The Case of the Butler and the Baker, Joseph, Bread and Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 40:1-23)

In the story of the butler and the baker who relate their dream to Joseph whilst in prison, we are told that the butler, who serves wine to the Pharaoh, regains his post and is freed, whereas the baker who serves bread to the Pharaoh is hung from a tree and pecked by birds.

The interpretation of the dreams by Joseph not only portrays the skill of Joseph in interpreting dreams, (that come through God) that eventually brings him the Pharaoh’s court, but it also signifies God’s requirements upon man in his attitude towards the ‘fruits of the earth’.

The Baker

Bread, which is the core subject of the dream of the baker, is the basis for our physical needs in this world and is derived from wheat which is the 1st of the seven fruits (See Table) and which belongs to the Tree of Life. It is made from wheat through a long series of processes of harvesting, threshing, winnowing, grinding and finally baking. More especially it is made through the addition of yeast, which causes it to grow and expand ad infinitum until it is baked. Bread symbolises the process of development in this world, which can continue and grow without ceasing and without end as shown in exponential development of modern technology, computers and the internal combustion engine. Development per se is a positive activity however if it takes place without recognition of its source i.e. God, then it become a self-indulgent and self-perpetuating action that has forgotten God and the purpose of life on earth i.e. to seek truth. For this reason ‘truth’ emet, אמת spelt aleph-mem-taf = 1-40-400 can only be found with the inclusion of God, the source, the ‘one’ the aleph. Without the aleph only leads to death, met, spelt מת mem-taf. (See hyperlink the mist Adam and the two trees)

It is for this reason the Children of Israel were commanded at the time of the Passover not to eat or possess any leaven bread in the home at all, at the risk of ex-communication.

Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread; the first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses; for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel: (Exodus 12:15)

In un-leaven bread, the process of development has been stopped dead by baking in fire and whilst the angel of death passes over the world of development outside, development of the world inside the houses of the Children of Israel has been stopped.

Similarly un-leaven bread is used in all ceremonies and offerings made in the Tabernacle: 11. No meal offering, which you shall bring to the Lord, shall be made with leaven; for you shall burn no leaven, nor any honey, in any offering of the Lord made by fire: (Leviticus 2:11). So, just as bread symbolises development that continues unabated, so the 1st fruit if allowed to develop unabated, will lead to the 4th fruit, the fig which is symbolised by the Tree of knowledge of good and evil. (See hyperlink the mist, Adam and the two trees)

Bread is represented by the ‘fire’ element which is used to bake the bread. It is also related to ‘war’. Bread, lechem in Hebrew, is spelt: לחם lamed-chet-mem and has the same root letters for the word for ‘war’, milchama, spelt: מלחמה mem-(lamed-chet-mem)-heh. The relationship of ‘bread’ and ‘war’ is not due to economic reasons i.e. disputes over food, but rather because war is normally caused as a result of a desire or dispute over possession. Hence the process of material ownership is ultimately the cause of war.

This relationship of bread and possession is emphasised in the statement of Joseph’s overlord, Potiphar, before he was thrown into prison:

And he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not ought he had except the bread that he did eat (Genesis 39:6).

Then when Potiphar’s wife tried to rape Joseph, he said:

There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back anything from me but thee, because thou art his wife how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God (Genesis 39:9).

From these two verses we can see that ‘bread’ is associated with lust –or possession. The relationship between lust, adultery, possession and bread is reiterated in Proverbs 6: 23-26;

23. For the commandment is a lamp; and the Torah is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life: 24. To keep you from the evil woman, from the smoothness of the tongue of a strange woman: 25. Lust not after her beauty in your heart; nor let her take you with her eyelids: 26. For by means of a harlot a man is brought to a piece of bread; and the adulteress will hunt for the precious life:

where verse 26 not only relates these four aspects (lust, adultery, possession and bread, but also verse 23 re-affirms Joseph’s perception that the act of adultery is a sin against G-d and reproof of instruction (of the Torah) are the way of life.

The baker was therefore hanged on a tree and his head was pecked by birds was because he represented the unabated development that was detached from God and from truth leading to his own self-destruction. Basically truth (emet)אמת, without the alephא leads to death מת (met).

Bread is an inseparable part of our needs in this world and receives a place alongside wine on the Sabbath table. However it remains covered until after the blessing of the wine, for the reason that development, activity and creation should cease on the Sabbath day. So bread, essential to our existence, receives second place: for bread is represented by the fire element, and wine is represented by the water element {1}.

The Butler

The butler served wine to the Pharaoh squeezed from grapes fresh from the vine. Wine is the 3rd of the seven fruits and is related to the 7th, the date (or honey). Wine, yiin, spelt: יין yod-yod-nun has a value of: 10-10-50 = 70. Seventy represents the seventh day, the Sabbath, and is therefore the agent of blessing on the seventh day. For wine, when drunk with God in our thoughts, takes us to a higher plane in preparation for the next world. The blessing takes place in the house or home, which is beit in Hebrew and the symbol of the second letter of the alphabet, beth, with a value of 2 representing duality. The home is where the table is set just as an altar to God (See hyperlink Table of numerical values). So inside the home on the Sabbath is where the ‘2’ is brought to ‘1’, where duality is brought to unity.

Notably yiin יין is spelt with 2 yods, representing God on the plane of the second decane, and it ends with the letter nun with a value of 50, the number of re-birth and renewal.

Wine is derived from the vineyard, kerem spelt: כרם caph-resh-mem and has a value of: 20-200-40=260. This too is a decane above 26, the value of the tetragrammation YHVH and the component value of the letter aleph, from which all was created. (See hyperlink Aleph, head of a bull, name of God, ying and Yang)

So the reason the butler was restored to his post was because his existence on this earth was in the service of God and in the positive process of development as related to God.

It may be of interest to note that:

Bread, lechem, spelt: לחם lamed-chet-mem, has a value of: 30-8-40=78

And wine, yiin, spelt: יין yod-yod-nun has a value of: 10-10-50 = 70.

Has a total value of 148

And that Passover, pesach, spelt: פסח peh-samach-chet has a value of: 80-60-8 =148 (see hyperlink Bo, the Passover the home and the door).

The Seven Fruits


Number Fruit Symbol
1 Wheat Tree of Life
2 Barley
3 Vine
4 Fig Tree of knowledge (covering)
5 Pomegranate Seed, be fruitful and multiply
6 Olive
7 Date =honey


{1} In accord with the ancient Chinese book, the I Ching, Hexagram 63 , if water is over fire and if the fire is too strong the water will boil and will evaporate so there will be no more water, or the water will boil over the pot and put out the fire. Hence, fire and water, bread and wine, this world and the next world must co-exist in harmony and in the correct level of energy. If the phenomenal world is too strong it will lose focus and cause the spiritual world to evaporate, moreover the fire of the phenomenal world will also destroy itself. On Sabbath our focus is on the spiritual world.




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