Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. (Genesis 40:1-3)
Notice, these two men were trusted servants of the king. One was the chief cupbearer, and the other was the chief baker. These men are described as Pharaoh’s officers. They were men of rank, trusted to oversee other staff who would have served under them.
These men had committed an offense (40:1). Joseph was in prison because of a great injustice, but these men were there for a reason. We are not told what the offense was, but we are told that it was “against their lord the king of Egypt.”
The king had trusted these men, had given them positions of responsibility and they betrayed his trust. They had acted against the king they had been called to serve. “Pharaoh was angry” (40:2). Nothing provokes anger like a trust that has been betrayed. And
Now we come to the heart of the story: “One night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation (40:5).
We touched on the subject of dreams earlier in the series, and we saw that throughout the Bible, there is progress in the way that God communicates with his people, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2).
Earlier on, God used multiple ways of communicating with his people. But now we have the clearest possible communication from God in Jesus Christ. Christians should not fret about interpreting their dreams. If you want to know what God is saying to you, read the Bible!
Someone quoted a tweet to me recently. I don’t know where it came from: If you want to hear God speak, read your Bible. If you want to hear God speak audibly, read it out loud!
The Ministry of Joseph
When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. (Genesis 40:6)
Joseph’s eyes were open to the people that God had placed around him. He was observant. He noticed a change in their facial expressions, in their demeanor.
These men were in prison, so I don’t suppose they were full of joy on their best days. But it was clear to Joseph on this particular morning that something was up with these men. They were not themselves. If Joseph had given them their breakfast and then ploughed on with his duties for the day, he would have missed a very significant ministry opportunity.
Joseph saw that they were troubled! If you want to be useful in ministry, ask God to give you open eyes and a sensitive heart to the times when people are troubled.
He asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” (Genesis 40:7)
It is an interesting question. These men are in prison, and Joseph asks them, “Why are your faces downcast today? Why are you not happy?”
Something is going on that is more troubling to these men than being guilty of a crime. They lived with that every day, but this was different. Something is going on that is worse than being confined in a prison.
What can possibly be more troubling than being guilty of a crime, and being confined in a prison? They know that there is a God, but they do not know what he has said.
These men woke up in the morning and realized that something out of the ordinary had happened to them in their dream: “I have a profound sense that God has spoken to me, but I do not know who he is and I have absolutely no idea what he has said.”
There are people close to you who are in the same position. Don’t ignore them! Because Joseph saw and asked, a door for ministry opened up to these men.
They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.” (Genesis 40:8)
Joseph had been given a prophetic gift, by which he was able to interpret the dreams. So he offered to tell these men what the living God had said. The application for us is obvious: God has spoken his Word in the Scriptures, which he has trusted to his people, so that every Christian is in a position to tell others what God has said.
That is why, on the day of Pentecost, Peter quotes the words of Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17). What does that mean? It means all of God’s people will be in a position to speak the Word of God into the lives of others who do not know who God is or what he has said.
Here is something you may have an opportunity to do this week: You see that someone is troubled. So you ask them, “What’s the matter?” And perhaps this leads to a conversation where you can say, “Do you want to know what God has said?”
Joseph gives us a marvelous model for ministry here. And it’s important because Christians are not always like this. Oh, that we were all like Joseph – caring, observant, and ready to offer to share with others what God has said.
Think about Jonah. God gets the attention of an entire ship’s crew when he sends (not a dream, but) a storm. The sailors know that there is a God, but they don’t know who he is or what he is saying, “What can we do to calm this storm?”
God’s man is in the boat. His name is Jonah. But Jonah is asleep. He is God’s man, but he is pursuing his own rebellion against God. He has drugged his own conscience. His ministry is silenced, until God forces his sin out into the open.
Then Jonah has a remarkable ministry in Nineveh. Thousands of people who do not know who God is or what he has said hear Jonah speak the Word, and salvation and blessing are poured out. But after this ministry we find Jonah absorbed with his own pain: The plant withers, and that gets to him. His mind becomes consumed with the trials of his own life.
Joseph is very different. Instead of descending into bitterness over the injustice he experienced, he serves while he is suffering in the prison! His own pain seems to make him more sensitive to the pain of others. His own walk with God gives him a heart to serve people who do not know the Lord.
Lord, don’t let me be asleep in my own rebellion. Don’t let me be absorbed in my own pain.
The People Joseph Served
The chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, and on the vine there were three branches.” (Genesis 40:9-10)
George Lawson comments, “It [is] not strange that a [cupbearer], deprived of his post and of his liberty, should dream of wine, and grapes, and cups, and of putting a cup into his master’s hand.” 
The cupbearer sees the whole process of grapes forming, growing, and ripening sped up, as if recorded on a camera that allows you to see what happens over a long time in just a few seconds, “As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened into grapes” (40:10). Buds become blossoms, blossoms become clusters, and clusters ripen into grapes.
“Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand” (40:11). This is what the cupbearer used to do, and in his dream he sees himself doing it again.
The cupbearer’s dream represented his highest hopes – that there would be a fast forward from his present position, and that in some way he could be pardoned and restored to serving the king. You don’t need any special prophetic gift to see this.
So it is not surprising that, when Joseph offered to interpret the dreams, it was the cupbearer who stepped forward. He wanted to know if his highest hopes might be fulfilled.
But what Joseph told the cupbearer could only have come from God: “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer” (40:12-13).
Joseph must have been quite certain that this was the Word of God. In three days he would either be affirmed as a prophet or he would be exposed as a fake. But in three days, the Word of God came true as the Lord had revealed. The cupbearer’s highest hope was fulfilled. He was released from the prison and restored to the service of the king!
The baker had held back when Joseph offered to interpret his dream, and it’s not difficult to see why. The baker had a very different dream. But “when the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, ‘I also had a dream’” (40:16).
It is not surprising that the baker, who spent his entire career managing the king’s kitchen, should dream about carrying bread and cakes. This is what the chief baker did. He says, “I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head” (40:16). But the baker does not see himself offering bread to the king, “in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head” (40:17).
The baker’s dream represented his deepest fear, that the job taken from him would never be given back, and that all his work would end up being food for the birds. You don’t need any special prophetic gift to see that.
But again, what Joseph told the baker could only have come from God, “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days. In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head —from you!—and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat the flesh from you” (40:18-19).
What we have here in the prison is a microcosm of the whole of humanity. There are two men: One will be pardoned; the other will be punished. One is about to see his greatest hope fulfilled; the other is about to see his greatest fear realized.
There are two men: One hoping for the best; the other fearing the worst. One looks forward to life; the other is preparing for death. For one, a new day is about to dawn; for the other, the sun is about to set and time is slipping away. Between them is another man, a man who is completely innocent, a man who speaks the Word of God.
You can’t know your bible, reflect on this part of Joseph’s story, and not think about a scene where another man who has done nothing wrong is in the company of two criminals, not in a prison, but on a cross (Luke 23). These men don’t have three days. They have a few hours.
Both of them are angry and they are hurling abuse at Jesus. But then a strange stillness comes over one of them. His life is coming to an end. Soon he will be in the presence of God.
He has not planned for this and he has not prepared for it either.
He shouts to the other criminal: “Don’t you fear God? We are being punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then looking to Jesus, he said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:40-42, author paraphrase). Have you ever noticed? That line comes straight out of the story of Joseph!
Joseph says to the cupbearer, “Remember me, when it is well with you” (40:14). Joseph knows that the cupbearer will be released from prison. He’s leaving the prison and heading for the palace! The cupbearer will be lifted up to an exalted position at the right hand of the King. And Joseph says, “When you get there – remember me!”
The thief on the cross must have known this story well. As a Jewish boy, he would have learned the story of Joseph on his mother’s knee. He would know about the cupbearer who would go from the place of punishment into the presence of the king!
Here’s the thief, facing his worst fear, a few feet away from Jesus. He discerns that Jesus is the King! And he takes a line from the story of Joseph and he says, “Remember me, when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).
There are three contrasts between the story of Joseph and the story of the thief on the cross, and they floodlight the unique glory of Jesus.
Three Contrasts That Reveal the Glory of Jesus
1. The difference between Joseph and the thief:
Joseph was innocent. The thief on the cross was guilty.
Joseph was innocent. He had a basis for his request that the cupbearer should remember him before the king. A great injustice has been done, “Can you make it right by bringing it to the attention of the king?”
But the thief on the cross was guilty, “We are getting what our deeds deserve.” He had no basis for his request, except the sheer mercy and compassion of Jesus. That’s our position before God. We are not innocent before God, we are guilty like the thief.
2. The difference between the cupbearer and Jesus:
The cupbearer forgot. Jesus remembered.
When the cupbearer was restored to the palace he forgot all about Joseph, “He [the king] restored the chief cupbearer to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand… Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (40:21, 23).
The thief says to Jesus, “Remember me. Don’t be like the cupbearer and leave me to languish in hell. When you come into your kingdom, please, remember me.” Jesus says to him, “Amen! I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Do you see this amazing contrast? Joseph says, “Remember me” to the cupbearer, and the cupbearer forgets him. The thief says, “Remember me” to Jesus, and Jesus saves him! Joseph was innocent and the one who held the cup forgot him. The thief on the cross was guilty and the One who drank the cup remembered him.
3. The difference between Joseph and Jesus:
Joseph announced the future. Jesus changed the future.
Joseph was able to announce the future. He could say, “Here’s what is going to happen. Mr. Cupbearer, you are going to be pardoned. Mr. Baker, you are going to be punished.”
Joseph was able to announce the future. But Jesus is able to change the future. Jesus is more than a prophet. He is the Savior! This is of huge importance in conversations with our Muslim friends – to explain the difference between a prophet and a Savior. A prophet tells you what is; a Savior changes what is!
Jesus is more than a prophet. He can do more than Joseph, more than any prophet. Jesus can take a man or a woman in the place of the baker – guilty, condemned, without God, and without hope in this world. He can put that person in the place of the cupbearer – forgiven, rescued, and restored to the service of the King.
That’s why Jesus came into the world. That’s why he went to the cross. He did not come here to announce your condemnation. He did not come to tell us that we must all reap what we have sown. There’s no hope in that. No, Jesus came to secure your rescue. He came to bring mercy and grace for all who have offended the great King.
Jesus came to stand in the place of sinners who, like the baker, were destined for the gallows of the King’s justice and to bring us, like the cupbearer into the blessing and freedom of the King’s service.
Jesus will do that for every person who will come to him in faith and in repentance. He stands ready to do this for you today. Jesus can bring the best hope out of your worst fear.
He is full of mercy towards sinners who know they are guilty. If you trust yourself to him, Jesus will not forget you. He will walk with you through your greatest fears and bring you into a future that is greater than you ever dared to dream.
 George Lawson, The Life Of Joseph, p. 55, Banner of Truth, 1996
© Colin S. Smith
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