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“Do Not Interpretations Belong to God?”

“Do Not Interpretations Belong to God?”

JOSEPH walked along the dark corridor, dripping with sweat from his toil in the stifling heat. Outside, the Egyptian sun was baking the prison like a kiln. It seemed at times as if he knew every brick in the place, every crack in every wall. This was his whole world now. True, he was highly regarded here. Nonetheless, he was a prisoner.

How often he must have cast his thoughts back to his life in the high rocky hills in Hebron, where he had tended his father’s flocks! He was about 17 years old when his father, Jacob, sent him on an errand that took him dozens of miles (km) from home. Such freedom seemed almost unimaginable now. Joseph’s jealous brothers had turned on him with murderous hatred and then sold him as a slave. He was taken down to Egypt, where he first served in the household of the Egyptian official Potiphar. Joseph held his master’s trust until a false accusation of rape from Potiphar’s wife landed him here in this prison. *​—Genesis, chapters 37, 39.

Joseph was 28 years old now, with about a decade of slavery and imprisonment behind him. To put it mildly, his life was not turning out as he had hoped. Would he ever be set free? Would he see his dear elderly father again or his beloved younger brother, Benjamin? How long would he be stuck in this pit?

Have you ever felt as Joseph did? Sometimes life turns out to be a far cry from our youthful hopes. Indeed, painful situations can seem to drag on endlessly, and it can be hard to see a way out or a way to endure. Let us see what we can learn from the faith of Joseph.


Joseph knew that his God, Jehovah, never lost sight of him, and this knowledge surely helped him to endure. Even here in a foreign prison, Jehovah found ways to bless Joseph. Thus, we read: “Jehovah continued with Joseph and kept showing loyal love to him and granting him favor in the eyes of the chief officer of the prison.” (Genesis 39:21-23) As Joseph continued to work hard, he kept giving his God a basis for blessing him. How comforting it must have been for him to know that Jehovah was always with him!

Did Jehovah intend to let Joseph remain in that prison indefinitely? Joseph could only guess at the answer, and he surely kept the matter before his God in prayer. As it so often happens, the answer came in a most unexpected way. One day, there was some commotion in the prison as two new inmates arrived​—officers from Pharaoh’s personal staff. One was the king’s chief baker; the other was the chief cupbearer.​—Genesis 40:1-3.

The chief of the guard entrusted Joseph with the care of those two formerly prominent men. * One night they each had a vivid and puzzling dream. When Joseph saw them in the morning, he could tell that something was wrong. So he asked: “Why are your faces gloomy today?” (Genesis 40:3-7) Perhaps his kindly manner assured the men that it was safe for them to reveal their troubles. Joseph did not know it, but that conversation would lead to a turning point in his life. Would there have been any conversation, though, had Joseph not chosen to show a little kind concern for others? His choice may move us to ask ourselves, ‘Do I express my faith in God by showing an interest in fellow humans?’

Joseph treated his fellow prisoners with kindness and dignity

The two men explained that they were agitated by their vivid and puzzling dreams​—and by the fact that they had no interpreter with them. The Egyptians placed a lot of weight on dreams and depended heavily on the men who claimed to be able to interpret them. The two men did not know that their dreams had come from Joseph’s God, Jehovah. But Joseph knew. He assured them: “Do not interpretations belong to God? Relate it [the dream] to me, please.” (Genesis 40:8) Joseph’s words resound today for all sincere students of the Bible. If only every religious person showed the same humility! We need to be willing to set aside prideful human thinking and to rely on God as we seek correct interpretations of his word.​—1 Thessalonians 2:13; James 4:6.

The cupbearer went first. He told Joseph of a dream about a vine with three twigs that bore clusters of grapes. The grapes ripened, and the cupbearer squeezed the juice into Pharaoh’s cup. Thanks to Jehovah, Joseph instantly knew the meaning behind the dream. He told the cupbearer that the three twigs meant three days; within that time, Pharaoh would restore the cupbearer to his former position. As relief swept over the cupbearer’s features, Joseph added this request: “Please show me loyal love and mention me to Pharaoh.” Joseph explained that he had been kidnapped from his home and imprisoned without just cause.​—Genesis 40:9-15.

Encouraged by the good news the cupbearer had received, the baker asked Joseph the meaning of his own dream in which he had seen three baskets of bread as well as birds eating from one of the baskets on his head. The answer to this riddle was also given to Joseph. But it did not mean good news for the baker. Joseph said: “This is its interpretation: The three baskets are three days. Three days from now, Pharaoh will behead you and will hang you on a stake, and the birds will eat your flesh from you.” (Genesis 40:16-19) Like all of God’s faithful servants, Joseph boldly revealed God’s messages, both the good news and the news of impending judgment.​—Isaiah 61:2.

Three days later, Joseph’s words came true. Pharaoh held a birthday party​—a practice not found among God’s people in Bible times—​and pronounced judgment on his two servants. The baker was executed, just as Joseph had foretold, whereas the cupbearer was restored to his former position. Sadly, though, that neglectful man forgot all about Joseph.​—Genesis 40:20-23.


Two full years passed. (Genesis 41:1) Imagine how frustrating that must have been for Joseph! Perhaps his hopes were high after Jehovah gave him the understanding of the puzzling dreams of the cupbearer and the baker. Thereafter, as each day dawned, Joseph may have awakened with renewed hope that this would be the day of his release​—only to find once again that the dull routine of prison life dragged on, unchanged. Those two years might well have been the most challenging of all for Joseph to endure. Yet, he never gave up his trust in his God, Jehovah. Rather than giving in to despair, he was determined to endure, and he emerged from that trying time all the stronger.​—James 1:4.

In these difficult times, who of us does not need to work on our endurance? In order to face life’s ongoing trials, we need the kind of determination, patience, and inner peace that only God can give us. As he did with Joseph, he can help us to fight despair and hold on to hope.​—Romans 12:12; 15:13.

The cupbearer may have forgotten Joseph, but Jehovah never did. One night, he sent Pharaoh a pair of unforgettable dreams. In the first, the king saw seven fine-looking, fat cows emerge from the Nile River, followed by seven ugly, thin cows. The thin ones devoured the fat ones. Later, Pharaoh dreamed that he saw a stalk of grain sprouting seven choice ears. But then another seven ears, wind-parched and sickly, sprouted up and devoured the choice ones. In the morning, Pharaoh awoke deeply agitated over the dreams, so he called on all his wise men and magic-practicing priests to interpret them. They all failed. (Genesis 41:1-8) Whether that means that they were dumbfounded or that they came up with a variety of conflicting ideas, we do not know. At any rate, Pharaoh was let down​—yet he was more desperate than ever to find an answer to this puzzle.

Finally, the cupbearer remembered Joseph! His conscience stung him, and he told Pharaoh about the remarkable young man in prison who two years earlier had correctly interpreted his dream and that of the baker. Immediately, Pharaoh had Joseph summoned from prison.​—Genesis 41:9-13.

Imagine Joseph’s feelings as Pharaoh’s messengers came with the royal summons. He quickly changed his clothes and shaved​—likely removing all the hair from his head, for such was the Egyptian custom. No doubt he prayed fervently that Jehovah would bless him in this interview! Soon he found himself in the opulent court of the royal palace, standing before the monarch. We read: “Then Pharaoh said to Joseph: ‘I had a dream, but there is no one to interpret it. Now I have heard it said about you that you can hear a dream and interpret it.’” Joseph’s response showed, once again, both his humility and his faith in his God: “I need not be considered! God will speak concerning Pharaoh’s welfare.”​—Genesis 41:14-16.

Joseph humbly said to Pharaoh: “I need not be considered!”

Jehovah loves humble, faithful people, so it is no wonder that he gave Joseph the answer that had eluded the wise men and priests. Joseph explained that Pharaoh’s two dreams had the same meaning. By repeating the message, Jehovah was signifying that the matter was “firmly established”​—absolutely sure of fulfillment. The fat cows and the healthy ears of grain represented seven years of plenty in Egypt, while the lean cows and the sickly ears of grain pictured seven years of famine that would follow the years of plenty. That famine would devour the land’s abundance.​—Genesis 41:25-32.

Pharaoh knew that Joseph had the answer. But what could be done? Joseph recommended a plan of action. Pharaoh needed to find a man both “discreet and wise” to oversee the gathering of the land’s surplus grain into storehouses during the seven years of plenty and then to distribute that surplus to the needy during the ensuing famine. (Genesis 41:33-36) Joseph’s experience and abilities more than qualified him for that job, but he did not promote himself. His humility made such a presumptuous course unthinkable; his faith made it unnecessary. If we have real faith in Jehovah, we have no need for ambition or self-promotion. We can be at peace, leaving matters in his capable hands!


Pharaoh and all his servants saw the wisdom in Joseph’s plan. The king also acknowledged that Joseph’s God was the real force behind Joseph’s wise words. He said to his servants there in the royal court: “Can another man be found like this one in whom there is the spirit of God?” To Joseph, he said: “Since God has caused you to know all of this, there is no one as discreet and wise as you. You will personally be over my house, and all my people will obey you implicitly. Only in my role as king will I be greater than you.”​—Genesis 41:38-41.

Pharaoh was as good as his word. Joseph was soon clothed in fine linen. Pharaoh gave him a gold necklace, a signet ring, a royal chariot, and full authority to travel through the land and put his plan into effect. (Genesis 41:42-44) Within the space of a day, then, Joseph went from prison to palace. He awoke a lowly convict, and he fell asleep as the ruler second to Pharaoh. How clear that Joseph’s faith in Jehovah God was justified! Jehovah saw all the injustices that his servant had suffered through the years. He addressed those issues at just the right time and in just the right way. Jehovah had in mind not only correcting the wrongs done to Joseph but also preserving the future nation of Israel. We will see how that was so in a future article in this series.

If you face a trialsome situation, perhaps an injustice that seems to drag on for years on end, do not despair. Remember Joseph. Because he never lost his kindness, his humility, his endurance, and his faith, he gave Jehovah every reason to reward him in the end.

^ par. 4 See the “Imitate Their Faith” articles in the August 1 and November 1, 2014, issues of The Watchtower.

^ par. 10 The ancient Egyptians enjoyed over 90 varieties of breads and cakes. So the chief of Pharaoh’s baking staff was a prominent man. And the chief cupbearer led a staff of servants who made sure that Pharaoh’s wine and perhaps beer were of high quality and were kept safe from any attempt to poison the monarch​—a real risk, for court intrigue and assassinations were common. It was not unusual for the cupbearer to become a trusted adviser to the king.