Genesis 40 - Wine, Cakes and the God Who Remembers
January 13, 2013 Speaker: Series: Genesis
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Genesis 40:1–40:23
[Text: Gen. 40] “Wine, Cake and the God Who Remembers”
[Read 39:21-40:23 for context and Pray]
For some of us, school days were some time ago. But do you ever remember seeing the kid - or maybe it was you – who was forgotten by their mom and dad and had to wait uncomfortably as the other kids were picked up one by one? Do you remember how lonely an image that was? You could see the disappointment – maybe even anger beginning to overtake their anxiety – each time a car appeared only to pick up someone else. For that kid – wearing their backpack and ready to go home – every honking horn meant for another classmate and every set of red tail-lights pulling away brought them one moment closer to making a phone call that meant it was true; they had been forgotten by the people they needed.
Maybe there have been times when you’ve felt forgotten by people and it has made you question if even God remembers you. In the days of your family or career falling apart or your body failing you, when you feel forgotten in your grief or just alone in depression, what can you hang on to during those times? What is your assurance that God has not forgotten you, even if forgetful people have?
Or maybe you’re past the point of discouragement or fear and now you’re just angry with God because your circumstances make you believe He has forgotten you.
For each of us there is a truth presented in this story that is meant to bolster our faith in Yahweh and His care for us. The truth is that even though men are forgetful, Yahweh is not. He always shows steadfast love to His people…and that changes us.
We’re going to look at the steadfast love of God toward Joseph in this passage and consider how it affected Joseph even in the midst of some difficult providence. Then we’re going to consider how that might actually change the way we think, feel and act when we feel forgotten by men and wonder if God has forgotten us, too.
The key in all of this is to walk in the tension between our circumstances and what the Word of God says is actually true. Even though Joseph is unjustly thrown into prison in the first place and even though Joseph at the end of chapter 40 remains there forgotten for years, even so Moses, at the end of chapter 39 (in v. 21) can honestly say, “Yahweh was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love.”
So, let’s look at the text and see just how it was that Yahweh took care of Joseph and even used him for Yahweh’s good purposes.
We already read the setting for all of this. The cupbearer and baker to Pharaoh committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt. As men close to the king, the cupbearer wasn’t just a wine-snob and the baker was no ordinary baker. They were trusted counselors to the king – trusted enough to be responsible for the king’s food and drink to keep him happy and, just as important, from being poisoned. But in some, unknown way they had broken that trust and their justified imprisonment stands in sharp contrast to Joseph’s unjust imprisonment. The keeper of the prison had recognized that Yahweh was with Joseph and so he appointed Joseph to attend these important men, to be their prison butler, so to speak.
After “some time” (as it says in v. 4), the cupbearer and baker each had a dream. But they were distraught because there wasn’t anyone who could interpret their dreams for them. It’s likely that they were used to going to the wise men of Egypt who served Pharaoh for help in these situations since the Egyptians, like many ancient peoples, had their own ways of making sense of things like this. The way it normally worked was that they would dream a dream or see some sort of natural phenomenon occurring and then they would watch closely to see what events happened next. They figured that after a while they would be able to discover patterns. Then when a similar dream or event came up they could predict what would happen next because they’d seen it before. At best, it was hit or miss. But now, the cupbearer and the baker were in prison without access to the wisdom of Egypt.
But in v. 8 Joseph tells them that true interpretations belong to his God, Yahweh. Joseph’s God can give the true meaning of their dreams, without guessing and with perfect accuracy. So, Joseph asks the men to share what they saw. We’re seeing Joseph’s trust in Yahweh to help him interpret the dreams.
So the men each tell Joseph their dreams, the cupbearer then the baker. It’s not difficult to see how accurately Joseph was able to interpret the dreams. He told them exactly what was going to happen, right down to the day and, in the case of the baker, the way he would meet his end. We’re not going to spend a whole lot of time here though because the point, of course, is not to celebrate or stand in awe of Joseph’s skill. The point is not that we are supposed to start recording our dreams to figure out what’s going to happen to us. That isn’t even normal in the Old Testament!
Part of this story is preparing us for what happens in the next chapter as Joseph, with God’s help, would interpret another dream, one with far reaching significance. But mainly, we’re simply supposed to recognize that Joseph’s skill was possible because Yahweh was with him. His wise (and more importantly true) interpretation was proof that God had not forgotten him. Yahweh was continuing His steadfast love toward Joseph in this way. And a careful reader of this Story knows that that no matter how this part of the story ends, the steadfast love of Yahweh hasn’t changed toward Joseph because Yahweh doesn’t change.
The reader of this Story knows Yahweh won’t forget Joseph because in the days of the Flood, Yahweh remembered Noah and his family and all the animals with them and rescued them from the waters. When Yahweh was doing justice against the selfish violence of Sodom and Gomorrah, He remembered His promises to Abraham and rescued his nephew, Lot, from the destruction. Time and again in this Story of Redemption Yahweh takes care of His people and keeps the promises He has made to them. And so even though Joseph is struggling here, we know that this isn’t the end of his story. God had made promises to him about a future that hadn’t happened yet. So Joseph didn’t need to be afraid that God had forgotten him.
What circumstances are you facing right now that make you wonder if Yahweh has forgotten you? How are you feeling right now? Do you feel like that kid wondering when his parents will show up – wondering if they will show up? Do you feel anxiety, loneliness or anger? Have you shown kindness to someone – a friend, a parent, a husband or wife – only to find no kindness in return? It can be as hard as a forgotten birthday or as deep as forgotten grief as the anniversary of a loss arrives and no one else remembers. Whether it’s fear about health or money or relationships, there are so many times when we have to make a choice. Do we believe our circumstances and interpret them as God forgetting us? Or do we believe God’s Word that His remembrance of us actually depends…on Jesus and the promises God has made to us in him?
As the Story of Redemption moves into the New Testament, it proves again and again how Christians can rest securely in the knowledge that we are remembered by Yahweh. It just that, well, we aren’t remembered because we understand theology or follow the rules well enough or even because we did a really good job making it through that last bout with unemployment. The Gospel tells us that we are remembered for Jesus’ sake. And as we simply direct our faith toward him we are not only remembered, but we are guaranteed in Jesus that the steadfast love of God rests on us.
In the Scripture reading today, we read from Luke’s Gospel. It tells about another prisoner’s need to be remembered. Luke writes,
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)
This man, whose punishment was as deserved as Joseph’s was undeserved, simply directed his faith toward Jesus at the very last moment, asking simply to be remembered by Jesus. And Jesus, Yahweh in the flesh, promised him that he would be remembered and that they would be together from that day forward.
That is the Gospel. The One who has done nothing wrong remembers poor sinners who are helpless to change their circumstances, helpless to win forgiveness for themselves, helpless to free themselves from the chains of sin we have locked around our own necks. Our circumstances say that we are hopeless. Jesus said that with him, we have nothing to be afraid of anymore because Yahweh always remembers His people. And we belong to Yahweh by faith in Jesus.
And the Gospel has more to say. In vv. 14-15 of our text, Joseph asks the cupbearer something after he tells him the good news of his coming release and restoration. Joseph pleads with the cupbearer to do three things: to remember him, to do kindness and to undo this injustice that has been done to Joseph. What he’s asking is for the cupbearer to do for Joseph what Joseph had done for him. He’s asking for kindness in return for kindness. Literally, Joseph asks for the cupbearer to do “hesed.” Hang on to that word.
Was it wrong for Joseph to ask for the cupbearer’s help? Not at all! He really was in a position to help Joseph. And later in the story we’ll see that he is actually the one that does help Joseph…after forgetting him for two whole years. No, when God helps us He ordinarily uses ordinary means. That’s just a fancy way of saying that when we need help as circumstances overwhelm us, we should first expect God to use the people in our lives and the means of grace He has given to His people – His Word, the Sacraments, Prayer – to help us. But if he wants to send an army of angels instead, then, well, we’ll thank him for it all.
Here’s the point. It is actually good and right for us to ask for kindness, for this “hesed” from other people, like Joseph here. But if my faith is in my “connections,” if I expect my friend in a high place to rescue me, if a person other than Jesus becomes my chief hope of rescue from my circumstances, then it’s likely that I am going to be very disappointed. Put yourself in Joseph’s shoes. His new friend was every prisoner’s dream – an influential friend in the governor’s office. Now, the text doesn’t tell us what Joseph did, but if all his hope was put in the cupbearer’s “hesed,” then I would imagine that the two years of being forgotten would have been two years of bitter and deep frustration.
Joseph had to look elsewhere for “hesed.” But even though the cupbearer’s kindness failed to come through for Joseph, Moses said that Joseph was not lacking in “hesed.” That’s because “hesed” is also translated as “steadfast love,” which is the very thing Moses said Yahweh was constantly giving to Joseph, even while he was in prison alone.
In the same way at our time in the Story of Redemption, we are free in Christ to ask our brothers and sisters, even strangers, for kindness in our time of need. Sometimes our circumstances are too far beyond us to even think about going it alone. I would even argue that “going it alone” at any point in our walk is, at best, foolish. But because of Jesus we can ask for help while entrusting ourselves not to men, but to God who never forgets, who always gives us His “hesed,” His steadfast love that can never be removed from us because of Jesus.
And that hope is what frees us. When you know that you are loved for Jesus’ sake, unshakably, irrevocably – when you know, as the call to worship said, that your name is graven on the hands of the Living God [from Isaiah 49] – then you will be free to go and to serve others in the way that you yourself have been served by Jesus. God called Joseph to show kindness to these two men when he himself was in such need of kindness. Did you catch how he interacted with the cupbearer and the baker? He attended to their needs. He pursued them when he saw that they were troubled and their faces were downcast, asking them what was wrong. Who needed a listening ear more than Joseph? But he put their needs ahead of his own, I am convinced, because he knew that the steadfast love of Yahweh was already his.
Who are you being freed to love right now? Who has God put in your life to whom you could show some kindness? As we see Christ showing us such beautiful hesed in the Gospel, it enables us to give hesed away to others in forgiveness and help and money and mercy and time and energy even when we have our own deep needs.
In Africa I met Annette. Annette was a young Christian, who converted to Christ and was immediately rejected by her family, cut off from contact and money and love completely. And she was poor. Her home was smaller than this chancel with bare concrete floors, a thin mattress, a faded curtain as a room divider and a small, charcoal-fired cook-pot on which to prepare her very occasional meals of bean and cooked corn-meal.
If there is anyone in this world who is suffering, they would be hard pressed to say their circumstances were worse than Annette’s. But, oh, how Annette beamed when she talked about Jesus. She smiled broader than you can imagine as we talked about this Gospel and the love and forgiveness that Jesus won for us on the cross. Annette had nothing and always lived in need of even the basics of life. And yet she rested – she rested – in the hope that because of Jesus, God always remembered her and would not let anything happen to her that was not ultimately for His glory and for her salvation.
The Good News of Jesus is that, for the believer, our circumstances are not the definition of reality. Jesus is. If you have doubted that lately, this Word of God simply calls you to turn away from that unbelief and believe anew the Gospel. Jesus has already died and rose again for you. There is nothing else to add! Simply believe and know that your God remembers and loves you and will take care of you for Jesus’ sake.
This Word is also meant to break into pieces the pride of those who think it is their right to escape suffering and are angry with God if their circumstances are difficult. Consider this Word carefully, if God leads His people, even His only Son, Jesus, into suffering for His own purposes of redemption and glory and transformation, how can we say to Him, “What have you done?” Stories like this are meant to humble us and begin to change the questions that we ask in our circumstances. The question isn’t “Why me?” It’s, “What would faithfulness to my faithful God look like right now? What cross am I called to bear for the sake of my Lord who suffered for me? How can I show his worthiness through my life – or through my death – in this moment?”
The Gospel tells us that we have a God who, because of the work of Jesus, never forgets His people. Remember that Gospel. Preach it to yourself. Preach it to each other in your families and with your friends and then live in community with them so that they can preach it to you, too. It is the only truth that can overcome the lie that says you are forgotten and unloved. In Jesus, you are remembered and have the steadfast love of God upon you. He will carry you through these circumstances to Himself. And He is coming soon.
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21 ESV)
More in Genesis
March 3, 2013Genesis 50 - How to Die. How to Live.
February 24, 2013Gen. 48-49 - Crossed Hands and Undeserved Blessings
February 10, 2013Genesis 46-47 - How God Supports His People