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Not Forgotten

Date: Jan. 20, 2019

Author: Bob Henkins

Genesis 40:1-23

Key Verse: Genesis 40:14

But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison.

At first you might think that we have another passage about dreams. And while it does have dreams in it, to me, they are not the main point. What spoke to me from this passage is about being remembered. Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve felt like you’ve been forgotten? One Saturday toward the end of last year, I took my car in for service, they said it wasn’t a big problem, it would only be a short time and they would call me when it was ready. So, I waited and waited, but no call. Finally, I called them but they had already closed. I wondered if they forgot about me when I needed my car for Monday. However, on Monday, when I called them, I found out that the actually tried to call me but somehow, I gave them the wrong phone number. I gave them the first 3 digits of my home phone and the last 4 digits of my cell phone. (don’t ask me how I did that) No one likes to be forgotten. Kevin, in Home Alone was forgotten by his family. One time, I left the Bible house and on my way home, Liz called me and asked, “Where are you guys?” I had forgotten her at church. I felt terrible as I turned around to go and get her. That feeling of being forgotten is a terrible one. In our passage this morning we see Joseph in a difficult situation. He is stuck in prison and wondering if he is ever going to get out. He’s lonely and feels as if everyone has forgotten about him.

This is probably Joseph’s lowest point of his life. Not only had he been sold by his brothers as a slave in a foreign land, but now he was in prison, accused of attempted rape, a crime that he didn’t commit. Joseph was at the bottom of society with no one to turn to, except for God. Who appears to not be of much help to him thus far. From his point of view, Joseph didn’t have much hope of getting out. No limits were put on his sentence. It was like being thrown into jail for contempt of court, he was completely at the mercy of Potiphar, the Captain of the Guard. But what Joseph didn’t realize was that God's plan for him was slowly unfolding. If he had NOT been thrown into prison, sure he might have lived a long life as the head servant in Potiphar's house but that’s it. Maybe not a terrible life for a slave, but a slave none the less. But through his prison experience, God was working in the background setting the stage for the third act of his life. What he didn’t know was that he was on the fast track of becoming Pharaoh’s right-hand man, the second most powerful man in the world. (Or at least that region)

However, it wouldn’t be easy. This would be a time of testing for Joseph. Could he be faithful with small things? Would he be able to handle prison? The bigger question is, would he be able to handle being the ruler of Egypt? Proverbs says, “Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up: a servant who becomes king, a godless fool who gets plenty to eat, a contemptible woman who gets married, and a servant who displaces her mistress.” (Prv 30:21-23) Joseph was a servant who became a king. Would he forget God? Would he become proud and useless? This was an important time for him.

Our passage starts off with the cupbearer and baker going to prison. Let’s look at verses 1-3. “Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined.” While the jobs of cupbearer and baker might seem menial to us, they were actually very high-level jobs with unrestricted access to the king's food. The cup-bearer was a high-ranking officer in royal courts whose duty it was to serve the drinks at the royal table. On account of the constant fear of plots and assassination, the cupbearer had to be a person who was completely trustworthy, for the king placed his life in the cupbearer’s hands. The cupbearer must guard against poison in the king's cup and was sometimes required to drink some of the wine before serving it. His confidential relations with the king often gave him a position of great influence. The baker was probably the one in charge of the kitchen and food preparation. Both of these men held key positions and were relied upon by the king.

However, we find that both of these men had somehow offended Pharaoh and as a result ended up in prison. And coincidently, it just so happened to be the same prison that Joseph was in. (Maybe it wasn’t by chance) Apparently, Potiphar’s house was a jail for political prisoners. We aren’t told anything about what these men were accused of, or whether they are guilty or innocent. The main point is that Joseph was put in charge of them.

Verses 4-7 say, “The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them. After they had been in custody for some time, each of the two men—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison—had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected.So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?””  One of the first things we notice is that Joseph has freedom while he’s in prison. While others are confined to cells (put there by Pharaoh) he’s walking around as if he’s in charge. Actually, the warden entrusted everything to Joseph’s care. (v39:23) That’s because God was with Joseph and blessed him. Joseph noticed how disheartened they had become, more than normal. On the surface, Joseph’s question seems a bit, shall we say, stupid? “Duh, they were sad because THEY WERE IN PRISON, Joseph.” But on a deeper level they were not always sad, or maybe there are different levels of sad, whatever the case, Joseph noticed that they were different that day more upset than normal. This shows how astute Joseph was, and that he paid attention and cared for people. This was one of the reasons why the warden put him in charge. When Joseph saw that they were down, he didn’t have to care for them. Why should he care if they weren’t happy? He could’ve been like, “Suck it up butter cup, we’re all in this together.” It would’ve been easy for Joseph not to say a word. Because he had worries of his own. After all, he was in the same situation, sure he had more freedom than them, but he was still in prison, in a foreign land with an unknown future.

But to me Joseph is amazing because he’s genuinely concerned for others. Sure, he’s suffering but he doesn’t let it consume him. He’s not paralyzed by it, he overcomes his situation and continues in his relationship with God. He could have been bitter, because he did what was right, and yet he ended up in jail. But he didn’t turn away from God. Often, we let our prison of self-pity keep us from noticing the needs of others. We get so wrapped up in our own problems, that we don’t see anyone else’s. We are so focused on the injustice done to us, the pain we feel, our loss, that there is no room left in our heart for others. In fact, that prison of self-pity can keep us from realizing that the person next to us may be struggling with a bigger problem. But Joseph wasn’t blinded by self-pity. By caring for the needs of these two men, Joseph shows how us to live, in Christ, even when life is at its worst.

There problem is found in verses 8-11. ““We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.” So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, 10 and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.”” These guys were sad because if they still had their jobs they could have talked to Pharaoh’s dream interpreters and they could have told them what their dreams meant, but they couldn’t do that in prison. Really?!? That was their problem? I would have thought they had bigger problems, like PRISON!

Anyway, Joseph found a way to bring God into the conversation. He was quick to point them in the right direction. Truth won’t come from a dream book, or an expert, but from someone willing to listen to God. I find Joseph’s faith remarkable. If anyone had reason to doubt dreams from God, it was Joseph. He had dreams of being great, even his father would bow down to him, and yet all that happened to his thus far was misery. So far, his dreams have only brought jealousy, hatred, betrayal, slavery, and imprisonment. And despite all that, he was ready and willing to help them in God’s name. Joseph was helping them to have faith in God. Faith is like a muscle, the more we use our faith, the more it is strengthened.

So what was Joseph’s interpretation of his dream. That can be found in verses 12-15. “12 “This is what it means,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. 13 Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. 14 But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison.15 I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.”” Joseph’s interpretation of the cup bearers dream doesn’t seem farfetched. His full reinstatement will make Joseph’s deliverance from prison possible. It’s interesting to see that Joseph was able to discern which elements of the dream were to be taken symbolically and which were taken literally. God gave Joseph wisdom. And at the end Joseph pleas with him, remember me. He’s not complaining but he reveals that he is suffering.

16 When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread.]17 In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.”” This is called the baker’s dream but to me seems more like a nightmare. When the baker heard good news for the cupbearer, he thought maybe it would be good news for him too. This thought is more common than you realize. Sometimes, we think that if something good happens to our neighbor, it will happen to us as well. This is a misconception that we have that comes from the mistaken idea that God works the same way with everyone. God doesn’t have a one size fits all mentality. God works with each person individually. The good word for your neighbor might be a bad word for you. Such was the case with the baker. Unlike the cupbearer, his dream was bad news, but Joseph still delivered it. “18 “This is what it means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days.19 Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and impale your body on a pole. And the birds will eat away your flesh.”” The baker, hoping to get favorable news himself, tells Joseph his dream. When Joseph realized its meaning, he could have hesitated giving him the bad news, however Joseph gives him the truth even though it’s hard. If Joseph was good minded, he could have given a less harsh interpretation. But that would have harmed Joseph’s reputation and maybe years later the cupbearer would not have had such a high opinion of Joseph. (This guy has a 50/50 success rate; just flip a coin and you would get the same results.) To give the gospel truth is not easy. We don’t want to disappoint someone. Or we might be tempted to go with the popular opinion or say what people’s itching ears want to hear. People want to hear good news, we don’t want to hear the bad news, but we need to hear the bad news if it’s the truth. The captain of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia didn’t want to tell the passengers the truth that the ship hit rocks and was sinking, so he jumped ship. Thirty-two people died when that ship sunk and now, he is spending 16 years in jail. Sometimes telling the truth, whether good or bad, is a matter of life and death and people need to hear it. How much more so with the gospel. People need to hear the gospel, it’s a matter of eternal life and eternal death. But we should remember when giving the truth, we should do it the right way. Speak the truth in love. (Eph 4:15) Joseph worked through his relationships. He showed concern for them, he built up his relationship to where he could talk freely. Joseph doesn’t hesitate to give the bad news to the baker. He doesn’t try to interject his own thought into the message. He is only the messenger, doesn’t try to take any glory for himself. Joseph didn’t pull punches. He gave the interpretation that the baker would be executed in 3 days. His body left for the birds to eat. The Egyptians did this to prevent the spirit from resting in the afterlife.

The results can be found in verses 20-23. “20 Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: 21 He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand— 22 but he impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation. 23 The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.” God gave Joseph accuracy in his interpretation. Everything turned out just as Joseph had said. While it may be easy for us to judge both men, saying one’s guilty the other is not guilty, but the truth is we don’t know what the truth is only the results. We shouldn’t be quick to rush to judgement.

The dreams corresponded in several ways with the cupbearer’s. Both have threes—three branches and three baskets; both dreams pertain to their respective occupations; and in both dreams the cupbearer and baker appear. The differences are significant too. In the baker’s dream Pharaoh is not seen, the baker is not performing his duty, and there is nothing in the former dream corresponding to the birds of prey. The baker is totally passive. The vision of three baskets balancing on the baker’s head paints an unusual sight and was perhaps comical to some readers. Carnivorous birds dining on fallen corpses is a common prophetic image of God’s judgment against the wicked. Since Pharaoh did not receive the baked goods prepared by the baker, unlike the dream of the cupbearer, the picture conveyed impending doom.

We have dreams all the time. I had a couple of them last night. In my dream, the chiefs beat the patriots. And I had a goofy one where I was building some art piece for someone, with really weird statues. But we shouldn’t be thinking there is God’s message in everyone, especially if they contradict the Bible. God’s word supersedes our dreams. That is not to say that God doesn’t speak through dreams, he can if he chooses. He may use dreams in places where people don’t have access to the Bible. 

Ironically, Joseph could tell the cupbearer and baker exactly what would happen to them but he had no idea what was going to happen to him. Despite his success as a dream interpreter, the scene ends on a down note. The cupbearer goes on his merry way, while Joseph is forgotten. Joseph’s reward for telling the truth was that the cup bearer forgot about him.This could have been reason to despair. God uses Joseph to predict the release of others, but he remains in prison. It was as if he was forgotten by God. So, I return to the question I posed at the beginning, have you ever felt like you were in this position: Things are bad, so you pray, God is silent, years go by and nothing happens. You feel forgotten. At my work place, I have often felt like I have been forgotten. I prayed for God to help me get out, but it felt like I have been stuck, almost like being in prison, but with good pay.

When we are remembered, we feel loved. When someone remembers our birthday, we feel cared for. In Genesis 8, when we find out God remembered Noah, there is hope. There was hope because God remembered his covenant and wouldn’t destroy life in a flood ever again. When God remembered Abraham during the destruction of Sodom, he was saved from destruction. (Gen 19:29). When God remembered Rachel; she was able to conceive. (Gen 30:22) When we hear God remembers it shows God’s faithfulness and we feel good. But then we come to this passage and it raises the question does God really remember Joseph, because it sure seems as if God abandoned him.

But we also have to understand that God has his own plan with his own schedule and his timing is not necessarily our timing. What Joseph didn’t know (and how could he?) was that God had bigger plans for him.  Joseph was 28 at this point in his life. He was only 2 years away from becoming the second most powerful man in Egypt, and probably the world, and yet he felt like he was forgotten. We see in a couple of chapters that Joseph remembered the dreams he had when he was younger back at home, but right now he felt alone.

“Remember me” is a common phrase in the Bible, we all want to be remembered. As Jesus hung on the cross, one of the thieves next to him said, ““Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”” (Lk 23:42-43) Jesus remembers those that cry out to him. This has been God’s pattern throughout history. In some ways, the cupbearer was in the place of Jesus, he had the opportunity to mediate for Joseph, but he proved unreliable. However, thank God that Jesus has proven to be reliable. He sits at God’s right hand and intercedes for us with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. (Col 3:1, 1 Pet 3:22) We praise God for his great mercy that he remembers those, that cry out to him.

I never realized what a gift the baker was given. He had 72 hours to prepare to die. That is a gift few of us have. What would you do if you knew the day of your death? Would you for the first time take seriously the good news about Jesus? Have you made peace with God, through his son Jesus? By his sacrifice on the cross, Christ opened up the way to the Father. By faith we receive grace and forgiveness and righteousness and life eternal. In whatever time you have on this earth, are you prepared to die?

It would be sound, spiritual advice to say, “Just hold on. Don’t let go of the God who will not let you go.” But Joseph does more than just holding on, even when it seemed to his eyes that God had abandoned him. We shouldn’t pass by Joseph’s example in how to live when we are in that forgotten place. It’s not thrilling or extraordinary, but it is key to making sense of your imprisonment. The way out of our prison, is to trust in God and believe he works for the good of those who love him, and there is a reason why we are where we are. Maybe God put us here, is so that we can be a blessing to the people around us.

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