Overcome Being Forgotten


The Point:  Keep doing what God has gifted you to do.

The Lord’s Steadfast Love:  Genesis 39:21-23.

[21]  But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.  [22]  And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it.  [23]  The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.  [ESV]

[21-23]  “Earlier in Genesis 39 we read that the Lord was with Joseph and the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands [2,3,5]. In 39:21-23, although the circumstances have changed, the story nevertheless remains the same: the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed [23]. When we read these verses in terms of God’s blessing and Joseph’s success, we think naturally of the fact that Joseph rose to a position of authority in the prison. In this, his course was parallel to his earlier rise from being a menial slave to being a personal attendant and manager for Potiphar. But Joseph’s real success was greater than that. True, he did rise from being merely another prisoner to being one to whom the warden entrusted everything. But that was not too big a thing after all. He was still a prisoner; his fate was still uncertain. What was important was the way in which his character grew during his imprisonment. In similar circumstances another man might have become quite harsh, bitter, or withdrawn. Not Joseph! Joseph continued to develop those good traits that already characterized him. Joseph continued to think about God and, indeed, to orient his entire life around the reality of God’s character. The greatest single characteristic of Joseph was his absolute faithfulness to God under all circumstances, and it is through this that God worked to exalt him so highly. Joseph knew that he was God’s child and that his responsibility was to live for and be faithful to God, regardless of what should come into his life. Joseph never complained nor compromised. As a result, Joseph never lost his power before God. Throughout his life God continued to reveal the future to him through dreams, and God continued to guide him no less when he was in Potiphar’s prison than when he was beside the monarch’s throne. God was always the chief and determining reality in Joseph’s life. Joseph saw everything in the light of God’s existence. None of us would ever willingly choose to go to prison, and I am sure that Joseph did not relish his imprisonment either. But it was not all bad. Prison strengthened character in Joseph, and he was to show that character when he was later exalted to the first place beside the Pharaoh’s throne.”  [Boice, pp. 940-946].

Interpreting Dreams:  Genesis 40:5-8.

[5]  And one night they both dreamed–the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison–each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation.  [6]  When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled.  [7]  So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, "Why are your faces downcast today?"  [8]  They said to him, "We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them." And Joseph said to them, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me."  [ESV]

[5-8]  “From the earlier moments of Joseph’s youth until he reached the age of thirty, God was at work in his life through a series of circumstances that eventually raised him from the status of an imprisoned slave to that of prime minister of Egypt. Genesis 40 introduces us to a last set of happenings before Joseph’s exaltation. Joseph is at the lowest point of his career, to judge from outward circumstances. If ever a man was abandoned both by God and man, it is surely Joseph in Potiphar’s prison. But God had not forgotten Joseph, and He now intervened again by turning the heart of the king against his chief cupbearer and baker so that these two high officials were brought to the very prison in which Joseph was confined. Although it took several years, it was through this contact that Joseph was finally lifted from the prison to the palace. All this was for Joseph’s sake, though he could not have been fully aware of it at the time. What about you? Is God not also working out the circumstantial details of your life? God directed everyone from king to jailer as easily as you set a watch or wind its spring. How sinful, therefore, for a Christian to worry or fret. God moves the very stars in their orbits to work His will, and He rules the passions of men and the decisions of those in authority to accomplish what He had planned. That is why Christians should not fret at the loss of a job, a flat tire, a bout of unexpected sickness, or whatever. God is God, and we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose [Rom. 8:28]. Years before this, Joseph had dreamed two dreams foretelling a day in which his family would bow down to him. Now we are told of a second pair of dreams. Both the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt had a dream forecasting what was to happen to each of them individually. The first to disclose his dream was the cupbearer. To most of us a title like cupbearer or baker suggests a common servant – one who either poured wine at the pharaoh’s table or worked in the kitchens. But this is not the idea at all. These were not servants. They were noblemen of high station. The chief cupbearer told his dream, in which he had seen a vine containing three branches. These branches budded, blossomed, and produced clusters of grapes. He was holding Pharaoh’s cup in his hand in this dream. So he reached out and took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and put the cup in his hand. Joseph interpreted this dream as showing that Pharaoh would restore the cupbearer to his old position within three days. At this point the chief baker was encouraged to tell his dream. He had dreamed that he was carrying three baskets on his head and that the topmost basket contained baked goods for Pharaoh. But the birds were eating them from the basket. Joseph explained this dream by saying that within three days Pharaoh would remove the baker from the prison, behead him, and hang his body on a tree, where the birds would eat away his flesh. What are we to think of these dreams? Or of the freedom of God to speak through dreams generally? We begin by noting that God was certainly in these dreams both in the giving of them and in the giving of their interpretation to Joseph. Moreover, God is involved in all the dreams of this story. He gave and fulfilled Joseph’s initial dreams about the time his brothers and father would bow to him [Gen. 37:5-7,9]. Later he gave Pharaoh his dreams about the seven plentiful years and the seven years of famine and enabled Joseph to interpret them [Gen. 41]. This does not mean that God always speaks in dreams or even that He does so at all in our day. It is worth noting, for example, how little significance dreams have in the Bible. The Bible is a big book covering many thousands of years of history. But there are only three places in the Bible where dreams figure prominently. In the Old Testament they are restricted to Genesis and Daniel. In the New Testament people sometimes had visions, as John did on the island of Patmos. But strictly speaking, there are only six dreams, and all these occur in Matthew. Did these reveal the future? Yes. But largely at a time when the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament had not been given. This was clearly the case in Genesis; and with Daniel the dreams were part of the revelation that God was then giving. We are wise to conclude that today dreams are not revelations from God, though they may be accurate reflections of our own subconscious states. For a true and trustworthy revelation we are to turn to Scripture alone. Significantly, the emphasis of this chapter is not on the psychological phenomenon of the dreams but on the interpretation of them by Joseph. This is noteworthy in regard to interpreting the dreams of both the cupbearer and the baker. Joseph replied to the cupbearer directly and boldly. We see it even before the dream was told to him. When the two noblemen disclosed that they were sad because there was no one to interpret their dreams, Joseph immediately replied, Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me [8]. Joseph knew God and fully expected God to make his counsels known to him in regard to his being able to interpret the cupbearer’s dream. There is a special lesson in Joseph’s interpretation of the dream of Pharaoh’s baker. The baker’s dream was not favorable. Here we see the courage of Joseph. Although it was difficult, particularly in a case where the interpretation concerned the life of one who had become his friend, he was not afraid to deliver the whole counsel of God. All believers need to have this type of courage.”  [Boice, pp. 947-954].

Joseph Forgotten:  Genesis 40:20-23.

[20]  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.  [21]  He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.  [22]  But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them.  [23]  Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.  [ESV]

[20-23]  “From 40:23 to 41:1 there is a period of two years where Joseph remained in prison. Here we have the real maturing of Joseph. What is equally important, we have a lesson that every believer needs to learn in order to live a victorious Christian life. The clue to what happened in this two year period comes from Genesis 40:14-15, where Joseph did a very human thing. Joseph had interpreted the dream of the chief cupbearer of the king of Egypt to show that at the end of three days he would be restored to his position as one of the highly honored noblemen of Pharaoh. But he added, 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 [40:14-15]. We can almost hear the chief cupbearer’s reply. ‘Yes, yes,’ he must have said. ‘Of course I will remember you. It is very fine what you are able to do with dreams. Very talented.’ But the three days passed, the cupbearer was returned to favor, and the chapter ends: Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him [23]. Then the next chapter starts, After two whole years [41:1]. Two full years! Joseph had asked to be remembered. In circumstances like these it would have been natural for Joseph to surround himself by a wall of bitterness and rebellion. But Joseph’s two forgotten years did not embitter him. On the contrary, they steadied and deepened his character. Disappointment and monotony do not have to make you rebellious. Instead you can be made compassionate and trusting at the same time. This does not happen automatically, of course. It did not happen automatically with Joseph. It happens only when one who is forgotten by man becomes conscious that although forgotten by man, he or she is not forgotten by God and that God is accomplishing his purposes even during the two long years. It is worth stressing that God does not forget His people, because we do forget. We forget others. We forget God. We even forget that God does not forget. As a result we become bitter and do not mature as Joseph did. The story of Joseph’s being forgotten by Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer leads to certain lessons, and the first is to stop trusting in men, all of whom are ultimately undependable. At one point Joseph must have hoped in man. But his experience taught him not to trust man, and he was delivered from the bitterness that overtakes many when they do trust others and are disappointed by them. Have you ever recognized that these silent years are probably the years that make Joseph win out over any incipient revengeful spirit? When we think of revenge we usually think of what Joseph might have done to his brothers at a later date, when he had become the most powerful man in Egypt and they had come into his power unwittingly. Joseph might have taken a well-justified revenge, not only against his brothers, but against Potiphar and his wife, and on the cupbearer for forgetting him for two years. But Joseph had ceased to trust men, and as a result he was not bitter against them. That is why at the end of the story, when his brothers fear a final retaliation, Joseph says, Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today [Gen. 50:19-20]. Second, allow disillusionment with man to turn you to the love and faithfulness of God. Men and women may forget you, but Jesus never will. The Bible says, if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself [2 Tim. 2:13; see also Prov. 3:5-6; Psalm 146:3,5-6; Jer. 17:5,7; Psalm 118:8; 56:3; 115:11]. The third and last lesson is to wait for God. It is true that God does not always work according to our timetable. When God told the cupbearer through Joseph that he would be released from prison within three days, Joseph must have been encouraged to think that perhaps his deliverance would also be only days away. But God had not told him how long his confinement would last. He only knew that he was to wait on God and that in God’s own time the bars of the prison cell would be parted.”  [Boice, pp. 955-961].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         The repeated theme of Joseph’s life is given once again in 39:21: But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor. The Lord’s presence and steadfast love enabled Joseph to overcome all the difficulties he faced. Instead of being overcome  by the circumstances of life, his character grew and was strengthened. What was the greatest single characteristic of Joseph that sustained him through all of life’s difficulties (absolute faithfulness to God under all circumstances)? That same characteristic can also strengthen and sustain us in all the circumstances of life.

2.         Describe how God worked in the circumstances of Joseph’s time in prison. How did God use this time to further develop Joseph’s character and prepare him for the position of prime minister? Pray that God will open your eyes so that you may see Him working out all the circumstantial details of your life.

3.         Verses 40:23 and 41:1 tell us that the cupbearer forgot Joseph when he was restored to his former position and this caused Joseph to spend an additional two years in prison. Imagine how these events would have impacted you. What are the three lessons Jim Boice says that Joseph learned from being forgotten for two years? Pray that you will also learn these lessons.


Genesis, volume 3, James Boice, Baker.

Genesis, volume 2, Kenneth Mathews, NAC, Broadman.

Genesis, John Sailhamer, EBC, Zondervan.

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