Genesis 40:23

ESV Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.
NIV The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.
NASB Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.
CSB Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.
NLT Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer, however, forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another thought.
KJV Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgot him.
NKJV Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.

What does Genesis 40:23 mean?

This verse lands like a thud at the end of the chapter. Joseph was wrongfully imprisoned (Genesis 39:11–15), and there met two former employees of Egypt's ruler, Pharaoh (Genesis 40:1–4). When the two men had vivid, prophetic dreams, Joseph was able to interpret them through the power of God (Genesis 40:5–8). One of the men, the baker, had a dream which predicted his impending death (Genesis 40:16–19). The other, the cupbearer, dreamt about his future restoration (Genesis 40:12–13). Both fates came about exactly as Joseph had said (Genesis 40:20–22).

When Joseph successfully interpreted the cupbearer's dream, he pleaded with the man to remember him. Knowing he was falsely accused, Joseph asks the man to put in a good word for him to Pharaoh (Genesis 40:14–15). Joseph desperately wanted to be released from prison for a crime he did not commit. This is not a lack of trust on Joseph's part, but a sensible response to a good opportunity.

Despite everything Joseph predicted coming true, by God's revelation, down to the smallest detail, the chief cupbearer was not impressed enough to pass along Joseph's plea. He does not tell of his experience with Joseph until years later (Genesis 41:1, 9). The concept of "forgetting," in English, almost always implies a complete lack of awareness. When someone literally "forgets" a thing, they have no memory of it. However, the Hebrew root word shakach also includes the idea of ignoring something or setting it aside (Genesis 27:45; Job 19:14; Psalm 31:12; Ecclesiastes 9:15).

In this case, it is a deliberate "forgetting" which comes from the cupbearer. He does not lose memory of what happened, but he chooses to say nothing. Perhaps he is afraid to stir up any more controversy. He may have felt that asking anything of Pharaoh, in that moment, would have been too audacious.

Joseph would remain forgotten in prison for another two years (Genesis 41:1). Though God was with Joseph and blessed him, Joseph's circumstances continued to be very difficult. God had not forgotten him, though, and God's plan for Joseph and Israel continued according to His own schedule (Genesis 45:5; 50:20).
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