So 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. As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened 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.” Then Joseph said to him, “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. Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.”
When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, “I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head, and 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.” And Joseph answered and said, “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.”
On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he made a feast for all his servants and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. – Genesis 40:9-23 ESV
Two men. Two dreams. Two diametrically opposite interpretations. The cupbearer to the king receives good news. His dream is a prophetic vision that he will be restored to his original position in the royal court. How did Joseph know this? As he stated earlier, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Genesis 40:8 ESV). God had somehow shown Joseph the meaning of the cupbearer’s cryptic dream. And God also gave Joseph the interpretation of the baker’s dream. But in this case, the news was anything but good. The baker was going to lose his head! His dream was going to turn into a nightmare that would end up with him being executed by order of the Pharaoh. Joseph does not provide a reason for this outcome. We are not told what crime the baker may have committed, but according to Joseph’s interpretation, the outcome of his dream is less-than-ideal.
But back to the cupbearer. The important thing to note in this passage is Joseph’s request that the cupbearer not forget about him when he gets restored to his position in Pharaoh’s court. All Joseph asks is that he remember what he has done. Like the cupbearer, Joseph is innocent and has been unjustly imprisoned. He simply wants an opportunity to explain his situation and appeal his sentence before Pharaoh himself. So he begs the cupbearer:
”Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.” – Genesis 40:14-15 ESV
But once again, Joseph’s hopes get dashed. The cupbearer gets restored to his position, just as Joseph predicted. But this chapter ends with a sad statement: “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (Genesis 40:23 ESV). This seems to sum up Joseph’s life. By now, his brothers had forgotten all about him. His father had most likely stopped mourning over him and gone on with his life. Potiphar probably hired someone else to run his household. Potiphar’s wife most likely turned her immoral attention to some other young man. And Joseph was all alone again. Or was he?
Up until this point, we have seen that everywhere Joseph went, God was with him. And while this chapter ends on a somber note, it does not mean that God had abandoned Joseph. In fact, everything that has happened so far has been the direct result of the sovereign hand of God. Nothing has been a coincidence. Nothing has happened as a result of fate. God has been directing Joseph’s life every step of the way. And all that has happened so far has been according to God’s timing. Joseph had been forgotten by the cupbearer, but not by God. Joseph remained in prison, but he was completely within the will of God. Even the cupbearer’s poor memory was part of God’s plan for Joseph’s life.
We will see in the next chapter that Joseph remains in prison for two full years. He will stay in his less-than-ideal circumstances as God works out the exact timing of His will concerning Joseph’s life. We are not told anything about Joseph’s life during that two year time period. We are given no details about his life in prison. Only that he waited. But while he waited, God was at work. Joseph was confined, but his God was not. Joseph was under all kinds of limitations, but not God. Our circumstances are never limiting to God. Our predicaments are never a problem for God. It would have been easy for Joseph to assume that he had been forgotten, not only by the cupbearer, but by God Himself. He probably had nights of despair. He more than likely had moments of doubt. We can easily assume he became angry at times and wondered what he had done to deserve such a fate. But regardless of Joseph’s moods or even the state of his faith in God, his heavenly Father was still at work. He had not forsaken or forgotten Joseph. Joseph was about to see his bad news transformed into really good news.