Genesis 40
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Joseph is already supreme in the narrow sphere of the prison: "all was committed to his hand." The narrow sphere prepares him for the wider. The spiritual supremacy has now to be revealed. "Do not interpretations belong to God?" The dreams are partly of man and partly of. God. Each man dreamed of things connected with his life. The butler of the wine coming from the grape-clusters, pressed into Pharaoh's cup, given into his hand. The baker of the white baskets and bakemeats, plucked from him while upon his head by the birds of prey. To a certain extent the interpretation was natural, but as at once communicated to Joseph it was inspired. The sphere of inspiration is concentric with the sphere of the natural intelligence and wisdom, but goes beyond it. The request of Joseph, that his spiritual superiority should be recognized and rewarded, was not fulfilled by the ungrateful man; but, as an act of obedience to the Spirit of God, it was committed to him who seeth in secret and rewardeth openly. Joseph is still being tried by the word of God. It is committed to him as a messenger and witness for the covenant people. It tries his faith and patience. The whole is a parable, setting forth -

1. The order of the world, as resting on the Divine foreknowledge and appointment in connection with the elect instrumentalities, bringing the things of Egypt under the dominion of the kingdom of God.

2. The providential hiding of gracious purposes. Joseph the seer in the prison, waiting for the hour of redemption, sending forth messages of truth to do their errands.

3. Invisible links between the rulers of this world and the representatives of the kingdom of God to be revealed in due time.

4. Discipline in the lives of God's people fruitful in blessed results, both for them and for all. - R.

We cannot but notice the importance often assigned in the Bible to dreams, as channels of revelation from God. The dreams of Jacob and of Pharaoh, and passages such as Deuteronomy 13:1 and Joel 2:28, show this. It may be that in the absence of the written word, which in its completeness is our heritage, God's message was thus given to them in portions. Applying this thought to the circumstances of the text, we see men who had received a message from God which they believed was of importance; but they could not understand it, and they are sad because there is no interpreter.

I. THE DEEP IMPORTANCE OF GOD'S MESSAGE. How many questions does life present! What and where are we? Whither going? What lies beyond the present? I see that all things decay; yet on all sides life from death. Is there such revival for me? Can the active, thinking spirit be as though it had never been - passed from existence ere the frail body began to decay? And if there be a life beyond the present, what is its nature? and what the preparation for it? Vainly does human wisdom try to answer these questions. He who made all things alone can explain his works (Psalm 94:9-12), and the Bible is his answer to our questions, wherein he tells us what we are, for what created, and how to fulfill the object of our being (Psalm 119:105).

II. But WE NEED AN INTERPRETER. It may be asked, Why? The Bible is open. Its words are such as any one can understand. This is true, as far as regards facts, and precepts, and doctrines. There is a knowledge of the word which the natural man can attain to; but the Holy Spirit alone can so open it as to make it "the power of God." It is one thing to know the doctrines of sin and of salvation, and quite another to know ourselves as sinners, and Christ as the Savior. The one puffs up with pride of knowledge, the other leads to the one Foundation. There is no more dangerous snare than of ignoring this work of the Holy Spirit. Too often men do not believe their need of it, and do not believe in his help. And thus the Bible is found dull, and its teaching departed from in daily life.

III. How TO GET THE INTERPRETER'S HELP. "Tell me." Think of our Lord watching his disciples in the boat. So he watches over thee, ready to help. Hast thou found it so? Has the light of God's love entered thy heart? It is the special work of the Holy Spirit to guide into all truth (John 16:13); not in solving mysteries and hard questions, but in revealing Christ to the heart. Have you sought this; sought with expectation the full gift; sought to know Christ (Philippians 3:10), and the transforming power of belief in his love? Will you seek? There lies the difficulty - the want of earnestness. Men seem afraid of being earnest. But it is the earnest (Matthew 11:12, βιασται) who enter the kingdom of heaven. - M.

Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgot him. "I do remember my faults this day." Good men have sometimes had to bear painful imprisonments. Think of Bunyan and Baxter shivering behind the bars of a narrow cell, where light and air were almost excluded, and where disease and death held sway. How much brightness, however, has broken at times from behind prison bars! We might not have had the 'Pilgrim's Progress,' unless Bunyan had been incarcerated on the banks of the Ouse. Nor might the patience and kindness of Joseph's disposition have shone out so brilliantly but for his prison life. In a work entitled ' Five Years' Penal Servitude' a most vivid description is given of how the criminals of the clever and cultured class have to mingle and work with those of ignorant and most sensual type. Defaulting cashiers have to undergo the same treatment as cowardly garrotters and desperate burglars. Breaking the law brings any under its rigorous clutches, and levels all distinctions of class or education. Thus Joseph, a Hebrew slave, although not a criminal, would be despised by the chief butler of Pharaoh, but the butler had to associate with him. Indeed the former became his superior in prison, and was in a position to render to a State official certain kindness.

I. THE FORGETFUL INGRATE. This man was a courtier, a permitted adviser of the Pharaoh of Egypt, but he is sent to the common prison. Joseph gives him much cheer, attention, and kindness. He seeks in every way to relieve the monotony of prison life, and becomes a prophet and religious helper. He sees the butler one day sad of countenance, and learns the reason. Readily he, by Divine help, interpreted the perplexing dream. His words are verified. The chief butler was doubtless profuse in his thanks and promises, but we see how he kept them. Perhaps the forgetfulness was convenient. He did not wish, after his restoration, to remind his monarch - even by making a request - of his having been formerly in disfavor. He possibly never intended to make any effort, unless it should be a gain to himself. He is a very different man in prison and out. This is the way of men in life. Favors slip from the memory like floods from a smoothly-worn rock. We might here possibly find out certain things in our own conduct which would indicate a similar forgetfulness of favors. For example, Christ came as the good Joseph to share our captive state. Think of what love he showed in bearing so much suffering for us. Do not put aside the thought of it as not being definitely for you. It was for each one, as if there were none other for whom to suffer. Some have not believed, have not come out from prison, but have preferred the darkness to light, have thought that the atonement was all unnecessary. They cannot understand how evil is their state until brought out of it. A beggar would not be troubled about his patches and rags in the common lodging-house; but let him be taken into a room of decently-arrayed people, and he then feels the difference, and shudders at his degraded appearance. When once brought into Christ's light we see from what we have been saved, and should be grateful to him. Some have been brought into union with him, and afterwards have declined from his way. Dangerous state. We should blame others who were ungrateful; what if we have been! The longer action is postponed, the deeper the ingratitude, and the less likelihood is there that the favor will he felt. The longer postponed, the harder to acknowledge. Thus the butler may have hesitated to speak of Joseph because he would have to reveal his own ingratitude. Possibly he hoped Joseph was dead. Not so; Joseph lives. Forgotten by man, he is not forgotten by God. God will yet bring the forgetful one and his benefactor face to face.

II. AROUSED MEMORIES. Wonderful is that faculty of the mind whereby we can imagine ourselves to exist in the past. Some have weak memories, others strong. Some have memories for places and thoughts, others for dates, figures, and words. Whether memory be strong or weak, the power of association is such that at times facts long past will be brought back most vividly. Revisiting places of interest, traversing certain countries, will bring to memory past friendships, and perhaps even subjects of conversation formerly held there. A house in which one has been born or trained becomes a complete history in time. Certain seasons arouse memories of the past, as birthdays, wedding days, Christmas time, or Easter. Certain circumstances also arouse memory. Pharaoh's perplexity concerning his dream forcibly reminded the butler of his morning of sadness in the prison. "I do remember," &c. The butler implied that he repented of his sins and of his forgetfulness. He may not have been very sincere, but as a courtier he introduces a subject in that way. Let us remember our faults, our inconsistencies as Christians, our hesitation to confess Christ, our excusing ourselves on the ground of the doings of others. Let us be plain with ourselves. Let us not see the motes in the eyes of others, and forget the beams in our own. Let us remember them that we may be humbled, may gain experience of how to avoid them in the future, may gain strength to resist, may gain pardon for past faults, and learn thereby more of the infinite forbearance and love of God, who is so willing to blot out our transgressions, and even the memory of our sins. - H.

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