Genesis Lessons 39: 3-12, 19-21 Joseph's Temptation
LAST WEEK: In Gen. 37, we left Joseph on his way to Egypt right after his brothers had sold him into slavery to a caravan of Ishmaelite traders. The lesson taught three main points of application: 1. The story showed us that favoritism in the family can be deadly. The fact that Jacob loved Joseph more than his brothers was not in and of itself wrong, but openly showing it in front of his other sons was only not foolish but became the primary cause of the brother's hatred for their younger brother. 2. The story showed us that if envy, jealousy, and resentment gain a foothold in our lives, it can lead to destruction. It might not lead us to the extreme of considering murder, like Joseph's brothers, but it can surely destroy the bonds that hold families together. 3. Even in the midst of the evil that people do, we can sometimes see God's grace at work. In Joseph's case, we saw God's intervention to save his life and then send him to the place he needed to be to later save his entire family.
CONTEXT: To have a better understanding of what happens in this chapter, we need to briefly review the chronology of Jacob's life. When sold by his brothers he was 17 and when he was elevated into a position of power by Pharaoh, he was 30 (Gen. 41:46), and it was about two years before his prison- mate, Pharaoh's cupbearer, was restored to his position (Gen. 41:1). That leaves us with about 11 years that Joseph was either in the house of Potiphar or in prison. This tells us is that we must keep in mind that Joseph's rise to power was not achieved quickly or easily. The most noticeable feature of this chapter is Jacob's character. Given what had just happened to him-going from favorite son to slave-he had every reason to feel miserable and angry. This is when many people, out of dejection, turn their backs on God. But let's look at how Joseph responds to circumstances that include both suffering and temptation.
Read Gen. 39:1-6a - JOSEPH'S RISE TO SUCCESS
1 Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the bodyguard, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had taken him down there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. 3 Now his master saw that the Lord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand. 4 So Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal servant; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge. 5 It came about that from the time he made him overseer in his house and over all that he owned, the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house on account of Joseph; thus the Lord's blessing was upon all that he owned, in the house and in the field. 6a So he left everything he owned in Joseph's charge; and with him there he did not concern himself with anything except the food which he ate.
vv.1-2: Joseph's new master, Potiphar, was an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the bodyguard. The word officer literally translates to "eunuch," a castrated male, but since the man was married, it's not clear here whether it just being used in a more general sense as a title for a court official. The term bodyguard literally means "slaughterer" or "butcher," but in this case, probably denotes that Potiphar was a skilled fighter who held an important position close to the Pharaoh. The statement in v. 2, "The LORD (Heb. Yahweh Lit. "I am") was with Joseph," is theologically important because it occurs only in the story of Joseph in this section of Genesis. This is seen in action as God's presence with Joseph transforms him from a young, inexperienced slave in a foreign place to a successful man in an important Egyptian household. It's also noteworthy that Joseph, a mere Hebrew shepherd by training, did not live in the servant quarters but in the house of his master. It's obvious that Joseph's spiritual dependence on God gave him outward character qualities noticed by others.
vv. 3-4: "Now his master saw that the Lord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand. 4 So Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal servant; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge. - Potiphar not only observed that Joseph was a valuable worker, but he also noticed that his effectiveness was due to his relationship with his God. Joseph had no doubt revealed his Hebrew origins and his faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Potiphar probably didn't do this out of any particular religious sensitivity but because it made good business sense. In v. 4 we see that Potiphar eventually gave Joseph control of everything he owned both in his house and outside of the house.
vv. 5-6a: "It came about that from the time he made him overseer in his house and over all that he owned, the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house on account of Joseph; thus the Lord's blessing was upon all that he owned, in the house and in the field. 6a So he left everything he owned in Joseph's charge; and with him there he did not concern himself with anything except the food which he ate. Today we would call Joseph Potiphar's managing agent, a person with unrestricted authority, answerable only to his boss. As time went on, God not only blessed the areas over which Joseph was given responsibility, but Potiphar was likewise blessed in proportion to the authority he gave Joseph. Eventually, Potiphar didn't even bother to oversee anything Joseph did and had no concern for anything except the food he ate, due perhaps to some Egyptian dietary practices. Keep in mind that Jacob's success didn't happen overnight but gradually, over a period of many years.
TRUTH 1: Regardless of whether or not the people you work for are Christians, godly character will still be noticed. Potiphar not only saw that Joseph was hard-working and reliable but also noticed that his effectiveness was connected to his relationship with his God. Christians today have the same opportunity-to display godly character in the workplace as a testimony of a Christ-like image.
Read Gen. 39:6b-12 - JOSEPH IS TEMPTED AND TESTED
6b Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. 7 It came about after these events that his master's wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, "Lie with me." 8 But he refused and said to his master's wife, "Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. 9 There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?" 10 As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her. 11 Now it happened one day that he went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the household was there inside. 12 She caught him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me!" And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside.
vv. 6b-7: "Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.7 It came about after these events that his master's wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, "Lie with me." - The words describing Joseph are similar to about his mother, Rachel, in Gen. 29:17, from whom he obviously inherited his good looks. But there was more to this than looks: Potiphar's wife would never have paid any attention to an ordinary slave, but with Joseph in close proximity every day, she could not help but notice his leadership abilities and competence in running her husband's household. In all likelihood, she had been contemplating this advance for some time. Her brazen phrase, "Lie with me," is indicative of the forward behavior that Egyptian women of her class were known for in this era.
vv. 8-9: "But he refused and said to his master's wife, "Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. 9 There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?"- Joseph makes a very reasonable and proper answer to her advance: (1) It would be an offense against his master, Potiphar, who had placed enormous trust in him; and (2) would equally be an offense against his God (Heb. Elohim). The temptation of Joseph here has some parallel to the test of Adam and Eve in the garden: They had free access to anything in the garden except for the forbidden fruit; Joseph had access to anything in Potiphar's household except his wife. The difference is that the forbidden fruit just hung there, passively, while Joseph was being aggressively pursued by a woman.
vv. 10-12: "As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her. 11 Now it happened one day that he went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the household was there inside. 12 She caught him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me!" And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside." - These verses show us that Potiphar's wife rejected Joseph's logical approach in instead pursued a determined campaign that was intended to break down Joseph's defenses. v. 11 indicates that she intentionally set this encounter in order to be in the house alone with him. In v. 12, when she grabbed his garment (it's not clear of this was all he was wearing). To resist her, Joseph's only practical option was to slip out of the garment and run for it.
TRUTH 2: Like Joseph, if we draw near to God and depend on Him completely, we will reflect His righteousness. Rather than falling into temptation or allowing himself to be beat down (by the world), Joseph held on to God and God held onto him. Regardless of his circumstances, Joseph very simply believed that God cared for him and would protect him. This is true for us today: whenever we're facing calamity (whatever the world is throwing at us), we should run toward God, not away from Him. God perfectly understands our situation and already has a solution for it.
Summary-vv. 13-18: These verses describe the accusations that Potiphar's wife made against Joseph to the other servants of the house. Using Joseph's garment as the corpus delicti, she told the other servants that Joseph had tried to rape her and using a racial slur, made much of the fact that her husband had brought a sneaky Hebrew slave into the house who had used the authority given him to take advantage of not only her and Potiphar but the entire household.
Read Gen. 39:19-21 - JOSEPH'S FAVOR
19 Now when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying, "This is what your slave did to me," his anger burned. 20 So Joseph's master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king's prisoners were confined; and he was there in the jail. 21 But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer.
vv. 19-20: When the wife retold this fictitious story to Potiphar, he was infuriated, and seized Joseph and "put him into prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined; and he was there in the jail" (v. 20b). First, we must understand that as a slave, Joesph had no legal rights and no opportunity to defend himself. Second, the normal punishment for this type of crime was death. We can only speculate that Potiphar may have had some doubts about the truth of his wife's statement. Third, Egypt was the only nation in the ancient Near East that held people in prison for various crimes instead of putting them to death. There's been a lot of scholarly discussion about the nature of this prison. Some claim a special building near Potiphar's house or even a dungeon beneath his house.
Although Joseph had escaped death, his living conditions in this prison-filth, meager food, sleeping on a dirt floor-were probably miserable.
v. 21: "But the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer - Despite the abrupt change in circumstances from manager of the household to prisoner in a dungeon, God's love and care for Joseph continues to shine forth. That "the Lord was with Joseph" tells us that Joseph's emotional stability wasn't based on favorable circumstances but upon the promises of God. Joseph's fellowship with God obviously affected his attitude and behavior in an outwardly noticeable manner. Had this not been the case, the jailer would never have paid any special attention to him (prison warden aren't know for their compassionate attitudes). Something about Joseph's demeanor, his manner of speaking, and his attitude in general drew the jailer's attention to him. But we all know that this was part of God's plan from the beginning.
TRUTH 3: Like Joseph, when find ourselves in the midst of unexpected trials, we must cling to God's promise that He will never forget us. When he suddenly went from being the top man in Potiphar's house to a prisoner in a jail, Joseph's emotional stability wasn't based on favorable circumstances but upon the promises of God. Because his faith in God controlled everything he said and did in the jail, the jailer (just like Potiphar) noticed his godly character. Throughout his ups and downs, Joseph may not have been sure of the outcome, but he trusted God as the architect and builder of his life. Joseph's situation in this story, brings to mind Rom. 8:28: "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."
Comment: Our lives have been entrusted to us by God, and it's important to understand that in every situation we face-good, bad, or in between--He is always with us, ready to comfort and take care of us. We should never allow ourselves fall into the false idea that when things are going good, we are in God's hands and He is with us, but in difficult times, we are not-i.e., that God somehow has abandoned us. Nothing is further from the truth. In the face of trials, you might ask the question: Where is God in all of this? Here's the answer:
1 O Lord, You have looked through me and have known me. 2 You know when I sit down and when I get up. You understand my thoughts from far away. 3 You look over my path and my lying down. You know all my ways very well. 4 Even before I speak a word, O Lord, You know it all. 5 You have closed me in from behind and in front. And You have laid Your hand upon me. 6 All You know is too great for me. It is too much for me to understand. Psalm 139:1-6.
"And I am with you always, even to the end of the world." Matthew 28:20b.