Genesis 40 provides an amazing story that illustrates the Biblical doctrine of election, that being God choosing to to save and who not save, who to favor and who to disfavor. Now actually, the text is much stronger than that; as the story of Joseph, the pharaoh, the butler and the baker can be used to illustrate Romans 9:13, which reads “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” The parallels are so strong that it can as an allegory to describe first God choosing Israel of all nations to be His elect nation, and then the church from all peoples to be His elect people.
First the story itself: Joseph is cast into a pit by his wickedly jealous brothers, who first plan to kill him and then decide to sell him into slavery. This was specifically done in order to prevent the dreams that God gave Joseph from coming to pass (Genesis 37:20) and by all appearances was the result of evil spirits – using human jealously and anger as a vehicle, agent and lubricant – attempting to stop God’s purposes from coming to fruition with regards to the descendants of Abraham and the recipients of his promise and covenant. Instead, while they took a break from their evil deeds to eat lunch (not exactly the brightest or most focused or self-disciplined bunch of miscreants were they?) Midianites and Ishmaelites come, get Joseph out of the pit, and sell him to slavery in Egypt to Potiphar.
While in slavery in Egypt, Joseph faithfully serves his master and for this is rewarded by God (in keeping with 1 Peter 2:18; please reject the false modern humanistic doctrines and instead heed what the Bible says when confronted with injustice and oppression). Evil spirits act yet again to provoke Potiphar’s wife into attempting to seduce Joseph, and in contrast with the sexual immorality of Reuben and Judah, Joseph resists even to the point of 1 Corinthians 6:18’s command to “flee fornication.” That gives the evil spirits acting through the lust and pride of Potiphar’s wife the opportunity to cast Joseph into prison. (Realize that God was with Joseph, for the offense that he was accused of should have resulted in his summary execution.) In prison, Joseph yet again keeps such doctrines as 1 Peter 2:18 and Romans 13:1-4, and rather than protesting the injustice that he is subjected to, he behaves in an exemplary fashion and is blessed by God for it, who also causes the blessings of man – the prison keeper – to fall upon him.
With that out of the way, here is where the allegory – if you will – begins in earnest. First, let us start with pharoah. As emperor of Egypt, pharoah had unquestioned power over the people in his political domain. He had absolute power over his subjects. In that culture, far removed from the west and long before the Enlightenment, there was no concept of human or civil rights. Also, the law of Moses, which limited the rights and prerogatives of Israeli monarchs and gave citizens human and civil rights, did not exist in Egypt. Instead, just as Joseph was a slave to Potiphar, all of pharoah’s subjects were his slaves. As emperor of Egypt, his subjects were his people to do with as he pleased: to sell to other nations as slaves (a practice not uncommon in that era), to conscript for his own military or economic service (again, a common practice), to reward with riches and favor, or to kill and take all that was theirs (again, a common practice). So, it is no accident that God in His revelation used royal language (king, emperor, lord etc.) to describe His relationship to Israel, all nations and people of the earth, and all of creation itself because in that time and place, everyone would have immediately known and presumed His complete ownership and rule according to it in a manner that we cannot even conceive in modern times due to Enlightenment thinking.
But it is precisely because of this mindset, one where a monarch had complete authority over his kingdom (and also a patriarch had complete authority over his household, including wife, children, younger brothers and sisters and their spouses and children, servants etc.) and is the representative symbol of all that is his, all that is “called by his name” (whether a nation for a ruler, a tribe for a chief or a household for a patriarch) that doctrines like federal headship (i.e. of Adam and Jesus Christ) work. Start applying such notion as individual rights and individual agency, which again did not apply in those days in a political context unless granted by the king himself, and ideas like federal headship (and things that proceed from it like original sin) break down. So make no mistake, just as God is Lord of creation, pharoah was lord over Egypt! (As a matter of fact, the same Hebrew words for lord were used for both Yahweh and human rulers, and human rulers were also called “god” in that day, including at times in the Bible, see the “ye are gods” passage of Psalm 82:6, the one notoriously abused by the Word of Faith teachers for their false doctrines.) And now you see why it was such a serious, grievous error when the children of Israel rejected God as their Lord and King and instead demanded a human lord and king.
So pharaoh, in every earthly sense “lord” and “god” over Egypt, becomes angry with two of his subjects; the chief butler and the chief baker. The nature of his anger is this: the text says that he was “wroth.” The Hebrew root word used was qatsaph which can mean “to put oneself in a rage.” The same word was used to describe the anger of YHWH at the children of Israel over idolatry, disobedience and other sins in Leviticus 10:6, Deuteronomy 9:7-8, Deuteronomy 9:22, and Zechariah 8:14. What was it that caused the wrath of pharaoh against his subjects? The text does not say. So, using this “argument from silence” (a common tactic of Jewish theologians that was used extensively regarding Mechizedek in Hebrews 7), we can extend this allegory, metaphor or what have you to symbolize the wrath of God against all mankind, one that exists not solely because of any sins on the part of the individual, but rather because of our universal fallen sinful condition, our original sin, because of being in Adam. As Adam is the federal head of all men (indeed, the word “Adam” means” mankind, and the English word is actually the transliteration of the Hebrew word and not a translation), he represents his sinful nation – it is called by his name – just as pharaoh represents the Egyptian nation. So, because all men are called by the name of Adam, Adam’s sinfulness is imputed to all men. (Recall also that Adam named his wife Eve, which is the Hebrew word “chavvah “, which means “living”, according to her being the mother of all humanity.) Because of this, God is at war with the sinful nation that Adam is the head of just as America not so long ago was at war with the Iraq nation that Saddam Hussein ruled.
So pharaoh represents God, and the butler and baker represent humanity, and pharaoh’s anger at them for the unstated reason represents God’s anger at humanity over our original sin. What does pharaoh do? He casts the butler and the baker in prison, and away from their prior positions of serving him. This represents our alienation from God and our absence from His presence because of our sin. God is holy, therefore that which is sinful cannot stand before His presence! This recalls how Adam was cast from his position from serving God as caretaker of the garden of Eden because of his sin (Genesis 3:24) and also how Satan and the demons were cast from their first estates of serving God due to their rebellion (Jude 1:6).
Now just like YHWH, it was well within the rights of pharaoh due to the privileges, power and authority contained within his position and rank to kill the butler and baker, and the fact that the butler and baker caused the lord of Egypt such grievous offense made this fact even more so. Yet pharaoh used his kingly prerogative to spare the life of the butler and execute the baker. The butler was loved, the baker was hated. Why was the butler chosen over the baker? Well, do not believe the many Hollywood depictions of this story – and even some depictions by any number of Christian efforts i.e. children’s videos – that favor the character of the butler over that of the baker (such as the 1995 miniseries starring Ben Kingsley and a cartoon movie starring Ben Affleck that depicts the baker as violently assaulting Jacob) – because these movies, made according to modernistic humanistic tendencies and ideas of fairness, are not justified in the Biblical text. Instead, pharaoh chose the butler over the baker during a feast of merriment for all his servants (reminds one of the marriage supper of the Lamb and the bride of Christ that will be witnessed by the angels!) and therefore did it because it was for his pleasure! Though the king could have killed both, for his pleasure and his own sake he graciously spared one! Just as God’s choosing Jacob over Esau had nothing to do with Jacob’s character, for Jacob was a usurper, thief, manipulator, liar and con artist. Witness, for example, the way that Jacob mistreated his wife Leah, and how he blatantly favored the children of Rachel over the children of Leah and the concubines (sending the latter group first so that if Esau and his army started killing people, Leah, the concubines and their kids would have almost no chance to escape, but Rachel’s would have a chance!). Jacob was just as bad as was Esau, if not worse. Yet God chose him!
It was all according to the wishes, the desire, the pleasure of the pharaoh. Please note that the nowhere does the Bible call the pharaoh wicked for exercising his prerogative in this manner. Quite the contrary, the Bible accounts this pharaoh as being wise for recognizing the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, living within Joseph (Genesis 41:38) and making him ruler of Egypt based on it. He is a clear contrast between the pharaoh of Moses, who resisted this same Holy Spirit due to God’s hardening his heart.
Note that the butler and the baker had no say in this matter. The baker did not reject the grace of pharoah; indeed no such opportunity to accept or reject it. And the butler had no say in this matter either. The butler had no opportunity to call the pharaoh unfair for imprisoning him in the first place. He had no space to reject the grace given to him because he felt that it was unfair that he was saved while the baker was not, and while many other people (including Joseph) remained in prison. The baker could not accept the grace of the pharaoh because no such “free will choice” to do so was given to him. And the baker could not reject the grace of the pharaoh, because as the subject of a potentate with absolute power, authority and dominion over him (if only in a temporal sense, and please recall according to Jesus Christ that the power of the pharaoh over the butler and the baker were given to them by God, see John 19:11 … so yes, as frightening as it is to believe, George W. Bush and Barack Hussein Obama … oh never mind) he lacked the power and authority because of his own low estate – his lack of power, authority, rank and dominion -with respect to the pharaoh. (See what Psalm 136:26, Luke 1:48 and Romans 12:16 about God’s gracious dealing with His people despite our low estate.)
So, for the butler, the grace of pharaoh was irresistible! So is it with the grace of God towards His sheep; His Son’s bride. The bride cannot say no, because if all members of the bride do say no (not merely a theoretical possibility, especially when both the effects of sin and the nefarious plotting of Satan are involved!) then God’s Son has no bride, and the purposes of God are thwarted. God forbid that such a thing would happen! Make no mistake, just as the “god of Egypt” in this incident had the power to love the butler and hate the baker and exercised it accordingly, God of all creation has the same prerogative – indeed even a greater prerogative for God is greater than the pharaoh – to do with Jacob (all those in Jesus Christ) and Esau (all those in Adam) and has exercised it accordingly before foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), since before Genesis 1:1!
And when did this happen? Genesis 40:20 says that it occurred the third day after Joseph interpreted the dreams of the butler (the dream that he would receive salvation of his live through grace) and the baker (the dream that he would receive neither this salvation or the grace that makes it possible). Now how long was our Lord and Savior in the grave after His death for the sins of His bride on the cross? Three days. Now nothing is in the Bible by coincidence; in it are no superfluous facts. So, the fact that three days after the prophecy, the promise of grace, came by the butler from Holy Spirit of Elohim (the Name that Joseph used to the butler in Genesis 40:8) to the butler was this promise of grace consummated by the butler’s release from bondage (which the Bible often uses with reference to sin) is a clear reference to the work of Jesus Christ. That allows us to elevate this episode from being mere metaphor, symbolism and allegory to typology. In this episode, the pharaoh, in loving the butler (Jacob) and hating the baker (Esau) was a type of the Ancient of Days, God the Father. Joseph is commonly regarded to be a type of Jesus Christ. And of course, the Holy Spirit was within Joseph. So in this story, the Trinity is together and in agreement, whether in actuality (the Holy Spirit in Joseph) or typology (pharaoh as God the Father, Joseph as God the Son).
Keep in mind that just as the butler was saved on the third day, the baker was executed on the third day. So, just as Jesus Christ delivered salvation to the elect with His ministry, Jesus Christ will return again to punish the non-elect on the Day of the Lord and will also serve as Judge of the non-elect before their punishment in the lake of fire (read the book of Revelation). So, the purpose of Genesis 40 is not to be fascinated with metaphor, symbolism, typology and allegory. Instead, it should be used to instruct one of the fact that those in Jesus Christ will be saved (the butler) and those not in Christ will perish in eternal punishment of flame (the baker). In light of that fact, one must make His calling and election sure in accordance with the scriptures (2 Peter 1:10). Repent of your sins (Acts 2:38), confess with your mouth and believe with your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord who died for your sins and is whom God raised from the dead (Romans 10:9) and be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38) or in the Name of Jesus Christ and in God the Father and God the Son (Matthew 28:19) who indwell Jesus Christ.