Joseph had a rough go of things is one of the understatement of the millennium. His brothers, spurred on by their jealousy sold him into slavery. When he worked as a slave in Potiphar's house, his wife falsely accuses Joseph of raping her. He spends several years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. But perhaps the most tragic of all happens in Genesis 40. He meets with a cupbearer and baker and interprets their dreams. The baker, unfortunately, will receive a death sentence from Pharaoh. But the cupbearer will be freed from prison.

Genesis 40:14: "But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison."

But instead, the cupbearer, as soon as he gets out of prison, forgets about Joseph. Joseph spends several more years in prison until, when the Pharaoh starts having nightmares, he remembers about a certain dream interpreter in prison. How terribly tragic. How in the world could someone, who understands the trials someone experiences in prison, especially for having done absolutely nothing wrong, which Joseph tells him in verse f5.

How could the cupbearer have forgotten him? And how do we avoid becoming like this man, when we emerge from our suffering?

Why Did He Forget Joseph?

Scripture sadly doesn't give us a direct answer to this question. It just says that he forgot Joseph (Genesis 40:23). Tough luck, considering Joseph gave him the very hope that he would escape prison when he interpreted his dream. Although we can only rely on conjecture, we can assume that the cupbearer did not enjoy prison. No one really does. And so when he escaped his jail cell, he may have expunged some of his memories of that difficult time, which included Joseph. Below we'll list some possible reasons for why he forgot Joseph.

We Tend to Want to Forget the Bad Times When We Enter the Good Ones

Have you ever run a race? Yeah, I've had the misfortune of doing that a number of times. During the race, you want to die. Fiery thorns wrap around your lungs, your calves hurt, and you want to do anything but keep plodding on up that hill.

But after the race? You feel great. You feel like you could run it again. "Maybe it wasn't that bad," you say to yourself. 

There's a reason we tend to cry out to God in the bad times, rather than the good. Because the good times tend to make us complacent. We blot out the memories of what made the bad times so bad, and the cupbearer probably did the same.

We Forget about the Suffering of Others When We Enter the Good

I never understand how anyone can treat retail workers or servers with scorn. But that's because I had worked a retail job far more recently than many of the people I see yelling at workers. The memories of being yelled at for messes that weren't my fault or coupons that wouldn't scan are so fresh. And those who scream at the workers may not remember what it was like to be in that position.

We tend to see this a lot in the Christian world when someone undergoes a trial. When they emerge from the trial, they have hindsight. But they tend to brush the worries and sadness of those currently experiencing a trial under the rug. Or worse, tell them, "Well, trust in God" or "It'll get better" instead of sitting with them in the hurt.

The cupbearer had experienced a lot of hurt in prison. And he didn't want to sit with anyone in the midst of theirs anytime soon. So he forgot Joseph.

We Tend to Be More Self-Absorbed

When Joseph first meets the cupbearer, the cupbearer expresses anguish and sorrow over the dream he can't interpret. He fears for his life and what Pharaoh will do to him.

Throughout the story, he seems focused on himself, until the Pharaoh has a bad dream. Those who suffer may focus so much on their own trials that they forget about the ones others also endure. And so he forgot about Joseph.

We don't have a clear answer. But we can only imagine the frustration Joseph experienced when the cupbearer took years to remember him. Let's explore how to avoid ending up like the cupbearer in the story of Joseph.

How Do We Avoid Becoming the Cupbearer in the Story of Joseph?

Let's analyze the three possible reasons for why the cupbearer forgot Joseph, and how we can do better when our brothers and sisters anguish under trials.

First, we need to remember how much God has carried us through our trials

We cannot help other Christians unless we remember how much we anguished, how much we suffered. I personally love to keep a journal. I see moments of deep distress and how, weeks, months, even years later, God answered my prayers. But I remember the anguish. Because if I don't remember, I run the risk of discounting the pain and suffering another believer feels in the midst of his or her trial.

Second, we sit with our brother and sister in their suffering

We often like to poke fun at Job's friends, but we don't realize how often we become Job's friends. How often we try to offer half-baked, feel-good sayings to believers when they experience bereavement, the ache of a rebellious child, job loss, infidelity, divorce, and any number of other issues that render our hearts and rub us raw. It's often best to sit in the discomfort and listen. We often do more harm with the words we say when we try to comfort. If you feel the Spirit lead you to speak, ask that God helps you to speak in gentleness and respect, as you are not in the pit of suffering as they are.

Third, we focus our attention on others

Whether we endure a trial right now or have just emerged from one, we can all (myself included) do well to pay attention to those hurting around us. Everyone goes through something at all times. Therefore we need to listen and ask God how we can be a joy in the lives of others. 

If the cupbearer had attended to these three things, he may have remembered Joseph sooner, and Joseph would have left his wrongful imprisonment at a much earlier date. Let us pray to avoid becoming like the cupbearer, and instead, listen to the needs and the hurt of our brothers and sisters. 

Photo credit: ©Unsplash/kmellis


headshot of author Hope BolingerHope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,100 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.