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From Prisoner to Prime Minister

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Genesis 40–41

Our lives take unexpected turns. Yet no matter what we face, we can trust the Lord and make choices that honor Him, knowing that in His time, He will honor our faithfulness to Him. This is the lesson from Joseph’s experiences in Genesis 40–41.


I’ve heard it said that 10 percent of life is what happens to you; 90 percent is how you respond to it. Genesis chapter 40 is going to show us three responses, or choices, Joseph makes that we need to make as well.


Chapter 40 takes us into the prison, where Joseph is introduced to Pharaoh’s cupbearer and chief baker, two men who have just become prisoners themselves. We’re not told what their offenses were, although one of them more than likely was involved in a plot to poison Pharaoh. But they’ve both been thrown into prison while an investigation takes place.


Verse 4 says, “The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he attended them.” By the way, “captain of the guard” is the title used earlier for Potiphar, so it may very well be Potiphar who is referred to here. If so, it indicates he knew all along that Joseph was innocent.


So, we’re told that Joseph is “appointed” to take care of these high-ranking members of Pharaoh’s court, and he cares for them despite his own hardships. Joseph’s first response highlights an important principle for us: Choosing to care about people, even when you feel uncared for, is a gracious response to others.


Notice it says in verse 4 that Joseph specifically and personally “attended” to these men. The Hebrew verb means he’s caring for them. Joseph doesn’t just care about them; he’s literally caring for them. It’s easy to say you care aboutsomebody while you sit there in your recliner; but to care for somebody means you get out of your easy chair and go do something.


It isn’t long before the baker and the cupbearer have dreams that bother them. When Joseph asks them why they are discouraged, they respond in verse 8: 


“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.”


Joseph’s response reveals a second principle that is relevant to us: Choosing to point others to God, even when your own path is difficult, is a great statement of faith. 


Here these men are, surrounded by the false gods of Egypt, and Joseph is introducing them to Elohim—his God––the great Sovereign God who is able to interpret the riddles of life. Interpretation belongs to Him! What a great statement of faith by Joseph, especially when none of his dreams seem to be coming true.


For the rest of chapter 40, Joseph interprets the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker. The cupbearer is going to get his job back in three days, but the baker isn’t going back to work; in fact, he won’t be needing any retirement either because he’s going to be executed. Evidently, the baker was the one involved in trying to poison Pharaoh.


And three days later, this is exactly what happens.


But before the cupbearer goes back to work, listen to this pitiful request from Joseph: 


“Please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this [place]. 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 [prison].”(verses 14-15)


There’s nothing wrong with Joseph asking for a fair hearing. But in verse 23 we’re told rather bluntly, “The chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.”


Joseph has every reason to grow bitter and angry from this point on. In fact, two years go by between the end of chapter 40 and the beginning of chapter 41. But instead of growing resentful, Joseph makes another important choice—to trust God’s timing for him. Here is a third great response we can state as a principle: Choosing to trust God’s timing, even when you’re uncertain about the future, is a good way to deepen your walk with Him.


How do we know Joseph’s faith deepened over those two years? Because later, in Genesis 45:4-8, he testifies that he knew God was still at work in his life.


Joseph waits for two long years. And then, unexpectedly, God’s plans for him turn a corner. You can almost see sunlight breaking into the prison cell of Joseph’s life.


Genesis 41 opens by recounting Pharaoh’s troubling dream:


After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows, attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows. And Pharaoh awoke. (verses 1-4)


Pharaoh’s dream about the cows is followed immediately by another dream of seven good ears of grain that are swallowed up by seven thin ears of grain. 


The king immediately calls for his wise men, but they just stand around in their pajamas—absolutely no help at all. Then in verse 9, the cupbearer remembers that young dream-interpreter back in prison, and within a matter of minutes, officials are getting Joseph out of his prison clothes—cleaned and shaved and probably given a haircut too—and bringing him into the court of Pharaoh (verse 14).


The conversation between Pharaoh and Joseph begins in verses 15 and 16: 


Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it. Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”


Joseph then interprets these prophetic dreams as meaning seven years of bumper crops in Egypt are going to be followed by seven years of famine.


Joseph makes it very clear that God is behind these dreams. In verse 25, he says, “God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” In verse 28, he says, “God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” And in verse 32, Joseph says, “The thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about.” 


“Pharaoh, you’re not in charge of Egypt; you’re not in control of life and success and bumper crops. My God is!” And what’s more, Joseph tells Pharaoh he needs to put somebody in charge of managing these bumper crops so that food is stored properly and then available during the seven years of famine. 


Pharaoh is bright enough to know who that somebody should be, and he says to Joseph in verse 39, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house.”


A few hours earlier Joseph was sitting in prison; now he’s the prime minister of Egypt—he’s God’s chosen leader ultimately to save the nation of Israel from starvation. He’s the instrument that will keep God’s covenant plan moving forward, so that one day, through this nation, the Messiah will be introduced to the world. From Potiphar’s house, to the prison house, to Pharaoh’s house, God was preparing Joseph all along the way.


I don’t know what God’s doing in your life right now, but I do know there are three godly choices you can make along the way:


  • To care about people even when you feel uncared for—that’s a gracious response.
  • To point others to God even when your own path is difficult—that’s a great statement of faith.
  • To trust God’s timing, even when you’re uncertain about your future—that’s a good way to deepen your walk with God. 

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