The Cupbearer and the Baker

This morning’s passage is a difficult one to preach on.  The interpretation is not difficult nor even the material so much as how to draw it out and make it worthwhile to preach on.  I plan my sermons a month in advance as far as the passage goes and I selected this passage because it is a critical part of the story of Joseph.  However when I got to working on my sermon this week I have struggled to add much to the narrative other than what is already in the passage.

Rather than focusing on the details of this passage, perhaps the best way to approach the story is to note the overall idea of the passage.  Joseph was in the right place at the right time.  We’ll focus on this as we look at Genesis 40.

Vs 1-4

1 Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. 2 Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, 3 and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. 4 The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them.

As we’ve looked at the story of Joseph his situation continually gets worse.  He began as the favored son of a wealthy man.  Even though he was the favored son, he worked hard and did what was right.  This didn’t endear him to his brothers however and their jealousy and hatred grew towards him.  Next he was sold into slavery.  As a slave he worked diligently and God blessed him and his master’s household.  However he was falsely accused of wrongdoing and ended up in prison but not just any prison, the king’s prison because Potiphar served the king and was high ranking.

I don’t know if there are any real differences between a normal prison and the king’s prison or not.  We shouldn’t mistake the king’s prison for something that celebrities end up going to when they get sent to prison that appears to be more like a day spa than actual punishment.  The difference is probably more like the difference between state and federal prisons today.  Whatever the case, it’s not where Joseph or anyone else wants to be.

Despite the circumstances, Joseph is a model prisoner.  He is entrusted with the care of the other prisoners.  The men thrown into this prison are not necessarily criminals.  There was no due process in Egypt and Joseph was never tried nor convicted of any crime, he was simply accused.  Violent criminals are likely dealt with swiftly and spend little if any time in prison.

We’re not told why the chief cupbearer and chief baker are thrown into prison, only that they have angered the Pharaoh.  They may or may not have done something wrong.  The position of cupbearer is particularly important; he is not just the man who brings the king his drink.  The cupbearer would first drink from the king’s cup in order to verify that it had not been poisoned.  Because of this, it was crucial to have a trustworthy cupbearer.

Vs 4b-8

After they had been in custody for some time, 5 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.

6 When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected. 7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?”

8 “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.”

Up until this point a casual look at the life of Joseph would appear to show that he has been in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He was alone with his brothers when they sought to kill him.  He was left in the well at just the time when a caravan came along and he was sold into slavery.  He could not escape Potiphar’s wife and she eventually cornered him and accused him of rape when he fled.  Finally Joseph is where he needs to be for good to come out of it.  Joseph is in position to interpret the dreams of the baker and the cupbearer.

Joseph has had to have been asking God why he was in the situation he was in.  As things went from bad to worse he must have wanted to know why even if he never questioned God’s love or His plan for his life.  Joseph did not have the benefit of scripture like we do today or he could have turned to a few helpful passages to comfort him

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

I use a part of this passage often for funerals.  Everything is for a time and that time will pass.  Sorrow will fade and be replaced with joy but there are times for both.  God is in control of time and while Joseph may not like his situation, it is only for a time.  God is using this time to make Joseph into a better person.  Before I was able to work in my desired profession full time I was frustrated that my education and all of my hard work I had put into it was going to waste.  But I was also reminded of how long Moses had to wait until he was put to use in the fullest of his ability.  He lived in Pharaoh’s household for forty years and received the best education available.  Then he spent another forty years in the desert until God was ready to use him.

Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

This one verse in Jeremiah is delivered in the midst of chaos, much like was going on in Joseph’s life.  As being were being carried off into exile and others were dying of war, famine, or pestilence God reminds the Israelites that He has not abandoned them.  Not only has He not abandoned them but this is actually part of the plan that He has for them.  The Israelites must suffer in order to be brought back as a people who follow the Lord.

While Jeremiah’s prophecy was timely in regard to their 70 year exile in Babylon, it is still pertinent to today.  The returned exiles didn’t learn their lesson and didn’t fully return to God.  They missed the coming of Christ and were scattered in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem.  But God has brought them back into the land in 1948.  God used the atrocities of Hitler to bring His people back into Jerusalem and the Holy Land.  And still the Israelites have not returned to the Lord.  It won’t be until they are completely humbled at the hands of the antichrist that they fully return to the Lord.  But it is all part of God’s plan to restore the Israelites.

Romans 8:28

28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,who have been called according to his purpose.

There are many who misinterpret this verse who believe that this is a guarantee for an easy life as a Christian.  But this is not the case at all.  When God works for our good, it means the end result, not each step along the way.  God shapes us and molds us.  He refines us.  Becoming what we are meant to be is not an easy or painless process.

As Christians we are called to bear fruit.  Fruit bearing plants and trees are relatively automatic.  As long as they get rain and sun they will produce fruit.  But to produce the most fruit, they must be tended to.  Plants and trees need to be pruned.  These plants have a focus on growth and will grow sucker branches that will never become mature enough to produce fruit.  They waste the plant’s energy that should be spent on producing fruit and if fruit production is the goal, the energy stealing branches need to be cut off.  It’s not a pleasant process but necessary.  God needs to prune us of energy wasting habits that keep us from producing as much fruit as possible.

It is the same process with refining.  Gold or silver is dug out of the ground.  It is a precious metal from the start but not much can be done with just a gold nugget.  Instead it needs to be refined.  All of the impurities need to be burned out of it.  Only when the precious metal reflects the image of the master is it pure enough to be worked with.  Once again, this isn’t an easy or painless process.  However this is what God takes us through because He is working for our good because He loves us.

Joseph is going through this process when he encounters the baker and the cupbearer.  When he offers to interpret their dreams he gets the first glimmer of hope that he is in the right place and that God has put him there for a reason.

Vs 9-19

9 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.”

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 For 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.”

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.”

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 hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat away your flesh.”

When Joseph interprets the dreams of the two men, it’s good news for the cupbearer and bad news for the baker.  Joseph asks that the cupbearer remember him when he is released and mention him to Pharaoh.

Vs 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 hanged 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.

Everything takes place as Joseph said it would.  The cupbearer is restored and the baker is hanged.  But the cupbearer forgot about Joseph.  Joseph would remain in prison another two full years until the cupbearer remembers.

Once again things look bad for Joseph but he is yet another step closer to where God needs him to be.  If Joseph was released from prison he would have most likely traveled home.  Then he would have never entered into the service of Pharaoh and never have been elevated to the position of prime minister of the land.  Even worse, the land would have been ravaged by famine and thousands would have suffered and died because of it.

Joseph must wait a while longer but in the end the wait is worth it.  We don’t know what kind of doubts he had while he waited or if his faith wavered during this time.  When we go through difficulties like this it is natural for our faith to waver and for us to question why.  But we should be reminded that God is in control.  He has a plan for us and He will use even the worst of situations to grow and mature us if we will let Him.

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