Joseph: Ongoing Opposition, Unwavering Integrity – Gen 40
Anybody have any weird dreams lately? What was the last dream you remember having? I had a weird dream this past week that our church service was held at like a really old church building. Now a few weeks ago I mentioned how I dreamed our church was taking place at the grocery store and I’d lost my sermon notes in the produce section. But this time our church was in a really old, beautiful church-and I remember being informed in the dream that this was something our church did once a year to help this church out-we went and did a combined service at this old church. We were all there. I remember seeing lots of us sitting up in the balcony. At the beginning of the service there was some singing and a few people were speaking-and before I was going to give the message I was really thirsty. And that was the real part about this dream. I had woken up in the middle of the night super thirsty-but not wanting to get out of bed to get a drink. Isn’t that always the struggle-do you stay under the warm covers or do you get up and get a drink of water? Well I stayed in bed and fell back asleep without getting a drink of water-so in my dream as the church service was going on-I realized I needed some water before the sermon. So I slipped out and then left the building-but right behind the church was this house so I went in there (because everybody likes random strangers coming in their house for a glass of water!) But it was this old, windy house with all sorts of stairways and rooms and multiple attics I had to climb through-and lots and lots of furniture! I was so puzzled and confused about how to get around the furniture-and all the while I kept thinking I’m supposed to be giving the sermon and I’m stuck behind this dresser in the attic trying to find the kitchen for a glass of water! Eventually I woke up and finally got a drink-but in the dreamworld they’re all still waiting for the sermon! But it was really weird-and I have no idea what it all means from a dream analysis perspective! I looked up the 10 most common dreams and what they supposedly reveal about us-and I’m sure we’ve all had some of these-Falling, Being chased, Meeting a celebrity, Taking an exam or losing your homework, Showing up late somewhere(my dream), Showing up at work but forgetting to get dressed, Driving an out of control car, Flying (and I’ve had that one), and Teeth falling out (haven’t had that one!) But dreams can be so weird-and yet in the moment so vivid. I don’t know about you-but there’s lots of times where I wake up from the most vivid dream that felt so important-but within seconds it’s faded from my mind and I can’t remember what it was or why it seemed so important? Have you had that happen? You know you dreamed something-but in the morning you can’t remember it at all.
This morning as we return to our series in the life of Joseph, we’re going to encounter some very weird, but very vivid dreams-and in this case they are remembered the next morning and with some very important implications. Open your Bibles to Genesis 40. And if you remember back from last week-Joseph had lots of ups and downs in his life. Initially he was chucked into the pit by his brothers, then he was sold off to some traveling gypsies, and they in turn sold him as a slave to Potiphar. Not the sort of thing a young man of 17 wants to aspire to-but things eventually seemed to take a turn in the right direction as Joseph was promoted to the head manager of Potiphar’s house. He rose to the top having great success and blessing from the Lord. But before too long Potiphar’s wife developed a little crush on Joseph-and it didn’t stay little because she started begging Joseph everyday to have an affair and sleep with her. Now Joseph faithfully and earnestly resisted her offer-he demonstrated unwavering integrity-but she goes on to lie about it saying it was Joseph’s advances-and Potiphar believes his wife and has Joseph chucked into prison. It’s like he can’t win-from the pit to the prison-and he hasn’t done wrong. Yet once again God was with Joseph-39:22-23. And that’s where we left off last week. Joseph is prospering in prison-not because he wants to be there-but because the Lord is there with him!
And right away we can see God’s sovereign hand at work. Joseph wasn’t the recipient of some good luck or in the right place at the right time. As we said-Joseph’s in a place where he doesn’t want to be at all-but God is orchestrating events according to His perfect plans. So Gen 40:1-4. We aren’t told how long some time is-but they’re right in the same place as Joseph. And these two guys-the baker and the cupbearer (I feel like there should have been a 3rd-the candlestick maker)-but these two guys were very high-profile prisoners. These weren’t just a couple of fellas working at the Cairo Diner-these were two guys with important jobs because they literally held Pharaoh’s life in their hands. The royal cupbearer was responsible for tasting and approving all the wine and drink before it came to Pharaoh. If someone was trying to poison Pharaoh the cupbearer would find out first. So if the cupbearer’s dead don’t drink the wine! And the royal baker was the main chef responsible for all the food that was served to Pharaoh. The text doesn’t specify what Pharaoh was angry about-so whether these guys were trying to poison him or Pharaoh suspected they were plotting something together or whether Pharaoh just had a stomach ache after dinner one night-either way these guys got tossed into prison. And look at how God uses something from Joseph’s past-v. 5. Immediately we recall the dreams from Joseph’s past. Remember how in his 1st dream his brothers were bowing down to him-and then in his 2nd dream his whole family was bowing down to him. So it was Joseph’s dreams that kicked this whole thing into motion-it was why his brothers threw him into the pit in the first place. But in God’s perfect timing, Joseph’s dream interpretation skills will be called upon again-v. 6-8.
So two things to notice-first look at Joseph’s care and concern for others-even when he’s in prison. Joseph doesn’t look at these two guys and say-Oh you look troubled-wait until you hear about my troubles-they’re way worse than yours! I’m rotting in this prison and haven’t done anything! He doesn’t say that. Joseph wasn’t so consumed with his own problems that it blinded him to others. Instead he was able to look out for the needs of others-in this case the prisoners under his care. Once again Joseph is showing his integrity both for his role in the prison and for being a godly person of compassion. But the second thing to notice is who Joseph highlighted-Don’t interpretations belong to God? This was very countercultural in Egypt-particularly because the oldest surviving fragment of dream interpretation was found in Egypt. Here’s a papyrus from around 1200 BC that was found near the Valley of the Kings. This is about 200 years after Joseph’s time-but gives us a great glimpse into the pagan culture of his time. It’s a page from what’s known as an Egyptian Dream Book. Each page of the papyrus begins with a vertical column of script which translates-If a man sees himself in a dream-and then in each horizontal line that follows, a common dream is described, and then the diagnosis ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is given, as well as the interpretation. Some examples from the page include-If a man sees himself dead that is good; it means a long life in front of him. If a man sees himself with his face in a mirror this is bad; it means a new life. If a man sees himself eating crocodile flesh this is good; it means serving as an official amongst his people (like a tax collector). Anybody dream about eating crocodile meat? But where the scholars of Joseph’s day would turn to dream books, here he is pointing to God. This is so important.
Pt1:Beliefs from the Bottom (Doctrine from the Dungeon): Confidence and Courage in God is our only hope. Here’s Joseph saying to the cupbearer-Tell me your dream because I’m trusting in God to give me the wisdom to interpret it. Now we know that Joseph is a famous, godly man from the Bible so we might easily conclude-of course that’s what Joseph would do, why wouldn’t he turn to God. But think about it this way-as we just said a moment ago-Joseph’s dreams of ruling over his brothers are what got him tossed into the pit in the first place-those dreams are what ultimately led him down this path in life to Egypt and now into prison. Don’t you think Joseph would be a bit jaded by that? Don’t you think Joseph would be the first guy to scoff at the idea of dreams and say to the cupbearer-I had some dreams once too-really vivid dreams in my life. You should see how they turned out-brought me right here to finish off my days in this dark dungeon. Good luck with your dreams-I’m done with mine. That would have been so easy for Joseph to say-because at this point in his life-his dreams are furtherest thing from being fulfilled. His brothers aren’t bowing down to him-Joseph was looking up to them from the pit, and now looking up from prison. He has every right to conclude that his dreams from God will never be fulfilled-and that his faith in God was frivolous and wasted-but he doesn’t do that-v. 8b. Joseph is still expressing his confidence and courage in God even while in prison-and I find that amazing and inspiring. I don’t know about you-but I would have been the doubting, despondent, glass is half-empty kind of guy in prison-what do dreams matter here, this dungeon is where you go to die! And while you and I aren’t physically in a dungeon or prison, you might feel like you’re there emotionally or spiritually. You may have had great dreams and high hopes in life-ways you felt God speaking to you and directing you, incredible things on the horizon-and somehow it turned out very differently. That what you thought life was going to look like and even the way you prayed about it is anything from what you’re experiencing now. I think Joseph would be the first to say-Don’t give it up, don’t toss in the towel, don’t grow discouraged or dejected-keep trusting God. That even in this prison let Him be your confidence and courage. Don’t fret or worry about broken dreams, instead just be faithful in the next thing He’s called you to do. And for Joseph that was to trust God and interpret some dreams.
So v. 9-11. As the royal cupbearer-he has a dream about a particular vine in a vineyard that produces some grapes super fast and then get pressed into a drink for Pharaoh. This was his occupation-so v. 12-13. Everything will go back to the way it was for you in 3 days. You’ll get out of prison and have your old job back of serving wine to Pharaoh. All will end well-which is exactly what the cupbearer wants to hear. This is a good dream! And so Joseph takes that opportunity to open up and share his heart-v. 14-15. Once again we’re are reminded of the unjust circumstances in Joseph’s life. He’s telling the cupbearer about his unwavering integrity-I’ve done nothing wrong-and yet here I am-stuck in this place unfairly accused. You’re on your way out-can you do me the favor of sharing my story so I can get out too? What an honest and heartfelt request-and we’re left thinking-Yea, that makes sense. Who wouldn’t put in a good word for Joseph-especially after he’s helped the cupbearer out and given him such good news? But next comes the baker’s dream-v. 16a-because he’s thinking-I like this Joseph-hopefully he’s telling me I’m getting out of here too! This could be our lucky day! v. 16b-17. These crazy birds were eating the cakes on my head-but I was swatting them away because I had baked some good stuff for Pharaoh-his favorite recipes! v. 18-19. Ouch! Can’t imagine that resonated well with the baker-Are you sure about that Joseph? The cupbearer is getting his old job back and I’m getting beheaded? Can I tell you the dream again-maybe you got it wrong or missed what I was saying. And you have to give Joseph credit for his courage because both of these guys are his ticket out of here. Both of these guys can be his advocate to Pharaoh asking for his release-so how tempting would it have been to just make something up or only tell him part of the truth?Yeah, you’re getting out of this prison too buddy! Your dream was good-if you’ve got anything on your bucket list I would do it-and watch out for those birds! But Joseph doesn’t skirt the truth or tell him half truths or lie about his dream just to save himself. As one Bible commentator said-Joseph was a man who told the truth. He wasn’t winning friends but he was representing God. I think Joseph embodies Paul’s words from Gal 1:10. And that’s exactly what Joseph is in this prison-a servant of Christ. He’s faithfully following God and serving Him in a place where few would. Back to Pt1. That’s who Joseph is clinging to-even when having to say some hard things.
Look at v. 20-22. So it all came true-just as Joseph interpreted. Both men got out-one got his job reinstated and the other was forced into early retirement! The cupbearer’s head was lifted up in honor, and the baker’s head was lifted off! Joseph’s confidence and courage in God proved true. God hadn’t let him down with the interpretations-they were exactly as He said-so now it was time for the cupbearer to not let Joseph down. And it’s easy to imagine Joseph walking with the cupbearer to the door of the prison on the day of his release, shaking hands, the cupbearer thanking him for the encouragement, and Joseph saying again-Be sure to put in a good word about me to Pharaoh-and the cupbearer saying-Absolutely, you got it buddy! First thing I’ll do! But what actually happens? It was the first thing he forgot-v. 23. Those three words are devastating to Joseph-and yet it’s something he wouldn’t have initially known about until it finally and painfully sunk in. Think of how excited Joseph feels the next day after the cupbearer’s release-This is the day of my release, anytime now I’m sure a messenger from Pharaoh will come with news of my pardon. Maybe the prison door was opened and Joseph eagerly came running-thinking the cupbearer had talked to Pharaoh on his behalf-only to find out the door was opened for some other reason. But Joseph is still expectant. So a day passes, then a few more days pass-and still no news of his pardon or messenger from Pharaoh. Maybe Joseph begins to make excuses on behalf of the cupbearer-I’m sure he’s busy getting reacquainted with his family and friends-they probably had a welcome home party for him, maybe he took a little vacation to unwind from prison, no doubt he’s busy getting back to work or just waiting for the right time to talk to Pharaoh about me. It’ll happen-I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten me. But as the weeks, and even the months go by, as winter sets in Joseph is forced to accept the reality that’s been lurking in the back of his mind, the conclusion he’s tried so hard to ignore-I have been forgotten-the cupbearer didn’t say a word about me to Pharaoh-and now I’m stuck here!
Imagine what it’s like when that reality sinks in! This was the big break he was looking for, the very thing he’d been earnestly praying about-O Lord, please open a door to get me out of this prison-for I know you can. And this seemed like the answer, this was that open door-and yet it slammed shut and remained closed. Pt2:Beliefs from the Bottom (Doctrine from the Dungeon): Crushing disappointments can only be handled by faith. What else does Joseph have at this point? Where else can he turn to than faith in his God who knows best-despite this stinging blow! Let me ask you-have there been some doors you thought God was opening in your life, things you’d prayed about for so long-and it seemed like they were on the verge of being answered, right at your fingertips-only to be slammed shut in your face? We’ve all had crushing disappointments in life, moments of devastation where it felt like the end-all is hopeless. I think the words are so fitting from Ps 42:3. Maybe that’s what the other prisoners still locked up with Joseph are saying to him. Aren’t you the godly guy around here? Where’s your God now? Doesn’t seem like He’s all that helpful or loving as you’re still stuck here! Seems like your God’s forgotten you! Or maybe those were the very thought that plagued Joseph’s mind. Ps 42:5, 8-9a. This is where Joseph’s at-and maybe you’re there too-wondering why God’s forgotten you, why He seems to have wandered away and ignored your problems while busy rescuing others. Yes, you know His love is steadfast and that He’s your rock-but right now you feel forgotten and wonder why. This is a very honest question to ask God-especially when you look at the the opening phrase of the next chapter-41:1a. Let that statement sink in! Joseph has already been in prison for a while, he’s already risen through the ranks and been put in charge of the other prisoners. He’s been faithful to God-but instead of being remembered and rewarded for it, he’s overlooked and forgotten-and for a long time. This phrase is written very intentionally-two whole years or if you have the NIV two full years. In Joseph’s words-two long, seemingly never-ending years. Just think back to what you were doing 2 years ago. Monica and I weren’t even living here. Two years is a long time-and while we know how Joseph’s story eventually turns out and all that he accomplishes-at this juncture of the story he doesn’t. All he knows is that the cupbearer has forgotten him-and there hasn’t been another knock on the door for 2 whole years!
If you can remember back to 8th grade English class at school-there’s the concept of the Hero’s Journey. It’s a chart where you can trace the story of lots of characters from literature or film. It’s the common story arc in which the hero receives his/her call to adventure, the idea that there’s something big on the horizon, something they must do or are called to accomplish-and so the journey begins. And in many stories that’s the journey to a new land or a new place. Bilbo Baggins was called by Gandalf out of the Shire into the wild lands of Middle Earth. Luke Skywalker was called from his life as a farm boy on Tatooine to join Ben Kenobi to fight Darth Vader and the evil Empire. Or Rey was called from obscurity on Jakuu to the fight the First Order. Dorothy was called out from Kansas by Galinda to begin a journey in the Land of Oz to go see the Wizard. Or even Katniss Everdeen was called out from District 12 into the dangerous world of the Hunger Games. But for each of the those characters, at some point in their Hero Journey they reach what literature calls the Abyss. And that’s more of a place they fall into then somewhere they willingly arrive at-but this is the place in the story where they hit rock bottom, the place where they feel like all is lost and their once heroic call has come to a crashing halt and they’re done for. This is when Luke Skywalker has his hand cut off and finds out Darth Vader is his father. He literally plummets down through the abyss of Cloud City thinking he’s done for and failed, that the Dark Side has won. That’s where Joseph is at. His once great call to adventure-the dreams God gave him of being a ruler, his coat of many colors-and even his subsequent journey to Egypt have finally landed him here in this place. As we said, God has great things in store for him to accomplish-big things on the horizon for Joseph-but at this point he can’t see that at all. Here he is in the Abyss-and not just sitting there-but stuck there, forgotten for 2 whole years! What did Joseph do? Give up? Quit? Throw in the towel?
In the Abyss comes growth, in literature it’s the place of rebirth and rebuilding. And that’s exactly what happens in Joseph’s life. As one writer said-between the end of chapter 40 and the beginning of chapter 41 we have the real maturing of Joseph-and he called it the white space in our Bible. That’s exactly what it is. White space that spans two long, hard years for Joseph. What happens in the white space? I wish we had the memoirs of Joseph to tell us. How did his heart and mind process it? What was he thinking? How did he pray? We’re not told that-but we sure see the results when Joseph emerges as a mature, godly man; someone of great character and unwavering integrity. That’s because God used those two years in a profound way to shape Joseph-just like God shaped Moses in the wilderness, like He shaped Job through his sufferings, David was shaped by his years of running from Saul, Jonah was shaped in the belly of the fish, Daniel shaped by God in the lion’s den. Crucial, integral moments when God’s people are in the pit, the Abyss, literally in prison-in order to be molded and shaped by God. Look at James 1:2-4. I think this is how Joseph faced those 2 years. Talk about a trial to endure! His faith was tested-he had to develop perseverance over that length of time. And he emerges as a mature and godly man. So here’s what Joseph would say-Pt3:Beliefs from the Bottom (Doctrine from the Dungeon): Character is built in the mundane, meaningless parts of life when no one is looking.
I don’t know about you-but when no one is looking, when life is in that mundane phase or even when we feel like we’re in the pit or the prison-it’s easy to say-What does it matter? Who cares if I complain too much? Who cares if I give in to temptation or indulge myself? What does it matter if my heart grows bitter and I become full of anger and frustration-I’m stuck here anyway. This stage of life I’m going through isn’t accomplishing anything-so why should I be joyful about it? Why should I bother to praise God or honor Him? I’ll just grin and bear it-and get through it. That’s exactly the opposite of what God would say. The pit or the prison isn’t a meaningless or mundane time in your life. This isn’t a phase that’s accomplishing nothing, it’s accomplishing great things by shaping you into the person God’s called you to be. This is exactly the place God wants you at-whether it’s 2 weeks, 2 months or 2 years like Joseph. Your character doesn’t just magically arrive in the big moments of life. Your character doesn’t just rise up in the big decisions you have to make or the big things you’re supposed to accomplish. Instead your character is built day by day in all of the small decisions you make. It’s built by how you handle all of the little things that come your way and the godly habits you’re forming-saying no to temptation and yes to Christ. Your character is pounded out and molded during the mundane, meaningless moments of life when no one is looking-because that’s who you really are-and that’s what God wants to shape for His glory. Look at Luke 16:10. Joseph was faithful to God during the small, very little and seemingly mundane moments of his life in prison-therefore he went on to become faithful over the whole nation of Egypt which was entrusted to him. What about you? Are you faithful to God in the little everyday moments of life when no one is looking? Or do you write it off, saying no big deal, I’m stuck down here-who’s watching? We’ve seen what the white space accomplished in Joseph’s life-what’s the white space accomplishing in your life?
And let me add one more point-Pt4:Beliefs from the Bottom (Doctrine from the Dungeon): The Cupbearer isn’t someone I need to add to my list. I believe one of the most profound lessons Joseph learned was not getting vengeance or growing bitter to those who wronged him and let him down. We talked about his brothers who wronged him-they were the worst by stealing his coat, throwing him into the pit and selling him. But Potiphar’s wife lied and accused Jospeh, Potiphar himself unjustly sentenced Joseph, and now the cupbearer has brought the biggest sting by letting Joseph down when he needed him most. If there was anybody to add to Joseph’s growing list of people who wronged him it was the cupbearer! Let me ask the hard question-are there any cupbearers in your life? Anybody that’s deeply hurt you, let you down, wronged you or simply forgotten you when you needed them most? I’m sure we can all think of somebody. I’m sure we all have cupbearers in our life-we always will. But Joseph didn’t add him to his list in order to grow bitter and get revenge. Joseph didn’t keep a list of those who wronged him-and neither should we-because Jesus has come to this earth to forgive those who’ve wronged Him-which is you and me. Just like Joseph didn’t keep an ever-growing list, neither did Jesus and we can be eternally grateful for that! We’re like the cupbearer, we’ve walked away and forgotten our God, we’ve lost sight of our Maker and tried to live life without Him. We’ve ignored God’s laws and done what we’ve wanted to do in defiance of Him-which is the very definition of sin. No thanks, Lord, I’ll do it my way. I’m in control here, not you. And every time we do that, we’ve wronged God and sinned against the One who created us. God has every right to keep a long list of everyone who’s wronged Him. But He sends His Son Jesus to abolish that list and save us. Look at 1 John 4:10-11-and that’s