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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 40

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-23

Genesis 40:4. Captain of the guard; that is, Potiphar who had a controul over the gaoler. It would seem, by enlarging Joseph’s liberty in prison, that he now believed his asseverations of innocence: and in that case, he ought to have enlarged him. But oh what it costs a man to say before the public, I have erred, I have sinned, I have been dishonoured in my tenderest interests: sooner than do this, Potiphar chose to employ Joseph as an under gaoler.

Genesis 40:8. We have dreamed a dream. Though all persons using divinations were utterly prohibited among the Jews; (Deuteronomy 18:0.) yet judicious men have noted impressive dreams. Hippocrates and Galen have written on the subject. Few will doubt but certain persons have been warned of impending danger by dreams. Infidelity indeed has said, “These things may be true; meanwhile they are not true.” In this case, every man must be allowed to judge for himself; and yet it is desirable that all persons should be cautioned against the weakness of superstition, as knowing that we are all under the immediate care of a superintending providence. The scriptures fully admit that many dreams are induced on the mind by a superior influence. See note on Genesis 41:1.

Genesis 40:13. Lift up thine head. Tremellius, on this passage, has a curious note. The Jews, he says, kept account of the servants by pegs put into a board full of holes, which they removed according to their services and duties. These pegs they called heads. Hence Pharaoh would take up his head to read it, and restore him to his place.

Genesis 40:15. I was stolen. What an appeal in this verse of suffering innocence to the feelings of humanity: but he brings no complaints either against God or man.

Genesis 40:19. Hang thee on a tree. This was a hard truth to tell a fellow prisoner; but ministers must do their duty, and declare the whole counsel of God. Whether the alarming dreams of unregenerate men proceed from terrors of conscience, or from the convincing operations of the Holy Spirit, we should press them to hearken to the warning voice, which calls them to repentance and reformation of life.


We learn from this chapter, that great and sudden afflictions often befal the righteous and the wicked, the rich and the poor. Joseph a poor slave, and Pharaoh’s confidential servant, were involved in various calamities. What conclusions may we not deduce concerning the uncertainty of worldly good; what instructions may we not derive concerning the necessity of having a hope laid up in heaven, and above the vicissitudes of life!

We learn also, that providence avails itself even of the crimes and passions of man to fulfil its vast designs. They do evil for the sake of evil; and though God may often bring the greatest good from it, being ever mindful of the reformation and good of human kind; yet it neither alters the nature of their sin, nor shall it diminish their punishment.

Piety is uniformly characterized and distinguished by compassion. Joseph, seeing the prisoners sad, inquired the cause. Just so, wherever distress and misery prevail, thither the feet of mercy find their way. God’s angels of benevolence enter that house, and blessings drop from their hands, and consolations from their lips. Great indeed is the privilege of being surrounded with a good man in a time of affliction, to irradiate our minds by his counsel, and to aid our devotion by his faith. By Joseph’s ministry, the chief butler, for three whole days anticipated the joys of restoration; and the chief baker had three days allowed for recollection and repentance.

But oh, we learn from this butler, and from a thousand like cases, that when the dark clouds of adversity are dispelled by the sunshine of life, unregenerate men forget both God and his servants. This officer was busy in the bustle of the court, and whenever the recollection of Joseph obtruded, he must either wait for a favourable opportunity, or he must not, as yet offend Potiphar, who also was high in office. Let us be thankful, that we have a better advocate at the right hand of God, Jesus Christ the righteous. The best of men under affliction, have constant need of divine aid and support. If Joseph had looked too much at the hatred and treason of his brethren, at his mistress’s wickedness, and Potiphar’s long severity; and above all, at the butler’s ingratitude; he might have sunk into hopeless dejection. Even Peter, when he considered the wind, and looked at the waves, began to sink. Let us therefore in all our troubles look through the means to the end, for God will never leave nor forsake his suffering saints; and disregarding as much as possible our present evils, let us look only at that sure promise: “in due time ye shall be exalted.”

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 40". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/genesis-40.html. 1835.
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