Lectionary Calendar
Friday, June 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
StudyLight.org has pledged to help build churches in Uganda. Help us with that pledge and support pastors in the heart of Africa.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
Genesis 40

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-23

Genesis 40:1-23

The captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them

Light upon Joseph’s destiny

This chapter discovers signs that Joseph was destined to fill an important place in the history of the kingdom of God.

This was now the time of his trial and preparation for his great calling as the ruler of the Egyptians, the deliverer of his nation. Some of the indications of his high destiny are these:--

THE CONVICTION OF HIS INNOCENCE AND INTEGRITY GAINS GROUND. Joseph was, at first, thrown into a dungeon and laid in irons. Now, this severe discipline is relaxed, and he is appointed to a kind of stewardship over the other prisoners. It is highly probable, that, by this time, Potiphar was convinced of his innocence, though he detained him in custody for prudential reasons. Joseph was everywhere giving the impression of being a good and holy man. The character of Potiphar’s wife could not long be concealed; and as it became more and more known, the belief in Joseph’s innocence would gain ground.


1. As a saint of God. Mark how Joseph refers to God in every important crisis of his history. When Pharaoh’s two officers lamented that there was no interpreter of their dreams, he said, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” He was always true to his religion. Mark his temperateness and forbearance, his calmness and simplicity. He does not speak unkindly of his brethren, he does not even name them, but simply states that he was “stolen out of the land of the Hebrews,” and that he had “ done nothing” that they should put him “ into the dungeon” (verse 15). Here was the faith and resignation of a saint, whose life was fit to be recorded in the pages of Revelation as an eminent and worthy example to all ages.

2. As a prophet of God. As such he interprets dreams, which are here to be considered as Divine revelations to men of warning, reproof, and teaching Job 33:14-18).

3. As a kind and just ruler of men. Joseph was clearly a man who was destined to wield a commanding, and even a regal influence over others. He was fitted for this, doubtless, by his intellectual gifts and characteristics, but more especially

(1) by his sympathy. “Wherefore look ye so sadly to-day?” he said to his fellow-prisoners, whose dreams suggested the worst forebodings (verses 6-7). He himself had been in the school of affliction, and he had learned to be tender. Though he had griefs of his own to bear, he felt for others. He cannot be a true ruler of men who has not learned sympathy.

(2) By his uprightness. He was firm and faithful, even when he had to tell unpleasant truths (verses 18-19). Such are the qualities required in a true ruler of men (2 Samuel 23:3-4).

HE RETAINS FAITH AND HOPE IN GOD IN THE MIDST OF ALL. HIS ADVERSITIES. God was with him in the prison. Therefore he does not abandon himself to despair, but still trusts and hopes on. (T. H. Leale.)

Joseph and the two prisoners

We cannot but be struck with THE MINUTE PARTICULARITY OF THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD. See at how many critical points Joseph’s life touches the lives of others, and is, thereby, carried so much the farther forward towards the attainment by him of the place which God was preparing for him. When I get to a great railway junction, and find trains coming m together from the east, and the north, and the south, just in time to join another that is starting from that point for the west, I should be regarded as a simpleton if I spoke of that as a wonderful coincidence. And yet on the great Railroad of Life, when I come to such a junction and meet there a train that leads me on to some significant sphere of service, I am supposed to be a simpleton if I refer that to the over-ruling providence of God. But I am not a simpleton--I am only reasoning in that department as I would in the domain of literature or daily travelling; and he who repudiates God’s providence is the fool, according to that scathing utterance of the Psalmist--“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”

We are reminded by this history also that THE CHARACTER OF THE INDIVIDUAL HAS AS MUCH TO DO WITH WHAT I HAVE CALLED THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE PLOT OF HIS LIFE AS THE PLAN OR PURPOSE OF GOD HAS. Providence is not fatalism. Joseph, if he had chosen to act otherwise than he did, might have thrown away all the opportunities which these places of junction in his life afforded him. The men that fail in life do not fail for want of such opportunities as Joseph had, but for want of the character to see these opportunities, and the ability to use them. Keep near to God, therefore, form your character according to His principles, and then, even though you may be in a prison, you will find a way to serve Him, and will feel that somehow you are on the road to your success, and in training for your sphere.

We may learn that THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN THEMSELVES UPHELD IN TROUBLE, ARE THE MOST EFFICIENT HELPERS OF OTHERS WHEN THEY ARE IN TRIAL. Young as Joseph was, he had not seen enough sorrow to dispose him to sympathize with others in their affliction. And in the suggestive question which he put to his fellow-prisoners, “do not interpretations belong to God?” he not only expresses his own faith, but in the most delicate and skilful manner indicates to them the source whence alone true consolation comes. More than thirty years ago, just at the beginning of my ministry, I was in the house of a beloved pastor, when he was called to pass through the greatest trial that a man can know, in the death of a truly good and noble wife. Two mornings after, the postman brought in a sheaf of letters. I think there were more than twenty of them, but each was from a brother minister who had been led through the same dark valley, and who was seeking to comfort him with the comfort wherewith himself had been comforted of God. Only a few evenings ago I met a Christian lady, with whom I was comparing notes regarding the experience of the loss of little children, and she said to me, “I never see the death of a little child announced in the newspaper but I have an impulse to write to the parents and speak comfortably to them.” Thus we may console ourselves under our own trials with the thought that God is endowing us thereby with the gift of sympathy, and fitting us to become “ sons of consolation” to others in affliction. The price is costly, but the learning is precious.

THOSE WHOM WE BENEFIT HAVE OFTEN VERY POOR REMEMBRANCE OF KINDNESS. Men too often write the record of grudges in marble, and of favours in water. Nay, such is the perversity of human nature, that not unfrequently men return evil for the good which has been done them. One spoke to an English statesman of the violent enmity which another evinced towards him. “Yes,” was the reply, “and I cannot understand it, for I never did him any kindness that I can remember.” The sarcasm was bitter, but there was enough of truth in it to give it point; and every one who seeks to be a helper of others learns, sooner or later, to give over looking for human gratitude, and to think mainly of the Lord Jesus Christ and His appreciation. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)


1. Let no circumstances ever tempt the children of God to doubt and question the watchful care and kindness of their heavenly Father’s providence. Let them bear in remembrance, that He not only works in His own way, but chooses His own time; and let them rest in the assurance that both His way and His time are always the best. Though He tarry, then, wait for Him. “Fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.”

2. The source of true and constant enjoyment of that happiness which all seek and so few find must be within. It lies essentially in a sense of God’s love. This is happiness. This will ever he associated with confidence in His wisdom, and faithfulness, and kindness; and consequently with contentment in all conditions. These are sources of joy of which no power can rob us, and which remain ever the same--amidst all changes unchanging. (R. Wardlaw.)

Joseph ministering to the comfort of others

It may possibly cause momentary surprise, that Joseph, who interpreted others’ dreams, was left in ignorance of his own destiny. Is not this, however, the method ordinarily employed to strengthen faith and produce entire reliance upon God? Indeed, was it not communion with God produced by this sense of dependence which enabled him to interpret mysteries, which fitted him for comforting the sorrowing? It not frequently happens that those whose lives are passed in unrelieved sadness--with whom the present is an enigma, the past a memory of grief, the future a cloud of torturing uncertainty--are nevertheless the instruments in God’s hand of producing joy in others’ hearts. As a block of ice, chiselled into the form of a lens, can be made to concentrate the sun’s rays, kindling a flame, so the believer, by gathering the scattered beams of Heaven’s love, may pour cheerfulness into others’ hearts while his own may remain quite cheerless. (J. S. Van Dyke.)

The same prison is not the same thing to good and bad

Too often it happens to the righteous according to the wish of the wicked. Here we find two men who had sinned against their lord, the king of Egypt, confined in the same prison with Joseph. Yet the same prison is not the same thing to a good and to a bad man. The two offenders trembled in anxious dread of some worse punishment; and the consciousness of their demerit, if they were really guilty, was more painful to them than the irons were to Joseph, although they entered into his soul. Joseph had the testimony of his conscience to cheer him. He not only suffered without cause, but suffered for righteousness’ sake, and trusted that God would bring his sufferings to a comfortable conclusion. In the world you may meet with much distress; but keep consciences void of offence towards God and man, and you shall be preserved from the sting and venom of those troubles that Providence allots you. “Let no man suffer as a thief, as an evil-doer, as a busy-body in other men’s matters. But if any man suffer as a Christian,” or without deserving to suffer, “let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God, who executes righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.” (G. Lawson, D. D.)

The butler and the baker

PRISON OCCUPATIONS. The crime is the disgrace, and not the scaffold or the prison. Good men have often been imprisoned, while many wicked have escaped. Yet, notwithstanding the prison, these sufferers are amongst our heroes and martyrs. Milton said, “there shall one day be a resurrection of names and reputations.” Bunyan, Baxter, &c., are not honoured the less for the dungeons in which they suffered. Next to escaping the prison, the best thing is, like Joseph, to suffer innocently. Joseph in prison. Suffering often hardens the bad and purifies and manifests the good. Joseph’s character could not be hid. Even the keepers saw how different he was from the ordinary criminals committed to their care (see Pr

16:21. The prisoner becomes a keeper (so many of the captive Jews, asDaniel, Nehemiah, Mordecai, were exalted). Is so much trusted as to be freed from supervision (Genesis 38:22-23). God, who was with him in Canaan, is with him in Egypt, and in prison. He does not forsake His friends in distresses brought upon them by their fidelity to Him.

PRISON COMPANIONS. The butler and baker, two officers of importance in eastern and ancient courts. Yet even these were not spared by a capricious and absolute monarch. “Oh, how wretched is that poor man that hangs on princes’ favours!” In a palace one day, a prison the next. In ancient times a courtier’s office was often like the Bridge of Sighs at Venice, “a palace and a prison on each hand.” These men may have suffered justly; like the malefacters who were crucified with Jesus Luke 23:41). The worst punishment of the good is forced fellowship with the wicked. As providence over-ruled the wrath of Joseph’s brothers, so now he ever-rules the wrath of Pharaoh. One of these degraded officials shall be the instrument of Joseph’s release and exaltation.

PRISON DREAMS. That is: the dreams of the butler and baker. The subject was so strange, and the recollection so vivid, that they were troubled. Dreamland, a mysterious region to the ancients. No interpreter of dreams in the prison, they thought. Joseph’s inquiry. Be thinks of his own dreams, doubtless, and the transitory trouble they had brought him into. He gives the praise to God, as the true interpreter of dreams. By the help of divine illumination, he reveals the meaning of their dreams. No doubt he saw that God had sent them those dreams for him to interpret; and that his connection with these men would work out the fulfilment of his own dreams. It is certain that what was foretold by their dreams would have occurred even if they had never dreamed at all. Hence, it was clear that there was a purpose in their dreaming, and in their relating their dreams to Joseph. Probably had not Joseph been in prison, they would not have dreamed as they did. Learn:

If we suffer, let it be for righteousness’ sake.

When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies, &c, (J. C. Gray.)


1. Providence keeps its method in multiplying mercy to His saints in misery.

2. The sins of others God sometimes maketh an occasion of refreshing His own servants.

3. Court officers are very prone to sin, and abuse favours.

4. Kings themselves are not secured from offences by their nearest servants (Genesis 40:1).

5. Kings, offended, are apt to swell in wrath and displeasure.

6. Greatest wrath of kings is apt to rise against officers (Genesis 40:2).

7. The wrath of kings usually causeth the restraint and imprisonment of their criminal subjects.

8. God orders place where the wrath of man imprisons, and that for His own ends.

9. Innocents and malefactors may lie together in the same prison (Genesis 40:3).

10. God inclineth the hearts of chief commanders for imprisonment, more to the innocent than guilty.

11. Innocent prisoners under Providence may have the charge of malefactors.

12. Good souls trusted in any capacity, do execute it faithfully.

13. Set times and seasons of restraint God appoints to His own and others for His own ends.

14. All these Providence orders to be occasions of glorifying His grace in His saints (Genesis 40:4). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Verse 5

Genesis 40:5

They dreamed a dream

The wise interpreter



THE INTERPRETATION. Notice how honestly Joseph tells the truth--gives his message faithfully--does not hide what God has given him to say.

THE FULFILMENT. It all came true. Joseph had the comfort of feeling that he had been taught of God, and that so God was caring for him. Lessons:

1. God knows all things.

2. God foreknows all things.

3. God wisely orders all things. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)

Importance attached in Egypt to dreams

Numerous inscriptions show the great importance attached by the Egyptians to dreams. In one, the Prince of Baehtan is recorded as having sent back to Egypt, in consequence of a dream, the god Chunsu, which the Pharaoh had sent him to cure his daughter. Another states how King Menephtah had a dream before a battle, in which the god Ptah placed himself before him, and forbade him to advance. An inscription discovered in the ruins of Napata, relates how the Pharaoh Miamum, in the year of his elevation to the throne of Egypt and Ethiopia, dreamed that he saw two serpents; one on his right hand and the other on his left. Awaking, he demanded that his wise men should come and interpret it on the moment, and this they did as follows: “You possess the south, and the north will submit to you. The diadems of the two will shine on your head, and you will rule over all the land in its length and in its breadth.” Dreams were regarded as sent by the god Thoth, and it was so great a matter to obtain them that recipes are still extant telling how they may be secured. It was natural, therefore, that the two disgraced officials should be greatly excited to find out the meaning of the supposed Divine communications that had been sent them. Cut off as they were by the prison walls from the priests who alone interpreted dreams, they would doubtless be only too glad to avail themselves of such irregular help as the presence of Joseph promised to afford. (C. Geikie, D. D.)

Divine influence over the mind in sleep

1. We all allow that God may and does influence the workings of our minds through the operation of the laws of suggestion or association while we are awake; for it is impossible to hold in any intelligible fashion the doctrine of the agency of the Holy Spirit unless we make such an admission. But if God can thus influence our minds when we are awake, it is equally easy for Him to do so while we are asleep, so that there is no antecedent impossibility against the view that He may speak to men in and through the visions of the night.

2. Again, the providence of God must take cognizance of our dreams as well as of our waking thoughts, and must be equally in and over both, otherwise it is not really universal. Hence there is nothing either absurd or unphilosophical or impious in supposing that God may avail Himself of the phenomena of dreams for the purpose of turning the mind to His truth, or leading it into some particular direction. How He does that it is impossible to say. Sleep is a mystery, and dreams are a mystery, and to them both we may apply the words of Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth than have been dreamed of in philosophy”; while, whatever may be said of dreams in general, we are probably not wrong in believing that the visions here recorded were from the Lord. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

An interpreter

Two PICTURES WHICH NEEDED AN INTERPRETER, Dream pictures. Prison walls can’t shut out the sights which come to men in sleep.

1. The picture which the butler saw.

2. The picture which the baker saw.

THE INTERPRETER AND HIS INTERPRETATIONS. If we want to know what a picture means, the best person to tell us is the man who painted it? Who had painted these dream pictures? Sometimes see a plate on which child has been rubbing paints; a quantity of colour smudges, blue, red, green, yellow, all mixed up together! Many dreams something like this, just a quantity of thought smudges. The butler thinks about grapes and cups; the baker about bread and confectionery; no wonder that in their dreams they should see pictures which remind them of such things. Once a great artist, Turner, got his grandchildren to rub their fingers about in the colours on his palette. When they had made a great mess he said, “Now stop.” And then from their smudges he painted a most beautiful picture. God sometimes does this with our thought-smudges. So here, with the butler and the baker; He took their confused thoughts and made clear pictures out of them. In the prison was a man who trusted God, and because he trusted God, therefore God trusted him. He understood what the dream pictures meant; God taught him to interpret them. Conclusion: Some people like to have dreams, but dreams are not much good if they have no meaning, or if we can’t find out what the meaning is. God sometimes teaches men by dreams, but He has many other ways of teaching them; the world itself is a great picture-book full of meaning for those who can interpret it. Better to be an interpreter than a dreamer. If we can interpret, not dreams only but all nature will bring us messages from God. Can we be interpreters? Yes, if we are like Joseph, pure, simple, trusting God, trying to obey Him. Everything about us has a meaning if only we could understand. The seeds growing say to the interpreter, “Don’t be in a hurry; first the grain, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.” The wind says, “Ye know not whence I come or whither I go, and God’s spirit is like me.” The moon says, “I am so bright and beautiful because I reflect the light of the sun; if you want to be bright and beautiful, you must reflect the glory of Christ.” We need not mind dreams, good or bad; let us learn to trust and obey God, so that He may teach us to be good interpreters. (C. A. Goodhart, M. A.)

Pharaoh’s butler and baker advent types

The king of Egypt’s servants, it seems, have incurred his displeasure; they are in prison, bound, waiting for punishment, utterly in his power, quite helpless to atone for their sin, or appease his anger. Now here surely there is pictured for us in parable the state of man since the Fall. He has incurred the wrath of God; this world is his prison, and there is a still more fearful prospect of judgment and fiery indignation in the world to come; and nothing can be done, no man can atone for his own sins, nor for those of any one else; he has, indeed, bread to eat and raiment to put on, but he lives ever in the fear of death, for he has lost the favour of God, the great King. These prisoners dream each a dream in the dismal night of their imprisonment. They are filled with strange thoughts and fears which they cannot interpret; they desire above all things to know their fate, but none can tell them. Just so is man by nature; just like this were the thoughts and forebodings of the Greeks and Romans and other heathen nations, who had lost the knowledge of God, and yet were ever “feeling after Him, if haply they might find Him”; if, perhaps, they might learn what they were, whence they came, and whither they were going, As we read their writings we feel as if we could almost look into their faces, and see them bewildered and sad; for their life is to them but a dream, a riddle, a puzzle, and there is no interpreter of it for them. Now there is another person introduced. He is a servant like the others, in prison like them, yet invested with authority, endowed with Divine wisdom, able to tell them all that they so much desire to know. He has done no wrong, yet he is disgraced and punished; he suffers for another’s fault; he might have escaped and lived in honour, but he would not. “Is not this the Christ?” He entered the prison, that he might set the prisoners free. Yet not all; for now we must notice that there are two prisoners, with different dreams, and very different fates. So it is all through the Bible. “One is taken, the other left;” Abel and Cain, Jacob and Esau, David and Saul; down to Peter and Judas, and the two thieves crucified with our Lord. The first dreamer, the king’s butler, or more correctly his cupbearer, dreams of his life; he sees a vine, it buds, it blossoms, till clusters of ripe grapes hang thick upon it. Pharaoh’s cup is in his hand, he plucks the grapes, he presses the juice into the cup, and humbly presents it to Pharaoh, who accepts it. This dream is a life, and what sort of a life? An active, faithful, watchful, dutiful life. The cup of the Great King is in our hand, to tell us what He expects of us, fruit, Rood fruit, sweet, ripe, mature fruit, fruit at the due season, when He comes to seek it, that He may drink the new wine with His chosen servants in His kingdom. Jesus, the better Joseph, came to tell glad tidings to those who thus diligently did the will of God, that their labour was not in vain, that their work should be accepted, that they should soon be brought out of prison, be freed from the bondage of this death, and after three days, that is the time of Christ’s resting in the grave, they should have a joyful resurrection, and so their high calling should be restored to them which Adam’s sin had lost them; and thus should they be evermore with the Lord. Thus did Christ tell men their dreams. This brings us to the second dreamer; he too dreams of his life; he is Pharaoh’s baker, and his duty is to provide baked meats for the king. But what does he do? He prepares baked meats indeed; but he puts them into “Baskets with holes;” for, as the margin tells us, this is the true force and meaning of the words. And he puts these baskets on his head; that is, in a place where he can neither see them nor protect them. The consequence is that the wild birds light upon the baskets, and devour the meats, and he does not notice them; or the meats drop through the holes, for he cannot see them; and so they are lost, and become an easy prey. The butler and baker both worked, the former acceptably, the latter in vain. And his punishment is noteworthy. The birds that devoured his work that should have satisfied his master, presently devour his flesh as he hangs dead upon a tree. May we not see his fault indicated by his punishment? For, Job says, “They that plough iniquity and sow wickedness, reap the same.” A man’s sins are their own punishment; what he sows he reaps. These careless people work and labour and toil; they clutch fast that which they can gather for themselves, be it little or much; but the things of God are put into a “basket with holes,” out of sight, above their heads, and their eyes are toward the earth; and so they lose all; and when they come before the King, they will have nothing to present to Him. The birthday of our King is near; the birthday in humility and poverty, yet He will make a feast to all His servants, a spiritual feast, to which He bids all “that are religiously and devoutly disposed”; all His servants, not a few but all; the feast is provided for all; He expects all. And yet we must not think only of His birthday, but of the great second coming, when, like Pharaoh, He will reward and punish His servants according to their works. But, in the meantime, He sends a Joseph to us; He tells us our dreams, shows us ourselves, our life, and our end, in the mirror of the word of God, as St. James calls it. (F. C. Woodhouse, M. A.)

The dreams of the butler and the baker

Human society is a system of mutual interdependence. Very early men discovered that a division of labour was a common advantage. The king can no more do without the ploughman than the ploughman can do without the king.


1. Where there is partial knowledge there must be mystery. A man must be a mystery to his dog. Civilized men are mysteries to barbarians. A field-marshal is a mystery to his valet. A locomotive engine is a mystery to a ploughboy. There are more mysteries within ourselves than we can solve in a lifetime. Mysteries without us need not therefore stagger us.

2. Temporary miscarriage of justice is a mystery. Clever intrigues of wickedness often succeed. A lie may bring large gain, while the candid statement of the truth may bring ill-fame and worldly ruin. Pharaoh’s chief butler and chief baker-men of rank and position in the Court--may have been both innocent. Or, one may have been innocent, and one guilty. Yet both are committed to the same prison. Is not this a mystery?

3. That human destiny is revealed in dreams is a mystery. If one cannot, with the most wakeful sagacity, foresee clearly his earthly fortune and destiny, it is a strange thing that it can be indicated in a dream. Yet God has sometimes revealed to men coming events in their dreams.


1. The office of interpreter is useful to mankind. That is a narrow and erroneous view of human life that regards mechanical labour as alone profitable. The man who examines into the forces and movements of the human soul is as great a benefactor of his race as he who searches into the arcana of material nature. The interpreter of life’s mysteries fulfils a noble task.

2. The power to interpret comes from large personal experience. Joseph was well aware that his course of life had been wholly shaped by his dreams.

3. The interpreter must be a man full of sympathy. Joseph’s manifold sufferings had developed in him intense sympathy with the unfortunate.


1. The true interpreter must be the ally of truth. He has no personal end to serve. Because Jesus was essentially the truth, therefore He was the teacher, the interpreter, the wonder-worker, the life.

2. It is a joy to bring glad tidings. Nevertheless, he will rejoice in the butler’s joy: it will be a delight to turn sadness into song in another’s heart.

3. The interpreter may be commissioned to carry sorrowful news. To do a man good service is a greater kindness than to give him pleasure. Joseph was the best earthly friend that chief baker ever had, though he announced, “in three days thou wilt be hanged.” Joseph obtained for that man three precious days of preparation for the great change. (J. Dickerson Davies, M. A.)

Joseph is again brought into connection with dreams

It is not surprising that three nights before Pharaoh’s birthday these functionaries of the court should have recalled in sleep such scenes as that day was wont to bring round, nor that they should vividly have seen the parts they themselves used to play in the festival. Neither is it surprising that they should have had very anxious thoughts regarding their own fate on a day which was chosen for deciding the fate of political or courtly offenders. But it is remarkable that they having dreamed these dreams Joseph should have been found willing to interpret them. One desires some evidence of Joseph’s attitude towards God during this period when God’s attitude towards him might seem doubtful, and especially one would like to know what Joseph, by this time, thought of his juvenile dreams, and whether in the prison his face wore the same beaming confidence in his own future which had smitten the hearts of his brothers with impatient envy of the dreamer. We seek some evidence, and here we find it. Joseph’s willingness to interpret the dreams of his fellow-prisoners proves that he still believed in his own, that among his other qualities he had this characteristic also of a steadfast and profound soul, that he “reverenced as a man the dreams of his youth.” Had he not done so, and had he not yet hoped that somehow God would bring truth out of them, he would surely have said: “Don’t you believe in dreams; they will only get you into difficulties.” This casual conversation, then, With his fellow-prisoners was for Joseph one of those perilous moments when a man holds his fate in his hand, and yet does not know that he is specially on trial, but has for his guidance and safe-conduct through the hazard only the ordinary safeguards and lights by the aid of which he is framing his daily life. A man cannot be forewarned of trial, if the trial is to be a fair test of his habitual life. He must not be called to the lists by the herald’s trumpet warning him to mind his seat and grasp his weapon; but must be suddenly set upon if his habit of steadiness and balance is to be tested, and the warrior-instinct to which the right weapon is ever at hand. As Joseph, going the round of his morning duty and spreading what might stir the appetite of these dainty courtiers, noted the gloom on their faces, had he not been of a nature to take upon himself the sorrows of others, he might have been glad to escape from their presence, fearful lost he should be infected by their depression, or should become an object on which they might vent their ill-humour. But he was girt with a healthy cheerfulness that could bear more than his own burden; and his pondering of his own experience made him sensitive to all that affected the destinies of other men. Thus Joseph, in becoming the interpreter of the dreams of other men, became the fulfiller of his own. Had he made light of the dreams of his fellow-prisoners because he had already made light of his own, he would, for aught we can see, have died in the dungeon. And, indeed, what hope is left for a man, and what deliverance is possible, when he makes light of his own most sacred experience, and doubts whether, after all, there was any Divine voice in that part of his life which once he felt to be full of significance? (M. Dods, D. D.)

The vine in Egypt

In Egypt, wine was used for medicinal purposes; it was employed in the offerings made to the deities; Osiris was popularly believed to be identical with the Greek Bacchus, and was represented to have been the first who found the vine and taught men its cultivation; wine was imported into Egypt from Greece and Phoenicia; it formed a part of the daily rations allowed to the soldiers of the king’s guard; it was not even interdicted to the priests, except, perhaps, to those of Heliopolis, though but a limited quantity was permitted to them to ensure their constant efficiency for their sacred functions; and wine was plentifully served at banquets and other social meetings to both men and women; even if, as some believe, the frightful skeleton, usually exhibited to the guests, with the words, “Eat and drink, for soon you will be like this,” was a symbolical exhortation to temperance, it did not always produce the desired effect; but it is much more probable that it was intended to invite to a free and full enjoyment of the pleasures of the table, since inexorable death will not fail to pay its unwelcome visit. The vine occurred in Egypt in a great variety of species, of which that grown in the Thebaid was so agreeable and light that it was, without injury, given to invalids; the wine of Mareotis was most esteemed and plentiful, and possessed the advantage of keeping to a great age; while that of Tenia was renowned for its richness and aromatic fragrance. The vine flourishes in Egypt even in the water, like an aquatic plant; it is, therefore, not injured by the inundations of the Nile, which, moreover, never commence, in Lower Egypt, before the middle of August, when the vintage is, in most cases, almost entirely completed. Vineyards, very tastefully arranged, were either combined with, or contiguous to, orchards, furnished with tanks, and often with reservoirs, with summer-houses, and reception-rooms, with avenues of trees and grass-plots, and always with a building for the wine-press (Isaiah 5:1-2). “The vineswere trained on trellis-work, supported by transverse rafters resting on pillars” which were, in many instances, gaily caloured, and divided the vineyard into numerous avenues; many vines were allowed to grow as standing bushes, and, on account of their lowness, required no support; while others were formed into a number of beautiful bowers. At the season of the vintage, from the end of June, boys were engaged to frighten away the birds by a sling or the sound of the voice; in gathering the fruit, the precarious aid of trained monkeys was more curiously than profitably employed; and after the conclusion of the vintage, kids were allowed to browse upon the vines. The simplest mode of pressing the wine was by putting the grapes into a bag, and turning the latter by two poles in contrary directions, or, by some other contrivance based on the same principle, but more remarkable is the foot-press; the workmen trod the grapes with naked feet, supporting themselves by ropes suspended from the roof. We possess several beautiful representations of such wine-presses, remarkable for elaborateness and tastefulness. After some other liquid was probably added to the juice, it was clarified by sieving, and perhaps by the application of eggs. The dream of the chief butler describes in rapid but comprehensive outlines the different stages in the growth of the vine; how it produces buds and blossoms, forms clusters, and matures ripe grapes, which the butler then presses into the goblet (Genesis 40:10). This completeness seems to be the principal object of the narrative; it may be that only in order to shorten the whole process, and to compress it within the narrow frame of a vision, the juice, after having just been pressed out with the hand, is stated to have been placed before the king; whereas, ,in reality, it might have been allowed to ferment the usual time, as it is represented in numerous frescoes; but it is as probable that sometimes temperate persons (as it was later ordained in the Koran) abstained from fermented wine on account of its more intoxicating power, and that, at some period, the priests who regulated the king’s table, as they controlled all his public and private affairs, prescribed to him the use of the unfermented juice of the grape. (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)

Think on me when it shall be well with thee

Joseph’s plea for remembrance

The first bit of humanity we have seen in Joseph: human nature is in this little plea. He would have been far too great a man for me if I had not seen this little touch of human nature coming out after all. I have wondered, as I have read along here, that he did not protest and resent, and vindicate himself, and otherwise come out as an injured man. He has been almost superhuman up to this point. Now the poor lad says, “The chain is very heavy, this yoke makes me chafe. I cannot bear this any longer.” And he tells the butler, who has had good luck before him, that he would like to be taken out of the dungeon. There are times when we want to find a god even in the butler; times when our theism is too great for us, and we want to get hold of a man--when our religion seems to us to be too aerial, afar off, and we would be glad to take hold of any staff that anybody could put into our poor trembling hands. This is natural, and I am not about to denounce Joseph, to reproach him, as though he had done some unnatural and unreasonable thing. I am glad of this revelation of his nature; it brings me near to him. Though God will not substitute himself by a butler, and will give him two more years’ imprisonment, yet God will make it up to him somehow. He shall not want consolation. It was very human to seek to make a half god of the butler to get out out of that galling bondage. We shall see, in the course of our reading, whether God be not mightier than all creatures, and cannot open a way to kingdoms and royalties, when we ourselves are striving only for some little, insignificant, and unworthy blessing. (J. Parker, D. D.)


1. Sad and seduced souls may be brought to open their troubles to such as may truly answer them from God.

2. Things seen in dreams sent by God may signify matters of another nature. So the vine, &c. (Genesis 40:10).

3. Actions are presented in some dreams by God to presage the like really to come (Genesis 40:11).

4. God’s gift of interpretation of dreams is a sure oracle.

5. God alone determines the truth to every sign. Three branches, three days (Genesis 40:12).

6. Under symbols God may infallibly teach restitution, and advancement to imprisoned creatures.

7. God’s prophets may declare that to others, which they cannot to themselves for good.

8. Restitution of evil-doers to favour must carry orderly ministration therein (Genesis 40:13).

9. God’s goodness to sufferers by His prophets, requireth good to them. Remember me (Genesis 40:14).

10. It is not unbeseeming God’s prophets to desire their own good.

11. It is reasonable to desire to be known to them who can help them.

12. Liberty is desirable by saints in their restraints.

13. It is just for God’s innocents to complain of wrongs.

14. It is equal for God’s afflicted ones to plead their own innocency.

15. It is fit for saints to desire freedom from dungeon calamities (Genesis 40:15). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Joseph’s request

He very naturally throws in a request on behalf of himself. There is no symptom of impatience in this; but patience itself may consist with the use of all lawful means to obtain deliverance. The terms in which this request are made are modest, and exceedingly impressive. He might have asked for a place under the chief butler, or some other post of honour or profit: but he requests only to be delivered from this house. He might have reminded him how much he owed to his sympathetic and kind treatment; but he left these things to speak for themselves. In pleading the exalted station in which the chief butler was about to be reinstated, he gently intimates the obligations which people in prosperous circumstances are under, to think of the poor and afflicted; and Christians may still farther improve the principle, not to be unmindful of such cases in their approaches to the King of kings. This plea may also direct us to make use of His name and interest, who is exalted at the right hand of the speak lies in the name of God. He professed to have his knowledge from above, and faithfully delivered to the two prisoners what he had received from the Lord.

2. But there was another reason why Joseph declared plainly what he had learned from God. He wished to have it known amongst the Egyptians that interpretations belonged to the God of the Hebrews, and that he alone could show things that were to come to pass. Joseph afterwards received the name of Zaphnath-paaneah, the revealer of secrets; but it was his desire to have it known that his God was the fountain of all his knowledge, and that confidence in any other God, or in any other way of coming to the knowledge of futurity, but by revelation from Him was vanity and the work of error. (G. Lawson, D. D.)


1. God keeps time punctually in making good His word for good and evil unto creatures.

2. Man’s day and God’s may meet together for fulfilling God’s will revealed.

3. The birthday’s celebration is a heathenish practice and invention (Genesis 40:20).

4. Such times worldly powers used to give out favours or frowns, to kill and keep alive.

5. Where God hath spoken of restitution to liberty and honour, there it is done (verse. 21).

6. Where God hath foretold of death and destruction, there it surely comes to pass (Genesis 40:22).

7. Men restored to liberty and prosperity are apt to forget adverse conditions.

8. Carnal men usually prove unthankful for and unmindful of good done to them in misery.

9. God useth the forgetfulness of creatures to bring about His gracious end to His saints.

10. Unkindnesses from creatures are but to make His saints learn more patience toward God (Genesis 40:23). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Infamous ingratitude

We all reprobate the conduct of the chief butler. His memory will be held in detestation while the world lasts. The Word of God hath recorded his infamy, that other men may be warned to show proper returns of gratitude to their benefactors. We can indeed be under no apprehensions that the Book of God will transmit our character to future ages. The chief butler felt as little fear of that perpetual dishonour to which his memory was to be subjected by a book that should be read to the end of the world. But do we not know that there is another book of God, which contains the records of every individual’s life--a book which shall be opened before the assembled world? What confusion will then cover the faces of those who are found to have been insensible to the favours done them, either by their fellow-men or by their Maker! The unthankful and the unholy are kindred characters (2 Timothy 3:1-17.). Those who are unthankful to benefactors of their own race are likewise unthankful to their Maker and Preserver. If they were duly sensible of the blessings conferred upon them by God, they would not be ungrateful to those whom He is pleased to employ as the instruments of His benefactions. If all men abhor those who return not good for good, when it is in the power of their hands to do it; if they are justly accounted no better than publicans or heathens, who love only them who love themselves, how black is our ingratitude if we are not penetrated with grateful love to Him, who not only pitied us in our low estate, but wrought redemption for us by a life of sorrow, and by an accursed death? (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Verse 20

Genesis 40:20

The third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday



WE SHOULD MAKE IT A DAY OF THANKSGIVING. The birth of a human soul is a wondrous miracle, and for weal or woe is an event which will be felt through all eternity. Surely, such is a special season of praise. And thanksgiving is mainly united to joy. Pharaoh rejoiced and instituted a feast. We can show our thanksgiving in no better way than in a practical method of doing good to our fellows and dependents, and causing them to rejoice with us.

WE SHOULD MAKE IT A DAY OF RECTIFICATION. Pharaoh, with his little light, did so. The chief butler had been falsely accused, and the chief baker justly. The one he restored to his proper position, and the other was put to death. We all of us make mistakes, we form many harsh judgments, we misinterpret the feelings and actions of others, we shape our course wrongly. Surely, it is well then to make reparation for the past, and to put our lives on a new footing, and to make this part straight.

WE SHOULD MAKE IT A TIME FOR HUMILIATION AND PRAYER. It is true that God made us, but what have our lives been worth? What have they been worth to Him? Have we fulfilled the glorious objects for which we are created? And this humiliation should lead to prayer--prayer for Divine guidance and help, prayer for forgiveness and pardon.

WE SHOULD MAKE IT A DAY OF REFLECTION AND RESOLUTION. “There is a time to be born,” says the wise man, but “There is also a time to die.” The one must necessarily remind us of the other. The season is indeed full of solemn thoughts. Can we bless the day we were born, or is it to us only the beginning of a long and terrible curse? (Homilist.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 40". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/genesis-40.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Ads FreeProfile