.About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

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Chapter 39

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Joseph And Potiphar's Wife (ch. 39:1 - 23)


The story of Joseph picks up here in Genesis 39 after a one chapter absence.  We see a man named Potiphar.  He was the one who purchased Joseph from the Ishmaelites.  He was also a very high ranking person in Pharaoh's government.  The NIV calls him the "captain of the guards". 


The Hebrew word that is translated as "captain" here is the word that means "eunuch".  A eunuch is a man who is castrated, or has chosen to be single.  It is clear that Potiphar wasn't single.  So it is clear there are secondary uses to this word.


Verse 3 tells us that "the Lord gave Joseph success in everything he did."  Many prosperity teachers will use this as an example that God wants us to all prosper in all we do, and especially in terms of finances.  I don't believe you can use isolated cases to build an argument.  I see the Lord blessing Joseph here for a specific reason and that is to receive the Pharaoh's blessings.  Pharaoh's blessing is only important for one thing here and that is to bring blessing to Israel later on.   Beyond that, there would be no reason why an Egyptian would be important to Israel.


In verse 5 we see that Joseph's blessings from God extended into all aspects of Potiphar's household.  Joseph became very valuable to Potiphar.  I do believe that as Christians, if the Lord's blessings are upon us, they can spill over to others around us, especially those in our family. 


In verse 6 we see that Potiphar left Joseph in charge of everything.  He didn't have to worry about anything.  Joseph looked after it all, and did a very good job of it.  Potiphar had full trust in Joseph.  This is a key point to this story.


Also in verse 6 we note that Joseph was "well-built and handsome", another important factor to this chapter. 


In verse 7 we see that Potiphar's wife took note of how good looking Joseph was.  She probably had her eyes on him for a while so she asked him to go to bed with her.  This tells you what kind of person she was.  Many Bible teachers think she was somewhat of a lose woman, and Joseph probably wasn't the only man she wanted outside of marriage. I have a feeling she usually got what she wanted, but not this time.


In verse 8 Joseph declines her offer.  He told her that Potiphar had complete trust in him, that's why he was in charge of everything Potiphar owned.  He did not want to lose this trust. He knew that things would not work out favorably for him if he slept with Potiphar's wife.  Besides, Joseph was a man of God.  He knew it was wrong, and he knew the importance of trust.


In verse 9 he said, "how could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God."   The morals in Egyptian and surrounding cultures weren't that good in comparison to New Testament standards.  Men had other women on the side, but having someone else's wife crossed the line and was seen as immoral.  Yet Joseph's thinking went farther than that.  He believed that if he had sex with Potiphar's wife, he was actually sinning against God, not just Potiphar.  We need to realize the same.  When we overtly sin against someone, we're also sinning against God.


There is a mystical union when it comes to sex in the context of marriage.  It is more than special and physical.  There is a spiritual element to it.  It also was meant to represent the relationship that we as individuals, and as God's people should have with Him.  I believe the husband and wife relationship is a type, and earthly illustration of how our relationship is to be with God.  So in one real sense of the word, the sex act is an act of worship, and we are only to worship one, whether in marriage or in our lives as Christians. 


Joseph did his best to avoid this woman as seen in verse 10.  He not only kept turning her down, but he tried to avoid her day after day as he went about his work.  Joseph should be a good example for men today who are tempted so often.


Finally, all of the turn-downs that Potiphar's wife had from Joseph got her angry.  Verse 11 says that there were no servants in the house on this occasion.  I wonder if she sent them all away.  It would not surprise me.  So in verse 12 she grabs Joseph and tries to forcibly take him to bed with her.  He ran off with his coat left in her hands.  He just wanted out of there as fast as he could, but leaving his coat behind turned out to be a mistake.  I don't think the coat was the number one thing on his mind.  Just getting out was primary. 


In verse 13 and 14 we see that Potiphar's wife called the servants in.  It's almost as if she sent them out, and now she says it is time to come back.  She tells them that "this Hebrew" made sport of her, or, raped her.  The words "this Hebrew" is meant to be a derogatory remark against Joseph. 


In verse 15 we note that she told the servants that when she screamed for help, he ran off without his coat.  OF course it was all a lie.  She was just getting back at Joseph for turning her down.


Verse 16 tells us that she left Joseph's coat beside her until Potiphar came home.  I'm sure that Joseph might have wanted to go back and get his coat, but I doubt if he tried.  She would not let him have it even if he did come back because now she was using it as evidence that he raped her.


In verse 17 Potiphar returns and she told him that "the Hebrew slave you bought" raped her.  She was blaming Potiphar for her situation.  I'm not convinced that Potiphar and his wife had a good relationship.  Many scholars agree that she was probably a lose woman and Potiphar knew it and just accepted it.


In verse 18 she repeated the same story she told her servants.  She screamed and Joseph ran off in fear, leaving his coat behind that she now had as evidence.


In response to this, as seen in verse 19, Potiphar "burned with anger".   The question is asked, who was he angry with?  Was he angry with Joseph, or was he angry with his wife?  We can't say for sure, but many scholars feel that he was angry with his wife, or the situation, but not with Joseph.  He actually might have trusted Joseph more than his wife.


Verse 20 tells us that Potiphar put Joseph in prison.  It seemed to be a special prison, a prison of Pharaoh's.  Now in Egyptian culture and other surrounding cultures, raping a married woman had a punishment of death.  It is clear that Joseph did not get executed.  God would not allow that, but it appears also that Potiphar did not want Joseph executed either, or else he would have had him put to death.  For this reason, many Bible scholars suggest that he did not believe his wife, but was forced to do something, so he put Joseph in jail.  He did not have him killed for a crime he did not commit.


The blessing of God was still on Joseph, even in prison.  The head of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners, and everything that took place in the prison Joseph was in charge of.


We see in verse 23 that the warden of the prison felt the same towards Joseph as Potiphar did.  He fully trusted him and saw that God gave him success.  This would make the warden's job much easier.  


This chapter shows us that those who are called of God don't always live an easy life, but God is with those who are called, and whatever happens is for a reason.  God had a reason for all of Joseph's hardships.  It all boils down to a matter of trust.  Do we trust the Lord for everything that comes our way?  This presupposes we're attempting to live a godly life.  Some things that come our way are a result of our own bad mistakes, but if we're serious about these things, and think about these things, I think we know what bad things come about due to our own failures.

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