Introduction: Joseph had seemingly hit rock bottom. His brothers sold him into slavery. Potiphar’s wife had falsely accused him of the crime of attempted rape. Potiphar knew he was innocent, or he would have killed him. Instead, he sent Joseph into a prison dungeon that existed below his house to manage it. There, Joseph suffered as a prisoner in chains. To an outsider, it might appear that Joseph had learned all the lessons on servant leadership that he needed to know before God could elevate him to the second most powerful position in all of Egypt. He faithfully managed his former master’s prison without complaints. He showed compassion for the other prisoners. He also gave God the credit for his ability to interpret dreams. But he would still have to fall further before God would free him and elevate him. While in captivity, God would allow Joseph to interpret the dreams of two officials in Pharaoh’s court. One would live, and the other would die. When Joseph correctly interpreted the dreams, he hoped that the official who lived would save him and present his abilities to Pharaoh. But the man would quickly forget about Joseph. Joseph still had to learn to place his trust in God alone before God was ready to call Joseph to fulfill his special purpose. From Joseph’s jailhouse ministry, God reveals seven lessons on being a godly servant leader. These include: (1) service; (2) compassion; (3) faith; (4) hope; (5) petition through prayer; (6) conviction of sin; and (7) trust in Him and not in people.
First, despite his wrongful incarceration, Joseph faithfully served his prison master by using his God-given gift of administration to manage the prison. From this, God reveals to be a servant leader He wants you to faithfully serve wherever He may send you. Second, Joseph did more than manage the prison. He also showed compassion for the prisoners. He showed compassion even though he was in need of compassion. From this, God reveals that He wants you to show compassion to others even when you are in need of it. Third, when Joseph met two officials in Pharaoh’s court who were saddened by dreams that they could not interpret, Joseph showed faith in God by claiming that God could help him interpret his dreams. From this, God reveals that an important part of being a servant leader is having faith in Him to work through you. Fourth, Joseph interpreted the dream of the cupbearer and gave him hope that he would live. From this, God reveals that to be a servant leader He wants you to give others the hope of eternal life. Fifth, Joseph petitioned the cupbearer and asked that he remember him after being restored to Pharaoh’s court. Although the cupbearer would not remember Joseph, God would remember him. From this, God reveals that He wants you to petition Him through prayer when you are in need. Sixth, Joseph told the man responsible for preparing the food in Pharaoh’s court that he had only three days left to live. This was an opportunity for the man to repent. From this, God reveals that to be a servant leader you must also be salt and light in the world to convict others of their sins. Finally, God remained faithful to keep His promises given through Joseph. The cupbearer, however, forgot about Joseph. From this, God reveals that He wants you to trust in Him alone.
Joseph’s selfless service in an Egyptian dungeon for prisoners in need. During his years in prison, Joseph faithfully served the man who sentenced him without cause by caring for his prisoners: “1 Then it came about after these things, the cupbearer and the baker for the king of Egypt offended their lord, the king of Egypt. 2 Pharaoh was furious with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker. 3 So he put them in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, in the jail, the same place where Joseph was imprisoned. 4 The captain of the bodyguard put Joseph in charge of them, and he took care of them; and they were in confinement for some time.” (Gen. 40:1-4). Joseph was still a young man when Potiphar entrusted him to run the prison. By God’s providence, the prison was under Potiphar’s house. Potiphar was “the captain of the bodyguard, . . .” (Gen. 39:1), and the prison was under “the house of the captain of the bodyguard,. . .” (Gen. 40:3, 7). This may also explain why the chief jailer put Joseph in charge so quickly. But this also means that Joseph continued to labor for a man who wrongfully convicted him of a crime that he did not commit. Potiphar’s continuing trust in Joseph further shows that he did not really believe the charges that his wife had brought against Joseph. Potiphar in many ways acted like Pontius Pilate. Both men knowingly convicted innocent men because it was expedient for their rule to do so. Joseph could have quietly sulked in a prison cell and refused to continue to help Potiphar. Indeed, Joseph received no pay for managing the jail. He also did not receive a reduced jail time for serving the jail. Nor did he receive any special comforts. His feet were bound in chains while he served. “He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. They afflicted his feet with fetters, he himself was laid in irons;” (Ps. 105:17-18). What then motivated Joseph? First, he had a Spirit-led heart of forgiveness. Second, he had a Spirit-led heart to serve others in need, even though he was also in need.
Like Joseph and later Jesus, be a servant to others no matter where you are called. Like Joseph, Jesus emptied himself of his glory to become a servant: “but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (Phil 2:7). “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:28). “For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Lk. 22:27; Jo. 13:12). Like Joseph, Jesus also calls upon you to humble yourself and serve others no matter where you are: “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;” (Matt. 20:26-7). “Sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.’” (Mk. 9:35). “And He said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.”’ (Lk. 22:25-6). Like Joseph, this type of servitude frequently requires that you suffer for the benefit of others: “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 2:3). “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10). Will you suffer as a servant for His Kingdom by serving others?
When you faithfully serve others, you also will find God’s favor. Even in prison, God blessed Joseph. Joseph received God’s blessings because he was faithful in serving others no matter where he was. When you do what is right and serve others, you too will find God’s favor: “Servants, be submissive to your masters . . . But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,” (1 Pet. 2:18-21). Even a prisoner or a slave is called upon to serve. “All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against.” (1 Tim. 6:1; Titus 2:9-10; Ep. 6:5; Col. 3:22). Will you faithfully serve in lowly positions and receive His favor?
Joseph’s compassion for a stranger in jail. While serving in his role as prison administrator, Joseph also showed compassion to those who were in jail with him: “5 Then the cupbearer and the baker for the king of Egypt, who were confined in jail, both had a dream the same night, each man with his own dream and each dream with its own interpretation. 6 When Joseph came to them in the morning and observed them, behold, they were dejected. 7 He asked Pharaoh’s officials who were with him in confinement in his master’s house, ‘Why are your faces so sad today?’” (Gen. 40:5-7). Joseph’s service for Potiphar did not require him to care about the prisoners that he led. There are plenty of competent managers who manage their businesses well without any regard for the wellbeing of their employees or servants. Indeed, Joseph had plenty of reason to feel gloomy based upon his false incarceration. What made Joseph different was that he ignored his own unjust imprisonment and suffering. He instead showed love and compassion for his fellow prisoners, including the sinners who belonged there. In this way, He acted like Jesus. He is also a role model to all believers.
Benjamin Gerritsz. Cuyp 1612 – 1652 (Joseph, the Butler and the Baker) (painting 1630-52)1
Show Jesus’ light within you through love and compassion to strangers in need. According to Paul, the advantage in being a Jew was that God had blessed them with the Law (Ro. 3:1-2). God intended for them to be a light to the nations (Is. 49:6). All those who responded by blessing God’s people would in turn be blessed (Gen. 12:3). Jesus is the light of the world today (Jo. 8:12). His light burns inside you as a beacon for those around you (Matt. 5:14). You are further commanded to share the hope that lies within you with gentleness (1 Pet. 3:15; Matt. 28:19-20). When you are focused on others instead of yourself, you represent His light: “This is one of the keys to living like Jesus: being an others-centered person. Joseph could have justified certain self-centeredness in his life (I have to take care of myself right now), but he did not.” (David Guzik on Gen. 40). God is “compassionate” to you (Dt. 4:31). Does your obedience to God make you stand out to others as a beacon of love and compassion? Do people look at you and wonder how you stay content under stress?
Love for those around you should also flow from your transformation in Christ. Like Joseph in prison, each person is expected to give from the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives: “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you.” (Dt. 16:17). Of all the gifts of the Spirit, love is the greatest: “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13). As an outgrowth of love, you should be motivated to give freely to those in need: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (Ja. 1:27). You should also give cheerfully, not out of obligation: “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7). Is your heart filled with love for those around you? Are you giving cheerfully to those in need?
Showing justice and compassion is more important than other aspects of the Law. Jesus condemned those who claimed to follow the Law but failed to show justice and compassion: “For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” (Lk. 11:42). “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” (Matt. 23:23). Are you ignoring the weightier matters of the Law?
Believers will be held to account for their treatment of the less fortunate. God’s commandments regarding justice and compassion cannot be casually ignored. On the Day of Judgment, Jesus will ask what each person did for the poor and the needy: “I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt. 25:40). Are you helping the less fortunate? Have you done anything for the needy in the last year?
God blesses those who help the poor and defenseless. A believer should never do good motivated by the promise of a reward. Yet, for those who show justice, kindness, and compassion for the less fortunate, God promises to bless them: “How blessed is he who considers the helpless; the LORD will deliver him in a day of trouble.” (Ps. 41:1). “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed.” (Prov. 19:17). Are you missing out on the blessing of joy that comes from serving others?
Joseph’s faith that God could use him to interpret dreams for others. Joseph knew that God was with him. Although he had never previously interpreted the dreams of other people, he accepted in faith that God would allow him to do so: “8 Then they said to him, ‘We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.’ Then Joseph said to them, ‘Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.’” (Gen. 40:8). God had previously given Joseph two dreams about his family and others bowing to him (Gen. 37:5-11). His own father rejected his interpretation, and his brothers mocked him (Gen. 37:19-20). His status as a former slave and now prisoner might have suggested that he was wrong in his prior interpretations, and that he had no business interpreting dreams. Indeed, applying the Law given through Moses, the Jews would have rejected him at the time as a false prophet. “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” (Dt. 18:22). The penalty for false prophecy was further death (Dt. 18:20). Joseph, however, did not let his circumstances cause his faith to waiver. He later showed the same faith in God to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams: “Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (Gen. 41:16). Daniel would later show the same faith in God to interpret the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar: “However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days. This was your dream and the visions in your mind while on your bed.” (Dan. 2:28). God also wants you to serve Him in faith, even in areas where you have no direct prior experience.
Alexander Ivanov 1806 – 1858 (Joseph, the Butler and the Baker) (painting 1827)2
Have faith in God’s ability to use you as well. Faith is defined as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1). If you lack faith, any service that you may perform for God is not Spirit-led. Service done without faith will also not be pleasing to Him: “For without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb. 11:6). The great leaders of the Bible were celebrated because of their faith. For example, Abraham sinned many times. But he is celebrated for his first test of faith in responding to God’s calling to leave the world behind and come to the Promised Land (Gen. 12:4-5; Heb. 11:8). He is also celebrated for his last test of faith when he was called upon to offer up his only son as a sacrifice (Gen. 22:9-12; Heb. 11:17-19). Have you responded in faith to His call to serve?
Faith without works is dead. The great leaders of the Bible also had a faith that was alive and acted out through their good works. “But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;” (Jam. 2:20-22). Is your faith evidenced by acts of devotion and love for others? If not, it is dead.
Have faith that God is with you in your darkest hours. The only promise that Joseph had from God was the dream of his family and others bowing to him (Gen. 37:5-11). Even in prison, that was enough to keep his faith alive. God also will never leave you nor forsake you: “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” (Dt. 31:6; Heb. 13:5). He can never forget you in your adversity: “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.” (Is. 49:15-16). Do you have faith in God in your darkest hours?
Joseph’s words of hope for the cupbearer and hope in his own deliverance. Joseph interpreted the cupbearer’s dream with a word of hope that he would be freed and restored in three days: “9 So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, ‘In my dream, behold, there was a vine in front of me; 10 and on the vine were three branches. And as it was budding, its blossoms came out, and its clusters produced ripe grapes. 11 Now Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; so I took the grapes and squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.’ 12 Then Joseph said to him, ‘This is the interpretation of it: the three branches are three days; 13 within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you will put Pharaoh’s cup into his hand according to your former custom when you were his cupbearer.” (Gen. 40:9-13). Each part of the dream symbolized the hope in Christ that you are to share with others.
Joseph interpreted the cupbearer’s dream3
The foreshadow of Christ in Joseph’s words of encouragement. The multiple references to groups of three refers to Christ. There was a vine and three branches. They were “budded”, “blossomed,” and “ripped.” (Gen. 40:10). The cupbearer “took”, “squeezed,” and “placed.” (Gen. 40:11). The branch from the vine with fruit that blossoms also symbolizes believers in Christ and the fruit of the Spirit: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (Jo. 15:5). The cup placed in Pharaoh’s hands symbolizes the cup of life that is available to all sinners: “for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 26:28). If Joseph foreshadowed Christ, the two prisoners with him foreshadowed the two prisoners who were crucified to die with Jesus. One believed, and the other did not. For the one who believed, Christ promised the hope of eternal life: “But the other answered, and rebuking him said, ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’ And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’” (Lk. 23:40-43). Is your faith in Him visible and alive in your life?
Offer the hope of Christ, not hope in the world. Joseph gave hope to the cupbearer that the king would spare his life: “In the light of a king’s face is life, and his favor is like a cloud with the spring rain.” (Prov. 16:15). The hope that you have to offer comes from the King of Kings, not any mighty person. “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?” (Ro. 8:24). “for we walk by faith, not by sight-- we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:7-8). Are you giving the hope in Christ to others?
Give the hope of Christ to others suffering with problems you have already dealt with. Some of the most effective evangelism has come from believers who have suffered and can share how Christ delivered them. Paul’s witness while behind bars is the best example of this. “What a striking parallel is to be found in the New Testament in the life of the apostle Paul. Paul had been falsely accused and thrown into prison because of these charges. While in confinement, the apostle penned an epistle to the saints at Philippi. His great concern was not for himself, but it was for those to whom he had earlier preached the gospel. The first eleven verses record the substance of his prayer life on their behalf. Paul could have shared many unpleasant details of his imprisonment, but he did not. Even the preaching of some out of impure motives caused him to rejoice because the gospel was nonetheless being proclaimed (Philippians 1:15-18). Far from hindering the work of God, Paul’s imprisonment accelerated it. It gave other Christians the courage and confidence to boldly proclaim their faith (1:14). And it also enabled the gospel to be proclaimed throughout the entire praetorian guard (1:13). Is it any wonder, then, that in the concluding verses of this epistle Paul could write, ‘All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household’ (Philippians 4:22). At the time of his conversion, Saul was told of God’s purposes for his life: ‘But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake’’ (Acts 9:15-16). Caesar’s household was reached with the good news of the gospel, but in a way that Paul would never have expected and some Christians refuse to accept—through unjust suffering. The most humble circumstances are the occasion of some of God’s greatest works. . . . The biblical key to success is found nowhere else than in the epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).” (Bob Deffinbaugh, Genesis: From Paradise to Patriarchs, 40. How to Get Out of the Pits (Genesis 40:1-23) (2004) Bible.org). If Christ has delivered you from cancer, a divorce, the death of a loved one, an addiction, job loss, or some other tragedy, are you giving the hope of Christ’s deliverance to those suffering from the same problems?
To find your life in Christ, you must lose your earthly one. Joseph became an effective representative for God after he lost everything that he valued in the world. Like Joseph, you must lose your worldly life to find your spiritual one: “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 10:39; 16:25). “‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’” (Luke 9:23; Mark 8:34). Paul later realized that his prior accomplishments were nothing compared to the value of his relationship with Christ: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” (Phil. 3:7; Heb. 13:13). Do you value the things of this world or the things of God?
Joseph’s petition for remembrance. It was common for those who ran jails to demand payment for special treatment (cf. Acts 24:26). Joseph only asked that the cupbearer remember Joseph to free him from his wrongful captivity: “ 14 Only keep me in mind when it goes well with you, and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh and get me out of this house. 15 For I was in fact kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon.” (Gen. 40:14-15). Joseph did not ask for money. There also was no sin in Joseph’s simple request that the cupbearer “remember” him. Yet, if the cupbearer had freed Joseph, the credit for Joseph’s freedom might have gone to him, not God. Joseph made the mistake in placing his hope in a powerful official instead of in God. God wanted Joseph to petition Him for His remembrance: “If I am still alive, will you not show me the lovingkindness of the LORD, that I may not die?” (1 Sam. 20:14). He wants you to do the same when you are in need.
God’s “remembrance” of His covenant. After God destroyed Noah’s world, He remained faithful to His covenant with Noah: “1 But God remembered Noah; …” (Gen. 8:1(a)). Later, He repeated to Noah: “I will remember My covenant,” (Gen. 9:15). The Hebrew word “zakar” or “remember” does not mean that God is forgetful. Instead, the term signifies His faithfulness to His covenant. He later used this term to signify His faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham: “ . . . God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot lived.” (Gen. 19:29(b)). He also later used this term to signify His faithfulness to Jews after they suffered through 400 years of captivity in Egypt: “So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Ex. 2:24). “For He remembered His holy word with Abraham His servant;” (Ps. 105:42). Unlike the cupbearer in this account, God is always faithful to remember His promises. Do you trust in His faithfulness to deliver you?
Remember His covenant and avail yourself of it through faithfulness. The term “zakar” also signifies the faithfulness that God expected from His people: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Ex. 20:8). When the Jews turned to Him, He “remembered” His covenant with them: “then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land.” (Lev. 26:42, 45). When you are in need, do you turn to Him to receive His blessings?
Pray as an intercessor for His “remembrance”. God also invites you to call upon His covenant when praying for others by asking for His “remembrance.” For example, Moses prayed for God’s people by invoking His covenant with the Jews: “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” (Ex. 32:13). His covenant is always available to you or others when you pray for them: “He has remembered His covenant forever, his word which He commanded to a thousand generations,” (Ps. 105:8). Do you ask God to remember His covenant when others are suffering around you?
Pray incessantly with faith when faced with problems. Finally, if you are praying with doubt, don’t expect your prayers to be answered any time soon. “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” (Jam. 1:6). Are your prayers filled with conviction or doubt?
Joseph’s warning of impending judgment for the chief baker. Unlike the cupbearer, Joseph warned the chief baker that he would die shortly: “16 When the chief baker saw that he had interpreted favorably, he said to Joseph, ‘I also saw in my dream, and behold, there were three baskets of white bread on my head; 17 and in the top basket there were some of all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, and the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.’ 18 Then Joseph answered and said, ‘This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days; 19 within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head from you and will hang you on a tree, and the birds will eat your flesh off you.’” (Gen. 40:16-19). The Bible does not say what crime the baker committed. The Targum of Jonathan, a Jewish interpretive text, alleges that there was a conspiracy to poison Pharaoh. Because the cupbearer and the baker served him his food and drinks, they were the prime suspects. Without God’s mercy and grace, the wicked will perish: “The fury of a king is like messengers of death, but a wise man will appease it.” (Prov. 16:14). “The king’s wrath is like the roaring of a lion, but his favor is like dew on the grass.” (Prov. 19:12). Like Joseph, believers must never shy away from telling the truth. This is true even if the truth of judgment may offend others.
The foreshadow of judgment for the branches not connected to Christ. In the first dream, there were three branches connected to the vine. In the second dream, there were three baskets filled with baked bread. Both the baskets and the bread symbolize the accomplishments of mankind. Yet, unlike the branches in the first dream, the baskets were not connected to the vine. Instead, they rested on the head of the baker. This symbolizes the people who rest on the pride of their own accomplishments. Jesus warns that any branch that is not rooted in Him is of no use in His Kingdom and will be discarded. “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” (Jo. 15:6). “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt. 7:19). In the Bible, scavenger birds were a common sign of judgment upon the wicked (Jer. 34:20; Ezek. 39:17-20; Rev. 19:17-18). The bird who snatches the Word from those who do not understand it symbolizes the devil: “Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved.” (Lk. 8:12). In Abraham’s vision, he dispersed the scavengers (Gen. 15:11). By contrast, the baker lacked faith and could not guard the food (e.g., 2 Sam. 21:10; Jer. 7:33). This suggests that the baker was negligent in failing to protect the Pharaoh’s food from the plot against him. Like the baker, all who lack faith and rest on their own accomplishments will be at the mercy of the devil.
Joseph warned the chief baker of his impending judgment4
All have fallen short. Like the chief baker, all have fallen short and are worthy of judgment. “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.” (Ecc. 7:20; Ro. 3:23). Like the chief baker, all need the warning of God’s judgment.
Warning others of impending judgment gives them a chance to repent. Joseph could have said nothing or falsely comforted the Baker. But Joseph’s warning was an act of compassion. He told the baker that he had three days to live. He was giving the baker the chance to repent. Like Joseph, you also have advance knowledge that many people around us will die (Rev. 20:4-6; 12-15). Will you show compassion by warning them?
Restoration requires repentance. Moses later told the Jews to “return” to God (Dt. 30:2). This meant that he was telling them to repent. “Return” is the Hebrew verb “shuv.” This same word appears as part of the noun repentance or “teshuvah.” Throughout the Bible, God taught that restoration was always preceded by true repentance. Repentance involves turning back to God, not just a quick apology without a real change in behavior: “For if you return “shuv” to the LORD, your brothers and your sons will find compassion before those who led them captive and will return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate, and will not turn His face away from you if you return to Him.” (2 Chr. 30:9). Before Jesus began His public ministry, John the Baptist also preached: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:2). Repentance was also an important part of Jesus’ teaching. After He began His public ministry, repentance was His first message: “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matt. 4:17). He also preached: “‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mark 1:15). Even when just one sinner repents and returns to God, there is great joy in heaven: “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10). Today, many churches give altar calls while soft pedaling the need to first repent. Yet, this is not the example that the Bible gives us. A person who is ready to repent must count the cost (Luke 14:28) and understand that they are committing to a real change in behavior from the flesh to the Spirit through Christ. Are you preaching to sinners the need to repent of their sins?
God’s faithfulness in fulfilling His promises, and cupbearer’s abandonment of Joseph. God showed that His word always comes true. He remained faithful to fulfill each prophecy that He gave Joseph. Yet, although God remained faithful to his word, the cupbearer forgot Joseph when he returned to Pharaoh’s court: “20 Thus it came about on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. 21 He restored the chief cupbearer to his office, and he put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand; 22 but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had interpreted to them. 23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” (Gen. 40:20-23). Only by God’s mercy and grace would Joseph be freed from prison and elevated before Pharaoh. This underscores a recurring theme. God’s people must put their trust in Him, not in people.
Don’t place your trust in people of influence, wealth, or power to deliver you. Like Joseph, many of the great leaders in the Bible had their friends and family abandon them in their hour of need. For example, Job’s family and friends abandoned him during his suffering: “My relatives have failed, and my intimate friends have forgotten me.” (Job 19:14). David’s friends also at one point abandoned him: “I am forgotten as a dead man, out of mind; I am like a broken vessel.” (Ps. 31:12). “But there was found in it a poor wise man and he delivered the city by his wisdom. Yet no one remembered that poor man.” (Ecc. 9:14). The apostles also abandoned Jesus after He was arrested and faced His crucifixion.
Trust in God to deliver you from your suffering. If any honest person were in Joseph’s shoes, they would think that all hope was lost at this point. Yet, you must always trust that God has a plan for you: “As it was, however, the wise and creative Lord, who like a fine craftsman knew how long the gold should be kept in the fire and when it ought be taken out, allowed forgetfulness to affect the chief cupbearer for a period of two years so that the moment of Pharaoh’s dreams should arrive and that by force of circumstances the good man should become known to the whole of Pharaoh’s kingdom.” (Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis, 63.11-12; quoted in Kenneth Mathews, “The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture” Genesis 1-11:26, Vol. 1B, (B&H Publishing Group Nashville Tenn. 2005) p. 744). “All men God uses greatly, He first prepares greatly. Few are willing to endure the greatness of God's preparation. God orders both our steps and stops.” (David Guzik on Gen. 40).5 Will you wait on His timing?
Don’t be like the cupbearer. Many may not like to admit it. Yet, believers frequently treat the Lord the way the cupbearer treated Joseph: “Let us not forget the sufferings, promises, and love of our Redeemer. We blame the chief butler’s ingratitude to Joseph, yet we ourselves act much more ungratefully to the Lord Jesus. Joseph had but foretold the chief butler’s enlargement, but Christ wrought out ours; he mediated with the King of Kings for us; yet we forget him, though often reminded of him, and though we have promised never to forget him.” (Mathew Henry on Gen. 40). Have you taken what Christ did for you for granted?
Trust God and lean not your own understanding. Even when all seems lost, you must learn to trust God and not rely upon your own understanding: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5; 28:26; Ps. 62:8; Is. 26:4). If Joseph had not interpreted the dreams of the cupbearer, Joseph never would have had the chance to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh. Pharaoh would then have never had a reason to elevate Joseph. Joseph would then not have had an opportunity to save and reunite his family. When you are facing a doubt, do you trust in God in faith?
Your trust in God includes being content with the circumstances where He has placed you. What made Joseph’s faith so remarkable is that he did not complain. He wanted to get out of jail. But he was content with God’s calling in his life. While in jail, Paul wrote: “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” (Phil. 4:11-12). He also wrote “10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Will you serve Jesus with contentment, even when He calls you to an uncomfortable place?