John Calvin on Pharaoh’s Chief Baker (Gen 40:16)

And the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, and he said to Joseph, “I also had a dream ….”  (Gen 40:16)

וירא שר האפים כי טוב פתר ויאמר אל יוסף אף אני בחלומי

Commentators almost universally see significance to the fact that the baker only shares his dream after he thinks that he too will receive a favorable interpretation.  In this light, I love how John Calvin applies this verse pastorally, convicting those of us who love to have our ears tickled, and challenging those of us who have been commissioned to proclaim the full counsel of God, even when such proclamation will not always be popular:

When the chief baker sawHe 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 ardour 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 anyone, 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 threatenings, (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.

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA

4 thoughts on “John Calvin on Pharaoh’s Chief Baker (Gen 40:16)”

  1. John Piper has a nice treatment of Romans 9 that your reading agrees with. Btw – I found a typo here: “Is God impartial? No….” I think you meant, “Does God show partiality to one race/class based on something inherent in them?–No…”

    Also I found the variety of comments interesting. You have a broad audience. With no disrespect to other commenters, I am one who wants a God who does all things for His own glory. And I would rather be a Calvinist than an Athiest because the Bible seems to teach something much closer to the former, not the latter.


  2. “Treatment of Romans 9”? It seems to me that the only people who “treat” Scripture are those who are trying to make it go away, sort of like treating a disease. We who love God’s Word, read it. Although I’m left wondering why perspicuity…is so hard to pronounce.


  3. Hey guys – I might be missing something, but I wonder if these comments are meant for a different post? Although I think your treatment of the word “treatment,” Mark, doesn’t necessarily follow. I’m sure some people use it to mean “fixing” scripture because they deem it to be broken (e.g., Liberalism), but I think usually the linguistic context has more to do with the meaning “handling” that Websters lists as a primary synonym.

    Anyway – again, I’m not sure which post this is meant for. If I can figure out how to migrate comments, I’ll do that.

    Thanks for the comments, guys!


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