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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 5–19
Verses 5–19

Observe, I. The special providence of God, which filled the heads of these two prisoners with unusual dreams, such as made extraordinary impressions upon them, and carried with them evidences of a divine origin, both in one night. Note, God has immediate access to the spirits of men, which he can make serviceable to his own purposes whenever he pleases, quite beyond the intention of those concerned. To him all hearts are open, and anciently he spoke not only to his own people, but to others, in dreams, Job 33:15. Things to come were thus foretold, but very obscurely.

II. The impression which was made upon these prisoners by their dreams (Gen. 40:6): They were sad. It was not the prison that made them sad (they were pretty well used to that, and perhaps lived jovially there), but the dream. Note, God has more ways than one to sadden the spirits of those that are to be made sad. Those sinners that are hardy enough under outward troubles, and will not yield to them, yet God can find out a way to punish; he can take off their wheels, by wounding their spirits, and laying loads upon them.

III. Joseph’s great tenderness and compassion towards them. He enquired with concern, Wherefore look you so sadly to-day? Gen. 40:7. Joseph was their keeper, and in that office he was mild. Note, It becomes us to take cognizance of the sorrows even of those that are under our check. Joseph was their companion in tribulation, he was now a prisoner with them, and had been a dreamer too. Note, Communion in sufferings helps to work compassion towards those that do suffer. Let us learn hence, 1. To concern ourselves in the sorrows and troubles of others, and to enquire into the reason of the sadness of our brethren’s countenances; we should be often considering the tears of the oppressed, Eccl. 4:1. It is some relief to those that are in trouble to be taken notice of. 2. To enquire into the causes of our own sorrow, “Wherefore do I look so sadly? Isa. there a reason? Isa. it a good reason? Isa. there not a reason for comfort sufficient to balance it, whatever it is? Why art thou cast down, O my soul?”

IV. The dreams themselves, and the interpretation of them. That which troubled these prisoners was that being confined they could not have recourse to the diviners of Egypt who pretended to interpret dreams: There is no interpreter here in the prison, Gen. 40:8. Note, There are interpreters which those that are in prison and sorrow should wish to have with them, to instruct them in the meaning and design of Providence (Elihu alludes to such, when he says, If there be an interpreter, one among a thousand, to show unto man his uprightness, Job 33:23, 24), interpreters to guide their consciences, not to satisfy their curiosity. Joseph hereupon directed them which way to look: Do not interpretations belong to God? He means the God whom he worshipped, to the knowledge of whom he endeavours hereby to lead them. Note, It is God’s prerogative to foretel things to come, Isa. 46:10. He must therefore have the praise of all the gifts of foresight which men have, ordinary or extraordinary. Joseph premises a caveat against his own praise, and is careful to transmit the glory to God, as Daniel, Dan. 2:30. Joseph suggests, “If interpretations belong to God, he is a free agent, and may communicate the power to whom he pleases, and therefore tell me your dreams.” Now, 1. The chief butler’s dream was a happy presage of his enlargement, and re-advancement, within three days; and so Joseph explained it to him, Gen. 40:12, 13. Probably it had been usual with him to press the full-ripe grapes immediately into Pharaoh’s cup, the simplicity of that age not being acquainted with the modern arts of making the wine fine. Observe, Joseph foretold the chief butler’s deliverance, but he did not foresee his own. He had long before dreamt of his own honour, and the obeisance which his brethren should do to him, with the remembrance of which he must now support himself, without any new or fresh discoveries. The visions that are for the comfort of God’s saints are for a great while to come, and relate to things that are very far off, while the foresights of others, like this recorded there, look but three days before them. 2. The chief baker’s dream portended his ignominious death, Gen. 40:18, 19. The happy interpretation of the other’s dream encouraged him to relate his. Thus hypocrites, when they hear good things promised to good Christians, would put in for a share, though they have no part nor lot in the matter. It was not Joseph’s fault that he brought him no better tidings. Ministers are but interpreters, they cannot make the thing otherwise than it is; if therefore they deal faithfully, and their message prove unpleasing, it is not their fault. Bad dreams cannot expect a good interpretation.

V. The improvement Joseph made of this opportunity to get a friend at court, Gen. 40:14, 15. He modestly bespoke the favour of the chief butler, whose preferment he foretold: But think of me when it shall be well with thee. Though the respect paid to Joseph made the prison as easy to him as a prison could be, yet none can blame him for being desirous of liberty. See here, 1. What a modest representation he makes of his own case, Gen. 40:15. He does not reflect upon his brethren that sold him; he only says, I was stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, that is, unjustly sent thence, no matter where the fault was. Nor does he reflect on the wrong done him in this imprisonment by his mistress that was his prosecutrix, and his master that was his judge; but mildly avers his own innocence: Here have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon. Note, When we are called to vindicate ourselves we should carefully avoid, as much as may be, speaking ill of others. Let us be content to prove ourselves innocent, and not be fond of upbraiding others with their guilt. 2. What a modest request he makes to the chief butler: “Only, think of me. Pray do me a kindness, if it lie in your way.” And his particular petition is, Bring me out of this house. He does not say, “Bring me into Pharaoh’s house, get me a place at court.” No, he begs for enlargement, not preferment. Note, Providence sometimes designs the greatest honours for those that least covet or expect them.