Genesis 39 – Joseph in Potiphar’s House
A. Joseph in Potiphar’s house.
1. (1) Potiphar, an Egyptian official, buys Joseph.
Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there.
a. Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him: The name Potiphar means devoted to the sun. It was a name connected with the Egyptian religious system.
b. An officer of Pharaoh: The ancient Hebrew word officer could be translated eunuch – one who was castrated, normally for the sake of their service. It was a common practice in ancient times to make those highest in the royal courts eunuchs, to ensure they would be wholly devoted to their king. Because this practice was common, the term came to be used for all who served in important positions in a king’s court, whether they were actually eunuchs or not. Therefore, we really don’t know if Potiphar was a eunuch.
c. Captain of the guard: The idea behind this title means chief of police, or probably more precisely, Potiphar was head of Pharaoh’s personal security force. He was a highly-trusted official in the government of Egypt.
d. Bought him from the Ishmaelites: Joseph was a slave. He seemed to have no control over his destiny, but was bought and sold like a piece of property. He could have ended up with anyone, but Potiphar bought him.
2. (2-3) God is with Joseph.
The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand.
a. The LORD was with Joseph: Joseph’s ordeal was probably worse than any of us have gone through. Yet God did not abandon him, even in the smallest way. If God allowed Joseph to be a slave, then he would be a successful man, even as a slave.
i. We often complain to God that He put us in a terrible or difficult place. Yet God’s will is that we trust Him to bless us and make us successful (as He measures success) wherever we are.
ii. “Externally it did not always appear that God was with him, for he did not always seem to be a prosperous man; but when you come to look into the inmost soul of this servant of God, you see his true likeness—he lived in communion with the Most High, and God blessed him.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Some people think they we can’t be blessed unless they are in authority, in charge of things. Jesus lived and taught a better way – a life as a servant.
· If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be the servant of all. (Matthew 20:26)
· For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. (Matthew 20:28)
· There are many wonderful titles for Jesus the Messiah, but one of the most meaningful is Servant of the LORD (Matthew 12:18, Isaiah 42:1).
· We can and must learn the blessing of being a servant; if it isn’t forced upon it, we can choose it.
b. He was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian: Even at this early point when it seemed Joseph had no control over circumstances – and indeed he had none – God overruled the evil or capricious choices of man to accomplish His eternal purpose.
c. And his master saw that the LORD was with him: By his trust in God, diligent work, and blessing from God, Joseph showed Potiphar that God was real. Followers of Jesus should live out the same principle today; others should see the difference Jesus makes in our lives by the way we work.
i. The LORD was with him: Think of the contrast between Joseph and his brothers. The brothers were not sold as slaves and slept in their own beds among their own families.
· Joseph was a slave, but free.
· The brothers were free, but slaves to secrets, shame, and guilt.
3. (4-6) God blesses Potiphar for Joseph’s sake.
So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority. So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had in the house and in the field. Thus he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand, and he did not know what he had except for the bread which he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.
a. He made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority: Because of God’s blessing and Joseph’s faithfulness, God made sure Joseph was advanced in his position, even as a slave.
i. It would have been easy for Joseph to do what we so often do: think little of his present position because it seemed so bad (he was a slave, after all). But Joseph believed God could bless him right where he was, so he didn’t wait for a better situation to be blessed by God.
b. The LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake: After the same principle, blessing can be brought upon our workplace because of our presence of godliness.
c. Thus he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand: Joseph rose to the top, but it took a while to happen.
· Joseph was 17 years old when he was sold into slavery (Genesis 37:2).
· He was 30 when Pharaoh promoted him (Genesis 41:46).
· Joseph was in prison for two years before his promotion (Genesis 41:1).
· Therefore, Joseph was in Potiphar’s house for 11 years.
i. It took 11 years for the full measure of God’s blessing to be accomplished in Joseph’s life. 11 years seems like a long time. Many think if advancement is from God, it must come quickly. Sometimes this is the case, but not normally. Normally, God allows good things to develop slowly. Human children have the longest development time both in the womb and in childhood compared to animals. In the world of plants, it takes many years for an acorn to become an oak; a squash might grow almost overnight.
d. He left all that he had in Joseph’s hand: This means that Joseph was a hard worker. When he came to Egypt, he was at a great disadvantage. He knew nothing of the language, culture, customs, or ways of doing business. He had to get up early and stay up late to both do his job and to learn Egyptian ways.
i. It seems that Joseph grew up watching others work. Something happened to him in his crisis; he accepted God’s transforming work. God gave Joseph great administrative skill, and now the heart of a hard-working servant was added to that.
ii. Luther said, “Accordingly, Joseph was not only good and chaste, and not only diligently poured out prayers to God for his master, for the king, and for the whole land of Egypt, but he was also a most vigilant overseer and manager of the domestic tasks” (Cited in Boice).
iii. When we leave all thatwe have in Jesus’ hand, our home and life will be blessed – and for Jesus’ sake.
e. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance: Joseph’s appearance was of special note. The Bible only calls two other men beautiful: David (1 Samuel 16:12) and Absalom (2 Samuel 14:25). Moses was said to be a beautiful child (Exodus 2:2).
B. Joseph’s resistance to temptation and its aftermath.
1. (7-10) The invitation of Potiphar’s wife and Joseph’s resistance.
And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. Thereis no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her.
a. His master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me”: Potiphar’s wife was undeniably forward towards Joseph. Literally, Potiphar is called a eunuch of Pharaoh (Genesis 39:1). If Potiphar was literally a castrated eunuch, this shows that his wife looked for sexual activity elsewhere.
i. Maybe Potiphar’s wife felt deprived. Perhaps Potiphar was a eunuch, and the marriage was purely a ceremonial arrangement. It may be that she felt free to pursue sexual pleasure outside the marriage. This attitude is common today, and our modern culture tells us that we are deprived unless we pursue every sexual desire we feel. This is a lie and makes our sexual desires gods that rule our life.
ii. Also, it seems that in the ancient Egypt there were low moral expectations on women, even married women. It was assumed that women would have sex outside marriage. Potiphar’s wife wasn’t looking for a relationship, just a good time. Again, our modern culture tells us that sex is great and often better apart from meaningful relationships. The truth – both Biblically and lived out in life – is that sex is far better in committed, married relationship; that sex means something.
iii. Joseph was an attractive man (Genesis 39:6) and perhaps this had something to do with it. That he seemed beyond the reach of Potiphar’s wife was also probably a factor. If this was so, then she was not the first or last woman who tried to seduce a man out of a sense of challenge or in seeking self-worth. Potiphar’s wife may have looked to Joseph with a desperate attempt to feel desirable and worth something.
b. Lie with me: This was bold and strong temptation to Joseph. It reminds us that when we face strong temptations, others have also faced the same.
i. Satan wants us to think our temptation is unique; that no other person could understand what we are going through in a particular temptation, but there is no temptation that has overtaken us except what is common among people (1 Corinthians 10:13).
ii. “Slavery itself was a small calamity compared with that which would have happened to young Joseph had he been enslaved by wicked passions.” (Spurgeon)
c. She spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her: Joseph showed remarkable faithfulness towards God, Potiphar, and himself by resisting this temptation for so long – perhaps for up to 11 years. Many character qualities helped in this, and Joseph gave several reasons for his refusal.
i. Joseph said to his master’s wife: He did not flirt or speak in a provocative manner with her. A foolish man would say, “It’s just words, let’s have a little fun.” Flirting and provocative words lead to disaster.
ii. Joseph remembered his responsibilities: my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. He remembered how much he had to lose. Today, even the single person has much to lose – their innocence, their heart, and their capacity to truly give themselves to the one God has for them.
iii. Joseph remembered who she was: you are his wife. She simply did not belong to Joseph. She was given to another, and another was given to her.
iv. Joseph remembered what the act actually was, great wickedness: We often want to call sin by another name. Hostility and temper are self-expression. Pride is self-esteem. Gluttony is the good life. Covetousness is trying to get ahead. Perversion is an alternative lifestyle. Adultery is a cry for help in a bad marriage.
v. Joseph remembered that it was sin against God. This was probably a pretty risk-free proposition – there was little chance of getting caught. Joseph cared about more than getting caught, knowing that everything was before the eyes of God. Joseph had a real enough relationship with God that he cared about more than getting caught before human eyes. “When I regarded God as a tyrant, I thought sin a trifle; but when I knew him to be my father, then I mourned that I could ever have kicked against him. When I thought that God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against one who loved me so, and sought my good” (Spurgeon).
vi. Joseph refused: Sometimes it just comes down to that. One must refuse and say no to sin, even when they feel like saying yes. One must realize that there is more to live for than the desires of the body. We are more than our sexual urges, and should live like we are more.
d. He did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her: Joseph was careful to never be alone with his temptation. Joseph wisely avoided being alone around Potiphar’s wife (or to be with her).
i. We rightly admire Joseph as an example of a man or woman of God who resisted temptation. There are many in the Bible who did not always successfully resist temptation:
· Adam and Eve.
· Abraham and Moses.
· David and Solomon.
· John and Peter.
ii. There are a few others who seemed very good at resisting temptation, such as Joseph and Daniel. Still, none of these compare to Jesus. Jesus was tested and tempted in ways we can’t even imagine, yet He remained perfect and sinless. Filled with Jesus, we can have the strength to resist temptation.
2. (11-12) Joseph resists her strong attempt at seduction.
But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside.
a. When Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him: Potiphar’s wife knew Joseph avoided her, so she made a deliberate plan to trap him. Surely, it was she who arranged it that none of the men of the house was inside.
b. She caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside: Joseph resisted this tremendous moment of temptation when he ran outside. Joseph did what we are all supposed to do when faced with this kind of situation: he fled and ran. 2 Timothy 2:22 makes it clear: Flee also youthful lusts.
i. If we are not actually running towards sin, we have a tendency to at least linger in its presence. But we are commanded to do the only safe thing: run away from these lusts of the flesh, and run as fast as we can.
ii. The KJV says at Genesis 39:12, He left the garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out. Joseph got him out. No one else was going to get him out. God provides a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13), but you have to take the way out.
c. He left his garment: The idea is not that he ran away naked, but that his outer garment was stripped off. Essentially, he left in his underwear. Joseph had to know this stand for purity would cost him dearly, but he considered it worth it.
3. (13-18) Potiphar’s wife falsely accuses Joseph before Potiphar.
And so it was, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside, that she called to the men of her house and spoke to them, saying, “See, he has brought in to us a Hebrew to mock us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And it happened, when he heard that I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me, and fled and went outside.” So she kept his garment with her until his master came home. Then she spoke to him with words like these, saying, “The Hebrew servant whom you brought to us came in to me to mock me; so it happened, as I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me and fled outside.”
a. A Hebrew… the Hebrew servant: In an age when punishment was brutal and life was cheap – especially the life of a slave – Potiphar’s wife knew her accusation would mean a death sentence for Joseph. That’s why she didn’t say his name; she didn’t want to think of him as a real person.
b. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice: It must have offended and grieved Joseph to be accused under such an outrageous lie. Yet he did not seem to defend himself against this false accusation, even as Jesus was silent before His accusers (Isaiah 53:7 and Matthew 27:13-14).
i. Thiswas not fair. Sometimes there is a price to be paid for resisting temptation. We do this in faith, trusting God to work all things together for good for those who love God and are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
4. (19-20) Joseph is sent to prison.
So it was, when his master heard the words which his wife spoke to him, saying, “Your servant did to me after this manner,” that his anger was aroused. Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison.
a. His anger was aroused: Potiphar knew what kind of woman his wife was and he knew what kind of man Joseph was. His anger probably came because he knew that her accusation against Joseph was not true.
i. Poor Potiphar! He was left with his wife and without Joseph, who made his whole household run well.
ii. “Death was the only penalty Joseph could reasonably expect. His reprieve presumably owed much to the respect he had won; and Potiphar’s mingled wrath and restraint may reflect a faint misgiving about the full accuracy of the charge.” (Kidner)
iii. “He never said a word, that I can learn, about Potiphar’s wife. It seemed necessary to his own defense, but he would not accuse the woman; he let judgment go by default, and left her to her own conscience and her husband’s cooler consideration. This showed great power; it is hard for a man to compress his lips, saying nothing when his character is at stake. So eloquent was Joseph in his silence that there is not a word of complaint throughout the whole record of his life.” (Spurgeon)
b. Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison: Poor Joseph! Joseph went:
· From privilege in his father’s house.
· To the pit his brothers threw him into.
· To being property in the slave market.
· To the privilege of managing Potiphar’s house.
· To the principled stand against temptation.
· To the perjury of false accusation.
· To the prison of Pharaoh.
i. We can see the mercy in this, because if Potiphar had believed his wife, he certainly would have put Joseph to death.
ii. We can see the injustice in this, because Joseph suffered for someone else’s sin. As Christians, we remember someone who perfectly resisted all temptation, who as He stood for righteousness was stripped of His garments, and who was then punished for the sins of others. We see that Jesus is the hope of all who fail under temptation.
iii. We can see God’s hand in all of this. All of this moves God’s story forward, putting Joseph in the place where he can save his family and the whole world from coming famine, and prepare a place for them to live with him.
iv. “He felt it a cruel thing, to be under such a slander, and to suffer for his innocence. A young man so pure, so chaste, must have felt it to be sharper than a whip of scorpions to be accused as he was; yet as he sat down in the gloom of his cell, the Lord was with him.” (Spurgeon)
5. (21-23) Joseph prospers, even in prison.
But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing. The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made it prosper.
a. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy: If God blessed Joseph in the pit, if He blessed Joseph the slave, we are not surprised to see that He blessed Joseph in prison. None of these terrible circumstances changed or defeated God’s plan for Joseph’s life.
i. The dominating theme is that Joseph succeeded because of the blessing of God:
· The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man. (Genesis 39:2)
· His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand. (Genesis 39:3)
· The LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had. (Genesis 39:5)
ii. Even after Joseph was falsely accused and thrown into prison, God still blessed Joseph with His presence:
· But the LORD was with Joseph. (Genesis 39:21)
· The LORD was with him. (Genesis 39:23)
iii. “It is but of little consequence where the lot of a servant of God may be cast; like Joseph he is ever employed for his master, and God honours him and prospers his work.” (Clarke)
b. The keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing: As happened before in the house of Potiphar, Joseph rose to the top, becoming the chief administrator of the prison. Through his experience in both places, God sharpened the administrative skills Joseph needed to one day save his family and to save the whole world.
i. “The Lord was with Joseph none the less when he was cast into the prison. He knew God was with him in prison, and therefore he did not sit down sullenly in his sorrow, but he bestirred himself to make the best of his afflicted condition.” (Spurgeon)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission