Zaphenath’s test

Word spread throughout the land. Egypt had grain for sale. When the news reached Israel, he gathered his sons and said, “What are you all waiting for? Go to Egypt and buy us grain, so we don’t die out here!”

Israel’s ten oldest sons packed their camels and left for Egypt, joining the travelers in Canaan who sought relief from the famine. Benjamin didn’t go with them, because Israel was afraid that he might get hurt. Benjamin was his only living reminder of Rachel, the wife he loved.

Of course, Joseph, now called Zaphenath, governed the entire land, and he was the distributor of grain to everyone. When his brothers came and knelt before the great viceroy, they bowed with their faces to the ground.

Zaphenath recognized them instantly, but he treated them as strangers. “Where are you from?” he asked gruffly through his interpreter.

“We come from Canaan to purchase food from your stores,” Reuben answered for his fellow travelers. It was clear they didn’t recognize their brother at all.

Zaphenath remembered the dream he had as a boy, and how one day he knew that eleven brothers would bow before him. Among Israel’s sons, Zaphenath counted only ten. Where’s Benjamin? he asked himself.

“You’re spies,” he said. “You’ve come to see where our gates weak.”

Judah answered, “Lord, your servants have only come to buy enough grain to feed our family. We all share the same father, a man of God. We wouldn’t lie to you.”

“No, you’re spies, I’m sure of it,” he said as he stood from his royal seat. “Guards, remove these—”

“No, lord, we’re your servants!” Reuben pleaded. “We come from Canaan. Our youngest son is with our father and our other brother is dead.”

“Ah, a test, then!” Zaphenath shouted. “This will be how you prove yourselves: One of you shall go back home, collect your youngest brother, and bring him to me. The rest of you will wait in prison for their return. If you don’t come back with your brother, as surely as Pharaoh lives, you’re spies. And you don’t want to know what I do to spies.”

The brothers agreed to the test as if they had a choice, and the captain of the guard escorted them to the prison until the great lord of Egypt considered which brother to release.

Inspiration: Genesis 42

Interpreting dreams

Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker were thrown into the prison where Joseph carried out his duties. Potiphar put Joseph in charge of their well-being while confined below his house.

One night, both incarcerated officers had disturbing dreams. When they woke up the next morning, Joseph could see they were sorely vexed. “Why do you look so troubled?” Joseph asked them during breakfast.

“We both had dreams last night,” the cupbearer said. The baker added, “But we have no one to interpret them.”

Joseph answered, “Doesn’t all meaning come from God? Tell me your dreams.”

The cupbearer shot an apprehensive glance to the baker and then unfolded his dream to Joseph.

“I saw a vine,” the cupbearer began, “with three branches on it. The vine bloomed and bore clusters of plump, luscious grapes. I took and squeezed the juice of the grapes into Pharaoh’s cup and presented it to him.”

Joseph said, “The three branches are three days in which time Pharaoh will restore your position as cupbearer. When you’ve settled into your rightful place, I pray you to mention me to Pharaoh so I can get out of this place. I was stolen from my Hebrew lands, and now I’m wrongfully imprisoned underneath the captain of the guard’s house.”

The baker’s countenance changed when he heard the favorable interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream. “I dreamed there were three baskets stacked on my head,” he said, looking hopeful and eager. “In the top basket, an assortment of baked goods were being devoured by birds.”

Joseph said, “The three baskets are three days in which time Pharaoh will lop off your head and hang you from a pole. The birds will devour your flesh. Sorry, dude.”

The baker’s face grew ashen.

Three days later, on Pharaoh’s birthday, the ruler gave a lavish feast for his servants. He released his chief cupbearer and chief baker from the prison and restored the cupbearer to his former position. As for the baker, he was hanged on a pole just as Joseph described.

The cupbearer forgot all about Joseph and the accuracy of his dream interpretations.

Inspiration: Genesis 40

Prospering servant

The Ishmaelites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. But because God’s presence stayed with Joseph, he became prosperous in his Egyptian master’s employ.

Joseph never missed an opportunity to acknowledge the divine qualities in his master, and as a result, Potiphar softened in his rule over others. Potiphar saw that his servant was blessed, so he put him in charge of everything he had. Potiphar emulated Joseph, whom he deeply respected, and God blessed him and his dominion.

Joseph was a handsome man, and Potiphar’s wife lusted after him.

“Come and lie in my bed,” she said to the young servant.

Joseph refused and tried to reason with her. “Don’t you see,” he said as she pulled on his tunic, “Your husband has trusted me with everything he owns, and he doesn’t have to worry about me cheating him in any way. He’s given me every liberty except for you, his wife. How could I ever betray his trust and sin against God?”

Every day, Potiphar’s wife would come to see Joseph and try to seduce him, but he refused to break his master’s trust. One day, she was fed up with asking, so she just went for Joseph. She grabbed hold of his tunic violently and ordered him, “Lie with me!”

Joseph slipped out of her grasp and ran out of the house, leaving the tunic dangling from her hand.

She cried out for her servants, who immediately came to her. “My husband brought a Hebrew into this house, and he’s defiled it! He tried to force himself on me, but I cried for help, and he fled.” She repeated this story to her husband when he returned from the field.

Potiphar went into a rage and shut Joseph away in prison beneath his house. But in prison, God never left Joseph alone. He showed consistent kindness to Joseph through the warden, who put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners. Like Potiphar before him, the warden trusted Joseph so much that he had no concerns of revolt or subterfuge. There, even in prison, God made all of Joseph’s work prosper.

Inspiration: Genesis 39