THE SUFFERING SAVIOUR— THE SAVED AND LOST.
This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. Luke 2:34, 35.
Then were there two thieves crucified with him; one on the right hand and another on the left. — Matthew 27:38.
In that position he was "charged with them and served them" (ver. 1). It was a double function. He waited upon them and was their attendant, — responsible doubtless in that capacity for their safe custody, — but not authorized to act as their superior, — only entitled to officiate as their servant. For they were evidently persons of some rank and consideration in Pharaoh's court, — although the precise position of each is about as hard to be ascertained as his offence;— and as unimportant and irrelevant, for any practical purpose, if it could be ascertained. They were chiefs in their respective departments. They may have been guilty of fraud, — of what in meaner men would be called theft. Under some such accusation probably they were suffering, having Joseph between them, ready to serve and be of use to them. Thus "they continued a season in ward."
The day, however, now dawns that is to decide their respective fates. In the morning, Joseph visits them, as usual; and finding them discomposed, he naturally asks the reason, "wherefore look ye so sadly to-day?” Carelessly perhaps, and as a mere matter of civility, they inform him, — "We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it." And they are somewhat startled, we may be sure, by Joseph's reply: — "Do not interpretations belong to God] tell me them, I pray you " (ver. 6-8).
For it might well be deemed a strange reply from such a one as Joseph must have appeared to them to be. Who was he that he should dare to speak in so high a tone, and undertake so confidently what he avows to be a divine office? A servant, — one who ministered to them in humble guise, — a prisoner, — a convict, — one whom they may have been disposed to treat with supercilious indifference or despiteful indignity, — a poor degraded Israelite, — in their proud eyes contemptible. What wonder if both of these more reputable victims of the frowns of power should have laughed to scorn the lofty pretentions of one who was more a victim than themselves?
They may have done so, both of them, at first. But if so, one of them at least speedily relents. For we begin here to recognize a distinction between them. And the distinction is vital and fatal.
I. The chief butler, at once and unhesitatingly, told his dream (ver. 9-15). His doing so, and the result of his doing so, are in several views not a little remarkable.
1. He acted in faith. He believed Joseph's own assurance, — for it was virtually an assurance on Joseph's part, — of his having a commission from God to interpret the dream. And it was this faith that made him tell it. It was no child's play, or holiday-sport, between Joseph and these men — no mere trick of ingenious riddle-reading and guess-work. It was not an affair of magic, or legerdemain, or vulgar fortune-telling — a conjuror practicing his sleight-of-hand maneuvers and manipulations — an oneiromantist, or dream-prophet, with his jargon of symbols and occult senses, affecting to weave the idle thoughts of a tossing bed into a plausible web of fate. Joseph at least is in earnest. His trumpet gives no uncertain sound. He assumes the prophetic character, as decidedly as Daniel did when he stood before Nebuchadnezzar — or Christ when he comforted the dying thief. He undertakes to speak for God — to speak as the oracle of God. It is avowedly on that footing that he invites his companions to tell him their dreams; he would not on any other footing encourage them to expect any satisfaction from him. And therefore, when the chief butler proceeded to act upon the invitation, it must have been from a decided persuasion, on his part, of the reality of Joseph's claim. But for some such conviction, we cannot imagine that he would have received Joseph's proposal otherwise than with ridicule and abuse. There was that, however, about Joseph which inspired confidence in his divine mission. "He spake as one having authority," and not as the soothsayers — "not as the scribes."
2. The faith thus exercised meets with an immediate recompense; as well it may, for it is of no ordinary sort. In opening his mind to Joseph, the chief butler virtually acknowledges him as a chosen servant of God, entitled to declare his will, and on his behalf to show things to come. He does so, in spite of outward appearances and outward circumstances.
He sees through the veil of suffering and shame a divine grace and glory shining forth in this seeming culprit. The truth being its own witness — the divine Spirit in Joseph's soul making his presence there even outwardly manifest — the man perceives that he is a prophet, one whom God has sent and sealed. And he makes known to him his dream accordingly.
3. The dream and its interpretation are both of God; being God's method of revelation — the method of revelation which he saw fit on this, as on other occasions, to adopt. It is idle to be speculating about the principles and laws of this sort of divine communication; estimating the probability of the dream beforehand, or laying down the supposed rules of its subsequent explanation. To dream about a vine, with its buds, and blossoms, and clusters, and ripe grapes, and to connect all the particulars of the dream with a scene in Pharaoh's palace — the dreamer himself doing his office as cup-bearer, pressing the grapes into the cup, and giving the cup into the monarch's hands — all that may seem natural enough, and well fitted to suggest sage remarks as to the working of the mind in sleep. Any shrewd deceiver, we may be apt to think, might take the hint and gratify the credulous dupe consulting him, with a flattering prediction in the line of what was obviously running in his head. But nothing of that sort will suit the parties here, or fit into their relation to one another. There is no room for the supposition of this being anything like an ordinary case of dream-telling and dream-interpreting, after the fashion of what has sometimes been reduced almost to a system or a science — the art of turning to account man's inveterate superstitious proneness to pry into futurity. The whole must be accepted as altogether the Lord's doing.
4. It is so accepted by the chief butler himself. If it was in faith, believing Joseph to be what he professed to be, that he told him his dream at first, much more now, in faith, he must have received the interpretation of his dream as from heaven. Joseph had not said, Tell me the dream, and I will see if I can find a possible or likely meaning in it. He had appealed to God, and announced himself as able and authorised to put God's own infallible meaning on it. It was on that understanding that the man had placed his case in Joseph's hands. Clearly, therefore, Joseph's word must have been to him as God's. "Within three days" thou shalt be, as it were, "in paradise," — taken from the prison to the king's palace and the king's presence — no longer languishing in the torture of condemnation, but safe from wrath and high in favour. Such salvation does Joseph announce to his fellow-sufferer.
5. Is it too much for Joseph to couple with the announcement of this salvation, so simple and touching a request as this: — " But 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: for indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon"? Can anything be more reasonable? Can anything be more pathetic?
It is not here, as it was in the instance of one greater than Joseph, when he spoke peace to the poor criminal hanging on a cross beside him. Then the petition to be remembered in the kingdom came from the malefactor to the Saviour; here it comes from the saviour to the malefactor. The situation is simply reversed. It is his fellow-sufferer who says to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when thou comest unto thy kingdom;" — it is Joseph who for himself makes virtually this same request of his fellow-sufferer, — "Think on me when it shall be well with thee." There is no risk whatever, in the case of the one petition, of its being forgotten or overlooked. Alas! there is but too much risk in the case of the other. When it is the deliverer, the saviour — for such, to all intents and purposes was Joseph's position here — who begs a favour of the party delivered, there is but too great a likelihood of his finding that he has begged it in vain. What ground for thankfulness is ours when we reflect, that the party needing deliverance, when he begs a favour of his deliverer, can never incur the hazard of any such sad disappointment!
Joseph might doubt whether the man who owed so much to him would indeed think of him when he was once himself out of the fellowship of suffering which had made them so much akin. We may be very sure that Jesus in his exaltation will remember us. It is not that we can make out a better case, or show more cause why we should be remembered. Joseph's plea is stronger far, upon the merits, than any plea of ours can possibly be. He can appeal to his blameless innocency, his spotless righteousness. He has done nothing to deserve the dungeon; he is well worthy of a better destiny. And the man to whom he appeals is surely bound to him by most affecting ties, of communion in disgrace and sorrow, and communion also in sympathy and kindness, given and received. What, in comparison, is our plea? We have well merited the worst that can befall us. And the Man to whom we appeal is he whom we have pierced! But he will not neglect our appeal to him, as we, like Joseph's friend the butler, might be found but too apt to neglect his appeal to us.