Bible Book List
Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 20–23
Verses 20–23

Here is, 1. The verifying of Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams, on the very day prefixed. The chief butler and baker were both advanced, one to his office, the other to the gallows, and both at the three days’ end. Note, Very great changes, both for the better and for the worse, often happen in a very little time, so sudden are the revolutions of the wheel of nature. The occasion of giving judgment severally upon their case was the solemnizing of Pharaoh’s birth-day, on which, all his servants being obliged by custom to attend him, these two came to be enquired after, and the cause of their commitment looked into. The solemnizing of the birth-day of princes has been an ancient piece of respect done them; and if it be not abused, as Jeroboam’s was (Hos. 7:5), and Herod’s (Mark 6:21), is a usage innocent enough: and we may all profitably take notice of our birth-days, with thankfulness for the mercies of our birth, sorrow for the sinfulness of it, and an expectation of the day of our death as better than the day of our birth. On Pharaoh’s birth-day he lifted up the head of these two prisoners, that is, arraigned and tried them (when Naboth was tried he was set on high among the people, 1 Kgs. 21:9), and he restored the chief butler, and hanged the chief baker. If the butler was innocent and the baker guilty, we must own the equity of Providence in clearing up the innocency of the innocent, and making the sin of the guilty to find him out. If both were either equally innocent or equally guilty, it is an instance of the arbitrariness of such great princes as pride themselves in that power which Nebuchadnezzar set up for (Dan. 5:19; whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive), forgetting that there is a higher than they, to whom they are accountable. 2. The disappointing of Joseph’s expectation from the chief butler: He remembered not Joseph, but forgot him, Gen. 40:23. (1.) See here an instance of base ingratitude; Joseph had deserved well at his hands, had ministered to him, sympathized with him, helped him to a favourable interpretation of his dream, had recommended himself to him as an extraordinary person upon all accounts; and yet he forgot him. We must not think it strange if in this world we have hatred shown us for our love, and slights for our respects. (2.) See how apt those that are themselves at ease are to forget others in distress. Perhaps it is in allusion to this story that the prophet speaks of those that drink wine in bowls, and are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph, Amos 6:6. Let us learn hence to cease from man. Joseph perhaps depended too much upon his interest in the chief butler, and promised himself too much from him; he learned by his disappointment to trust in God only. We cannot expect too little from man nor too much from God.

Some observe the resemblance between Joseph and Christ in this story. Joseph’s fellow-sufferers were like the two thieves that were crucified with Christ—the one saved, the other condemned. (It is Dr. Lightfoot’s remark, from Mr. Broughton.) One of these, when Joseph said to him, Remember me when it shall be well with thee, forget him; but one of those, when he said to Christ, Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom, was not forgotten. We justly blame the chief butler’s ingratitude to Joseph, yet we conduct ourselves much more disingenuously towards the Lord Jesus. Joseph had but foretold the chief butler’s enlargement, but Christ wrought out ours, mediated with the King of kings for us; yet we forget him, though often reminded of him, though we have promised never to forget him: thus ill do we requite him, like foolish people and unwise.