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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 40

Wells of Living Water CommentaryWells of Living Water

Verses 1-23

Joseph in Prison

Genesis 40:1-23


We left Joseph, in chapter 39, in prison under the order of Potiphar, captain of the guard. Chapter forty of Genesis discovers to us several important features, covering events in prison which carry lessons of twofold importance. First, they show us inner glimpses into Joseph's character, which seem to be illumined by his prison life. Second, they show us some marvelous foregleams of Christ's future experiences as He went to death for us, the Just for the unjust.

As we study Joseph in the light of his foreshadowings of Christ, we are convinced that the many chapters given to Joseph in the Book of Genesis were given, not merely to give us the history of a truly great man. They were given because in Joseph we could see Christ.

Many Old Testament saints were typical of their Lord in some one outstanding feature, but Joseph stands before us as the one man whose life outlined the whole history of Christ from the beginning of His ministry to His exaltation at the Father's right hand. Yea, the history of Joseph even foretells the story of Christ Coming back for His Bride, His Return to reign, and His Kingdom with the twelve tribes forgiven, restored, and blessed.

Just now, however, we would suggest some things about Joseph in prison:

1. Joseph was delivered by His brethren to the Gentiles. This was when Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites and then sold to Potiphar. Jesus Christ was, likewise, delivered by the Jews, His brethren, to the Gentiles.

Jew and Gentile thus stood together in their rejection of Christ. John said, "He was in the world, and the world * * knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." Here were Gentiles and Jews.

2. Joseph was cast into prison by the Gentiles. It was the Roman governor, Pilate, who was Christ's "Potiphar." Pilate delivered Jesus over to death. He commanded his officer, the centurion, and his soldiers to scourge and crucify Christ.

Potiphar delivered Joseph to prison because of the cry of his wife and servants, while he, evidently did not accept Joseph's guilt; otherwise, he would no doubt have ordered him killed.

Pilate delivered Christ because of the cry of the mob. He did not believe Christ guilty of any offense, however, for popularity's sake and for Caesar's approval, he delivered Him.

3. Joseph in prison suffered great tortures. We read in one of the Psalms that his feet were hurt with the fetters, and that he was laid in iron. Stephen on the day of his martyrdom spoke of Joseph as a slave and of his afflictions.

Jesus Christ suffered all indignity on the part of those who nailed Him to the Tree. Herod mocked Him. He was. crowned with thorns. He was spit upon. He was beaten with stripes. His hands and His feet were pierced. None can fathom the indignities that Christ, the Son of God, suffered as He hung upon the Cross.

4. Joseph suffered all of this, and yet he was without fault. The whole case against him was trumped up. He was maligned and misrepresented.

Jesus was pronounced guiltless, and yet, delivered, as a malefactor to be trodden underfoot. There was nothing against Him, and yet He was counted as the offscouring of the earth, As we think upon these things are we not ready to go forth unto Him without the camp bearing His reproach? Shall we, who are saved by His Cross, as He suffered for us, refuse to bear His Cross and suffer with Him?


The opening verses of chapter forty tell of Pharaoh's anger against the chief butler and the chief baker. These were cast into prison along with Joseph. They were prisoners because of guilt, Joseph was a prisoner without guilt, yet both were in the same prison, treated alike as law-breakers.

1. Upon the Gross Jesus was numbered with the transgressors. He was nailed between two thieves, thieves guilty of insurrection against Caesar.

This story of the Just cast out with the unjust was told by the Prophets, and it was likewise signified by this remarkable fact: Christ, when a babe, was born in a stable mid the cattle, and laid in a manger. This environment in birth set forth clearly the whole course of His life. He moved among the sinful and the humble; even the outcast found in Him a refuge and a place of forgiveness.

2. Not only was Jesus nailed on the middle Cross between two thieves, but He was innocent and they were guilty. The two thieves even admitted their guilt when one said to the other, "Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art hi the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this Man hath done nothing amiss."

Here, in the thief's words was a recognition that the guilty and the Guiltless were together under the same judgment; and also that they were suffering for their guilt, while He was suffering in His innocency.

It is always hard to suffer patiently, but when we suffer in just punishment for our guilt, it is not praiseworthy if we so suffer; if, however, we suffer wrongfully, without due cause, and yet we take it joyfully and with patience, this is thankworthy. Still more, when, like Christ, we suffer innocently and also vicariously, dying even for the ones who slay us, this is worthy of all praise.

What a wonderful Savior is ours! How we love and bless His holy Name! He is the One who merits all our praise forevermore.


The verse before us reads with almost fascinating power "And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them."

1. Here is the word the Guiltless served the guilty. Let us once more go to the Cross. There God gave Christ a charge over the ungodly. He served them. He served the two thieves alike, in that He suffered alike for both of them. He served the others who were guilty because He died for all. There was not one man, Jew or Gentile, among all those who crucified Him that He did not serve.

Yea, God looked down through the years and placed upon Christ the sins of us all. What unspeakable gratitude is ours as we think that even we who trust in Him, were counted in that charge, which God gave to our Lord.

2. Here is another word the Guiltless still serves the guilty. Christ ever liveth to make intercession for us. When our Lord and Master took the towel and girded Himself, He demonstrated that He was, indeed, among us as One who served. He served in His earth life, He served on the Cross, and He still serves in Heaven. He said, "I am among you as he that serveth." He still ministers.

The High Priest of old carried the blood, once a year, into the Holy of Holies; Christ carried His Blood, once for all, into the Holiest of all.

Each sinner has a possible Savior; One who pleads His Calvary work for him; each saint has a real Priest who manages all of his affairs. How rich is this heritage! There is One who ever lives in our behalf. He watches over us from above, and never wearies.

He will manage my affairs,

For He loves me, and He cares

As He pleads with the Father for me;

Grace He'll give in time of need,

For He is a Friend indeed,

Great High Priest who lives in Heaven for me.


We now come to a very potent factor in our types. Joseph, as he languished in prison, was approached by the two men who had been imprisoned with him. They told him of their dreams, and Joseph said, "Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you."

1. Like Joseph, Jesus gave all glory to the Father. Joseph did not make claim of his own powers, He said, "Do not interpretations belong to God?" This is what our Master did. He said, "The Words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself: but the Father." He gave the words of the Father; He did the work of the Father; He fulfilled the will of the Father.

We should not speak of Christ as an Automaton, which moves only upon the word of another, and is helpless in itself. Christ said, "I do nothing of Myself"; however, Christ did not mean that He was a mere powerless imbecile. He did mean that He and the Father were one, and one to so great a degree that He in all of His words and work interpreted the Father, and showed Him forth. He could not break the unity of Himself with the Father,

2. Like Joseph, Christ foretold the future. He did this many times during His life; He did it with all certainty upon the Cross itself.

To the chief butler Joseph said, "Within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head, and restore thee unto thy place." He said to the chief baker, "Within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and shall hang thee on a tree."

Thus did Jesus on the Cross foretell to one of the thieves, "To day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise." Our Lord did not hesitate to tell the thief who sued for grace and asked to be remembered that He would be with Him beyond the pales of death.

Thank God for such an assured prophetic statement. We too may hear His Word, "Because I live, ye shall live also." We who believe do not pass out into an unknown bourn, we know whither we go.


The word of Joseph was a savor of life to the chief butler, but to the chief baker it was a savor of death. To the one he said, "Thou shalt deliver Pharaoh's cup into his hand"; to the other, "Pharaoh * * shall hang thee on a tree."

1. Let us look at the three crosses that were raised on Golgotha's hill. The middle cross held the Savior; there, sin was upon Him, but no sin in Him. On another cross one thief hung: there was sin in him, and sin on him; the third cross held the other thief, there was sin in him, but no sin on him.

2. Let us remember the equality of grace. Each thief had the same opportunity to sue for mercy and to ask for remembrance. Christ showed no partiality. He was willing to save either or both. However, Christ was shut up in His mercy to the conditions of faith and reception manifested by the thieves.

3. Let us observe the wide variance of grace. Toward the one, grace received meant life imparted; toward the other, grace spurned and refused meant death assured. In either case the result was effective through eternity. The one went in to life eternal with God, and the other went into death eternal apart from God.

4. Let us understand that Jesus Christ passed the sentence of life and the sentence of death with all certainty and assurance. To one Joseph said, "Life," to the other Joseph said, "Death." To those on His right hand Christ will say, "Enter into the joy of thy Lord"; to those on His left hand Christ will say, "Depart from Me, ye cursed."

5. From the presence of Joseph as a pivotal starting point one went into the abodes of darkness, and the other into the presence of Pharaoh.

As two sinners stand at the Cross and behold the dying form of the Son of God, they are near to each other, even as the thieves upon the two crosses were equally near to Christ and equally near the one to the other. From that moment, however, there was a great divergence, one went to the right, one to the left, and today they are as far apart as the East is from the West.


After Joseph had told the chief butler of his restoration within three days into the presence of Pharaoh, he said, "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."

1. In the case of the Cross the tables were turned. Instead of Christ asking the thief to remember Him, the thief said unto the Lord, "Remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom."

Joseph foresaw the chief butler's opportunity as he was restored to Pharaoh's presence. Therefore, he asked that he might make mention of him unto Pharaoh.

The thief on the cross foresaw Christ's Kingdom and he wanted to be remembered when Christ came into that glorious consummation.

Sometimes we have thought that Christ upon the Cross must have repeated, in full, the twenty-second Psalm. We know that He quoted the first verse, which runs, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" We imagine that He must have also quoted the twenty-eighth verse, "For the Kingdom is the Lord's: and He is the governor among the nations."

This we know, the thief must have seen the words above the Cross, "This is Jesus the King of the Jews."

We know, also, that the thief with undaunted faith saw beyond the portals of death and wanted to be remembered.

2. In the foreshadowings of the Cross as set forth in the story of Joseph and his request of the chief butler, we wonder if our Lord Jesus was not foreshadowing our unfaithfulness toward Him who is so faithful to us.

The chief butler in the presence of Pharaoh, restored to power, utterly forgot the request of Joseph. Two years passed by without a mention of his name. We, too, forget our Lord. Of the ten lepers who were healed, only one gave thanks.

3. There is one thing, however, we must not pass up as we think of Joseph's request to be remembered. When the Lord was very sorrowful as He sat with them in the upper room, with the shadow of the Cross full upon Him, He said, "This do in remembrance of Me." He referred, as we know, to the breaking of break, and to the "cup." He is ever faithful to us. Now that He is in the presence of the Father, let us be as faithful to Him.

VI. THE CHIEF BAKER'S SAD FATE (Genesis 40:18-19 )

1. As the fate of the chief baker stands before us, we cannot but stop to weigh the fate of every sinner who rejects the Cross. Some there are who would tell the sinner an untruth as to the future and plead to him the love of God, and how God will not suffer any man to perish. Joseph made no false statement, nor did he cover up the fact. He did not plead Pharaoh's goodness. He said, "Pharaoh * * shall hang thee on a tree."

The love of God is for all sinners, but it is for them upon the basis of the Calvary work of Jesus Christ. Love does not and cannot operate contrary to justice. God is just, as well as good, and His goodness provided the Cross in order to uphold the majesty and righteousness of His justice.

2. Every sinner is living under the sentence of condemnation. He that believeth not is condemned already. God has said, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." He has also said, "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death."

If the wicked would lift up their eyes, God would tell them of their coming fate, just as faithfully as Joseph told the chief baker.

3. To one Pharaoh was the savor of life to life; to the other, of death unto death. The chief butler was rescued, the chief baker was hanged. It is the same God who gives life that also gives death. The sword is a twoedged sword. To the trusting soul it is a savor of life, to the unrepentant and unbelieving it is a savor of death.


The closing verses of the chapter show how every word spoken by Joseph was fulfilled. Joseph gave an interpretation from God. His interpretation was a prophecy. His prophecy was fulfilled to the letter.

1. The prophetic Scriptures are a more sure Word. There is not one good thing which God hath spoken which will not be accomplished; neither is there any matter of judgment which has been foretold which will not be fulfilled. If God hath said it, it will stand.

When the Children of Israel came into the land of Canaan, they said, "There hath not failed one good thing."

When Jesus Christ hung upon the Cross, He did not utter His last cry and give up the ghost until all had been fulfilled which was spoken of Him in the Prophets.

When Christ comes again to reign upon the earth, He will bring to pass every promise ever made in the prophetic Scriptures. What fools are we not to believe all that the Prophets have spoken!

2. The prophetic Scriptures foretell both coming glories and coming judgments. Joseph did not proclaim the glory side alone. He, also, proclaimed the dark side. Some one said to us a while ago, "We love to hear you preach on the glory of our Lord and the glories of His Kingdom." The fact is we love to preach upon these themes. It remains true, nevertheless, that we are sent likewise to warn the people of coming judgments.

We must not preach the terrors of the Lord apart from His mercy, but we must proclaim both. To the one we must give a message of life and love and light; to the other we must give a message of sorrow and sighing and death forevermore.


Joseph did not seek anguish and imprisonment, but he patiently bore what the Lord permitted to fall his way.

"'I have read in the lives of the fathers of a devout man that, being one year without any trial, cried out, "Domine, reliquisti me, quia non me visitasti, hoc anno," Lord! Thou hast forgotten me, and for a whole year hast not appointed me upon any exercise of patience.' We would not recommend anyone of our readers to unite with this devout but mistaken expression. We should count it all joy when we fall into divers trials, but, at the same time, we ought to be thankful if we do not fall into them. If a cross be laid upon us, let us take it up cheerfully; but it would be folly to make a cross for ourselves, or go out of our way to look for one. He must be a very foolish child who begs to be whipped. 'Lead us not into temptation,' is a prayer of our Lord's own teaching, and we prefer to keep to it rather than follow this devout man in what reads very like a prayer for temptation. Those who cry for chastisement will have enough of it before all is over. Be it ours to leave our correction and probation in our Lord's hands, and never let us be so unwise as to desire more trials than His infinite wisdom appoints us."

Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Genesis 40". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lwc/genesis-40.html.
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