Two Dreams, Three Destinies (Genesis 40)

If someone could tell you your future would you want to know it?  More specifically:  if someone could tell you how much time you had left on this earth, and tell you on exactly what day you would die, would you want to know?  I imagine some of us would want to know while others would not.    

The title of our sermon today is “Two Dreams, Three Destinies.”  This chapter takes us through the dreams of two men:  the king’s cupbearer and baker.  They offended the king, so they were thrown into prison.  One night, they both have dreams.  Neither knew what their dream meant.  Then Joseph tells them the meaning of their dreams and that their dreams were signs of what was about to happen to them both.  Two dreams, two destinies.  But there is a third destiny tied into theirs:  Joseph’s.  The chapter ends on a sad note where it seems Joseph is fated to languish in prison as a forgotten man.  Two dreams, three destinies.


First we see two men are arrested and thrown in prison.  Read verses 1-4 with me….

The cupbearer and the baker are thrown into the same prison as Joseph.  This is the prison where “king’s prisoners were confined” (39:20).  This is also the prison overseen by Potiphar – Joseph’s old master, the same master who put him in the prison.

A cupbearer was someone who was close to the king, and trusted by the king.  A cupbearer was with the king every day nearly all day – serving him, guarding over the wine the king drank to prevent poisoning.  The cupbearer was said to be chosen for his “personal beauty and attractions and was a person of high rank and importance.” (Unger)  Nehemiah was also a cupbearer – to the King of Persia (1:11-2:1).  No doubt the cupbearer to Pharaoh was also of great rank and influence, attractive and most of all – someone the king trusted.  

The baker would have been similar.  He baked all the goods for the king.  He had to ensure the king enjoyed the food he made and he also had to guard the food from poisoning.  He would’ve been very important as well in the king’s courts.  

Yet somehow these two men are said to have “offended” the king and angered him.  And the result is he threw them both in prison.  We are not told what the offense was so we can only speculate.  Perhaps the king became very sick after a meal and blamed them both.  Who knows.  But regardless, they quickly went from the palace to the prison.

Upon arriving Joseph is assigned to care for them.  But notice verse 4 says that it was “the captain of the guard” who “assigned them to Joseph.”  Interesting.  Potiphar is said to be the captain of the guard (39:1).  If this was Potiphar, and it very likely could be since it was his job to manage the prison for the king, then it means that Joseph probably saw Potiphar regularly after he was imprisoned.  (Can you say “awkward?”)  Anyway, Joseph – we learned last week – was given charge of all the prisoners.  So these two men would have been added to his charge.  

What we are seeing here is that God is making the connection and setting things up for what He has planned for Joseph.  Joseph will get out of prison someday.  But God has designed it so that the cupbearer will be his ticket out.  But in order for that to happen, Joseph and the cupbearer have to cross paths.  

APPLICATION:  Trust God is working things out in your life.  You may not know WHY God is doing something in your life today, but know it is for what He has planned for you tomorrow.  Where we go, what we do, what happens to us, is not random and arbitrary.  God is orchestrating our lives day by day, each choice we make and each direction we go.  It’s all incorporated into His purposes for us and how He is moving us along towards those purposes.  Trust God is working His plans out in your life.


So these two men were there awhile.  Then, on the exact same night they both have dreams.  Read verse 4b-8….

They both wake up the next morning confused and dejected because both of them do not know what their dreams mean for them.  Joseph comes in with some coffee and the morning newspaper and notices how both of them are “down.”  They open up to him and share with him their problem.  Joseph immediately assures them he can give them the meaning of their dreams.  Several things here:

First, notice how Joseph notices them.  By noticing them I mean can you see how Joseph cared about them?  He saw something was bothering them and he didn’t just drop off their breakfast and walk off.  He inquired.  He cared about their well-being.  Here is Joseph demonstrating yet again why he is the guy that every employer dreams of hiring and every father dreams of having his daughter marry.  His job was to watch over and take care of the prisoners.  And that is exactly what he did –  he was faithful, compassionate, caring and attentive.  The warden, remember, didn’t bother with anything under Joseph’s care.  Just like it used to be with Potiphar.

APPLICATION:  Notice the people around you.  Notice them with compassion in your eyes.  It may just be that God is behind that opportunity and plans to use it in some way in your life.  Like He did with Joseph.

Second, notice that God is the author of the dreams.  These men had the dreams because God put those dreams in their heads that night.  But the point here is that God was initiating something.  He was behind the events in their lives.  

Third, God is not only the author of the dreams but He is also the authority of their meaning.  “Do not interpretations belong to God?”  Joseph is like Daniel.  Turn to Daniel 2:26-30.  Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” and Daniel also called God “the revealer of mysteries.”  After telling the king the meaning of his dream Nebuchadnezzar declared in verse 46-47, “….”

The dreams came from God and the meaning of the dreams did too.  It’s God’s message.  Not man’s.  Joseph didn’t try to “guess” or figure out the meaning on his own.  He didn’t pull out a dream decoding book that collated all the best data from men who studied dreams.  He also didn’t just ignore their dreams.  Joseph asserted very boldly that God would tell them the meaning of their dream.  And by that, Joseph meant that God would enable him to tell them.    

APPLICATION:  Rely on God’s revelation.  Joseph relied on revelation for understanding.  He did not try to insert meaning into the dreams.  He treated the dreams as from God and therefore relied on the meaning to come from God too.  Joseph was not seeing things divorced from God’s revelation.  We need to live our lives relying on what God has revealed to us.  This does NOT mean looking for dreams and visions and “a word” supposedly from the LORD.  This means relying on what is written from God here in Scripture.  The Bereans verified Paul’s teaching by looking to the written word (Acts 17:11).  Paul said what was written long ago in Scriptures was for our benefit today (Rom 15:4).  James said we are to look into the Scriptures and do what it says (1:25).  Peter said the Scriptures were “completely reliable” and that we “do well to pay attention to” them (2 Pet 1:19-21).  Timothy was told that the Scriptures are able to make a person “wise for salvation” (2 Tim 3:15).  Rely on God’s revelation recorded right here in the Scriptures.  

APPLICATION:  God is the only one who has the right to interpret what He has revealed.  Scripture interprets scripture is a cardinal rule in studying the Bible.  God says something in one place we let God explain what He meant in that same passage or let Him explain it in another passage.  Do you want to know what God said?  Do you want to know what God meant?  That is the most foundational question.  God has spoken and He has spoken to us in a way that is intelligible to us, that we can understand and we can act on.  When we study the Bible our aim is to arrive at the meaning God meant when He spoke.  We are not trying to find “fresh” “updated” and “modern” meanings that “fit” our day and age.  God’s word is eternal and therefore transcendent.  When it comes to its relevance it is not limited to one time period.  It’s relevance spans all of human history, from Adam to Jesus, from the Garden to the Great White Throne, from creation to the new creation.  This is the basis for

Remember, Joseph is not foreign to dreams.  He had dreams from God himself, so he knows what its like.  He also knows that these dreams are from God, that their meaning would come from God, and 

Fourth, God was working in their lives because of Joseph.  They were getting lassoed into what God had planned for Joseph.  This chapter is not about their dreams.  It’s not about them or their destinies.  It was only about them insofar as God was using them in His plans for Joseph..  It’s about Joseph and God’s plans for Joseph.  The only reason the cupbearer and the baker were having dreams from God was because of what God had planned for Joseph.

Fifth, God will speak to confuse and to clarify.  Sometimes God communicates in ways that are just beyond us and baffling.  For these two men, God revealed something in their dreams in a symbolic way that was confusing to them.  Here’s the thing:  God intended to confuse them.  He knew they would not understand the dream.  It’s like Jesus speaking to the crowds in parables, “….”  God communicated in a confusing way so that those two men would be puzzled and He did it on purpose.  

Why?  The reason is because God was making those men dependent upon Joseph.  He was connecting them with Joseph.  To understand their dreams they needed Joseph.  Like the Ethiopian in Acts 8 who when he was asked if he understood the scriptures that he was reading, said, “How can I unless someone explains it to me?”  By God’s design he was reading the Scriptures in that moment and confused and in that moment God had brought Philip to him to clarify what was there.  It was God’s design to confuse them and force them to look to Joseph for clarity of what God was communicating.  This would do two things:  it would elevate Joseph in their eyes and it would convince them that the God of heaven was with Joseph. 

APPLICATION:  Not all Scripture is easily understandable.  God’s revelation in His word can be confusing and hard to understand.  Let us never be so foolish as to think that just because “I” can’t understand it then it must be foolish.  That is arrogantly acting like “I” am seated at the heights of all wisdom and knowledge and therefore if it doesn’t make sense to me then it must be nonsense.  “My ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts” God said in Isaiah 55.  Paul extolled God saying, “Oh the depth  of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Rom 11:33).  Peter said that things Paul wrote were Scripture and that those Scriptures, authored by Paul, were “hard to understand.”  Not everything is low-hanging fruit.  Not everything can be grasped by the kids in children’s church.  Some things are not milk and cookies but instead are meat and wine.  Some things are on an adult level.  Some things require spiritual adulthood, spiritually developed enough to understand.  Some things only are grasped after time has passed where knowledge has been added to knowledge, and consistent obedience and faith have been tested, and a mind that has been matured by Christ.  Not everything in the Word is understood in the beginning of one’s life in Christ.  Accept that there are things that are hard to grasp.  We are dealing with the mind of an infinite, eternal, and transcendent Being who surpasses us “confidity.”  

APPLICATION:  Is God working in the lives of people around you in a way that puts you in a position to minister to them?  Maybe like Joseph there is someone around you who is “down” and God has put them in your life to show them compassion.  Maybe like Joseph someone is in your life who is not a believer, or who is but doesn’t know much about the faith, and they are confused about God’s Word and God has put you in their life to explain the meaning of God’s Word.  Like Joseph did.   Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are created in Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Who around you is confused, in need, searching, looking, hungry, hurt, etc. because of God?  Could things happening in the lives of others around you be God’s doing because He is setting you up as the person they need to go to?  Will you and I be like Joseph who noticed and had compassion.


Encouraged by Joseph’s confidence that he can tell them the meaning of their dreams they lay it all out for him, read 9-19….

So the dreams correspond with their careers.  The cupbearer has a dream about a vine with three branches and the baker has a dream about 3 baskets full of bread on his head.  Pharoah takes the cup from the cupbearer’s hand but the birds – not Pharoah – eat the bread from the baker.  Their dreams are different, and their meanings are different.  The cupbearer will get his old job back and the baker is going to be executed and fed to the birds.

APPLICATION:  Tell people what God’s word says even if its not good news.  Remember Joseph took care of these guys and was in charge of them.  He cared about them and was interested in their welfare.  It was not easy for Joseph to deliver this bad news.  But he told him everything.  This has evangelistic application.  God has revealed the future of unbelievers in our lives.  If they do not turn to Jesus and believe in him they will be judged for their sins and go to Hell.  Do we leave those details out in our “evangelism?”  It is easy to tell people God loves them.  And He does.  But God is going to judge them too.  When we witness to people we need to warn them that they need to be delivered from the coming wrath of God by accepting God’s Son as their Savior.  


Next we see “fulfilled.”  Read verses 20-22, ….  Everything Joseph said would happen, happened just like he said.  Three days later, on the king’s birthday, the cupbearer was restored and the baker was impaled.  That’s probably an “adults-only” birthday party.  

APPLICATION:  Interpret God’s word literally.  Read the Bible and interpret it by the plain meaning.  God will do exactly what he says He will do.  Here’s an important part of biblical interpretation:  When God says something will happen it will happen just like He says.  Joseph said in 3 days and it was 3 days.  They weren’t symbolic days.  Joseph said the cupbearer would be restored and he was.  It wasn’t like he got it backwards and the cupbearer was executed while the baker was restored and he still chalked it up as a prophetic win, “Hey, I said one would live and the other would die, who cares if I got them mixed up!”  No, he said the baker would be executed and he was.  He said the the baker would be impaled and fed to the birds and he was.  


Joseph helped the cupbearer, but, the cupbearer forgot to help Joseph.  

Joseph has been betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, framed, wrongly imprisoned, and now forgotten.  

He asked the cupbearer to remember him.  He thought there was no way the cupbearer could forget him after what he did for him.  Has someone let you down after you’ve done so much for them?

Even though Joseph was forgotten by man, God had not forgotten Joseph.  Throughout Scripture we see that God is a God who remembers His servants:  “God remembered Noah” (Gen 8:1)…. “God heard the groaning of the Israelites and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, and he was concerned about them” (Ex 2:24)….. “The Lord remembered Hannah” (1 Sam 1:19).  

In saying that God remembers the Bible is depicting God as showing kindness and compassion, following through on His promises, providing for needs, protecting from danger, rescuing from danger, opening doors for success, making other people favorably disposed to his servants, and on and on.  In other words, when God “remembers,” its not a picture of God saying, “Ah!  I forgot all about Justin!  Now where is he at and what’s going on with him?”  God never “forgets” anyone as in he loses track of them or they fade from his memory.  When God remembers in the Bible it means that God is going to treat them according to how He has promised.  Remembering refers to how God acts towards someone.  He may remember someone’s evil and finally pay them back for it.  Or He may remember His promise to someone and His sovereign timing has finally arrived to make good on what He has promised.  Remembering has to do with God acting.  God saw Joseph the whole time he was in prison, but He would “remember” Joseph when it was time to lift Joseph out of prison.  

APPLICATION:  Never forget that God never forgets you.  While you are trusting in God through your trial, trust that God is remembering you.  

CONCLUSION:  Doomsday Clock

We are 90 seconds away from the end of the world.  In 1947, after WWII,  the Doomsday Clock was created. The Doomsday Clock serves to warn humanity of how close we are to the end of the world.  Each January The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists look at the state of the world and determine how close to put the clock to “midnight.”  Midnight is Armageddon, and the closer to midnight they set the clock the closer we supposedly are to human extinction.  In January the clock was set to 90 seconds, which is closer to midnight than at any time since the clock’s creation.  Are you scared?  I’m not.  You know why?  Because GOd has His own clock.  Did you know there is a day set when God will bring this age to an end and judge the world?  The Doomsday clock is not what you should be looking at and worrying about.  The coming day of God’s wrath is the what you should worry about.  Have you been delivered from that wrath?  The Doomsday Clock won’t do anything for you.  Only Jesus Christ can. 

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