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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 40

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Verses 1-4

The Cupbearer and the Baker

The cupbearer and the baker both sin against Pharaoh and are both put in confinement. They end up with Joseph and are entrusted to his care. Joseph is also busy serving in the jail. Joseph is not moping around, full of self-pity about the injustice he has suffered; nor do we hear of rebellion.

Joseph enlightens his own destiny by enlightening the destiny of others. Instead of being busy with himself, he works for others who are in the same situation as he is, although he is wrongly there and those others because they deserve punishment.

This is the best way to avoid suffering and bitterness. Moreover, he is here again an example of the Lord Jesus, Who has always thought of others and never of Himself. We see that in His life and we see it on the cross when He hangs between two criminals. The difference between the two criminals on the cross can be seen in the case of the criminals who are in the jail with Joseph.

Verses 5-8

The Cupbearer and the Baker Dream

The cupbearer and the baker both have a dream. Each one of them has his own dream with its own meaning. In this way God has revealed to them future events (Daniel 2:28; Job 33:15-Nehemiah :). They will have dreamed more often, but they understand that this dream is different. The dream each one of them has had makes a great impression on both. They told each other the dream and understood that there is a connection between the dreams and at the same time a difference. They tell Joseph that there is no one who can interpret him. They are in the jail and devoid of the wisdom of the Egyptian dream interpreters.

Joseph sees that the two men are worried. Do we have an eye for the need that can sometimes be read on someone’s face? Joseph must have already won their trust, because they tell him what worries them: their dreams. Would others tell us about what they’re worried about?

His first reaction is a reference to God (Daniel 2:28). On His behalf he says: “Tell [it] to me, please”. Joseph lives in such fellowship with God that he knows God will answer him. Joseph always gives God the honor. Not he, but God can make clear what is hidden.

Verses 9-13

The Dream of the Cupbearer

First the chief cupbearer tells his dream. In his dream he sees a vine with three vines that very quickly produce clusters of ripe grapes. The cupbearer was unable to do anything about the ripening of the grapes. With bread it is different, as we will see soon. He takes the grapes and squeezes them into Pharaoh’s cup, which he puts into Pharaoh’s hand. Joseph interprets that within three days Pharaoh will lift up the cupbearer’s head. This is done by taking him out of the depths of the jail and restoring him to his office.

Verses 14-15

Request from Joseph

The cup of wine is reminiscent of the cup of the Lord’s Supper. That cup speaks of the blood of the Lord Jesus which He shed for the forgiveness of sins for those who believe in Him. It is striking that Joseph asks the cupbearer to keep him in mind and to do him a kindness by telling Pharaoh about him.

Thus the Lord Jesus, in connection with the Supper, asks His disciples – and He also asks us this question through Paul – that we keep Him in mind: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way [He took] the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink [it], in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-Ezekiel :). He also loves to hear how we tell God, the Father, out of gratitude about Him, about His work that He accomplished for us on the cross.

Verses 16-19

The Dream of the Baker

The chief baker is hopeful after the explanation to the cupbearer and also tells his dream. In his dream he sees three baskets of white bread on his head that are eaten by the birds and not that Pharaoh takes them out of his hand. He did not prevent the birds from eating what was meant for Pharaoh. It represents his infidelity in his service. Birds are also often a picture of evil powers (Revelation 18:2). In this picture we see that the baker does not prevent evil powers from taking away what is meant for his lord (cf. Genesis 15:11).

Joseph interprets that Pharaoh will also lift up his head. This is done by taking him out of the depths of the jail and hanging him on a tree. He who has been unfaithful in his service to God – and every man has the duty to serve Him – will be judged.

The bread does not speak of death, like wine, but of life and to live life as one sees fit. Unlike wine, before a loaf of bread is baked, a lot of work has to be done. It speaks of the effort of man. That is eaten away by birds, a picture of evil powers. What this history teaches is that those who plead by grace are saved, while those who try to build their own righteousness are lost.

Verses 20-22

The Dreams Come True

It happens, as Joseph interpreted. Pharaoh lifts up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker. On Pharaoh’s birthday, when he has made a feast for all his servants, he restores the chief cupbearer to his office and hangs the chief baker.

Then the question arises: why is the cupbearer received in grace and why is the baker judged? They both have sinned (Genesis 40:1). We have already seen that only those who take the basis of grace are saved and those who want to be saved by their own works are judged and lost.

However, that is not yet the answer to the question why one person realizes that he can only be saved by grace, while the other continues to build up his own justice. There is no logical answer to this question, an answer that we can understand with our human and therefore limited understanding. Here we come across God’s sovereign dealing, which we cannot understand. Why does one of the two crucified criminals believe in the Lord Jesus and the other does not?

This question runs through the whole Bible from the beginning. Why did God place two trees in paradise, one of life and the other of the knowledge of good and evil? Why Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain? Why did God choose Jacob and reject Esau? And so on and so forth. Why, as someone I know, repeatedly asks himself in amazement, me and my brother not? This amazement can also be supplemented today with countless examples.

The only way we can see this mystery is to remember that it is about two sides of the truth. One side is the election of God, the other side is the responsibility of man. These two sides cannot be brought together by us. Only God can do that. We must leave both sides side by side and not try to connect them. If we try to do that, we will end up with heresy. We should not be so arrogant as to want to understand God in everything. If we really trust God, we will know that He is not doing injustice.

There is also an additional thought. The cupbearer and the baker both have sinned. Likewise, all people have sinned. All deserve the judgment. If God in His mercy chooses some to be saved forever and we may know to belong to them, that is something to thank Him for now and forever. Then, as far as we are concerned, the amazement remains, because in ourselves we are nothing better than others.

That does not mean that God has predestined those others to perish. He who perishes is to blame for this because he or she did not want to repent (cf. Matthew 23:37) in obedience to God’s call to do so (Acts 17:30).

Verse 23

The Chief Cupbearer Forgets Joseph

Joseph asked, “keep me in mind” (Genesis 40:14), but the chief cupbearer forgets him. Isn’t it often the case in our lives? How often do we not think of the Lord Jesus? And also: do we remember Him by heeding His wish and proclaiming His death? But also: when we proclaim His death in the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine, do we really think of Him? Aren’t we often busy with other things in our minds? Then we are the same as the disciples. When the Lord Jesus institutes His Supper, they are busy deciding which of them is the most important (Luke 22:24).

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Genesis 40". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/genesis-40.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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