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The chief butler and chief baker of Pharaoh relate their dreams to Joseph. He interprets the dreams, which after three days are fulfilled according to his interpretation.
Genesis 40:1. Butler—and—baker— This chief butler and chief baker, Gen 40:2 were two distinguished officers of the crown; cup-bearer and master of the household to the king; see Nehemiah 1:11. Diodorus Siculus informs us, that "all officers who immediately served the ancient kings of AEgypt, were taken from the most illustrious families of the priests; no mercenaries purchased for money, or home-born slaves, were ever admitted to this honour." Some writers have assigned causes for this anger of Pharaoh against these officers; but these can be nothing but conjecture.
Genesis 40:3. Joseph was bound— Rather read, had been bound.
Genesis 40:4. A season— They were days, ימים, iamim, the Hebrew has it; that is, say some, a whole year. It is thought by the generality of commentators, that the captain of the guard here mentioned, was Potiphar: it is a point of no great consequence, but I should rather conceive that he was a different person. Houbigant denies that iamim, singly, ever denotes a year. See his Prolegomena.
REFLECTIONS.—The favour of princes is an uncertain possession. These two chief officers of Pharaoh experience a sad reverse of fortune, from a palace to a prison. They little thought for whose sake they were brought thither: it was for Joseph's, and into his custody they were committed. The links of the chain of providence are strangely connected, but in wisdom all.
Genesis 40:5. According to the interpretation, &c.— That is, each man dreamed a significative dream, according to the explanation which Joseph afterwards gave of it. Houbigant would render it, after the Samaritan, each man his dream, according to the interpretation of it, i.e.. each of whose dreams had its proper and particular interpretation. That they understood their dreams to be significative, to express something respecting themselves and their state, is evident from the sadness which Joseph discerned in their countenances, Gen 40:6 and from the cause which they assigned for that sadness, Genesis 40:8. We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it; that is, the usual interpreters of dreams fail here, they cannot give us satisfaction; see note on Gen 40:8 ch. 41: or it may be, Here in the prison, we have it not in our power to consult those who are skilled in dreams, and who are divinely instructed to interpret them. It was a general opinion in the ancient pagan world, that dreams, or at least certain dreams, proceeded from the gods, and that particular persons were enabled by these gods to interpret them. Hence the large train of priests, prophets, diviners, &c. Bishop Warburton, who has treated largely on this subject in the third volume of his Divine Legation of Moses, observes, that, "the interpretation of dreams made a very considerable part of ancient pagan religion. The AEgyptian priests, the first interpreters of dreams, took their rules for this species of divination, from the symbolic learning in which they were so deeply read: a ground of interpretation which would give the strongest credit to the art, and equally satisfy the diviner and consulter; for by this time it was generally believed, that their gods had given them hieroglyphic writing; so that nothing was more natural than to imagine that these gods, who, in their opinions gave dreams likewise, had employed the same mode of expression in both revelations. This was probably the true original of the interpretation of those dreams called allegorical; that is, of dreams in general; for the wildness of an unbridled fancy will make all natural dreams to be of that kind. If this account of the original of this art stood in need of farther evidence, I might urge the rules of interpretation given from Artemidorus, and a great many more which might be given; all of them conformable to the symbolic hieroglyphics in Horapollo. As hieroglyphics were become sacred, by being made the cloudy vehicle of the AEgyptian theology, and as none but the priests preserved these sacred mysteries, the butler and baker might well be uneasy for want of an interpreter, as none could be gotten in the dreary abode where they were confined."
Genesis 40:8. Do not interpretations, &c.— That is, says Calmet, "the explanation of your dreams depends not on a diviner; it is God who reveals it to the diviner himself, [if it be revealed] and who can reveal it to me as well as to him, if he think proper." Joseph reasons here upon a principle universally allowed, that God alone has the knowledge of future events, and consequently that he alone can reveal such events, whatever instruments he may think fit to use for that purpose. See Daniel 4:8-9. and Herod. l. ii. c. 83.
Genesis 40:12. The three branches are three days— i.e.. Signify or represent three days. See Gen 40:18 ch. Genesis 41:26-27.
Genesis 40:13. Lift up thine head— To lift up the head of another, is to shew him honour and respect; to raise him from the downcast state in which he is, and so to give him confidence and encouragement. See Parkhurst and Stockius on the word נשׁא. Grief or adversity is expressed by hanging down the head; and therefore a contrary state is well expressed by the contrary phrase, which is very significative and beautiful. Pharaoh, Gen 40:20 lifted up the head, i.e.. called from prison, and encouraged to a justification of themselves, both the chief butler and chief baker; the one vindicated himself, and was restored to his place; the other could not do so, and was therefore punished.
Genesis 40:14. But think on me, &c.— The confidence which Joseph had in the certainty of the event which the dream foretold, is manifest from hence; nor can he be blamed for this application to human means, in order to clear himself and be delivered from confinement. He most probably informed the butler of his whole history; as we read, Gen 40:15 that he told him he was stolen away, that is, secretly and by force sold for a slave to strangers; a crime which the Romans distinguished by the name of plagiary. Qui hominem liberum vendit, plagiarius est; "he who sells a freeman, is guilty of plagiary." I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews, i.e.. that land in which the Hebrews sojourned, in which they were become very considerable, and well known to the AEgyptians, and which they were afterwards entirely to possess. See ch. Genesis 14:13.
Genesis 40:15. Dungeon— i.e.. by synecdoche, the prison in general; not the place in prisons peculiarly so called; for Joseph, who was so much employed in the prison, cannot be supposed to have been confined in one place, much less in the dungeon.
Genesis 40:16. Three white baskets— White wicker baskets full of holes. It was usual with the ancients to serve their bread at table in baskets; and Herodotus tells us, that among the AEgyptians the women carried burdens on their shoulders, and the men on their heads; hence the baker said, I had three baskets [one upon another] on my head.
Genesis 40:19. Lift up thy head— It is added, from off thee: shall take off thy head, and shall hang thee (thy carcase afterwards) on a tree; for it was usual first to behead the criminal, and then to hang him up: hence Jeremiah says, princes were hanged up by their hands, Lam 5:12 intimating, that their heads were first cut off. See 1 Samuel 31:9-10. and more examples in Calmet.
REFLECTIONS.—We have here,
1. Two extraordinary dreams, which happened to two of the prisoners under Joseph's care. Much affected with the visions on their bed, their countenances bore the deep impression, and Joseph in the morning, with kind solicitude, could not but inquire into the cause of their dejection. Note; (1.) God has arrows in his quiver, which, without a visible cause, can damp the spirits of the mighty. Could we look into sinners' hearts, we should find distresses there, which only themselves know. (2.) It is kind to be solicitous about our neighbours' happiness; and, especially when they appear dejected, to reach out the tender hand of comfort.
2. They relate their dreams, and Joseph interprets them. The butler's dream is the happy presage of his restoration; the baker's, of an ignominious death. Note; Communications of our griefs to godly men, is the ready way to receive solution of our doubts, or comfort in our afflictions.
3. Joseph's modest request to the butler. As he was innocently a prisoner, he wishes for an enlargement, and, without reflecting on his persecutors, begs only a remembrance of him, when the butler should be restored to his lost dignity. Note; (1.) Though we may be content with servitude, yet, if we can be free, we may choose it rather. (2.) In exculpating ourselves, we cannot be too careful to avoid reflecting upon those who have injured us.
Genesis 40:20. Pharaoh's birth-day— The antiquity of celebrating birth-days is hence observable. Some think that the phrase lifted up the head, as applied to the elevation of one officer and the destruction of the other, is ambiguous, like the word tollo in the Latin tongue, under which Cicero is said to have concealed his advice for putting Augustus to death, writing to his friend, tollendum esse juvenem.
Genesis 40:21-22. And he restored, &c.— Calmet and Chais both observe, that as Joseph was an illustrious type of our Saviour, so these two officers of Pharaoh clearly mark out the two thieves, between whom our Lord was crucified; the Saviour pardoned one, and condemned the other, as Joseph predicted the butler's re-establishment, and the baker's death. See ch. Genesis 41:13. the mode of expression in which verse is to be noted and remembered: Joseph is said to have done that which he only predicted. Me he restored—him he hanged.
Genesis 40:23. Yet did not, &c.— How easily doth men's own prosperity make them forget either the deservings in miseries of others! The behaviour of the butler represents strongly the conduct of too many in prosperity. However, it must be observed that God would not deliver Joseph out of prison immediately by means of this officer; but was pleased to try him yet two years longer, to deliver him afterwards in a more wonderful manner, and raise him to a greater degree of power than he would probably have attained if he had been set at liberty before. This shews that God's ways are not as our ways; that he does not always make use of those methods for the deliverance of his children which men judge most convenient; and if he be slow in coming to their assistance, it is because he will deliver them in a more signal manner.—Ostervald.
REFLECTIONS.—Precisely at the time predicted, the interpretation of the dreams is fulfilled. Pharaoh, on his birth-day, inquires into the faults of his former chief butler and baker; and, according to their deserts, the one is acquitted and restored, the other condemned and executed. Note; Great events lie often within a small compass of time. Who knoweth whether his life shall continue three days, nay, three hours? His preferment now so engages the butler, that Joseph in his prison is no more thought of. Great men too often have the art of forgetting their obligations and their promises; and if Joseph's heart was buoyed up with the expectation of the butler's doing something for him, the greater must be his disappointment. Note; They who depend on great men will frequently have cause to lament their neglects; but they who depend only on the Great God shall never be disappointed of their hope.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 40". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany