When All Hope Seems Lost

Explore the Bible Series

April 20, 2006


Background Passage: Genesis 39:21-40:23

Lesson Passage: Genesis 39:21; 40:2-3, 5-15, 20-23


Introduction: Sometimes it proves difficult to reconcile theology and experience.  The Bible describes God in certain ways: just, loving, sovereign, merciful, forgiving, and compassionate.  Furthermore, the Scriptures recount promises that apply, we believe, to all of God’s people, in all situations.  However, seasoned Christians know that, at times, it’s difficult to reconcile the things we believe with the experiences of life.


Joseph’s life seemed at odds with the promises of God.  In Chapter Thirty-seven, Genesis tells us of two dreams Joseph had as a teenager.  The first dream pictured Joseph as a sheaf of grain.  His brothers, represented by other sheaves, bowed to Joseph.  The second dream expanded the vision of Joseph’s future prominence.  In the second case, the sun, moon, and stars bowed to Joseph.  The Lord clearly had great plans for this remarkable young man; yet, life seemed to contradict the Lord’s vision for Joseph’s life. Soon after Joseph had these dreams, the young man’s experience spiraled downward: fraternal betrayal, slavery, false accusations, and imprisonment.  Even in prison, the situation grew more dismal.  Months turned into years, and Joseph’s kindness to Pharaoh’s cupbearer was forgotten.  Joseph did not do anything wrong. He did not bring on, by some terrible act of disobedience, this suffering and disgrace.  His shameful treatment and imprisonment did not occur as a result of God’s chastisement for a wayward child.  The Bible does not reveal the internal workings of Joseph’s heart, but I cannot imagine that this young man did not, at times, experience doubt and discouragement.  He remained faithful to the Lord, but certainly he must have experienced moments of puzzlement.  How did God’s promises intersect with Joseph’s situation?


Most of God’s people do not have divinely-inspired dreams that outline their destinies, but many Christians have a difficult time discerning how God’s promises relate to the hardships that all of us encounter.  In particular, many believers struggle to discern God’s hand in the various affairs of life.  Last week I mentioned the claims of the Psalms.  God reveals himself as the believer’s fortress, rock, buckler, shield, and defender; yet, difficult circumstances may cause Christians to wonder about these statements.  Precisely how does God protect his children?  Often the Lord does not protect his people from great trials: financial hardships, family tensions, betrayal by friends, physical illness, professional disappointments, the death of loved ones, or church divisions.  Honestly, God did not protect Joseph from great hardship. The young man felt the sting of brotherly betrayal, severe temptation, false accusation, and unjust imprisonment.  Furthermore, God did not quickly rescue Joseph.  Years of disappointment and incarceration must have gravely tested his faith.  In time, the faithfulness and goodness of God began to emerge from the apparent mess, and, in his own time and way, God’s plan elevated Joseph to a position of great influence and power.


Some years ago, during a difficult time in my life, my dear father would call to offer words of encouragement and counsel.  As we neared the end of many phone conversations my dad would offer these last words, “Son, hang on.  Help is on the way.”  Joseph provides an excellent example of the kind of faith and obedience my dad encouraged.


For those you, my dear readers, who have encountered difficult circumstances, I offer the same words. “Hold on, help is on the way.”  When God is through, you will have no doubt that loving, gracious, powerful hands have guided you to exactly the place God’s wants for you.



Lesson Outline:


I.                   God’s Blessing in Difficult Circumstances (39:21-23)

A.    The setting of God’s blessing: Remember the lesson from last week.  Potiphar’s wife made a life-changing accusation against Joseph.  Her husband, angry at the charges, incarcerated Joseph in the imperial prison.  The young man who anticipated the sun, moon, and stars to bow before him, found himself in the dark recesses of an Egyptian dungeon. 

B.     The nature of God’s blessing: The Lord did not abandon Joseph; rather, divine favor rested on the young man, even in the darkness of the dungeon.  In time, the prison-keeper gave Joseph unparalleled authority, authority over the entire prison population.  To his credit, Joseph remained faithful and obedient to God, even in the small things. In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus told the Parable of the Talents.  As the Master, in the Parable, greeted each of his faithful servants, he reminded them that faithfulness over small things will lead to the Master entrusting greater things to the servants’ care.  Joseph’s faithfulness in prison prepared him for the obedience of becoming the second most powerful man in Egypt.


II.                Joseph’s Interpretation of Two Dreams (40:1-23)

A.    The offense of the cupbearer and baker (vv. 1-4): Genesis makes two indistinct time references in this passage (v. 1 and 4).  We don’t know how long Joseph waited in prison, but the text seems to indicate a lengthy incarceration.  Furthermore, the text gives little indication of the nature of the charges against these two men; however, the indictments were serious, and both men waited their sentence in the imperial prison.  Each man held an important position in the royal court.  The cupbearer tested the king’s wine for poison, and the baker served a similar purpose in the preparation of Pharaoh’s food.  Apparently, these men either failed in their duties, or, perhaps, someone had accused them of conspiracy to take the king’s life.  Whatever the case, each of these servants faced a death sentence, if proven guilty (recall that Pharaoh eventually executed the chief baker). 

B.     The cupbearer’s dream (vv. 5-19): Each servant had a dream.  They were troubled by their dreams, and Joseph sensed that something bothered them. God’s servant offered to interpret the dreams.  The cupbearer saw a three-branched grape vine.  He seized the grapes and squeezed the juice into Pharaoh’s cup; then, the king drank the wine from the cup.  Joseph predicted that, in three days, Pharaoh would restore the cupbearer to his position of honor and responsibility.

C.     The baker’s dream (vv. 5-19): The baker saw three baskets of grain.  Birds came and ate the grain, signaling, in Joseph’s interpretation, that the king would hang the baker in three days.  The birds would eat the flesh of the poor accused man.

D.    The fulfillment of Joseph’s predictions (vv. 20-23): On the third day, events occurred precisely as Joseph anticipated.  The cupbearer was restored and the baker was hanged.  Unfortunately for Joseph, the cupbearer quickly forgot the kindness the Lord’s servant had shown him.  Joseph remained in prison for another two years.