Andrew Fuller Friday: On Joseph’s Imprisonment

We left Joseph in prison; but, by the good hand of God upon him, its hardships are greatly mitigated. At first he is thrown into a dungeon, and laid in irons; but now he is made a kind of steward, or overseer of the other prisoners. Yet it is a prison still, and he desires to be free; but he must wait awhile. God will deliver him in his own time and way. This chapter contains the story of the means by which his deliverance was effected.

Ver. 1, 2. Two of Pharaoh’s officers offend their lord, for which they are committed to prison—the chief butler and the chief baker. Whether they suffered justly for having attempted to poison the king, which was often done in heathen countries, or merely on account of unfounded suspicion; whether, if there were any thing actually attempted, it was their doing, or that some of the under butlers and bakers, for whose conduct they might be responsible; we know not: but imprisoned they were.

Ver. 3, 4. The prison into which they were sent is called the house of “the captain of the guard.” This title is more than once before given to Potiphar, chap. 37:36; 39:1. It is probable that he had the chief oversight of the prison, and that the keeper was a person employed under him. If so, it seems likely that Potiphar was reconciled to Joseph. There is little reason to think that his wife would long conceal her character; and that being known would operate in Joseph’s favour; and though he might not wish to release him out of prison, for his own credit, yet he might be induced to connive at the keeper’s kindness to him. It is remarkable that the prison to which these persons were sent should be the same as that wherein Joseph was confined. In this we see the hand of God ordering all events. They might have been sent to another place of confinement, but then the chain had been broken. On how many little incidents, of which the parties at the time think nothing, do some of the greatest events depend! If they had gone to another prison, Joseph might have died where he was, and no provision have been made for the seven years of famine; and Jacob and his family, with millions of others, have perished for want; and so all the promises of their becoming a great nation, and of the Messiah springing from among them, and all nations being blessed in him, would have been frustrated. But he that appoints the end appoints all the means that shall lead to it; and not one of them, however small or incidental, shall be dispensed with. In this prison Joseph is said to have served the chief butler and the chief baker; that is, he carried them their daily provisions, and so was in the habit of seeing them every day, and conversing with them.

Ver. 5–8. One morning, when he went to carry them their usual food, he finds them more than ordinarily dejected, and kindly inquires into the reason of it. It appears hence that Joseph was not a hard-hearted overseer. Unlike many petty officers, whose overbearing conduct towards their inferiors is most intolerable, he sympathizes with the sorrowful, and makes free with them. The fear of God produces tenderness of heart, and compassion towards men, especially to the poor and the afflicted. On inquiry, he found that they had each had a dream, which, by the circumstances attending it, they considered as extraordinary. Both of them dreamed, and both in one night; both their dreams related to their past employments, and seemed therefore to be ominous of their future destiny; yet they knew not what to make of them, and had no interpreter at hand who could instruct them. Such was the cause of their dejection. Though the greater part of dreams be vanity, yet in all ages and places God has sometimes impressed the mind of man by these means: and especially, it would seem, in countries which have been destitute of Divine revelation. We have many instances of this in the book of Daniel, and by which, as in this case, the servants of God came into request, and the glory of God eclipsed the powers of idolatry.

But what kind of interpreters did these men wish for? Such, no doubt, as Pharaoh, on his having dreamed, called for; namely, the magicians and the wise men of Egypt; and because they had no hopes of obtaining them in their present situation, therefore they were sad. Here lies the force of Joseph’s question; “Do not interpretations belong to God?” which was a reproof to them for looking to their magicians instead of to him: hence also he offered himself, as the servant of God, to be their interpreter.

It is worthy of notice, that what Joseph’s interpretation was to the dreams of the butler and the baker, that the oracles of God are to the notices and impressions on the human mind by the light of nature and conscience. Man in every age and country has felt in himself a consciousness of his being what he ought not to be, a fearfulness of having in another state to give an account, with many other things of the kind; but all is uncertainty. He only knows enough, if he regard it not, to render him inexcusable; and if he regard it, to make him miserable. It is only in the Scriptures that the mind of God is revealed.

Ver. 9–15. The butler first tells his dream, which Joseph interprets of his deliverance and restoration to office; and having told him this good news, he very naturally throws in a request on behalf of himself. There is no proof or symptom of impatience in this; but patience itself may consist with the use of all lawful means to obtain deliverance. The terms in which this request is made are modest, and exceedingly impressive: “Think on me when it shall be well with thee, and show kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house.” He might have asked for a place under the chief butler, or some other post of honour or profit: but he requests only to be delivered from “this house.” He might have reminded the butler how much he owed to his sympathetic and kind treatment; but he left these things to speak for themselves, using no other language than that of humble entreaty; “I pray thee show kindness unto me!” In pleading the exalted situation in which the chief butler was about to be reinstated, he gently intimates the obligations which people in prosperous circumstances are under to think of the poor and the afflicted; and Christians may still further improve the principle, not to be unmindful of such cases in their approaches to the King of kings. This plea may also direct us to make use of His name and interest who is exalted at the right hand of the Majesty on high. It was on this principle that the dying thief presented his petition; “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” A petition which the Lord of glory did neither refuse nor forget; and still he liveth to make intercession for us.

Joseph, in order to make a deeper impression upon the butler’s mind, tells him a few of the outlines of his history: “I was stolen,” says he, “from the land of the Hebrews.” But was this a just account? Did not the Ishmaelites buy him? They did; but it was of them who had no right to sell him, and therefore it was in reality stealing him. Such, you know, would be the purchase of a child by a kidnapper of an unprincipled nurse; and such is the purchase of slaves to this day on the coast of Africa. The account was not only just, but generous. In making use of the term stolen, without any mention of particulars, he seems to have intended to throw a veil over the cruelty of his brethren, whom he did not wish to reproach to a stranger; and the same generous spirit is discovered in what he says of his treatment in Egypt. We have seen in a former discourse how this great and good man refused to reproach his tempter, confining himself to what was his own duty; and now, when he had suffered so much through her base and false treatment, and when it might have been thought necessary to expose her in order to justify himself, he contents himself with asserting his own innocence: “And here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon.” What an example is here afforded us of temperateness and forbearance, under the foulest and most injurious treatment! Such was Joseph’s request, and such his pleas to enforce it. If there had been any gratitude, any bowels of mercy, or any justice in the butler’s heart, surely he must have thought of these things.

Excerpt from: “Joseph in Prison,” Discourse XLVII in Expository Discourses On the Book of Genesis.

Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 154–157). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.

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