Historically, a cupbearer was a high-ranking official in charge of serving the king. It was primarily the responsibility of a cupbearer to serve the wine to the royal table. Since kings were concerned about plots to poison them, cupbearers had to guard the cup carefully and would sometimes taste the drink before serving it to ensure it was safe. Due to the responsibilities of the position, a cupbearer had to be trustworthy and loyal. A cupbearer had the king’s confidence and because of his character was able to exert influence in the royal court.
The first cupbearer in the Bible is mentioned in Genesis 40. Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker had offended the king and were put in prison. They were jailed in the same place as Joseph, who had been imprisoned because of the false claims of Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39). While in prison, the cupbearer and the baker both had dreams. Joseph noticed that they were dejected and asked the men about it. They said their funk was due to their dreams and the fact that no one was there to interpret the dreams for them. Joseph told them that interpretations belong to God and explained the meanings of their dreams. The cupbearer’s dream revealed that he would be restored to his position within three days—which is exactly what happened. Joseph asked the cupbearer to remember him and appeal to Pharaoh on his behalf. Joseph understood the influence a cupbearer could have.
Though the cupbearer forgot about Joseph at that time, he did remember Joseph two years later when Pharaoh also had disturbing dreams (Genesis 41). At the cupbearer’s suggestion, Pharaoh sent for Joseph and, again recognizing God as the source of interpretation of dreams, Joseph explained the meaning of the king’s dream. There would be seven years of abundance in Egypt followed by seven years of famine. Joseph counseled Pharaoh to put a wise man in charge of Egypt to prepare for the coming dearth. Recognizing the Spirit of God in Joseph, the king put him in charge. Though the cupbearer had failed to use his influence when Joseph first requested it, God was faithful to Joseph. Eventually, Joseph became second-in-command in Egypt and saved many through his actions.
Cupbearers are also mentioned in 1 Kings 10:4–5 and 2 Chronicles 9:4 in conveying how impressed the Queen of Sheba was with King Solomon’s wisdom and the splendor of his court. The cupbearers are mentioned along with Solomon’s palace, food, officials, attending servants, and the burnt offerings he made at the temple. Seeing Solomon’s wisdom along with all the trappings of success and his devotion to the Lord overwhelmed the queen. Cupbearers were a notable part of the royal court.
Nehemiah was a cupbearer to the Persian King Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 1:11). He was loyal to the king and worked with a good, positive attitude. One day, Nehemiah presented the wine with sadness, and the king noticed and asked his cupbearer the reason for his sadness (Nehemiah 2:2). Nehemiah took the opportunity to request a leave of absence in order to travel to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls that remained in disrepair. Nehemiah 2:8 says, “And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests.” Nehemiah was an excellent cupbearer because he trusted and honored God in all that he did, and he worked diligently. Proverbs 22:29 says, “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings.” Such was the case with Nehemiah.
Nehemiah’s work as a cupbearer is a good reminder to us today that God cares how we work. Colossians 3:23 tells us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” The way we work is a reflection of our relationship with God. Nehemiah’s service is a reminder to work hard, faithfully, and with a good attitude no matter what our role. When we work hard and show that we can be trusted, God is honored and others notice.