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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 40

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And it came to pass after these things, that the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker had offended their lord the king of Egypt.

The butler - not only the cup-bearer, but overseer of the royal vineyards, as well as the cellars, having, probably, some hundreds of people under him. It was an office similar to that which was held by Nehemiah in the Persian court (Nehemiah 2:1); and the holder of it in Assyria was called Rab-shakeh.

In some isolated passages of Herodotus and Plutarch, it is asserted that the vine was not cultivated in ancient Egypt. But these historians were misinformed, as the sculptured monuments, many of which are as old as the time of Joseph, afford indisputable evidence of the culture of the vine at an early period in that country. Wilkinson (vol. 2:, p. 143), Champollion (p. 51), Rosellini (vol. 2:, p. 365), have severally described scenes representing the whole process of winemaking, which leave no room for doubt that the vine was reared in Egypt (cf. Numbers 20:5; Psalms 78:47; Psalms 80:8; Psalms 105:33), and that fermented wine was used in abundance both by men and women.

His baker - or cook, had the superintendence of everything relating to the providing and preparing of meats for the royal table. The Egyptians made much use of baked meats: their cookery consisted principally of made dishes, and their bread was of different quality, and moulded into a variety of forms. Both officers, especially the former, were, in ancient Egypt, always persons of great rank and importance; and from the confidential nature of their employment, as well as their access to the royal presence, they were generally the highest nobles or princes of the blood.

Verses 2-3

And Pharaoh was wroth against two of his officers, against the chief of the butlers, and against the chief of the bakers.

Pharaoh ... put them in ward ... Whatever was their crime (and it has been supposed, from the nature of their employments, together with Oriental tradition, that it consisted in an attempt to poison the king), they were committed-until their case could be investigated-to the custody of the captain of the guard - i:e., Potiphar, in an outer part of whose house the royal prison was situated.

Verse 4

And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them: and they continued a season in ward.

The captain of the guard charged Joseph with them - not the keeper, though he was must favourably disposed, but Potiphar himself, who, it would seem, was by this time satisfied of the perfect innocence of the young Hebrew, though, probably, to prevent the exposure of his family, he deemed it prudent to detain him in confinement (see Psalms 37:5). [The Septuagint, however, seems to have read a different Hebrew text here; for, instead of "the captain of the guard," they translate ho archidesmootees; Vulgate, custos carceris, the keeper of the prison.]

They continued a season in ward - literally, days-how long, is uncertain; but as they were called to account on the king's birthday, it has been supposed that their offence had been committed on the preceding anniversary (Calvin).

Verses 5-8

And they dreamed a dream both of them, each man his dream in one night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, which were bound in the prison.

They dreamed a dream. Joseph, influenced by the spirit of true religion, could feel for others (Ecclesiastes 4:1; Romans 12:15; Philippians 2:4). Observing them one day extremely depressed, he inquired the cause of their melancholy; and being informed it was owing to a dream they had respectively dreamed during the previous night, which, as relating to their respective offices, they were convinced contained some deep significance, whether of good or evil they could not tell; and after piously directing them to God (Daniel 2:30; Isaiah 26:10), he volunteered to aid them, through the divine help, in discovering the import of their vision. The influence of Providence must be seen in the remarkable fact of both officers dreaming such dreams in one night. He Providence must be seen in the remarkable fact of both officers dreaming such dreams in one night. He moveth the spirits of men.

Verse 9

And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, In my dream, behold, a vine was before me;

Behold a vine was before me. In this dream processes of vegetation, as well as a series of human actions, are compressed into a brief space, which would take a long time to bring to completion (cf. Zechariah 4:2; Zechariah 4:12); because while the mental eye of the dreamer was contemplating the vine, it attained the successive stages of budding, blossoming, and producing ripe grapes [ wªhiy' (H1931) kªporachat (H6524)] - and it was as if budding -

i.e., it appeared to bud [ nitsah (H5322), singular, used collectively, it blossoms].

Verse 10

And in the vine were three branches: and it was as though it budded, and her blossoms shot forth; and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes:

And the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes, [ hibshiyluw (H1310) 'ashkªloteyhaa (H811) `ªnaabiym (H6025)] - and its stems (the cluster-stems of the vine) ripened the berries; i:e., brought forth ripe grapes (Gesenius).

Verse 11

And Pharaoh's cup was in my hand: and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh's cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand.

And I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh's cup. The visionary scene described seems to represent the king as having been taking exercise abroad, and, on his return, being attended by his butler, who gave him a cooling draught. On all occasions the kings of ancient Egypt were required to practice temperance in the use of wine (Wilkinson); but in this scene it is a prepared beverage he is drinking, probably the sherbet of the present day. Everything was done in the king's presence-the cup was taken up, the juice of the grapes pressed into it, and it was then handed to him-not grasped by the butler, but lightly resting on the tips of the thumb and the fingers.

Verse 12

And Joseph said unto him, This is the interpretation of it: The three branches are three days:

Joseph said unto him, This is the interpretation. Speaking as an inspired interpreter, he told the butler that within three days he would be restored to all the honours and privileges of his office.

The three branches are three days. In all symbolical propositions the persons of the substantive verb-am, art, is, are-whether expressed or understood, as it is here, are the copulative, showing the relation between the type and the antitype. The three branches signity three days (Matthew 26:26; Luke 8:11).

Verse 13

Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head, and restore thee unto thy place: and thou shalt deliver Pharaoh's cup into his hand, after the former manner when thou wast his butler.

Shall ... lift up thine head, [ yisaa' (H5375) ... 'et (H854) ro'shekaa (H7218)] - will lift up thy head-namely, out of prison, which in the East was frequently under ground. (See the phrase fully expressed, 2 Kings 25:27.) Rosenmuller translates the words, 'Pharaoh shall count (reckon) thee (cf. Exodus 30:12) - namely, among his officers.' The Septuagint has kai mneestheesetai Pharaoo tees archees sou and Pharaoh shall remember (think of) thy office (service). While making that joyful announcement, he earnestly bespoke the officer's influence for his own liberation.

Verse 14

But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and shew kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house:

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 15

For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon.

I was stolen - i:e., carried off by secret violence, and not exiled in consequence of crime.

Out of the land of the Hebrews. The neighbourhood of Hebron might be so called from the long residence, the immense substance, and the powerful influence of the patriarchs among the Canaanite tribes (Genesis 14:13; Genesis 21:23; Genesis 23:6; Genesis 26:14; Genesis 29:14; Genesis 34:1-31; Genesis 39:17). The Hebrews, as an appellative applied to the patriarchal emigrants into Canaan, was, as Gesenius has remarked, the name current in Egypt and among foreign nations.

Into the dungeon, [ babowr (H953)] - in the pit, or prison (see the note at Genesis 37:22). Nothing has hitherto met us in the record indicative of Joseph's feelings: but this earnest appeal reveals a sadness and impatient longing for release which not all his piety and faith in God could dispel.

The circumstances mentioned exactly describe this officer's duties, which, notwithstanding numerous assistants, he performed with his own hands.

Verse 16

When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said unto Joseph, I also was in my dream, and, behold, I had three white baskets on my head:

I had three white baskets on my head. The meats were carried not in wooden trays, but in wicker-baskets, the materials for the manufacture of which were very abundant in Egypt, especially on the banks of the Nile. Reeds, rushes, the mid-rib of the palm-frond, were used for the purpose, and the basket-work was made in great varieties of form. Many were flat, shallow, and broad, as were those described here, and bread, as well as other articles of food, carried in them (Exodus 29:3; Exodus 29:23; Numbers 6:15).

White baskets, [ caleey (H5536) choriy (H2751)]. Modern scholars, rejecting the translation given both in the text and in the margin of our English version, render the words, either 'baskets of white bread,' or, as some think the specification of colour to be unnecessary, all bread in the East being white, 'baskets of bread baked in holes.' A common form of oven in houses is a hole, about six inches deep and three or four in diameter, dug in the floor or ground along the sides of which flat stones are placed, to concentrate the heat produced by a fire of brushwood. The embers being cleaned out, the dough is placed in the hollow all night. By this process the baking is slow, and bread of an excellent quality produced. The Septuagint has: tria kana chondritoon, three baskets of spelt loaves.

On my head. This was a common practice of the Egyptians in the time of Herodotus, who says (B. 2:, ch.

35), 'the women carry burdens upon their shoulders, while the men carry them upon their heads.'

Verse 17

And in the uppermost basket there was of all manner of bakemeats for Pharaoh; and the birds did eat them out of the basket upon my head.

All manner of bake-meats for Pharaoh - literally, all kinds of food, the work of the baker. [So the Septuagint, pantoon toon genoon oon Pharaoo esthiei, ergon sitopoiou.] The meats were carried to table upon the head in three baskets, one piled upon the other, and in the uppermost the bakemeats. And in crossing the open courts, from the kitchen to the dining rooms, the abstraction of the viands by an eagle, ibis, hawk, or other rapacious bird, was a frequent occurrence in the palaces of Egypt, as it is an everyday incident in the hot countries of the East still. The risk from these carnivorous birds was the greater in the cities of Egypt, that, being held sacred, it was unlawful to destroy them; and they swarmed in such numbers as to be a great annoyance to the people.

Verse 18

And Joseph answered and said, This is the interpretation thereof: The three baskets are three days:

Joseph answered ... This is the interpretation. The purport was that in three days his execution should be ordered.

Verse 19

Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and shall hang thee on a tree; and the birds shall eat thy flesh from off thee.

Shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, [ yisaa' (H5375) ... 'et (H854) ro'shªkaa (H7218) mee`aaleykaa (H5921)] - i:e., shall take away thy life. There is a paranomasia on the verb used here and in Genesis 40:13. [See an analogous instance in the opposite meanings of min (H4480), Genesis 27:28; Genesis 27:39.] The language of Joseph describes minutely one form of capital punishment that prevailed in Egypt-namely, that the criminal was decapitated, and then his headless body gibbeted on a tree by the highway, until it was gradually devoured by the ravenous birds (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

Verses 20-22

And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants.

The third day ... Pharaoh's birthday. This was a holiday season, celebrated at court with great magnificence, and honoured by a free pardon to prisoners. Accordingly the issue happened to the butler and baker as Joseph had foretold. Doubtless he felt it painful to communicate such dismal tidings to the baker; but he could not help announcing what God had revealed to him; and it was for the honour of the true God that he should speak plainly.

Verse 23

Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him.

Yet did not the chief butler ... This was human nature. How prone are men to forget and neglect in prosperity those who have been their companions in adversity! (Amos 6:6.) But, although reflecting no credit on the butler, it was wisely ordered, in the providence of God, that he should forget Joseph. The divine purposes required that the son of Israel should obtain his deliverance in another way, and by other means.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 40". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/genesis-40.html. 1871-8.
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