροισε (Herod., 2:83). Tell me them, I pray you. Joseph's request implies that the consciousness of his Divine calling to be a prophet had begun to dawn upon him, and that he was now speaking from an inward conviction, doubtless produced within his mind by Elohim, that he could unfold the true significance of the dreams.

Verse 20.

And it came to pass (literally, and it was, as Joseph had predicted) the third day (literally, in, or on, the third day), which was Pharaoh's birthday, — literally, the day of Pharaoh's being born, the inf. hophal being construed with an accusative (vide Gesenius, ‘Grammar,’ 143) — that he made a feast — a mishteh, i.e. a drinking or banquet (vide Genesis 19:3) — unto all his servants. “The birthdays of the kings of Egypt were considered holy, and were celebrated with great joy and rejoicing. All business was suspended, and the people generally took part in the festivities’ (Thoruley Smith, ‘Joseph and his Times,’ p. 62; vide Herod., 1:133: ̔Ημέρην δὲ ἀπασέΩν μάλιστα ἐκείνην τιμᾶν νομίζουσι τῇ ἕκαστος ἐγένετο; and cf. Matthew 14:6; Mark 6:21). And he lifted up the head — here the one phrase applies equally, though in different senses, to both. A similar expression occurs in the annals of Assur-nasir-pal (Sardanapalus), column 2. line 43: “Their heads on the high places of the mountain I lifted up” (‘Records of the Past,’ vol. 3. p. 54) — of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants — literally, in their midst, as a public example.

Verses 21, 22.

And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand (literally, Set the cup upon Pharaoh's psalm): but he (i.e. Pharaoh) hanged the chief baker (vide supra, ver. 19): as Joseph had interpreted to them.

Verse 23.

Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph (as Joseph had desired, and as he doubtless had promised), but forgot him — as Joseph might almost have expected (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:15, 16).

Pulpit Commentary, The - The Pulpit Commentary – Volume 1: Genesis and Exodus.

SOURCE: The Pulpit Commentary; Volume 1: Genesis and Exodus; Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.


The Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Genesis 39:21-23; 40:5-8,20-23

39:20. Putting Joseph in the prison house where the king’s prisoners were kept was not the severe penalty one would expect for the crime Potiphar’s wife had accused him of. It was unusual for a slave to be sent to a place where government officials who had displeased Pharaoh would be kept. It may be that Potiphar was aware of his wife’s tendencies and may have doubted the accusation. So he gave Joseph the lightest punishment possible, though without any hope of release.

39:21-22. It was another test, after having been the business manager with many privileges and comparative honor, to be put in prison. The dreams of ruling must have seemed far away now. He had been slandered and dropped into a situation worse than being a slave. Yet he accepted it without saying a word or attempting to justify or defend himself. What an example of suffering according to the will of God (1 Pet. 4:19)! Then the Lord showed He was with Joseph by extending His covenant love and giving him favor with the chief official who was over the prison (and who was a subordinate officer under Potiphar). So the prison overseer put all the other prisoners under Joseph’s care. Thus, whatever was done there, Joseph planned it and Joseph carried it out. This was another step in God’s preparation of Joseph. He had to learn how to deal with and direct difficult people before he could be used in the place God had for him.

39:23. The overseer of the prison then left everything to Joseph’s care and direction because the Lord was with him and brought success to all he did. This seems to imply that Joseph’s witness to the Lord was known by all.

40:5. One night both the chief cupbearer and the chief baker had a dream. Each one felt it needed an interpretation, because the dreams were odd.

40:6-7. The next morning Joseph noticed they were dejected. Though they were guilty and he was not, he did not resent them. Instead he showed a spirit of concern and compassion as he asked them why they looked so bad.

40:8. When they told him they had dreamed a dream and had no access to an interpreter, Joseph gave a witness without hesitation. This is evidence that he must have given his witness often before. So Joseph declared that interpretations belong to God and asked them to please tell him the dream.

40:20-22. The third day was Pharaoh’s birthday. To celebrate it, he made a great feast and invited all his servants (all the officials of his court), and he set both the chief cupbearer and the chief baker free in the midst of his servants. He apparently let them both enjoy the feast. Then he restored the chief cupbearer to his former office by putting the royal cup in his hand. But the baker he hanged, just as Joseph had said in his interpretation of their dreams.

40:23. But the cupbearer did not remember Joseph, that is, to do anything about him. Instead, he proceeded to forget him.

SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Acts.  Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.



Cupbearer—A cupbearer or “butler” (KJV) mentioned in Genesis 40:5 held an important position in many governments in the ancient world.  This person took care of the drinks served to the ruler.  The cupbearer usually tasted the drink before it was served to the ruler to be sure it was not poisonous.  The cupbearer in Joseph’s story had been close to the king, but now he was in prison.  He probably had close associations with the Pharaoh, knowing much about palace life.  Nehemiah had the same role during the reign of the Persian King Artaxerxes (Neh. 1:11). 

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Butler (KJV):  The Hebrew word translated butler (10:5) literally means “one who gives a drink.”  It is translated “cupbearer” in the newer English versions.  This was no menial servant but a trusted advisor and member of the royal court responsible for the king’s security when it came to assessing the quality and safety of the beverages served to him.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Cupbearer kup´bâr-ẽr (מֵשְׁקֶהmashḳeh, “one giving drink”; οἰνοχόοςoinochóos): An officer of high rank at ancient oriental courts, whose duty it was to serve the wine at the king’s table. On account of the constant fear of plots and intrigues, a person must be regarded as thoroughly trustworthy to hold this position. He must guard against poison in the king’s cup, and was sometimes required to swallow some of the wine before serving it. His confidential relations with the king often endeared him to his sovereign and also gave him a position of great influence.

This officer is first mentioned in Scripture in Gen 40:1ff, where the Hebrew word elsewhere translated “cupbearer” is rendered “butler.” The phrase “chief of the butlers” (40:2) accords with the fact that there were often a number of such officials under one as chief.

Nehemiah (compare 1:11) was cupbearer to Artaxerxes Longimanus, and was held in high esteem by him, as the record shows. His financial ability (Neh 5:8, 10, 14, 17) would indicate that the office was a lucrative one.

Cupbearers are mentioned further in 1 Ki 10:5; 2 Ch 9:4, where they, among other evidences of royal splendor, are stated to have impressed the queen of Sheba with Solomon’s glory.

The title Rabshakeh (Isa 36:2), once thought to mean “chief of the cupbearers,” is now given a different derivation and explained as “chief of the officers,” or “princes” (BDB under the word).

SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Lift: To make lofty, to raise up. A very common word in English Versions of the Bible representing a great variety of Hebrew and Greek words, although in the Old Testament used chiefly as the translation of נָשָׂאnāsāʼ. Of none of these words, however, is “lift” used as a technical translation, and “lift” is interchanged freely with its synonyms, especially “exalt” (compare Ps 75:5; 89:24) and “raise” (compare Eccl 4:10; 2 Sam 12:17).

“Lift” is still perfectly good English, but not in all the senses in which it is used in English Versions of the Bible; e.g. such phrases as “men that lifted up axes upon a thicket” (Ps 74:5), “lift up thy feet unto the perpetual ruins” (Ps 74:3, etc.), and even the common “lift up the eyes” or “hands” are distinctly archaic. However, almost all the uses are perfectly clear, and only the following need be noted.

“To lift up the head” (Gen 40:13, 1920; 2 Ki 25:27; Ps 3:3; Sirach 11:13; Lk 21:28) means to raise from a low condition (but on Ps 24:7, 9 see GATE). To “lift up the horn” (Ps 75:5) is to assume a confident position, the figure being taken from fighting oxen (see HORN). “Lift up the face” may be meant literally (2 Ki 9:32), or it may denote the bestowal of favor (Ps 4:6); it may mean the attitude of a righteous man toward God (Job 22:26), or simply the attitude of a suppliant (Ezr 9:6).

SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.





By Gary M. Poulton

Gary M. Poulton is professor of history and president emeritus of Virginia Intermont College, Bristol, Virginia.


RITING ABOUT SLAVERY in the ancient world is not an easy task.  Writing about events that occurred 5,000 years ago is never easy because of the comparative lack of information.  To write about slavery is even more of a challenge because the main subjects involved (the slaves) were most often illiterate and lacked chroniclers.  They were not laid to rest in massive tombs that contained artifacts; they thus left little to tell us of their lives.  Most of the records and accounts we have of ancient slavery come to us from the slave owners who represented the point of view of the master not the slave.

When one compares ancient and contemporary economic institutions, the differences are many.  One of the most obvious is the existence of slavery virtually everywhere among those societies that rose from primitive village life to civilization.  And within these societies, one usually finds a variety of classes—from aristocrats to slaves.  The societies were based on agriculture and the work was labor intensive, thus the need for many workers.  In some primitive societies the easiest way to supply the needed workers was through slavery.  In many societies slaves did the necessary work while their masters were either preparing for war or engaged in conflict.

The civilization of Egypt was no exception.  Ancient Egyptian society resembled a pyramid.  The pharaoh was at the peak, followed by the priests, the aristocracy, military commanders, and artisans.  At the base of the pyramid were the agricultural peasants and slaves.  Everyone was responsible to the pharaoh, and he supported them all.  As a reward, royal officials received land or gold while peasants received food from the royal storehouses. 

Even though for Egypt, the Old Kingdom (ca. 2700-2200 BC) was a long period spent mostly isolated from the rest of the world, the early pharaohs did prey on their neighbors, especially those to the south (Nubia).  The Egyptians considered themselves superior to the people of that area and thus felt justified in dominating them.  The Egyptians were after the same “unholy trio” as modern plunderers: “gold, ivory and slaves.”1  As far back as the First Dynasty of Egypt (ca. 3000 BC), archaeological evidence shows slaves being brought to Egypt bound in boats.  Later the pharaoh led an expedition into “miserable Kush” and returned with over 7,000 captives whom he enslaved.2

The tradition of slavery in Egypt is thus almost as old as the civilization itself.  Added to captive slaves, Egyptians also enslaved their fellow man.  Ancient societies had no visible solution for a person who was unable to pay his debts.  As a result, many ancient cultures developed a system known as debt bondage.  A person simply became enslaved to the individual to whom he was indebted.  The enslavement period might be for a certain term or even for life.  We also have an inscription in which a woman says she will be sent “to the back of the house.”3  This meant that she would become a domestic slave.  Some evidence also indicates that a lawbreaker could receive a penalty of slavery.  Such people were often consigned to a type of concentration camp where they would work on royal lands or construction projects.

Egypt of the Old Kingdom was the time of the building of the Great Pyramids.  One common misconception is that thousands of slaves built the pyramids.  Undoubtedly some slaves were involved in the construction.  Most scholars today accept the explanation that free Egyptian peasants and craftsmen labored on these massive projects.  Some historians regard this effort as one of the first government-sponsored “public works” programs.  It gave people jobs during “down” times of the year and provided those people with food in return for their labor.  Others see it as a sign of the people’s supreme devotion for their pharaoh who, according to their religion, was a divine being.

The period of Egypt’s New Kingdom (ca. 1600-1200 BC) brought a dramatic increase in slaves.  This was a result of the pharaohs’ expansionistic goals.  Not only did slaves continue to come from Nubia, others came from lands northeast of Egypt.  One such aggressive pharaoh was Thutmose III (reigned 1479-1425 BC).  We have accounts of his ships bringing the plunder of his conquests back to Egypt.  As his warships docked, long lines of captives left the ships, their arms and hands bound or cuffed.  In native, brightly colored clothing and with long beards and hair, the captives presented quite a contrast to the Egyptians, who wore white linen.  The captives’ strange speech and appearance made them objects of ridicule, which even further degraded them as they were about to enter a life of slavery and servitude.4  Those who led the military campaign received some of the slaves as a reward.  The majority, though, became the property of the pharaoh and would be put to work on his estates or the construction of his monuments and buildings.

In most ways the life of the lowest Egyptian peasant and a slave were not much different.  In terms of punishment for a wrongdoing, the law did not seem to make much distinction between the two.  The one big difference was that the lowly peasant or even servant had the option of walking off the job, never to return.  Stories abound of Egyptian slaves who tried to run away.  These slaves were pursued and when recaptured would be harshly treated.  “In the tomb of Neferhotep we can see a scribe calling over a list of slaves . . . .  One slave has his hands bound and is being dragged along by a rope, while two others have been punished and the guard is about to fetter them.  The scene might be entitled ‘The recapture of the runaways.’”5  Records abound telling of slaves or other Egyptians robbing royal tombs.  Getting caught resulted in execution.

Apparently another problem was the unauthorized use of slaves by other members of the nobility or royal officials.  Out of necessity, the pharaoh issued a decree to curtail this activity.  If he received a report that “’My man slave (or) my female slave has been taken away [and detained many days at work by the stewards;’ it shall be done likewise against them].”6  On another occasion the pharaoh ordered a punishment of 200 blows, 5 open wounds, and replacement of work days lost as a penalty for the unauthorized use of royal slaves by civil administrators.

Even though slaves occupied the lowest rung of Egyptian society, circumstances did change.  In the declining years of the New Kingdom, Ramses III found it necessary to induct slaves into his army and to surround himself with numbers of foreign slaves.  These personal attendants, known as “butlers,” could rise to great prominence in the pharaoh’s household and government.  During the time of Ramses III, 11 such butlers served the pharaoh; 5 were foreign-born slaves.  The pharaoh found this situation necessary because of increasing domestic unrest and his mistrust of his fellow Egyptians.

Egyptians commonly rented out or sold their slaves.

A merchant called Raia offers a client the chance of buying a young female slave from Syria and the deal is concluded.  The price is not paid in gold or silver but in quantities of different goods calculated in terms of a weight of silver.  Oaths are exchanged in the hearing of witnesses and registered with the tribunal, and the slave becomes forthwith the  property of the buyer.7

From an ancient papyrus we have a record of a transaction of a female slave for “two cows and two calves.”8

With our Judeo-Christian background we are much more familiar with slavery in Egypt from the account in the Book of Exodus.  Joseph’s family took refuge in Egypt in a time of famine.  Generations later, Joseph’s descendants were enslaved.9  A new pharaoh, “which knew not Joseph” (Ex. 1:8, KJV) began to see them as a threat because of their rapidly increasing population.  In the midst of this situation, God raised up Moses to lead the Israelites to freedom.  The Book of Exodus shows how the Egyptians treated the enslaved Hebrews much like the slaves of earlier times.  Hebrew slaves were involved in construction projects: “they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses” (v. 11, KJV).  The Egyptians forced them to work in the fields: “they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field” (v. 14, KJV).

The Hebrews also faced physical punishment, “the officers of the children of Israel . . . . were beaten” (5:14, KJV).  In the sixth chapter of Exodus, we see the Lord’s concern for the Hebrews’ plight: “I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage” (6:5, KJV). 

Until Moses led them to freedom, the Hebrews suffered from slavery like so many others had in ancient Egypt.  Ironically the Hebrews would later practice slavery themselves.                                                                         Bi

1.   William Y. Adams, “The First Colonial Empire: Egypt in Nubia, 3200-1200 BC” Comparative Studies in Society and History 26, no. 1 (January 1984): 40.

2.   Ibid., 39, 42.

3.   Alan H. Gardiner, “The Inscriptions of Mes, A Contribution to the Study of Egyptian Judicial Procedure,” Untersuchungen zur Geschichte und Altertumskunde Agyptens 4, no. 3 (Leipzig, Germany: Hinrichs, 1905).  Available for the Internet: http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/texts/mes.htm.  Accessed 30 April 2012.

4.   James Henry Breasted, A History of Ancient Egypt: From the Earliest Times to the Persian Conquest (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1905), 308.

5.   Pierre Montet, Everyday Life in Egypt in the Days of Ramesses the Great (Philadelphia: Univ. of Penn. Press, 1981), 63.

6.   James Henry Breasted, Records of Ancient Egypt, Vol. III: The Nineteenth Dynasty (New York: Russell and Russell, 1906), 27.

7.   Montet, Everyday Life, 63.

8.   David Lorton, “Treatment of Criminals in Ancient Egypt,” Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient 20 (January 1977); 47.

9.   James Henry Breasted, The Dawn of Conscience (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1933), 350.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 39, No. 2; Winter 2012-13.

EGYPT Its River and Its Rulers

By Gary M. Poulton

Gary M. Poulton is president emeritus and professor of history, Virginia Intermont College, Bristol, Virginia.

ANCIENT Egypt has long fascinated modern westerners.  After some 4,000 years, books and movies are still being written and produced about this ancient civilization.  Even as I write this, a new exhibit of King Tutankhamun’s artifacts is touring the United States.

For Christians, the Egyptians represent more than just an interesting but archaic topic.  For Egyptians are involved in some of the most important events in the Old Testament.  The stories in the Book of Exodus of Moses and the Hebrews’ flight from Egypt are some of the best-known events and stories in the Old Testament.  The life of Moses is interwoven with the Nile River.  For it was in the Nile that the pharaoh had decreed every newborn Hebrew child was to be thrown and it is the Nile in which Moses’ mother placed him in the hope that he would be found and saved.  As we know, Moses had the good fortune to be found by Pharaoh’s daughter who adopted him as her own.  The name Moses translates “drawn from the water.”  Because of this interaction it is worthwhile for Christians to have a better understanding of Egyptian civilization.

Two major influences set the tone for life in ancient Egypt.  One was based in nature – the other, in politics and world power.

The River

The Nile River, which is the longest river in the world, is the major geographic feature of Egypt.  The river flows from the highlands of Central Africa to the Mediterranean Sea.  What we commonly call “the Nile” is actually formed by the union of the While Nile, which comes from Lake Victoria in the modern nation of Tanzania, and the Blue Nile, which flows from Lake Tana in the Ethiopia Highlands.  These two rivers join at Khartoum in Sudan and form the “Egyptian Nile,” or what ancient Egyptians called the “Great Green.”  Impressive by itself, the Egyptian Nile, which flows over 1,600 miles, is truly the “lifeblood” of this arid country.

For Americans who are so conditioned to great rivers such as the Mississippi flowing from the north to the south, the Nile seems unusual since it flows from the south to the north.  The ancient Greek historian Herodotus declared Egypt “the gift of the [Nile] river.”

In ancient times Egypt was confined to the narrow stretch of land near the river.  This was the land made fertile by the Nile’s annual flooding.  We see a marked contrast between this narrow strip of fertile land with its lush vegetation to the arid territory all around it.  The Egyptians called their land Keme, “the Black land,” and the desert Dashre, “the Red land,”1 The river’s annual flooding was the most important event to the ancient Egyptian.  Egyptians regarded the god Osiris as the source of the Nile flood.  “The lakes fill, the canals are inundated by the purification that came forth from Osiris.”2

The flood season begins in late summer and continues until late November.  Even thought the timing of the annual flood was reasonably predictable, the amount of water could vary significantly.  Too little water would mean insufficient water for all the fields and the possibility therefore of a famine.  Too much water might lead to widespread destruction.  The height of canals, irrigation ditches, and  earthen dams were fixed for a certain level of water.  A foot above the average flood would damage the dikes.  An even higher level might sweep away the dikes and dams, which would flood villages.

For the Egyptians to be able to control the floodwaters was crucial.  In the earliest times the Egyptians worked diligently to reclaim land from the river.  Over the years more and more land was added and brought under cultivation.  The Egyptians undertook a number of large civic projects to control the water and to add to the farmland.  Irrigation ditches, canals, and earthen dikes brought the life-giving water to land not adjacent to the river and also protected the people and their villages from the flood waters.  Such large-scale projects indicate a country under strong centralized control.  Egypt under the leadership of the pharaohs exhibited such a centralized, powerful government as early as 2500 BC.

When the annual flood was right, the land produced an abundance of food.  Principal crops were barley and emmer (a coarse wheat).  Vegetables included beans, lentils, leeks, cucumbers, and onions.  Fruits, dates, figs, and grapes added variety.  A favorite meat was beef.  Fish, sheep, and pigs provided other meat sources.  In good years a surplus of food allowed for a large population – estimated at 1.2 million in the Old Kingdom (2700-2160 BC) and over 2 million in the New Kingdom (1550-1085 BC).  The surplus of food and a growing population allowed the Egyptians to develop a class system, a division of labor, and the basis of an enduring civilization.

The Nile was the subject of many Egyptian hymns.

“Hail to you, O Nile, that issues from the earth and comes to keep Egypt alive! . . .

When he rises, then the land is in jubilation, then every belly is in joy, every backbone takes on laughter, and every tooth is exposed.

The bringer of good, rich in provisions, creator of all good, lord of majesty, sweet of fragrance.”3

The Rulers

The book of Exodus also discusses the role of the Egyptian pharaoh and his relationship with the Hebrew people.  By the time of the Book of Exodus, Egypt was in its period of history known as the New Kingdom (1550-1085 BC).  This stand in ancient Egypt’s historical development was in marked contrast to the preceding Old and Middle Kingdoms.  During the New Kingdom Egypt became an aggressive, expansionistic nation.  Egypt created an empire and became the most powerful state in the Middle East.  Pharaoh Thutmosis III (1480-1425 BC) led numerous military campaigns into Syria and Palestine and even went as far east as the Euphrates River in modern-day Iraq.  Rameses II (1279-1213 BC) was another militaristic pharaoh who reoccupied areas in the Middle East, which his predecessors had lost.

The title of Pharaoh is well-known to the general public.  The history of this official is a mystery lost to us in the dust of time.  Narmer or Menes is the person credited with uniting Lower and Upper Egypt into one nation.  So perhaps the earliest pharaohs were descendants of warrior kings.  Some speculate that the first people who could accurately foretell the timing of the Nile flood became the first pharaohs.  Egyptians thought such people obviously would have direct communication with the gods.  Later pharaohs claimed divine descent, powers, and wisdom; this alliance with the gods was the secret of their prestige.  The pharaoh was, in effect, god on earth.  “He was constantly called ‘the good god.’  One of his most frequent titles designates him as the son of the sun-god Re, and we know this claim of divine parentage was not a mere figure of speech: it was to be taken literally.”4

The term Pharaoh means “great house.”  Ancient carvings show us the “Great House” from which the pharaoh ruled and in which the offices of the government gathered.  From this “Great House,” which the Egyptians call Pero and which the Jews translated Pharaoh, came the title of the emperor.5

The pharaoh was a divine institution in ancient Egypt and formed part of a universal cosmic scheme.  In obeying the pharaoh, subjects helped maintain the cosmic order.  A breakdown in royal power could only mean that citizens were offending divinity and weakening the universal structure.

Although they possessed absolute power, pharaohs were not supposed to rule arbitrarily but according to a set of principles.  The chief principle was called Maat.  This was a spiritual concept that conveyed the ideas of truth and justice but especially order and harmony.  Egyptians believed these fundamental concepts had existed throughout the universe since the beginning of time.  Pharaohs were the divine instruments who maintained these principles and were themselves subject to them.  The pharaoh served as a mediator who intervened between the gods and mortal men to ensure order and prosperity.

Pharaohs did not rule alone.  Fairly early in the Old Kingdom, a bureaucracy with regular procedures had developed.  Especially important was the office of vizier, “steward of the whole land.”  Directly responsible to the pharaoh, the vizier was in charge of the bureaucracy.  Another important duty of the vizier was the oversight of the water supply for the entire nation.  By the time of the New Kingdom, Egypt regularly had two viziers – one for Upper Egypt and one for Lower Egypt.  Joseph likely served as the pharaoh’s vizier.  Other government officials called nomarchs who represented the pharaoh in areas away from the capital also aided the pharaoh.  Nomarchs served essentially as governors over a district or a “nome.”

Egyptians considered the living pharaoh to be god on earth.  “In one respect death made no change in the existence of the king [or pharaoh]; he was a god on earth in this life, and he would join the circle of the gods in the next life; he ruled in this world, and he would be ruler in the next.”6 Because of this unique theology, it was imperative that the pharaoh have adequate provisions in the afterlife.  Thus developed the Egyptian practice of mummification of the body and the preparation of an elaborate burial chamber, which in the Old Kingdom resulted in building of the great pyramids.

The ancient Egyptians left the world an enduring legacy.  The pyramids and their artifacts along with their hieroglyphics tell us a great deal about this ancient civilization.  An equally important source in the Old Testament.  The Book of Exodus gives the reader an interesting glimpse at the lives and times of these fascinating people.                                                                                                                                                                    Bi

1. Alan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), 27.

2.James Henry Breasted, Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1912), 19.

3. “Hymn to the Nile” in World History, William J. Duiker and Jackson J. Spielvogel, 4th ed. (Belmont, CA: Thomson-Wadsworth Press, 2004), 16.

4. William Edgerton, “Government and the Governed in the Egyptian Empire” in Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 4 (1947): 153.

5. Will Durant, The Story of Civilization Part One: Our Oriental Heritage  (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1935), 163.

6. John A. Wilson, The Culture of Ancient Egypt (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1951), 85.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Summer 2006.



By Harold R. Mosley

Harold Mosley is Assistant professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana.

LO, THE WRETCHED ASIATIC – it goes ill with the place where he is, afflicted with [a lack of (writer’s addition)] water, difficult from many trees, the ways thereof painful because of the mountains.1

The statement above is found in “The Instruction of King Meri-Ka-Re,” a piece of Egyptian literature from 2100 BC.  The description reveals the Egyptians’ general sentiment toward the “Asiatics” with whom they came into contact.  The term “Asiatics” refers to peoples from the eastern Mediterranean area coast-lands, an area encompassing the Syria-Palestine region as far as the Euphrates River.  The Egyptians also had several other names to refer to these foreign peoples.  “Sand-crossers” were ones who had crossed the deserts.  Another name for the strangers was “Bowmen,” apparently because of their tendency to use that particular weapon.  Another phrase, “Wild men of Asia,” was roughly equivalent to the modern meaning of “terrorist.”2 Also used was the term “Retenu,” a name found in early Egyptian documents for the eastern Mediterranean region.  The Egyptians’ hostility toward foreigners is clear in the descriptions given in many Egyptian writings and artistic depictions.  “The Prophecy of Nefer-rohu,” for example, describes the land as suffering hardship because Asiatics were present in Egypt: “Everything good is disappeared, and the land is prostrate because of woes from . . . the Asiatics who are throughout the land.”3

The relationship between the Egyptians and the Asiatics was long and varied.  The first contacts probably stemmed from the areas of trade and commerce.  This interaction between the Egyptians and various cultures in Asia began early in history.  For example, contact with Mesopotamia brought the forms and symbols related to kingship.  Egypt borrowed and adapted these concepts for use within the dynastic system of kingship in Egypt.  Kingship existed in the Mesopotamian region long before the emergence of similar concepts in Egypt.4 The early Egyptians also had trading ventures with the Phoenician city of Byblos, importing both the logs and the skill for shipbuilding.5 Egyptian commercial interests in the mines of Sinai also brought contact with other peoples.  Although peaceful trading relationships may have existed with other peoples at the beginning, conflicts between the Egyptians and Asiatics were not long in coming.  As early as the First and Second Dynasties of Egypt (3100 – 2700 BC), Egyptian annals record victories over the Asiatics.  In paintings from these early periods, Egyptians are pictured leading columns of defeated kilt-wearing Asiatics into captivity.

Asiatic peoples from various ethnic backgrounds had been migrating back and forth into the Nile delta region for centuries.  The Nile River provided Egypt with a relatively certain economy when it flooded each year, spreading rich silt and life-giving water over the delta region.  This attracted many Asiatics who had grown tired of frequent droughts and famines elsewhere.  The fact that Asiatics came often to Egypt to seek relief from famine is seen easily from many archaeological finds.  In one text a frontier officer noted the passage of a group of Bedouin shepherds into Egypt to find pasture for their flocks.6

The increased numbers of Asiatics in Egypt eventually caused conflicts.  By the 18th century BC, foreign peoples had become firmly entrenched within Egypt’s borders, especially in the Nile delta region.  In the mid-17th century BC a new group of well-organized warriors arrived who began to exert influence over the area.  During a time of weakness in the native Egyptian dynastic rule, some foreigners seized control of the delta region.  These rulers became known as the Hyksos, a term meaning “foreign rulers.”  The Hyksos established their capital in Avaris, near the northeastern border of Egypt.  Later they extended their control to all of Egypt.7 The Hyksos period lasted about 100 years (ca. 1650 – 1550 BC) until the native Egyptians regained control under Amosis.

Many scholars view the Hyksos era as the likely time of Joseph’s ascent to power in Egypt.  The Egyptians were suspicious of Asiatics.  This suspicion would have been a hindrance to a foreigner rising to a high official position within the government of a native Egyptian ruler.  Joseph’s position as second-in-command to the pharaoh is more understandable if the pharaoh himself were of foreign ancestry.

After the Egyptians drove the Hyksos from power and re-established native Egyptian rule, Egypt became a power without equal in the ancient Near East.  The sting of the Hyksos domination had instilled in the Egyptians an even deeper distrust of foreigners.  With this distrust came a determination that Egypt would not allow another foreign power to rule within the borders of Egypt.  As a result, the pharaohs sought to control not only Egyptian territory, but also as much territory in Asia as possible.  In an effort to drive its frontiers deep into Asia, Egypt controlled lands as far north as the Euphrates River in upper Mesopotamia.  In Addition to conquering lands in Asia, the pharaohs enslaved the defeated territories’ people.8 This time period marked the beginning of the large-scale use of Asiatics as slaves.  Certainly, some Asiatics were slaves in Egypt’s early history.  However, the numbers of enslaved Asiatics were not large until after 1550 BC.9 One pharaoh of this period, Amen-hotep II (1447-1421 BC), boasted of taking nearly 100,000 men as slaves during one of his major Asiatic campaigns.10

Throughout Egypt’s history, slaves had been a part of the pharaohs’ work force.  However, the use of captive peoples as slaves for royal building projects was especially typical of the reign of Ramses II (ca. 1290-1224 BC).  Ramses began a series of building projects in the Nile delta region.  He rebuilt the ancient Hyksos capital of Avaris as his capital city and renamed it “The House of Ramses.”  Documents from this period mention the state slaves who worked on the projects.11 Ramses also restored other long abandoned cities and built completely new cities.  Some of these new cities had brick walls surrounding them as large as 60 feet high and 50 feet wide.  Such building projects required a huge quantity of bricks.  This large number of bricks demanded an unusually large work force to make the bricks and to build the walls.  One interesting archaeological find sheds light on this era of building.  A leather scroll from the time of Ramses II mentioned a quota of 2,000 bricks from each 40 workmen.12

The relationship between the Egyptians and the Asiatics gives insight into the biblical account of Israel’s experience of bondage in Egypt.  The use of Asiatic slaves by the pharaohs for the many building projects in the delta region fits well alongside the biblical account.  The Egyptians’ suspicion toward outsiders, especially following the Hyksos era, made the enslavement of foreigners likely.  The mention of Israelites making bricks in the Exodus story relates an historically accurate picture of the conditions present under the pharaohs.  Thus, the evidence from Egypt regarding the relationship between the Egyptians and the Asiatics reinforces the biblical account.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Bi

1.  James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton, NJ): Princeton University Press, 1950), 416.  Hereafter cited as ANET.

2.  Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 32.

3.  ANET, 445.

4.  Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 17-19.

5.  Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 38-40.

6.  ANET, 259.

7.  John Bright, A History of Israel, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981), 60.

8.  Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 148.

9.  Donald B. Redford, A Study of the Biblical Story of Joseph, Supplements to Vetus Testamentum, vol. 20 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1970), 195.

10. ANET, 247.

11. Bright, 114.

12. Henry Jackson Flanders, Jr., Robert Wilson Crapps, and David Anthony Smith, People of the Covenant, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 176.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Fall 1998




What Is The Answer To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question Found? (11/02/14) (This is a 3-part question) In a battle against the Syrians, what killed how many of the Syrians in what city?   Answer next week: (1) What killed the Syrians? (2) How many were killed? and (3) Where were they killed?

The answer to last week’s trivia question : (10/26/14) (Two-part question) (1.) In what Psalm did King David refer to the tribe of Judah as his (2.) what?   Answer: (1.) Psalm60:7; (2.) His lawgiver (royal scepter).