Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 39:21-23

21 But the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.

22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it.

23 The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper.

I love the opening passage in today’s verses, that the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy. Here he is at the lowest point of his story, but he is not alone. This is a common theme in the stories of the patriarchs: that they are alone in a wild or dangerous place, with no one for their companion but God.

It is often said that the travesties that befell Joseph were all part of God’s plans, and even Joseph will later tell his brethren to not be angry with themselves, because God was sending him to preserve life all along. And while this is true, I believe it is worth noting that God being present in the process is not the same as saying that God threw him into the well or God cast him into prison. Those were evil actions, and it was evil men and women who did those things, not God. What God did was to be with Joseph in those low points and miraculously turn them into something good.

In verses 22 and 23 we hear a description of Joseph coming into the full trust of the keeper of the prison and having the entire operation put into his hands. It is identical to what we heard of Joseph earlier when he came to manage the entire estate of Potiphar. This is the second of the three-part repetition on this theme, and so it would seem there was no situation so low that Joseph couldn’t flourish in it.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 39:16-20

16 And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home.

17 And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me:

18 And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out.

19 And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled.

20 And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.

The theatrics that Potiphar’s wife gets up to are laughable. She lays out Joseph’s stolen garment and waits beside it all day, so that her husband will walk in to find her still at the very scene of the crime, languishing in the throes of trauma! The pageantry is ridiculous… but it does work. Before reading today’s verses I had wondered whether Potiphar had some suspicion of what really happened. It would seem conceivable that he suspected his wife’s deceit but found it more convenient to turn out a slave than his own wife. However, in verse nineteen we read that his wrath was genuinely kindled against Joseph, suggesting that he bought into the whole charade.

Thus, Potiphar was a blind fool, manipulated by his wife into turning out the best man he had in his household. I can’t help but wonder if his wife continued with her adulterous streak, and if he ever found out about it and realized he had been played. Perhaps it is worth considering whether we have also allowed the wool to be pulled over our eyes also. Rumors that are sensational give us cathartic pleasure, and there is a temptation to believe in them simply because it is exciting to feel the powerful emotions they evoke. Indeed, some of us can become addicted to drama and gossip, holding to the ideas that are interesting, more than the ones that are actually true.

As for poor Joseph, he is out of the frying pan and into the fire! He has gone from being a free man, the son of a powerful father, to a slave, and a stranger, and now a prisoner. Here, at last, he has truly found his nadir.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 39:13-15

13 And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth,

14 That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice:

15 And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled, and got him out.

Potiphar’s wife could see that Joseph would never commit adultery with her, and having been frustrated in her lust she now determined to ruin him. I am struck by her language saying “he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us.” She isn’t just casting stones at Joseph, she is disparaging his entire culture. “He brought in an Hebrew” feels to me like it is spoken with revulsion, as though her husband has let a dirty thing into the house like a rat. Hebrews are untrustworthy, Hebrews are dangerous, Hebrews aren’t principled like the rest of us.

And in truth, Joseph had done nothing wrong. But a false image of him had to be erected for Potiphar’s wife to conceal her own shameful behavior. In this tactic Potiphar’s wife shows a similar mentality to that of Joseph’s brothers, who could not stand to have his worthiness reveal to them their own guilty conscience. There is a tendency among the wicked to silence their shame by smothering whatever source of purity is stinging it. Vitriolic and abusive retaliation only reveals how guilty the conscience of the crier really is.

Disagreement and difference of opinion are inevitable in life, but attempted murder and assassination of character were not proportional responses from Joseph’s brothers and Potiphar’s wife! The magnitude of their reaction shows that they did not merely disagree with Joseph, they felt threatened in their guilty souls.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 39:9-10, 12

9 There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

10 And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her.

12 And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.

Before moving on, I wanted to review the three techniques I found in the past couple days for how Joseph maintained his purity in the face of temptation.

  1. Joseph’s desire to be pure was based in his relationship with God. He had evidently made a solemn determination to live according to God’s commandments. There are many of us who “say” that we have given our lives to God, but it is another thing to actually live as such. Joseph really meant it. He loved his God, and he would not betray Him.
  2. Joseph took the steps necessary to keep himself away from temptation. He had his personal resolve, but he wasn’t going to put himself unnecessarily in the firing line. He kept his distance from Potiphar’s wife, and when she did speak to him, he did not linger on her words.
  3. When all else failed, he ran from evil. He did not debate with it, or reason with it. Argument and reason are not enough to keep a man or woman pure; they have to develop the habit of impulsively and immediately following their conscience, abandoning any situation that is trying to compromise it.

By these three methods Joseph prevailed. He is about to be slandered by Potiphar’s wife and punished for it, but make no mistake about it, Joseph won. No matter where he was cast away to, Joseph would go there with his conscience preserved.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 39:11-12

11 And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within.

12 And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.

Yesterday I mentioned that Joseph sought to remove himself from temptation by avoiding proximity to Potiphar’s wife. I also pointed out that every addict knows that the best way to maintain sobriety is in just this same way, to simply remove oneself from the path of temptation as Joseph did.

But at the same time, as every addict knows, now and again trouble will find you, even when you’re not looking for it. Without realizing it, Joseph had stepped into a trap, and temptation literally grabbed him by the girdle, pulling him towards sin.

And so, like Joseph, our defense must be two-pronged. Stay away from evil whenever possible, but also be ready to emphatically turn it down when it shows up anyway. Joseph showed great wisdom by not trying to reason or argue with Potiphar’s wife anymore. He didn’t even try to fight her off of him. To dabble around temptation is only to let its hooks sink in deeper. Instead he wriggled out of his clothes and ran! Potiphar’s wife might have architected this situation to try and remove all of Joseph’s options, but he would always retain the ability to choose.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 39:7-10

7 And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.

8 But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;

9 There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

10 And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her.

Things had been going well for Joseph in Potiphar’s household, but now trouble began brewing for him once again. In the previous verses we have learned how he gained power and prestige, and also how he was “goodly” and “well favoured.” It is not too shocking, then, that Potiphar’s adulterous wife would single him out for her lust. The phrase that she “cast her eyes upon Joseph” is something that anyone who has been subjected to sexual objectification by another will immediately understand the meaning of. And Potiphar’s wife is the worst sort of predator, not being deterred even when Joseph explicitly tells her that “no,” he doesn’t want anything to do with this.

I find very interesting Joseph’s argument against Potiphar’s wife. At the beginning he mentions the trust that Potiphar has put in him, but at the end it is God’s trust that he invokes as the reason for turning Potiphar’s wife down. Lying with Potiphar’s wife would be a betrayal of Potiphar, would be a betrayal to the teachings of Joseph’s father, would be a betrayal to Joseph’s future wife, yet none of these are the trespass that are greatest in Joseph’s mind. What he asks is “how then can I sin against God?” Clearly Joseph loves his Lord, and he does not want to hurt Him by such an act.

I find very interesting Joseph’s argument against Potiphar’s wife. At the beginning he mentions the trust that Potiphar has put in him, but at the end it is God’s trust that he invokes instead. Yes, lying with Potiphar’s wife would be a betrayal of Potiphar, would be a betrayal to the teachings of Joseph’s father, would be a betrayal to Joseph’s future wife, yet none of these are the trespass that is greatest in Joseph’s mind. What he asks is “how then can I…sin against God?” Clearly Joseph loves God, and does not want to hurt Him by such an act.

Also notice in verse ten that it says Joseph not only rebuked her temptations but went to lengths not “be with her.” This use of “with” is from the Hebrew word עִם, which is used as an adverb or preposition, and means to be physically next to, or to be equal with. Thus, Joseph was avoiding being in the same space as her, or to have a relationship of equal confidence. He knew that she represented trouble for him, and he did all that he could to physically keep that temptation at bay.

Which, as anyone who regularly struggles with temptation knows, is imperative if one is to remain pure. Truly an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Making the effort to not be tempted in the first place is the best way to ensure you will never fail.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 39:5-6

5 And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field.

6 And he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.

I don’t know much about the structure of servants in an ancient Egyptian household, but I think it seems incredible that a youth of seventeen years, brought in as a slave from a foreign land, would climb to overseer in Potiphar’s house. We do not know how exactly what length of time transpired before Potiphar trusted Joseph completely, but I imagine the process was expedited by the fact that Joseph’s works prospered beyond normal human capability, due to the intervention of the Lord.

In any case, eventually Potiphar depended so fully on Joseph that he did not even know what his own belongings were. He put it all under Joseph’s hand and trusted that the young man would not cheat him. All that remained for Potiphar was to reap the blessings of it, the bread that was served to his table.

But there is a difference between being the man that the Lord blesses and being the man who profits from the blessed one. Potiphar is in the same situation as Laban, who similarly reaped the reward of having a man of God, Jacob, under his employ. But also like Laban, Potiphar will not keep his good-luck-charm forever. He will have God’s blessing upon his household only as long as Joseph is present. Joseph, on the other hand, will keep the providence of the Lord wherever he goes.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 39:1-4

1 And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither.

2 And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.

3 And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand.

4 And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand.

We come to know very little of Potiphar. We will read multiple quotes from his unnamed wife, but never a word from him. His account in this story has only to do with how he relates to Joseph. And that is the focus of today’s verses. We come to see that whatever Joseph did in the house of Potiphar, that work was made to prosper. Potiphar recognized this, and put more and more under Joseph’s control, until the entire household was his to run. Here we see the beginning of Joseph’s dreams being fulfilled, the one which showed his sheaf rising above all others. He had blessed hands, and whatever work he did started bearing great fruit.

And frankly, at this point life seems like it was pretty good for Joseph. In fact, one in Joseph’s position might be tempted to think that this elevated position was already the fulfillment of what God had promised, and not look for anything greater. But as we will see, this is but a shadow of the true adventure God had in store for Joseph.

Many times we also reach moments in life where things are pretty good, and we become satisfied. We run the risk of forever staying there, rather than living the truly grand adventure God intended. And that is why life sometimes has to disrupt our station, just as it will soon disrupt Joseph’s. It may seem a cruel turn of fate at the time, but it is actually meant to lead to better things.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 38-39

I just finished reviewing the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38. When I started going through this chapter I thought it was a strange interruption in the story of Joseph. We had heard about the youth being sold into Egypt in chapter 37, and in chapter 39 we were going to continue to with his service in Potiphar’s house, so why does the narrative divert to a seemingly random and unpleasant story about Judah?

As I came to the end of chapter 38, though, I realized that its placement in the Bible is actually very clever. This chapter is meant to be a companion piece to chapter 39, read together and then compared and contrasted to each other. In each chapter a son of Jacob is being tugged at by depravity and they respond to that temptation in very different ways.

In Judah’s story he elects to leave his father’s house to live among a more carnal people. He adopts their ways, marries one of their women, and arranges for his son to do so as well. He full-heartedly steps into the lewd and filthy world, and as a result endures an icky family drama that is one of the most uncomfortable chapters to read in the entire Bible. At the end he is further tempted by lust, gives in, and finds himself caught in a trap entirely of his own making. Fortunately, in the final verses we see the first sign of remorse from Judah, something that will develop further when he meets Joseph again in Egypt.

As for Joseph, he also leaves his father’s house to live among a more carnal people, though in his case it is entirely against his will. Unlike Judah, he will not adopt their baser customs. He might be immersed in a society that does not follow the commandments of God, but he himself still will. He will similarly be tempted by lust and he will reject it. This will result in him being cast down in society, but will be a great victory for his soul.

Chapters 38 and 39 are together an examination on different ways that we can deal with all that is base and depraved in the world. We can seek it out and become part of its dirtying cycle, or we can keep ourselves holy, even as all around us is not. We are all invited to partake of the carnal but we can also reject it, and our lives will shift according to our choice.

Fortunately, for those of us who identify more with the story of Judah than of Joseph, the narrative does still provide a ray of hope. Judah stumbles, and he slogged through the gutter for a time, but he also came to see the error of his ways and seems to have turned over a new leaf. We will see his chance for restitution in a few chapters, and there still remains a chance for us as well.