Preparing to Preach on Genesis 40 (Hour 5)

I am reading various accounts of what a cupbearer and a baker are. Here are two of the better definitions:


CUPBEARER (מַשְׁקֶה).—An officer of considerable importance at Oriental courts, whose duty it was to serve the wine at the table of the king. The first mention of this officer is in the story of Joseph (Gn 40:1–15), where the term rendered ‘butler’ (wh. see) in EV is the Heb. word above, rendered in other passages cupbearer (Arabic essâḳi). The holder of this office was brought into confidential relations with the king, and must have been thoroughly trustworthy, as part of his duty was to guard against poison in the king’s cup. In some cases he was required to taste the wine before presenting it. The position of Nehemiah as cupbearer to Artaxerxes Longimanus was evidently high. Herodotus (iii. 34) speaks of the office at the court of Cambyses, king of Persia, as ‘an honour of no small account,’ and the narrative of Neh. shows the high esteem of the king for him, who is so solicitous for his welfare that he asks the cause of his sadness (2:2). The cupbearers among the officers of king Solomon’s household (1 K 10:5) impressed the queen of Sheba, and they are mentioned among other indications of the grandeur of his court, which was modelled upon courts of other Oriental kings. The Rabshakeh, who was sent to Hezekiah (2 K 18:17), was formerly supposed to have been cupbearer to Sennacherib, but the word (רַבְשָׁקֵה) means chief of the princes (see Del. on Is 36:2, and Sayce, HCM p. 441). Among the Assyrians, the cupbearers, like other attendants of the king, were commonly eunuchs, as may be seen from the monuments; and such was the case generally at Oriental courts. The Persians, however, did not so uniformly employ eunuchs, and probably never so degraded their own people or the Jews who served them. Certainly, Nehemiah was not a eunuch. Herod the Great had a cupbearer who was a eunuch (Jos. Ant. XVI. viii. 1).

Porter, H. (1911–1912). CUPBEARER. In J. Hastings, J. A. Selbie, A. B. Davidson, S. R. Driver, & H. B. Swete (Eds.), A Dictionary of the Bible: Dealing with Its Language, Literature, and Contents Including the Biblical Theology (Vol. 1, p. 533). New York; Edinburgh: Charles Scribner’s Sons; T. & T. Clark.

The baker operated in the home (Gn 19:3), in the public bakery (Jer 37:21), and in the palaces of kings and nobles (Gn 40:1–22; 41:10, 13; 1 Sm 8:13) preparing bread and cakes from the basic staples of oil and flour. The fleeing Israelites baked unleavened bread for their journey (Ex 12:39). The bread and cakes were baked in some kind of pan or oven (Lv 2:4; 26:26). As Israelite society developed, specialized bakers operated and formed guilds. Jeremiah was given his daily ration when in prison (Jer 37:21). Some have argued that Hosea was a baker because of his knowledge of baking techniques (Hos 7:4, 6–8). In postexilic Jerusalem there was a fortress called the Tower of the Ovens (Neh 3:11; 12:38). Bakers are not referred to in the NT but ovens are mentioned (Mt 6:30; Lk 12:28).

Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (pp. 2083–2084). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

These two entries and others like them provide context for the passage.

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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