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The Dreams of Two Prisoners
Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker offended their lord the king of Egypt. 2Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, 3and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. 4The captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he waited on them; and they continued for some time in custody. 5One night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own meaning. 6When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. 7So he asked Pharaoh’s officers, who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” 8They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.”
9 So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, 10and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms came out and the clusters ripened into grapes. 11Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.” 12Then Joseph said to him, “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days; 13within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. 14But remember me when it is well with you; please do me the kindness to make mention of me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this place. 15For in fact I was stolen out of the land of the Hebrews; and here also I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon.”
16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, “I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head, 17and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.” 18And Joseph answered, “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days; 19within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from you!—and hang you on a pole; and the birds will eat the flesh from you.”
20 On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he made a feast for all his servants, and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. 21He restored the chief cupbearer to his cupbearing, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand; 22but the chief baker he hanged, just as Joseph had interpreted to them. 23Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.
1. And it came to pass after these things. We have already seen, that when Joseph was in bonds, God cared for him. For whence arose the relaxation afforded him, but from the divine favor? Therefore, God, before he opened the door for his servant’s deliverance, entered into the very prison to sustain him with his strength. But a far more illustrious benefit follows; for he is not only liberated from prison, but exalted to the highest degree of honor. In the meantime, the providence of God led the holy man through wonderful and most intricate paths. The butler and baker of the king are cast into the prison; Joseph expounds to them their dreams. Restoration to his office having been promised to the butler, some light of hope beams upon the holy captive; for the butler agreed, after he should have returned to his post, to become the advocate for Joseph’s pardon. But, again, that hope was speedily cut off, when the butler failed to speak a word to the king on behalf of the miserable captive. Joseph, therefore, seemed to himself to be buried in perpetual oblivion, until the Lord again suddenly rekindles the light which had been smothered, and almost extinguished. Thus, when he might have delivered the holy man directly from prison, he chose to lead him around by circuitous paths, the better to prove his patience, and to manifest, by the mode of his deliverance, that he has wonderful methods of working, hidden from our view. He does this that we may learn not to measure, by our own sense, the salvation which he has promised us; but that we may suffer ourselves to be turned hither or thither by his hand, until he shall have performed his work. By the butler and the baker we are not to understand any common person of each rank, but those who presided over the rest; for, soon afterwards, they are called eunuchs or nobles. Ridiculous is the fiction of the trifler Gerundensis, who, according to his manner, asserts that they were made eunuchs for the sake of infamy, because Pharaoh had been enraged against them. They were, in short, two of the chief men of the court. Moses now more clearly declares that the prison was under the authority of Potiphar. Whence we learn what I have before said, that his anger had been mitigated, since without his consent, the jailer could not have acted with such clemency towards Joseph. Even Moses ascribes such a measure of humanity to Potiphar, that he committed the butler and baker to the charge of Joseph. Unless, perhaps, a new successor had been then appointed in Potiphar’s place; which, however, is easily refuted from the context, because a little afterwards Moses says that the master of Joseph was the captain of the guard, (Genesis 40:3.) When Moses says they were kept in prison a season, some understand by the word, a whole year; but in my judgment they are mistaken; it rather denotes a long but uncertain time, as appears from other places.
5. And they dreamed a dream. What I have before alluded to respecting dreams must be recalled to memory; namely, that many frivolous things are presented to us, which pass away and are forgotten;150150 Calvin’s words are: “Quae Transeunt per portam corneam.” — Vide Virgil. Aeneid. VI. In finem. This is an obviously mistaken allusion, arising probably from a lapse of memory in Calvin, or in the transcriber of his works. He should have said “portam eburnam.” The ancient mythologists distinguished true dreams from false, by representing the former as passing through the “horny gate,” (porta cornea,) the latter through the “ivory gate,” (porta eburna.) — Ed. some, however, have the force and significance of prophecy. Of this kind were these two dreams, by which God made known the hidden result of a future matter. For unless the mark of a celestial oracle had been engraven upon then, the butler and the baker would not have been in such consternation of mind. I acknowledge, indeed, that men are sometimes vehemently agitated by vain and rashly conceived dreams; yet their terror and anxiety gradually subsides; but God had fixed an arrow in the minds of the butler and the baker, which would not suffer them to rest; and by this means, each was rendered more attentive to the interpretation of his dream. Moses, therefore, expressly declares that it was a presage of something certain.
6. And Joseph came in unto them, in the morning. As I have lately said, we ought here to behold, with the eyes of faith, the wonderful providence of God. For, although the butler and baker are certainly informed of their own fate; yet this was not done so much out of regard to them, as in favor of Joseph; whom God designed, by this method, to make known to the king. Therefore, by a secret instinct he had rendered them sad and astonished, as if he would lead them by the hand to his servant Joseph. It is, however, to be observed, that by a new inspiration of the Spirit, the gift of prophecy, which he had not before possessed, was imparted to him in the prison. When he had previously dreamed himself, he remained, for a while, in suspense and doubt respecting the divine revelation; but now he is a certain interpreter to others. And though, when he was inquiring into the cause of their sadness, he perhaps did not think of dreams; yet, from the next verse it appears that he was conscious to himself of having received the gift of the Spirit; and, in this confidence, he exhorts them to relate the dreams, of which he was about to be the interpreter. Do not interpretations (he says) belong to God? Certainly he does not arrogantly transfer to himself what he acknowledges to be peculiar to God; but according to the means which his vocation supplied, he offers them his service. This must be noted, in order that no one may undesignedly usurp more to himself than he knows that God has granted him. For, on this account, Paul so diligently teaches that the gifts of the Spirit are variously distributed, (1 Corinthians 12:4,) and that God has assigned to each a certain post, in order that no one may act ambitiously, or intrude himself into another’s office; but rather that each should keep himself within the bounds of his own calling. Unless this degree of moderation shall prevail, all things will necessarily be thrown into confusion; because the truth of God will be distorted by the foolish temerity of many; peace and concord will be disturbed, and, in short, no good order will be maintained. Let us learn, therefore, that Joseph confidently promised an interpretation of the dreams, because he knew that he was furnished and adorned with this gift by God. The same remark applies to his interrogation respecting the dreams. For he does not attempt to proceed beyond what his own power authorized him to do: he does not, therefore, divine what they had dreamed, but confesses it was hidden from him. The method pursued by Daniel was different, for he was enabled, by a direct revelation, to state and interpret the dream which had entirely escaped the memory of the king of Babylon. (Daniel 2:28.) He, therefore, relying upon a larger measure of the Spirit, does not hesitate to profess that he can both divine and interpret dreams. But Joseph, to whom the half only of these gifts was imparted, keeps himself within legitimate bounds. Besides, he not only guards himself against presumption; but, by declaring that whatever he has received is from God, he ingenuously testifies that he has nothing from himself. He does not, therefore, boast of his own quickness or clear-sightedness, but wishes only to be known as the servant of God. Let those who excel, follow this rule; lest, by ascribing too much to themselves, (which commonly happens,) they obscure the grace of God. Moreover, this vanity is to be restrained, not only that God alone may be glorified, and may not be robbed of his right; but that prophets, and teachers, and all others who are indued with heavenly grace, may humbly submit themselves to the direction of the Spirit. What Moses says is also to be observed, that Joseph was concerned at the sadness of those who were with him in prison. For thus men become softened by their own afflictions, so that they do not despise others who are in misery; and, in this way, common sufferings generate sympathy. Wherefore it is not wonderful that God should exercise us with various sorrows; since nothing is more becoming than humanity towards our brethren, who, being weighed down with trials, lie under contempt. This humanity, however, must be learned by experience; because our innate ferocity is more and more inflated by prosperity.
12. The three branches are three days. Joseph does not here offer what he thought to be probable, like some ambiguous conjecturer; but asserts, by the revelation of the Spirit, the meaning of the dream. For why does he say, that by the three branches, three days rather than years are signified, unless because the Spirit of God had suggested it? Joseph, therefore, proceeds, by a special impulse above nature, to expound the dream; and by immediately commending himself to the butler, as if he was already restored, shows how certain and indubitable was the truth of his interpretation: as if he had said, “Be convinced that what thou hast heard of me has come from God.” Where also he shows how honorably he thinks of the oracles of God, seeing that he pronounces concerning the future effect with as much confidence as if it had already taken place. But it may be deemed absurd, that Joseph asks for a reward of his prophecy. I answer, that he did not speak as one who would set the gift of God to sale: but it came into his mind, that a method of deliverance was now set before him by God, which it was not lawful for him to reject. Indeed, I do not doubt that a hope of better fortune had been divinely imparted to him. For God, who, even from his childhood, had twice promised him dominion, did not leave him, amidst so many straits, entirely destitute of all consolation. Now this opportunity of seeking deliverance was offered to him by none but God. Wherefore, it is not surprising that Joseph should thus make use of it. With respect to the expression, Lift up thine head; it signifies to raise any one from a low and contemptible condition, to one of some reputation. Therefore, “Pharaoh will lift up thine head,” means, he will bring thee forth from the darkness of the prisons, or he will raise thee who art fallen, and restore thee to thy former rank. For I take the word to mean simply place or rank, and not basis151151 Pro loco et ordine simpliciter accipio, non autem pro basi The passage needs explanation. The word ראשך, rendered “thy head,” might be rendered “thy nail,” and some writers have supposed that it should be so translated in this place. The reason given for such a rendering arises from a supposed custom among eastern monarchs of having a large white tablet, on which the name of each officer of state was inscribed, and a nail was placed in a hole opposite the name. When the officer offended, the nail was removed from its place, that is, from its basis or foundation, and the man’s distinction and character were lost. — Junis in Poli Synopsin. — Ed
14. Show kindness I pray thee unto me152152 Fac quaeso mecum misericordiam. Although the expression show kindness is used among the Hebrews to describe the common exercise of humanity; there is yet no doubt that Joseph spoke simply as his own sad and afflicted condition suggested, for the purpose of inclining the mind of the butler to procure him help. He insists, however, chiefly on this, that he had been thrust into prison for no crime, in order that the butler might not refuse his assistance to an innocent man. For although they who are most wicked find patrons; yet commendation elicited by importunity, which rescues a wicked man from deserved punishment, is in itself an odious and infamous thing. It is, however, probable that Joseph explained his whole cause, so that he fully convinced the butler of his innocence.
16. When the chief baker saw153153 “The chief baker, in his dream, carries the wicker baskets with various choice baker’s commodities on his head. Similar woven baskets, flat and open, for carrying grapes and other fruits, are found represented on the monuments. The art of baking was carried to a high degree of perfection among the Egyptians.” — Egypt and the Books of Moses, p. 27. — Ed. He does not care respecting the skill and fidelity of Joseph as an interpreter; but because Joseph had brought good and useful tidings to his companion, he also desires an interpretation, which he hopes will prove according to his mind. So, many, with ardor and alacrity, desire the word of God, not because they simply wish to be governed by the Lord, and to know what is right, but because they dream of mere enjoyment. When, however, the doctrine does not correspond with their wishes, they depart sorrowful and wounded. Now, although the explanation of the dream was about to prove unpleasant and severe; yet Joseph, by declaring, without ambiguity, what had been revealed unto him, executed with fidelity the office divinely committed to him. This freedom must be maintained by prophets and teachers, that they may not hesitate, by their teaching, to inflict a wound on those whom God has sentenced to death. All love to be flattered. Hence the majority of teachers, in desiring to yield to the corrupt wishes of the world, adulterate the word of God. Wherefore, no one is a sincere minister of God’s word, but he, who despising reproach, and being ready, as often as it may be necessary, to attack various offenses, will frame his method of teaching according to the command of God. Joseph would, indeed, have preferred to augur well concerning both; but since it is not in his power to give a prosperous fortune to any one, nothing remains for him but frankly to pronounce whatever he has received from the Lord. So, formerly, although the people chose for themselves prophets who would promise them abundance of wine and oil and corn, while they exclaimed loudly against the holy prophets, because they let fall nothing but threatening, (for these complaints are related in Micah,) yet it was the duty of the servants of the Lord, who had been sent to denounce vengeance, to proceed with severity, although they brought upon themselves hatred and danger.
19. Pharaoh shall lift up thy head from off thee. This phrase (in the original) is ambiguous without some addition; and may be taken in a good or a bad sense; just as we say, “With regard to any one,” or “With respect to him;” here the expression is added “from thee.” Yet there seems to be an allusion of this kind, as if Joseph had said, “Pharaoh will lift up thy head, that he may take it off.” Now, when Moses relates, that what Joseph had predicted happened to both of them, he proves by this sign that Joseph was a true prophet of God, as it is written in Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 28:9.) For that the prophets sometimes threatened punishments, which God abstained from inflicting, was done for this reason, because to such prophecies a condition was annexed. But when the Lord speaks positively by his servants, it is necessary that whatever he predicts should be confirmed by the result. Therefore, Moses expressly commends in Joseph, his confidence in the heavenly oracle. With regard to what Moses records, that Pharaoh celebrated his birthday by a great feast, we know that this custom has always been in use, not only among kings, but also among plebeian men. Nor is the custom to be condemned, if only men would keep the right end in view; namely, that of giving thanks unto God by whom they were created and brought up, and whom they have found, in innumerable ways, to be a beneficent Father. But such is the depravity of the world, that it greatly distorts those things which formerly were honestly instituted by their fathers, into contrary corruptions. Thus, by a vicious practice, it has become common for nearly all to abandon themselves to luxury and wantonness on their birthday. In short, they keep up the memory of God, as the Author of their life, in such a manner as if it were their set purpose to forget Him.
23. Yet did not the chief butler remember. This was the most severe trial of Joseph’s patience, as we have before intimated. For since he had obtained an advocate who, without trouble, was able to extricate him from prison, especially as the opportunity of doing so had been granted to him by God, he felt a certain assurance of deliverance, and earnestly waited for it every hour. But when he had remained to the end of the second year in suspense, not only did this hope vanish, but greater despair than ever rested upon his mind. Therefore, we are all taught, in his person, that nothing is more improper, than to prescribe the time in which God shall help us; since he purposely, for a long season, keeps his own people in anxious suspense, that, by this very experiment, they may truly know what it is to trust in Him. Besides, in this manner he designed openly to claim for himself the glory of Joseph’s liberation. For, if liberty had been granted to him through the entreaty of the butler, it would have been generally believed that this benefit was from man and not from God. Moreover, when Moses says, that the butler was forgetful of Joseph, let it be so understood, that he did not dare to make any mention of him, lest he should be subjected to reproach, or should be troublesome to the king himself. For it is common with courtiers perfidiously to betray the innocent, and to deliver them to be slain, rather than to offend those of whom they themselves are afraid.