Summary: If you have ever been abandoned and disappointed by other people, if you have ever felt forgotten by God, Genesis 40 has a word for you.
(A few years ago, I called the IRS. I was really anxious to have them correct a mistake they’d made. They were saying I only had one daughter, when I knew perfectly well that I had two. In fact, the daughter they said didn’t exist was the one that was costing me the most money. All agents were busy and I was put on hold. My wait time was 7 minutes. There was no music or message and that was unsettling. Perhaps the line was dead. After waiting several minutes, I hung up and I called back. Wait time was 12 minutes. I sat there holding on to a silent phone waiting for a friendly voice.) I’m talking about those times when life is like that. You’re on hold. You don’t know how long the wait might be. You wonder: “Have I been forgotten?” That is a question that comes from those who are living in God’s story. This series is following the life of Joseph. He has gone from favorite son, to slave, to prisoner for a sex crime he didn’t commit. This young man—who had God-given dreams of greatness—now sits in a prison cell. He had to feel forgotten. But even as he spent day after day in prison, he was part of God’s great storyline. If you have ever been abandoned and disappointed by other people, if you have ever felt forgotten by God, this Scripture has a word for you.
Genesis 40 opens with Joseph as an inmate. He is a model prisoner, and is trusted by the warden and given responsibility. As years go by, two celebrities get tossed in to jail with him. They were two royal workers, the cupbearer and the baker, who had messed up and made the king mad. The cupbearer served the wine to the king. It was a position of influence and trust. The baker was like a head chef, also an important position. Somehow they had offended the king, maybe with a horrible meal and were thrown in prison.
V.4a Ever have one of those times when things couldn’t get any worse and then they do? That has been Joseph’s life so far. In total he will spend 13 years as a slave and in prison. And now, as a prisoner, he is assigned to serve two other prisoners. Can you imagine how he might feel? Life had been so good as the favorite of 12 sons with dreams of greatness. Now it just seems he’s been forgotten. But day after day he keeps attending these men.
V.5 I don’t know how much stock you place in dreams. I believe God certainly can and does still speak through dreams, but his word has priority. No dream from God will contradict what is said in Scripture. I’ve heard of many instances when God has spoken to Muslims through dreams, and that is how they have heard of salvation through Christ. (http://muslimjourneytohope.com) God may use dreams to comfort you or challenge you or get your attention. But as Ecc. 5:7 warns, beware of the person who is always having dreams. This is not the normal way God will speak.
Vv.6-7 Joseph notices the men looking sickly, pasty-faced. The dreams were so vivid they were frightened, wondering what it meant. But I am so impressed with Joseph’s question. Why are you so sad? The obvious answer would be, “Hey genius, look around. We’re in prison. We have no job. Life stinks.” It would have been easy for Joseph not to ask anything. He had problems enough of his own. He was in the same situation. Why should he care if they were unhappy? But even though he has every reason to feel forgotten, he actually ministers to others. Let me tell you what’s wrong with some of you today. Your prison of self-pity keeps you from noticing the needs of others. You are so wrapped up in your own problems, and your predicament, you don’t see anyone else’s. You are so focused on the injustice done to you, the pain you feel, the loss you’ve experienced, that you have no ability to appreciate the loss and pain of those around you. In fact, that prison of self-pity can keep me from realizing that the person next to me may be struggling with much more than I am. Joseph wasn’t blinded by self-pity. By ministering to the needs of these two fallen officials, Joseph shows how to live in God’s story, even when life is at its worst. Could you lift your eyes off of yourself today? Is there someone around who needs to have a caring question asked of them? “Why are you so sad? Are you hurting? Can I help? How are you doing really?”
V.8 If the officials still had their jobs they could have talked to the dream interpreters in Pharaoh’s court. They would have consulted the dream books. Those royal volumes listed the meaning of images from dreams. They could have looked up each of their dreams. But in prison they had no such help. Joseph is quick to point them in the right direction. Truth won’t come from a dream book, or an expert, but from someone willing to listen to God. I find this remarkable. If anyone had reason to doubt dreams from God, it was Joseph. He had dreams of greatness, and all that happened was misery. So far, his dreams have only brought jealousy, hatred, betrayal, slavery, and imprisonment. Despite that, he is ready and willing to minister to these two in God’s name. The cupbearer goes first: He dreamed of a vine with 3 branches. They blossomed and produced grapes. The cupbearer squeezed the grapes into Pharaoh’s cup and handed it to him. Joseph interprets: