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Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, [1834], at

Genesis Chapter 40

- Joseph in Prison

An uncomplaining patience and an unhesitating hopefulness keep the breast of Joseph in calm tranquillity. There is a God above, and that God is with him. His soul swerves not from this feeling. Meanwhile, new and distinguished prisoners are introduced into his place of confinement.

Gen 40:1-4

The chief butler and chief baker, high officials in Pharaoh's court, come under the displeasure of their sovereign. "In the house of the captain of the guards." It appears that this officer's establishment contained the keep in which Joseph and these criminals were confined. "Charged Joseph with them." As Joseph was his slave, and these were state prisoners, he appointed him to wait upon them. It is probable that Joseph's character had been somewhat re-established with him during his residence in the prison.

Gen 40:5-8

These prisoners dream, "each according to the interpretation of his dream," the imagery of which was suited to indicate his future state. They were sad - anxious to know the meaning of these impressive dreams. "Why are your forces bad today?" Joseph keeps up his character of frank composure. "Do not interpretations belong to God?" In his past history he had learned that dreams themselves come from God. And when he adds, "Tell them now to me," he intimates that God would enable him to interpret their dreams. Here again he uses the general name of God, which was common to him with the pagan.

Gen 40:9-15

The chief butler now recites his dream. "Pressed them into Pharaoh's cup." The imagery of the dream is not intended to intimate that Pharaoh drank only the fresh juice of the grape. It only expresses by a natural figure the source of wine, and possibly the duty of the chief butler to understand and superintend the whole process of its formation. Egypt was not only a corn, but a vine country. The interpretation of this dream was very obvious and natural; yet not without a divine intimation could it be known that the "three branches were three days." Joseph, in the quiet confidence that his interpretation would prove correct, begs the chief butler to remember him and endeavor to procure his release. "Stolen, stolen was I." He assures him that he was not a criminal, and that his enslavement was an act of wrongful violence - a robbery by the strong hand. "From the land of the Hebrews;" a very remarkable expression, as it strongly favors the presumption that the Hebrews inhabited the country before Kenaan took possession of it. "I have not done aught." Joseph pleads innocence, and claims liberation, not as an unmerited favor, but as a right. "The pit." The pit without water seems to have been the primitive place of confinement for culprits.

Gen 40:16-19

The chief baker is encouraged by this interpretation to tell his dream. "I also." He anticipates a favorable answer, from the remarkable likeness of the dreams. "On my head." It appears from the monuments of Egypt that it was the custom for men to carry articles on their heads. "All manner of baked meats" were also characteristic of a corn country. "Lift up thy head from upon thee." This part of the interpretation proves its divine origin. And hang thee - thy body, after being beheaded. This was a constant warning to all beholders.

Gen 40:20-23

The interpretations prove correct. "The birthday of Pharaoh." It is natural and proper for men to celebrate with thanksgiving the day of their birth, as life is a pure and positive blessing. The benign Creator gives only a happy and precious form of existence to those whom he endows with the capacity of estimating its value. A birthday feast cannot be without a chief butler and a chief baker, and hence, the fate of these criminals must be promptly decided. "Lifted up the head;" a phrase of double meaning. The chief butler remembers not Joseph. This is a case of frequent occurrence in this nether world. But there is One above who does not forget him. He will deliver him at the proper time.

Next: Genesis Chapter 41