Joseph (ca. 19th-Century B.C.) is Refined by Prison

[ABOVE—Joseph arrested. Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]

The first mention of prison in the Bible occurs in the story of Joseph, whose honorable refusal to indulge in adulterous sex with his master’s wife infuriated her. She retaliated with false accusations that prompted her husband to cast Joseph into prison.

Joseph, hated by his brothers, is sold into Egypt and faces crushing tests. His master’s wife falsely accuses him of attempted rape and he goes to prison. What looks like tragedy ends in triumph as God transcends the evil intentions of men.


Refusing to be crushed by his circumstances, Joseph did his best in prison and gained the confidence of his jailers. Eventually he rose to rule Egypt. A man who makes the most of his opportunities in prison will probably make the most of opportunities granted him elsewhere. Here is the Biblical account adapted from the KJV.

Genesis 39:20- 41:14.

And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, where the king’s prisoners were confined: and he was there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favor in the sight of the warden. And the warden committed all the prisoners who were in the prison to Joseph’s care; and whatever they did, he was responsible for it. The warden did not inspect anything that was under his care; because the Lord was with him, and whatever he did, the Lord made it to prosper.

And it came to pass after these things, that the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker offended their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with these two officers of his, against the chief of the butlers, and against the chief of the bakers. And he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was locked up. And the captain of the guard entrusted Joseph with them, and he served them: and they continued a while in custody. And they each dreamed a dream, both men in the same night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, this butler and baker of the king of Egypt, who were locked up in the prison.

And Joseph came in to them in the morning, and looked at them, and noticed they were sad. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in the custody of his lord’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?”

And they answered him, “We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it.”

And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me them, I pray you.”

And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, “In my dream, look, a vine was in front of me; And in the vine were three branches: and it was as though it budded, and its blossoms shot out; and its clusters brought forth ripe grapes: And Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand: and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.”

And Joseph said unto him, “This is the interpretation of it: the three branches are three days: within three days Pharaoh shall lift up your head, and restore you to your place: and you will place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just like you used to when you were his butler. But think on me when things go well with you, and show kindness, to me, I beg you, and mention me to Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house: For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon.”

When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said to Joseph, I also was in my dream, and, behold, I had three white baskets on my head: and in the top basket there was of all manner of baked goods for Pharaoh; and the birds ate them out of the basket upon my head.”

And Joseph answered and said, “This is the interpretation of it: the three baskets are three days: within three days Pharaoh will lift your head off you, and shall hang you on a tree; and the birds will eat your flesh off you.”

And it came about on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. And he restored the chief butler to his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand: But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.

And it came about that at the end of two full years Pharaoh dreamed: and, look, he stood by the river. And, look, there came up out of the river seven well favored fat cows and they fed in a meadow. And, look, seven other cows came up after them out of the river, bad-looking and skinny and stood by the other cows upon the brink of the river. And the bad looking, skinny cows ate up the seven well favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke.

And he slept and dreamed the second time: and, look, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good. And, behold, seven thin ears and blasted with the east wind sprang up after them. And the seven thin ears devoured the seven rank and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, look, it was a dream. And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men, and Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them for Pharaoh.

Then the chief butler said to Pharaoh, “I remember my faults this day; Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and put me in custody in the captain of the guard’s house, both me and the chief baker. And we dreamed a dream one night, he and I; we dreamed each man according to the interpretation of his dream. And there was there with us a young man, an Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted our dreams to us; to each man according to his dream he did interpret. And the outcome was just as he interpreted to us; me he restored to my office, and him he hanged.”

Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him out of the dungeon quickly: and he shaved himself, and changed his clothes, and came to Pharaoh.

Joseph had the wisdom to make the best of bad circumstances. Instead of stewing over his situation, he worked hard to become a reliable trustee. Like many prisoners, he suffered disappointment when his hopes for release were raised and dashed. In the end, however, his virtue and innocence were rewarded.