GENESIS-SERIES NR 38
Genesis 40 -> REMEMBER AND FORGET
Joseph’s hope that Pharaoh would release him from prison was shattered when the cupbearer completely forgot about him, and forgot to mention him to Pharaoh! And it appears to be the pattern of his life: Just when hope is high, it is disappointed! But the way in which Joseph deals with these disappointments, provides us with the key to understand how Christian-believers in the 21st century can live with faith, hope and love in the midst of unfair and distasteful circumstances – particularly the kind of circumstances we feel we are delivered into – over which we do not have any control and have no means in ourselves to escape from.
1 DIVINE DESTINATION (verses 1-8)
Two of the Pharaoh‘s servants have offended their master in some unknown way. Pharaoh was so angry that he put them in prison – the same cell where Joseph was imprisoned. The one servant was the cupbearer and the other the chief baker. They were assigned to Joseph, and he attended them. We saw in chapter 39 how Joseph was given more and more responsibilities in the prison. Even though he was innocently imprisoned, he still had an attitude of submission towards his lord, Potiphar, and he did his best to encourage his fellow inmates.
After they had been in custody for some time, both the cupbearer and the baker had a dream. In the culture of that time the pagans believed that dreams revealed future events. But how to interpret them was the question. In this case it was dreams from God and definitely revealed something of the future for both. Though it was not really about the cupbearer and the baker, it was more about Joseph’s future. The cupbearer and the baker were only the instruments through whom the Lord worked.
Therefore Joseph reminds his fellow prisoners that the LORD is the one who gives interpretation to dreams. It is not of man. Also not of some spirits. Joseph’s absolute assurance about this indicates how strong his faith-trust was. He walked with his God, even though he was sitting in prison without any cause. Anyone in Joseph’s situation could easily have complained or questioned the existence of God or perhaps imagined, like Job’s friends, that dire circumstances were due to some or other unconfessed sin that was committed. But the power and the working of the Holy Spirit is clearly visible in Joseph’s steadfast confidence in God’s love and provision.
2 GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS (verses 9-19)
The fact that the cupbearer and the baker were prepared to tell Joseph about their dreams and for trusting him with the interpretation of it, is of course due to the Lord’s grace, but also due to the fact that during their time with Joseph they had learned to trust him. The fact that they learned to trust him was a result of the fruit of the Spirit in his life. It is wonderful how the fruit of the Spirit enables believers to reach and serve other people. It brings forth a beauty. So different to the person in whom the Spirit does not dwell, who is mostly self-centred. It brings forth an ugliness that pushes people away.
Look how the fruit of the Holy Spirit manifests in the life of Joseph. He does not ask for a fee or a favour before he interprets the dreams. He FIRST gives the interpretation and only then does he request the cupbearer to remember him (Joseph) when all goes well with him – a very reasonable request. Joseph was so sure that the interpretation of the dreams was true, that he could request the cupbearer: Think of me when you are once more the Pharaoh’s cupbearer. Truly, when the Lord speaks, He does not give opinions or suggestions. He gives the truth. Nothing of the post-modern relativism we see these days. Nothing of the present time “prophetic words” we hear about where the so-called “prophet” can sometimes get things all wrong. Oh no, where the Holy Spirit truly speaks, He speaks facts and truth.
Briefly, the dreams meant the following:
The cupbearer: Within three days Pharaoh will restore him to his position and he will once again put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand just as he used to do before. He should then – at Joseph’s request – remember him and mention Joseph’s name to the Pharaoh.
The baker: Within three days the Pharaoh will hang him on a tree and the birds will eat away his flesh.
The latter sounds very cruel, but we must take note that mercy is shown to him, because the man had three days during which time he could examine his relationship with God and prepare himself for death. There is GRACE in the warnings and judgments God gives. False preachers always try to sidestep and soften the keen edges of the Word. In that way they strengthen the hands of the lost so that they do not repent.
Joseph’s task was not to conjure up or invent a message from God. He only had to say what the Lord is saying. He had to speak what God had spoken and that is that.
That is exactly what is expected of Christians in 2019. Speak God’s Word as it is written in the Scriptures. Do not make excuses and do not fear. Do it in season and out of season – at any time. Whether people like it or not.
The dreams of the cupbearer and the baker reveal significant similarities with the Gospel-message of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Both “sinned” against Pharaoh and his anger was roused and therefore both deserved to die. Both are in prison and are awaiting judgement to be carried out. Yet, the one receives forgiveness and his relationship with Pharaoh is restored – without any merit but only based on the Pharaoh‘s free unmerited favour – while the other receives the punishment that he in any case deserves – therefore he could not complain against Pharaoh’s decision as being unfair. The cupbearer could only give thanks to the Pharaoh all day and all night. The Pharaoh’s wish was the cupbearer’s command. Yes, he also deserved to perish, but Pharaoh was merciful towards him. Now he LIVES!
Scripture declares that ALL people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). That is why ALL people deserve eternal condemnation – eternal death and separation from God’s grace (Rom 6:23; 2 Thess 1:8). The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).
Yes, God does pardon and save some – on the basis of his grace alone. The others can never complain and accuse God of being unfair because they receive what they deserve!
When the Lord Jesus returns for His people, they will be with Him in eternal glory but the rest of humanity will be driven out into eternal damnation.
The message of salvation for everyone who comes to faith in Jesus Christ is this: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved“ (Acts 16:31).
We must not only share the good news when we bring the gospel to people. We are all inclined to share only the “cupbearer-half“ of the message. But we tend to forget about the “baker-half”. We must also let the warning be heard – as Joseph did so faithfully. Whoever does not repent and come to faith in Christ Jesus will end up in eternal fire.
John 3:17-21 explains the cupbearer-and-baker principle so clearly.
“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the Name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come to the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
The Gospel is not OUR message to people. It is God’s message. And we must not meddle with it, just as Joseph could not meddle with the interpretation of the dreams. We must say it the way it is.
3 DREAMS BECOME TRUE, BUT PROMISES ARE FORGOTTEN
Joseph’s hope must have been high when the interpretation of the dreams became true in exactly 3 days. Surely now the cupbearer would remember him and mention his name. Surely the cupbearer will show his gratitude.
However the unthinkable happens. Joseph remains in prison for a further two years and the cupbearer completely forgets about him. Perhaps he did intend to mention Joseph to the Pharaoh, but the right opportunity never arose. And so the time passed and later he just forgot completely. Once more Joseph’s hope is crushed. That is what he now gets for his faithfulness to the Lord when the wife of Potiphar wanted to seduce him…
Until Pharaoh himself receives a dream… a dream nobody could interpret. Suddenly everything changes. But more about that in chapter 41.
The question is, what does chapter 40 mean for us today. What is the message of this chapter. What is the Holy Spirit saying through this word?
Even though the two years in prison was the darkest period in Joseph’s life, chapter 40 talks about the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We see a manifestation of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the way Joseph deals with darkness and depression. Look at this:
1 Joseph had a firm confidence that the living God was with him in his suffering – and that He is sovereign. It is a supernatural ability that comes from the Spirit. It is absolutely the fruit of the Spirit.
Yes, the Lord whom Joseph worshipped, sometimes places His child in challenging and unpleasant circumstances, but He also gives the grace to bear it. The person who is righteous in Christ, sometimes suffers. But such suffering always falls within the Lord’s Divine Plan. “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” says the Lord in Heb 13:5. Even a rascal like Jacob was told: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Gen 28:15).
Unfortunately there are church groups and ministers who preach that if a Christian can just scrape together enough faith, then there is no need for suffering. Because, they say, Christ’s death has freed us from all struggles and suffering.
One can see how foolish and wrong and misleading this theology is by simply applying it to Joseph. Imagine if Joseph believed that – if he could just generate enough faith in his heart – he would immediately be freed from all his troubles.
Well, Joseph would have been sitting in sackcloth and ashes. He would have asked himself: “just look how my problems are just getting worse and worse all the time. Does that mean that there is something lacking with my spiritual devotion?” He would be filled with desperation. He would have examined his heart so intensely that he would’ve become filled with despair. That is exactly where lots of people land up when they lend out their ears to the prosperity gospel preachers of our day.
2 Joseph was sure that the Lord will and can free him when it was God’s time. That too is a supernatural ability given by the Spirit. It is definitely the fruit of the Spirit.
The dreams of the cupbearer and the baker must have reminded Joseph about the dreams he himself had received from the Lord when he was still a young boy – about how he would be exulted and his father and brothers would eventually bow down before him.
Therefore he knew – even if he did not understand anything of what is happening to him – the Lord will free him in His time and in His way.
We do not believe that the Lord gives us all kinds of dreams and visions to hold on to these days, but He does give us the Scriptures. Heb 1:1-2 is very clear that the Lord God spoke to people in various ways in the period BEFORE the Lord Jesus’s first coming to the world (Joseph was in that time), but that He now speaks to us in only one way: the Word of Christ.
Even though we do not always understand our circumstances, we can hold on to the Lord’s Word to know what His future-plans are for us. But then of course we should LIVE out of the Word. Otherwise the Word will not enter our spiritual bloodstream.
3 Joseph could have wasted his energy by sinking into self-pity, instead he served/ministered to others. That also is a supernatural ability given by the Spirit. It is absolutely the fruit of the Spirit.
Everyone’s (Christians also) first reaction in Joseph’s situation would be self-pity. The problem with self-pity, is that it makes you turn your focus on yourself and takes your focus away from the Lord and from other people.
However verse 4 says that Joseph ATTENDED the others in prison. Not in the sense of serving refreshments, but spiritually. It is the same Hebrew word used in other places for the service that Aaron and the Levites and priests attended to. It is as though the Hebrew text wants to tell us that Joseph regarded his work as a deed of devotion to the Lord.
It is amazing to think that, wherever we find yourselves we can be of service to others. Even in a prison-setting. Or even in situations where we are often alone and isolated. Then intercession for others are within our reach. One cannot help but think of the Apostle Paul – who wrote the Philippians letter while he was in isolation in prison – innocently just like Joseph. Or think of Jesus who was hanging on the cross, but still He reached out to Mary and arranged with John to take care of her so she would not be alone.
In all of that we see the powerful manifestation of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Joseph lived during the time of the Old Testament and experienced the indwelling power of the Spirit. How much more WE who are living under the New Covenant!
Translated by Marthie Wilson
Main source: Bob Deffinbaugh