God’s Faithfulness to Joseph, the Cupbearer, and the Thief on the Cross

One can never say that Joseph deserved what he got or that the thief deserved to be nailed to a cross, but these physical realities remind us of our real spiritual situation. We do not deserve to inherit a kingdom; we deserve death, yet Christ gave us life.

God’s Faithfulness to Joseph, the Cupbearer, and the Thief on the Cross

The idea that God would remember me when I need him overwhelms me with joy and confusion. Why would you remember one so sinful and so small? But I know he does, and Genesis 40 points me to God’s faithfulness. Joseph interpreted the dreams of two prisoners. A baker lost his life. A cupbearer was saved.

Joseph, Dream Interpreter

While imprisoned in Egypt, Joseph was given the task of serving Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker, who were both in prison also. Each of the men had a dream that puzzled them, so Joseph offered an interpretation from the Lord for each dream.

The chief cupbearer recalled, “a vine in front of me. On the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms came out, and its clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand” (vv. 9-11).

Joseph told him that the dream foreshadowed the cupbearer’s release. “In just three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position” (v. 13).

Here was the chief baker’s dream: “Three baskets of white bread were on my head. In the top basket were all sorts of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head” (v.16).

Joseph told him the truth. “In just three days Pharaoh will lift up your head — from off you — and hang you on a tree. Then the birds will eat the flesh from your body” (v. 19).

Of course, he interpreted both dreams correctly. He could not fail to do so because Joseph recognized his role as the conduit. God spoke to these men in dreams, then translated the images through Joseph.

Joseph, the Forgotten Prisoner

There are a few themes and images from this section of the Old Testament that point to Christ, but the one that stood out recently was that the chief cupbearer forgot Joseph. After he had told the chief cupbearer the meaning of his dream, Joseph asked for just one thing,

“But when all goes well for you, remember that I was with you. Please show kindness to me by mentioning me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this prison. For I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should put me in the dungeon” (vv.14-15).

Unfortunately, the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph until two years later. Pharaoh had a dream that needed interpreting, and the cupbearer recalled Joseph’s particular gift. In the meantime, what went through Joseph’s mind?

Scripture does not say, but we can probably relate to feeling forgotten by people we have been kind to, even forgotten by God. We do what he sends us to do, and then what happens?

We say what he puts on our hearts to say, but the result is painful. Joseph might have wondered how God could have given him such an opportunity, raised his hopes, and then left him in prison for a crime he did not commit.

The Thief on the Cross

“Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:42-43).

One man hanging on a cross near Jesus scoffed and goaded Jesus, hoping to be saved. The other man, a thief, rebuked his fellow sufferer, saying,

“Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong” (v.40).

This thief possessed extraordinary faith and humility, considering that Jesus looked just as helpless as they were in his beaten and bloodied form. Yet, the thief asked Jesus: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Joseph asked the cupbearer to remember him, but this mortal man, thrilled by his freedom, did not think of God’s servant, even though he was quick to tell this man his gift came from God.

Scripture says that the cupbearer “remembered his faults” when faced with the enigma of Pharaoh’s own puzzling dreams. His faults. Joseph’s expectation was a sound one, or else the cupbearer would not have thought this way.

Jesus made a bold promise that the thief would join him in Paradise on the strength of his faith, even though he demonstrated this faith during the final hours of his mortal life.

And that thief, recognizing Christ for who he was, must have taken so much comfort in knowing that a promise made by Jesus was reliable.

I can’t imagine how the man could have said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” if he did not believe Jesus was the Messiah.

Joseph and Jesus

The cupbearer makes and breaks a promise, but he is not the “Jesus” figure of this story; Joseph is. He foreshadows the characteristics of our Savior in several ways.

One of them is his incredible faith and depth of character. Joseph grew in humility and continued to love God, even though he was sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused of rape, and forgotten in prison.

He then emerged as Pharaoh’s Prime Minister and was able to welcome his father and brothers (and more) into Egypt and into his kingdom.

But Joseph is also the thief on the cross, in a sense. Joseph might not have been guilty of rape, but he was not a perfect man either. He could have handled himself around his brothers with a lot more kindness, wisdom, and empathy.

No one deserves what happened to him. His own father could have shown better sense instead of openly favoring his firstborn over his favored wife.

One can never say that Joseph deserved what he got or that the thief deserved to be nailed to a cross, but these physical realities remind us of our real spiritual situation. We do not deserve to inherit a kingdom; we deserve death, yet Christ gave us life.

A Better Cupbearer

“You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:22).

Christ is another type of cupbearer. He drank from the cup that the Father gave him to drink from, which was death on a cross. We confess, repent, ask forgiveness, then drink from the communion cup to remember that Christ’s blood was enough for us. He saved us.

He remembers us. The mortal cupbearer, a servant to an earthly, pagan king, was only able to help Pharaoh in a limited way. Joseph was unable to save his people from the consequences of their sin. They would continue to anger God, and they would suffer because of their rebellion.

But Jesus beckons us “come” to an imperishable kingdom and a cup overflowing with living water, even though we — like the thief and like Israel — are still sinners. The cupbearer did not seem to realize his opportunity, and he forgot his chance to save Joseph for two years.

But God does not ever overlook or forget us. God keeps time in his own way, and it is all for his good purposes. We can trust the one who bore the cup that we could not bear, the one who did better than put a good word in for us. He took our place.

From Egypt to the Cross

Jesus, like Joseph, was punished in spite of his innocence. Jesus also served those in prison with him with grace and humility. In fact, when his fellow prisoners gave Joseph credit for his dream interpretation, Joseph humbly corrected them. “Don’t interpretations belong to God?” (Genesis 40:8).

As he prepared to die, Jesus cried out, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Thank you, Father, that because of Christ’s saving work, we can trust you with our very lives.

You will never forget or neglect your promises. “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” (Psalm 40:2). You have done this in the hearts of your believers, and you will call us home.

For further reading:

How Can God Make Good What Was Meant for Evil?

How God’s Provision Is Revealed Through Joseph’s Dreams

What Do We Know about the Thief on the Cross?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Massonstock

Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.