Genesis 39: Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife


There were many places or people a slave could be sold to, but the hand of God did not deliver Joseph to cruelty. Joseph was of good character and ethic, and blessed by God. Potiphar was captain of the guard, of leader of the Pharaoh’s security.

Though Joseph was betrayed and abandoned by his brothers, the Lord was with him, so that even in his lowly position of a slave, he would prosper. Joseph’s honest character and work ethic were a witness of God, and Potiphar took notice of the grace and favor that was bestowed upon him. Joseph was both a slave and foreigner and yet Potiphar, a man of status and esteem, trusted him with everything he had. Potiphar was blessed because of his attitude toward Joseph.

Joseph was an attractive young man. While Potiphar noticed the character of Joseph, his wife was drawn to him in lust. Potiphar’s marriage was not honorable.  She was persistent in seducing Joseph and his refusal only made her push all the more. Joseph was probably not the first or last man she tried to seduce. He was in the difficult circumstance of having integrity in a world of corruption. So he would not fall into temptation, Joseph recounted the blessings of God given to him. He would not sin against God, who had blessed him so much. He refused her, and avoided her and the temptation.

Potiphar’s wife likely made the arrangement to have no other servants in the house. She was aggressive and manipulative.  In grabbing his cloak she wanted to strip him of his moral integrity. Compare this to the action of his brothers, who thought that stripping him of his robe would destroy love his father had for him.

Just as Joseph’s robe was presented to Jacob as false evidence, so was his cloak presented to his master. She was angry at Joseph’s refusal, and bitter over his righteousness. She despised the goodness in him. Like his brothers, she fabricated a story to cover up evil. The wife knew how to agitate Potiphar. Notice how she chose to describe Joseph:  your Hebrew slave.  She assigned possession of Joseph to Potiphar, and therefore assigned blame to him. She called Joseph Hebrew condescendingly, to conjure up the racist emotions of Potiphar. She identified Joseph as a slave, to stir up Potiphar’s pride regarding his status. It is no surprise that Potiphar was furious. He had after all, taken this young man in, treated him well, and given him the highest position in his household. It was interpreted as betrayal. With the cloak in hand, Potiphar did not doubt or question. Yet, the entire circumstance was out of character for Joseph, and in reality, Joseph did everything right. He did everything to avoid sin, and yet he had to suffer for it. In all likelihood such an event would have lead to a slave’s execution.  Potiphar may have been merciful to Joseph on account of God. Joseph was thrown in prison, just as his brothers had thrown him into a pit.

The world had worked against Joseph. It would have been easy for Joseph to slump into self-pity and become angry at his circumstance, and even angry at God, but he didn’t. He  continued to be a man of righteousness and faith. As dire as circumstances were, God continued to bless Joseph, and did not abandon him. The lie of the Potiphar’s wife had landed him in prison, but God was pleased with Joseph’s refusal to sin. Joseph was exalted among the prisoners by the prison warden, and the warden trusted Joseph. It was better for Joseph to be in prison than to sin before God.

God never abandons us no matter how bad things may get. We should always do our work as if working for the Lord, that his light may shine through us. If you honor God in all that you do, you will find success. Success is not measured by your social standing but your desire to follow Christ. Prosperity is not measured by wealth, but by your favor with God.  We cannot sin against our God who loves us and blesses us with all we have. We need to avoid the traps of temptation. People who try to lure us to do evil will be hateful of our refusal and may throw false accusations at us. Christians who oppose same-sex marriage are often called bigots. Christians who oppose abortion are called anti-women. Christians who say Christ is the only way to heaven are called intolerant. It is better to suffer the slander than to disobey God. It is better to be imprisoned than to disobey our Lord. We may do all things right, and still find ourselves in poor circumstance. We may expect to suffer for righteousness. Blind anger, like that of Potiphar, is not righteous anger. We must be wary of the manipulation of our thoughts and emotions, especially that which conjures up prejudices  that stir up hate in our hearts. We must always love. God protects those who love him and honor his commands.

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