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. 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 “Secret Service,” his personal security force. He was a highly trusted official in the government of Egypt.
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.
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. The same principle should be lived out by followers of Jesus today; others should see the difference Jesus makes in our lives by the way we work.
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: Clearly, 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), and had been in prison for two years before that (Genesis 41:1). So he was in Potiphar’s house for 11 years. It took 11 years for the full measure of God’s blessing to be accomplished in Joseph’s life.
i. 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. 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. 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)
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).
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. There is 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. If Potiphar was indeed a eunuch, this shows that his wife looked for sexual activity elsewhere.
i. Perhaps Potiphar was a eunuch, and the marriage was purely a ceremonial arrangement, so she felt free to seek sexual relationships outside the marital bond.
ii. Joseph was an attractive man and this had something to do with it. That he seemed beyond the reach of Potiphar’s wife was also surely a factor. She was not the first or last woman who seduced a man out of a sense of challenge.
iii. Also, it seems that in the ancient world, the code of morality for women in Egypt (even married women) was loose. Egyptian women had a reputation for immorality in the ancient world.
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 terribly unique; that no one you know could understand what we are go through in a particular temptation. But there is no temptation that has overtaken us except what is common among men (1 Corinthians 10:13).
c. She spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with 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.
i. Joseph let his faith be known. Potiphar (and others, presumably) knew Joseph was blessed because of his relationship with God (Genesis 39:3). Joseph had to have said something about his relationship with God for this to be the case.
ii. Joseph kept busy. One does not advance the way Joseph did without being a busy worker. An old Turkish proverb says, “Men are usually tempted by the devil, but an idle man positively tempts the devil.”
iii. Joseph was careful to never be alone with his temptation. Joseph wisely avoided being alone around Potiphar’s wife (or to be with her).
iv. Joseph called the act what it was: sin. He referred to the opportunity set before him as this great wickedness and sin against God. 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 knew how greatly his sin would affect others. Often times we want to deny the harmful effects our sin will have. When we look at a charred mountainside, and all there is left is ashes and ruin, we despise the careless person who started the fire. Sin is no less destructive. Joseph never gave in to the illusion that he could do this and never be discovered, or that somehow it wouldn’t matter.
vi. Joseph knew that his sin was a sin against God. One might justify sinning against another person who has done us wrong, but how can we sin against God? David reflected this same heart in his prayer of repentance: Against You and You only have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight (Psalm 51:4). Of course, David had also sinned against Uriah, against Bathsheba, against their child, against his family, and against his people; but those were of far less consequence than his sin against God.
vii. Joseph just said “No!” He refused. Sometimes it just comes down to that. One must refuse and say no to sin, even when they feel like saying yes. Knowing the fleshly inclination of men – their ability to detach sex from romance and love, and be promiscuous – this was wonderful obedience on the part of Joseph.
d. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? Obedience is much easier when we know who God is. Because Joseph knew and loved God, the thought of sinning against Him was unpleasant.
i. “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)
2. (11-12) Joseph resists her brazen 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 entrap him. Surely, it was she who made certain 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.
d. Fled and ran outside: 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: Potiphar’s wife never said the name Joseph in her accusation. It was important to her to not think of or present Joseph as a real person in the capital offense she accused him of.
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).
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. Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison: It seems that Joseph was given a sentence of life imprisonment. This was a hard penalty, but the normal punishment for such a crime (attempted rape) by a slave upon a high official’s wife would likely be death. Joseph received a merciful sentence.
b. His anger was aroused: Potiphar was merciful to Joseph because he suspected his wife’s role in the matter. The anger aroused may have not been directed towards Joseph, but against the wife for manipulating him into a situation where, to save face, he had to dismiss the man who made the whole household run well.
i. “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)
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:
· 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.
©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission