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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.

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