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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 40

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

Verses 1-8

The Dreams of the two Prisoners

v. 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. Joseph was in prison a number of years, since he was only seventeen at the time of his involuntary trip to Egypt and thirty at the time of his release. But while he was still a prisoner, although one with unusual privileges, the chief butler and the chief baker of Pharaoh were cast into the state prison for some offense against the king.

v. 2. And Pharaoh was wroth against two of his officers, against the chief of the butlers and against the chief of the bakers.

v. 3. And he put them in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, in to the prison, the place where Joseph was bound. They were committed to the care of Potiphar, the chief officer of Pharaoh's body-guard who was incidentally the chief executioner, and Potiphar promptly had them transferred to the prison, in charge of the king's jailer.

v. 4. And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them; and they continued a season in ward. Since the prisoners were men of distinction, Potiphar personally arranged for both their safe-keeping and comfort and once more showed favor to Joseph by giving them into his special charge and making him their attendant.

v. 5. 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. It was in the same night that both men dreamed, each one a different dream with a special significance, both as to the incident upon which it was founded and as to the interpretation which it received.

v. 6. And Joseph came in unto them in the morning, and looked upon them, and, behold, they were sad. It was not the mere curiosity of the privileged servant that caused Joseph to take note of their attitude, but a real, kindly sympathy.

v. 7. And he asked Pharaoh's officers that were with him in the ward of his lord's house, saying, Wherefore look ye so sadly today? Uneasy forebodings had stamped their faces with a look of worry and ill-humor.

v. 8. And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. The interpretation of dreams, which were in those days considered omens for good or evil, was in the hands of a special class of men who derived profit from their work. The prisoners were unable to consult such a person with regard to their dreams, and that worried them, made them sullen. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me them, I pray you. He reminded them of the fact that God, who sends significant dreams, is the only one that can furnish authentic interpretations; but he intimated, at the same time, that the gift of interpretation might be found with him, for he must have known that the Lord revealed things to him in this manner. Christians will neither attach an undue significance to dreams, nor will they ridicule the idea that God, even now, may reveal matters to men in this manner.

Verses 9-19

The Interpretation of the Dreams

v. 9. And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, In my dream, behold, a vine was before me;

v. 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;

v. 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. It was a very vivid dream, one in which events ordinarily of long duration were pressed together into the space of a few moments. The grapevine was before butler, its three branches grew, it seemed that the blossoms budded forth, that they ripened into berries, into grapes. And, the cup belonging to the king being in his hand, he immediately pressed out the grapes and offered the cup with the juice to the king, thus performing the work which he had always been doing.

v. 12. And Joseph said unto him, This is the interpretation of it: The three branches are three days;

v. 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. God revealed this interpretation to Joseph, and the latter told it in just that way. Pharaoh would lift up the head of the butler out of the disgrace of his imprisonment, have him fetched from prison, grant him the former prosperity and honor, and give him back his former office.

v. 14. But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and show kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house;

v. 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. Joseph's plea may well be understood, when he asks the butler to keep him in favorable memory. He explains that he did not flee from his home country on account of some crime, but that he had been abducted by force. The expression shields his brothers, so far as their share in his present plight was concerned, and is altogether consistent, for Joseph undoubtedly informed the Ishmaelites that bought him of his station. He speaks with the same caution in referring to his imprisonment, merely stating that he was guilty of no crime which would have merited his being placed into this pit.

v. 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, three baskets with white bread;

v. 17. and in the uppermost basket there was of all manner of bake-meats for Pharaoh, fine things to eat of bakery goods; and the birds did eat them out of the basket upon my head. In his eagerness to obtain a favorable interpretation for himself, the chief baker overlooked the significant difference in the end of the dream.

v. 18. And Joseph answered and said, This is the interpretation thereof: The three baskets are three days;

v. 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. In this one point there was the great distinction between the two dreams: it was not Pharaoh that took bread or fine pastry from the hand of the baker, but the birds seized upon his bakery-ware. He was to be put to death, hung upon a stake or gallows, and his flesh given to the birds of heaven to eat. Although the interpretation seems so simple, it is clear that God Himself here drew aside the veil of the future.

Verses 20-23

The Dreams come true

v. 20. And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants, it being the custom of the ancient kings to celebrate these occasions with a great show of pomp; and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants, he caused them both to be fetched out of the prison, but his object in doing so differed widely.

v. 21. And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand, he was reinstated in his former office;

v. 22. but he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them.

v. 23. Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him. In the happiness attending his deliverance from prison he forgot the humble Hebrew of the prison, for such is the way of the world. Also in this story Joseph is a type of Christ, who, like the Hebrew young man of old, was reckoned with the transgressors and had to go down into the greatest depths of disgrace and humility.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Genesis 40". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/genesis-40.html. 1921-23.
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