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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Genesis 40

 

 

Verse 23

DISCOURSE: 52

INGRATITUDE OF PHARAOH’S BUTLER

Genesis 40:23. Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him.

IT was a wise and prudent choice which David made, “Let me fall into the hands of God, and not into the hands of man.” Man, when intent on evil, knows no bounds, except those which are prescribed by his ability to execute his wishes. He is easily incensed, but with difficulty appeased. The ties of blood and relationship are not sufficient to bind persons in amity with each other, when once any ground of discord arises between them. It might have been hoped that in such a family as Jacob’s, love and harmony would prevail: but to such a degree had envy inflamed his whole family against their younger brother, that they conspired against his life, and only adopted the milder alternative of selling him for a slave, through a horror which they felt at the thought of shedding his blood. Nor will the most amiable conduct always ensure regard, or protect a person from the most cruel injuries. The holy, chaste, and conscientious deportment of Joseph should have exalted his character in the eyes of his mistress: but when she failed in her attempts to ensnare his virtue, her passionate desire after him was converted into rage; and she procured the imprisonment of him whom she had just before solicited to be her paramour. During his confinement, he had opportunities of shewing kindness to his fellow-prisoners. To two of them he interpreted their dreams, which proved to be prophetic intimations of their respective fates. Of Pharaoh’s chief butler, whose speedy restoration he foretold, he made a most reasonable request: he told him, that he had been stolen out of the land of the Hebrews; and that there existed no just cause for his imprisonment: and he entreated, that he would make known his case to Pharaoh, and intercede for his deliverance. In making this request, he never once criminated either his brethren who had sold him, or his mistress who had falsely accused him: he cast a veil of love over their faults, and sought for nothing but the liberty of which he had been unjustly deprived. Who would conceive that so reasonable a request, presented to one who had such opportunities of knowing his excellent character, to one too on whom he had conferred such great obligations, should fail? Lord, what is man? how base, how selfish, how ungrateful! Let us fix our attention upon this incident in the history of Joseph, and make some suitable reflections upon it—

We observe then,

I. That gratitude is but a feeble principle in the human mind—

[Corrupt and sinful principles are, alas! too strong in the heart of man; but those which are more worthy of cultivation, are weak indeed. To what a degree are men actuated by prideambitioncovetousnessenvywrathrevenge!—To what exertions will they not be stimulated by hope or fear! — — — But the motions of gratitude are exceeding faint: in the general, they are scarcely perceptible: and though on some extraordinary occasions, like that of Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea, the heart may glow with a sense of the mercies vouchsafed unto us, we soon forget them, even as the Israelites did, and return to our former coldness and indifference.]

II. That its operations are rather weakened than promoted by prosperity—

[Pharaoh’s butler, when restored to his master’s service, thought no more of the friend whom he had left in prison. This is the general effect of prosperity, which steels the heart against the wants and miseries of others, and indisposes it for the exercise of sympathy and compassion. It is usually found too that the more we abound in temporal blessings, the more unmindful we are of Him who gave them. That is a true description of us all; “Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked.” On the other hand, adversity tends to bring us to consideration: when we have suffered bereavements of any kind, we begin to feel the value of the things we have lost; and to regret, that we were not more thankful for them while they were continued to us. The loss of a part of our blessings often renders us more thankful for those that remain: and it is no uncommon sight to behold a sick person more thankful for an hour’s sleep, or a small intermission of pain, or the services of his attendants, than he ever was for all the ease and sleep that he enjoyed, or the services that were rendered him, in the days of his health. We have a very striking instance of the different effects of prosperity and adversity in the history of Hezekiah. In his sickness he exclaimed, “The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day:” but when restored to health, he forgat his Benefactor, and “rendered not again according to the benefits that had been done unto him.” In this, I say, he is an example of the ingratitude which obtains in the world at large; for we are told, that “God left him to try him, and that he might know all that was in his heart.”]

III. That the want of it is hateful in proportion to the obligations conferred upon us—

[We suppose that no man ever read attentively the words of our text without exclaiming (in thought at least, if not in words), What base ingratitude was this! Whether we consider his obligations to Joseph, who had been to him a messenger of such glad tidings, or his obligations to God, who had overruled the heart of Pharaoh to restore him to his place, he surely was bound to render that small service to his fellow-prisoner, and to interpose in behalf of oppressed innocence. And we cannot but feel a detestation of his character on account of his unfeeling and ungrateful conduct. Indeed it is thus that we are invariably affected towards all persons; and more especially those who have received favours at our hands. If we receive an injury or an insult, or are treated with neglect by persons whom we have greatly benefited, we fix immediately on their ingratitude, as the most aggravating circumstance of their guilt: it is that which pains us, and which makes them appear most odious in our eyes. And though this sentiment may be easily carried to excess, yet, if kept within due bounds, it forms a just criterion of the enormity of any offence that is committed against us. It was this which in God’s estimation so greatly aggravated the guilt of the Jewish nation; “They forgat God who had done so great things for them [Note: Psalms 106:7; Psalms 106:13; Psalms 106:21.].” And we shall do well to bear it in mind, as the means of awakening in our own minds a just sense of our condition before God: for ingratitude, above all things, subjects us to his displeasure [Note: Romans 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:2; Isaiah 1:3; Deuteronomy 28:45; Deuteronomy 28:47.].]

This subject may be fitly improved—

1. To fill us with shame and confusion before God—

[If we think of our temporal mercies only, they call for incessant songs of praise and thanksgiving: but what do we owe to God for the gift of his dear Son—and of his Holy Spirit—and of a preached Gospel?—What do we owe to God if he has rendered his word in any measure effectual for the enlightening of our minds, and the quickening of our souls? “What manner of persons then ought we to be?” How should our hearts glow with love, and our mouths be filled with his praise! Let us prosecute these thoughts, and we shall soon blush and be confounded before God, and lie low before him in dust and ashes.]

2. To keep us from putting our trust in man—

[Many years had Joseph been confined in prison, and now he thought he should have an advocate at court, who would speedily liberate him from his confinement. But God would not let him owe his deliverance to an arm of flesh: yea, he left him two years longer in prison, that he might learn to put his trust in God only: and then he wrought his deliverance by his own arm. “Till his time was come, the word of the Lord tried him.” At last, God suggested to Pharaoh dreams, which no magicians could expound; and thus brought to the butler’s recollection the oppressed youth who had interpreted his dreams, and who was the only person that could render similar service to the affrighted monarch. Now we also, like Joseph, are but too apt to lean on an arm of flesh, instead of looking simply to the Lord our God: but we shall always find in the issue, that the creature is only a broken reed, which will pierce the hand that leans upon it; and that none but God can render us any effectual assistance. Let us then trust in him only, and with all our heart, and then we shall never be confounded.]

3. To make us admire and adore the Lord Jesus—

[That blessed Saviour is not less mindful of us in his exalted state, than he was in the days of his flesh. Yea, though not at all indebted to us, though, on the contrary, he has all possible reason to abandon us for ever, yet is he mindful of us day and night; he makes intercession for us continually at the right hand of God; he considers this as the very end of his exaltation; and he improves every moment in protecting, comforting, and strengthening those who depend upon him. We challenge any one to say, When did the blessed Saviour forget him? We may have been ready to say indeed, “He hath forsaken and forgotten us;” but “He can no more forget us than a woman can forget her sucking child.” Let us then bless his name, and magnify it with thanksgiving. And let us from time to time offer to Him the petition of the dying thief, “Lord, remember me now thou art in thy kingdom:” and not all the glory and felicity of heaven shall divert his attention from us for a single moment.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Genesis 40:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/genesis-40.html. 1832.

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