************ Sermon on ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on
"The Cupbearer and the Baker"
"Brubaker" is the name of a 1980 movie staring Robert Redford. The movie follows Henry Brubaker, a new warden who has been hired to modernize and reform Wakefield Prison. Brubaker pretends to be a prisoner, mixes with the general population, and discovers widespread corruption:
-local businesses that use prisoners as slave labor
-local business that use shoddy materials in the prison itself, resulting in the collapse of a roof
-unsanitary conditions in the kitchen, including food tainted with weevils and vermin
-prisoners being forced to consume inferior food products because the prisoners' food was sold on the black market
-Brubaker's investigations culminate in the discovery of a mass of unmarked graves which he believes belong to inmates who had been reported as escapees
This movie – and the book it was based upon – brought national attention to issues such as prisoner abuse, inhumane conditions in prisons, and the need for modernization.
I God was with Joseph in Prison
A Joseph, too, was in prison but by the providence of God he was not put in Egypt's worst prison. We learn in chapter 39 that he was in the King's prison. In that prison Joseph was what we would call a prison trustee and thus he had more freedom than most prisoners and possibly better food. Yet, do not make the mistake of romanticizing his stay in prison.
We know Joseph was sold into slavery at the age of seventeen; we know he was appointed governor of Egypt at the age of thirty. We aren't told how many of the intervening years were spent in the service of Potiphar versus the precise amount of time spent in prison. Whatever its exact length, the opening words of our Scripture reading – "some time later" – implies Joseph spent a great deal of time in prison.
We also know Joseph was in chains when not carrying out his appointed duties. Verse 3 of our Bible translation indicates Joseph was "confined" but a better translation would be "bound." This translation is confirmed by what the psalmist says about Joseph:
(Ps 105:18-19) They bruised his feet with shackles, his neck was put in irons, (19) till what he foretold came to pass, till the word of the LORD proved him true.
When the king's cupbearer and baker were put in prison Joseph was given a demotion. He was assigned to serve these two royal officials in the same way as he earlier served Potiphar (Gen 40:4; 39:4).
So, Joseph was not put in a nice place. And, his time of service there was no picnic.
B When we step back and take the broader view, we notice that Joseph's entire life was a cycle of demotion and promotion. He began as the favorite of his father Jacob, loved over all his brothers (Gen 37:3). But his brothers treacherously sold him into slavery (Gen 37:28). Then he rose up to be the favorite of Potiphar, in command of all the household of his master (Gen 39:1-4). But he was slanderously accused of rape and thrown into prison (Gen 39:20). Once again Joseph rose up to be the favorite – this time of the warden – and was put in charge of all the prisoners (Gen 39:21-23). Then he was demoted and assigned to look after the cupbearer and baker (Gen 40:4). After this he was delivered from this downward spiral to be elevated as the favorite of Pharaoh, ruling all of Egypt (Gen 41:40-41).
During the outworking of the cycles of his rising and falling, Moses notes that every change in Joseph's position also meant a change in clothing. His father gave Joseph a beautiful coat, but his brothers stripped it off him and used his garment to deceive his father (Gen 37:23,31-33). Similarly, Potiphar's wife stripped Joseph of his garment and used it to deceive his master (Gen 39:12,16-18). And later in Genesis, when Joseph was summoned by Pharaoh, the text notes that he first changed his clothes (Gen 41:14); and, when Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of Egypt, he gave him robes of fine linen (Gen 41:43). What is Moses point? His point is that Joseph put on and put off humiliation and exaltation in the same way as he put on and put off the various changes in clothing. In this way Joseph points forward to Christ Who also experienced humiliation and exaltation. But Joseph also points forward to the message of baptism and what happens to you and me in Christ: rags of sin exchanged for robes of righteousness.
C As I mentioned last time, Genesis 39 makes a big point of emphasizing that "the Lord was with Joseph." This is such a big and important deal that it is mentioned four times (Gen 39: 2,3,21,23). The Lord was with Joseph in grace, Spirit, and kindness. "The Lord was with him." God was there in the good times. True, he was a slave, but still life was generally good.
When life is good, when we are able to count our many blessings and name them one by one, when there is an abundance of provision and security in life, it is reasonable for us to reach the same conclusion as Moses: God is with us.
Now, does this mean God is not with us when bad times happen? Does this mean God is absent from Joseph's life when his brothers threw him into the pit and sold him into slavery? Does this mean God is absent when Mrs. Potiphar accused Joseph of sexual harassment and attempted rape? Does this mean God is absent when Joseph was thrown into prison and demoted to serving the cupbearer and baker? Does this mean God is absent when Joseph languished in prison day after day and year after year?
Is this the conclusion we are to reach when we or a loved one are diagnosed with cancer and suffer through its treatment? When we face financial hardship? When our family is falling apart? When we take no pleasure in our work? When the power of sin and temptation afflict us? When we sink into depression? When we are deserted by friends and family? When the pressures of life seem overwhelming? Does all of this, does any of this, mean God is absent from us? Do we conclude, as do the friends of Job, that God must be against us?
Moses, in writing the account of Joseph, has a unique perspective. When things turn dark, when times become bad, what are we to think of God's promises to be with His children? It is one thing to reason that God is with us when times are good. It is another to conclude the very same thing when things are going badly. And yet, this is precisely what Moses does. Moses uses the exact same language as before: "the Lord was with him" (Gen 39:21). God was with Joseph in the bad times as well as the good times.
Take the long view and you will see that God had a purpose in mind. Joseph as a slave ends up in Potiphar's house. Joseph in Potiphar's house ends up in the king's prison. Joseph in the king's prison interprets the dream of the cupbearer. Therefore Joseph is the right man in the right place at the right time when Pharaoh is losing sleep due to a recurring dream. God is weaving a plan. In this plan Joseph is raised to a position of leadership and rescues the covenant family from famine. Joseph's time in prison is part of the unfolding of the greater plan of redemption in Christ that we find in the pages of Scripture. This leads us to the words of the song writer:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform.
He plants his footsteps in the sea
and rides upon the storm.
His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour.
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.
D Learn from Joseph, congregation. Notice, Joseph does not waver in giving faithful service. No matter the work he was given to do – slave in Potiphar's house, overseer of the prison, attendant to the cupbearer and baker – Joseph continued to serve others and wait on the Lord.
In his life we see Joseph living out a faithful response to the providence of God. Question 28 of the Catechism asks, "How does the knowledge of God's creation and providence help us?" The answer:
We can be patient when things go against us,Joseph certainly had a lot of things go wrong in his life. Yet, he remained patient, thankful, and confident.
thankful when things go well,
and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love.
We should expect nothing less from any of God's people. So, let me ask, do you always strive to do your best as though you were working for the Lord and not for men (Col 3:23)? Do you wait patiently upon the Lord as Joseph did and endure through many dangers, toils, and snares?
The only way you can do this, the only way Joseph can do this, is by having faith in the steadfast love of God. That is the only thing that kept Joseph going. That is the only thing that keeps us going because we know nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (cf Rom 8:35-39).
II God Interprets Two Dreams
A We see Joseph's belief in God's directing hand as he listens to the personal problems of the cupbearer and baker. It is this belief that allows Joseph to be a man of compassion. He notices that the two officials are dejected. So he asks for the reason. Most people in his position would keep their heads lowered and their eyes averted. However, Paul tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn (Rom 12:15). That is exactly what Joseph does in our Bible reading. Even though he was in prison for years now, Joseph is not filled with self-pity. He looks beyond himself to the needs of others and is concerned to relieve their sadness.
Such empathy is required of God's people, and it must be evident in our own lives (Col 3:12). In this way we mirror Christ Who sympathizes with us in our weaknesses (Heb 2:18; 4:14-16). The comfort that God in Christ gives us in all our troubles we are to use to comfort others in trouble (2 Cor 1:3-11). When you suffer, ask God to use the experience so that, like Joseph, you can show compassion to others.
B Now, Moses tells us the cupbearer and baker each had a dream and each dream had a meaning of its own (Gen 40:5). It was believed back then that dreams were predictive of the future. Remember Joseph's dreams? Even though his brothers and father scoffed at them they rightly understood their meaning: that one day they would bow before Joseph (Gen 37:5-11).
Now, among the ancient Egyptians there was a special class of people trained to interpret dreams. In prison, however, the cupbearer and baker do not have access to professional interpreters. Joseph, however, has every confidence that God – Who interprets dreams (Gen 40:8) – is with him and will give him the meaning of the dreams. Thus, he confidently asks to hear the dreams. Notice Joseph's progress in sanctification, holiness, and humility? In his younger years, Joseph proudly and foolishly paraded his dreams and their meaning before his brothers and father. This time, a humble Joseph affirms the glory belongs to God.
C Go back for a moment to Joseph's dreams in Canaan. In the first, the sheaves of grain of his brothers bowed down before the sheaf of Joseph. In the second, the sun and moon and eleven stars – representing his father, mother, and brothers – bowed down to Joseph. Since those dreams Joseph has been sold into slavery, accused of rape, thrown into prison, shackled in chains, and demoted to serve two officials. You would think Joseph would no longer believe in prophetic dreams because his life was nothing like the promise of his dreams. Yet, in making his offer to the cupbearer and baker what is Joseph saying? Joseph is saying he still believed in prophetic dreams! In other words, in spite of all the adversity that had befallen him, Joseph still fully expected God to fulfil what was promised.
Many years later we see another Joseph. He, too, was given two prophetic dreams. The first told him to escape to Egypt. The second told him it was safe to return to Israel (cf Mt 2:13,19). Whether it was Joseph son of Jacob or Joseph father of Jesus the Lord worked through dreams so His people would be given bread in a time of desperate hunger (Jn 6:48).
D By the grace and Spirit of God Joseph is able to interpret the dreams of the cupbearer and baker. The baker is informed of his impending death. The cupbearer is informed that he will be released and restored to his position. Joseph follows up by asking the cupbearer to speak to the king and gain his release (Gen 40:14-15).
Joseph has faith in God. Joseph has faith that God has given him the right interpretation. Joseph has faith that the cupbearer will be released and will be in a position to help him. Even though his present condition seemed hopeless, Joseph has faith that God will remember His covenant so Joseph's situation will change for the better.
Joseph has faith in God. But this does not mean Joseph is a fatalist. He does not simply sit around waiting for one of the guards to set him free. Joseph understands God's providence well. Joseph knows that divine providence does not remove human responsibility. Joseph knows he must seize opportunities for the Kingdom (Esther 4:1ff; Mt 25:14-30; Acts 27:13ff). So he asked the cupbearer to remember him. Among Muslims a favorite saying is "Inshallah" – if Allah wills. This often becomes an excuse for doing nothing, for sitting idly by, so what will be will be. But Joseph is no fatalist. God calls us to preserve our lives, to protect ourselves, and to take responsible steps.
Our chapter ends on an ominous note. "The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him" (Gen 40:23). Joseph accurately interpreted the cupbearer's dream: the cupbearer was released from prison and restored to his position. However, like nine of the ten lepers (Lk 17), he failed to give thanks by working to secure Joseph's release.
What would you do in Joseph's situation? So often we join with David and cry out,
(Ps 13:1-3) How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (2) How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (3) Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;We cry out because of the seemingly endless wait that defines the Christian life. We know our present troubles are nothing in comparison with the weight of eternal glory that awaits God's people (2 Cor 4:17). We know God promises to bring to completion the good work He begins in us (Phil 1:6). But in the midst of our pain and suffering it seems like none of this will ever come. Encouraged by the saints, we know we must run the race of faith set before us (Heb 12:1-2). But the finish line can seem impossible to reach when trials continue to spring up as hurdles.
So, for two full years Joseph continued to languish in prison. It must have taken every fibre of his being to believe God had not forgotten him. However, we know Joseph did persevere. And, he looked past his sufferings and sought refuge in God's invisible hand (Gen 50:20). And we must do this as well as we face trials.
The prophet Isaiah informs us that the unthinkable may happen at times – a mother may forget her nursing baby (Is 49:15). But the Lord will never forget His people. Even when we do not see His helping hand, the Lord remembers us in our trials and afflictions. God was with Joseph. In the same way, congregation, rest assured that God in Christ is with you. Do not despair, no matter what is happening to you, for our sovereign God will never leave you nor forsake you. As Paul puts it,
(Rom 8:35,38-39) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ... (38) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, (39) neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
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