Bible Commentaries
Genesis 40

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


5. The prisoners’ dreams and Joseph’s interpretations ch. 40

When Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker had disturbing dreams in prison, Joseph foretold the cupbearer’s restoration and the baker’s execution, but Joseph remained in prison because the cupbearer forgot him.

The cupbearer and baker were responsible for Pharaoh’s drink and food (Genesis 40:1-4). Nehemiah occupied a similar position to this cupbearer later in the Persian court (cf. Nehemiah 1:11 to Nehemiah 2:8). Perhaps both were in prison because someone had tried to poison Pharaoh, or so it seemed, and Pharaoh could not determine immediately which of the two men was responsible.

The place of confinement was the state prison: a round, wall-enclosed building probably attached to Potiphar’s house, as was customary in Egypt (Genesis 40:3; Genesis 40:7). The chief jailer (Genesis 39:21-23) was evidently in charge of the prison, under Potiphar’s authority. Potiphar gave Joseph the job of servicing Pharaoh’s two important prisoners.

"Genuine loyalty to God will always express itself in absolute faithfulness in every-day duty." [Note: Thomas, p. 380.]

The Egyptians and the Babylonians regarded dreams as very significant predictions (Genesis 40:5-8). [Note: Sarna, Understanding Genesis, pp. 218-19.]

"There were men who had learned the technique of interpreting dreams, and there was a considerable literature on the subject." [Note: von Rad, p. 371.]

The dreams of the cupbearer and baker were revelations from God. Realizing that God had given him the ability to interpret their divine revelations, Joseph invited the two prisoners to relate their dreams to him. He was careful, however, to give God the glory for his interpretative gift (Genesis 40:8; cf. Genesis 41:16; cf. Genesis 41:25; cf. Genesis 41:28; cf. Genesis 41:39). Daniel also had this ability and likewise gave God the credit (cf. Daniel 2:28). [Note: For other remarkable parallels between Joseph and Daniel, see Ross, Creation and . . ., p. 637.]

The baker would not simply suffer execution, but his corpse would then be impaled and publicly exposed. The Egyptians did this to prevent one’s spirit from resting in the afterlife. [Note: Wenham, Genesis 16-50, p. 384.]

The significance of this chapter lies in Joseph’s God-given ability to interpret dreams. This gift and Joseph’s use of it on this occasion prepared the way for Pharaoh calling for Joseph to interpret his dreams two years later and exalting him in the government (ch. 41).

"Trials may be viewed from two standpoints, and it will make all the difference to our spiritual life and peace which of these two points of view we take. From the human side Joseph’s suffering was due to injustice on the part of Potiphar, and ingratitude on the part of the butler. From the Divine side these years were permitted for the purpose of training and preparing Joseph for the great work that lay before him. If we look only at the human side of trial we shall become discouraged, and it [sic] may be irritated and angered, but as we turn to look at it from the Divine side we shall see God in everything and all things working together for our good." [Note: Thomas, p. 389.]

Those who faithfully use the abilities that God has given them, even in discouraging circumstances, demonstrate unwavering faith in God’s promises to them.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 40". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.