- Locate the passage
After a brief interlude following Judah’s sexual mispursuits, this passage resumes the Joseph cycle. The interlude shows that after Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph into slavery, they went on about their lives, perhaps not even giving Joseph another thought. Meanwhile, Joseph was sold and then resold and wound up at the home of the captain of the Egyptian guard.
But, while his brothers may have abandoned him and the Ishmaelites may have profited from his sale, the Lord had not forgotten Joseph or His promise to him. The Bible tells us twice in this passage that “the Lord was with Joseph.”
The passage is narrative. It records the conversation between Joseph and the wife of Potiphar, his master and the subsequent conversations she had with Potiphar out of spite after Joseph rebuffed her.
- Determine the structure of the passage
39:1-6 – Because the Lord was with Joseph
39:7-10 – Joseph was faithful in temptation
39:11-19 – Joseph was falsely accused and imprisoned
39:20-23 – Because the Lord was with Joseph
- Exegete the passage
Joseph went from being thrown into a pit by his brothers to being thrown into a prison by Potiphar. Joseph’s residence in Potiphar’s household (39:1–19) and in Potiphar’s prison (39:20–23). Mathews shows the parallel of Joseph being in Potiphar’s house to later being in prison to Israel dwelling in Egypt to later being imprisoned by Egypt. See Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 725.
It is noteworthy that in the Hebrew, Potiphar’s name only occurs once in this pericope (and nowhere else again in the OT), Gen. 39:1.
The passage demonstrates a chiastic structure with 39:1-6 parallel with 39:20-23. The common features in each being slavery/prison, the Lord was with Joseph, the awareness of his master of the Lord’s presence, and the trust Joseph gained from his master.
- 1-5 – Lord with him, success; recognized by others
- 6-20 – faith tested, integrity put to test
- 21-23 – Lord with him, success; recognized by others
It would have been easy and understandable for Joseph to blame everyone else for his predicament: Dad, Brothers, Potiphar’s Wife, and later the Baker and the Butler. But, we don’t see that in Joseph’s response. He has matured since his early dream-revealing days with his brothers.
Note the recurrence of the word, “cloak” in this pericope (39:12, 12, 13, 15, 16, 18). This is the second time Joseph’s outer garment has been a focus of his betrayal by others.
39:2 – The Lord was with Joseph
- The favor of the Lord on Joseph was demonstrated by His divine presence, Joseph’s “success,” and the prosperity of his master on his account.
- The narrator is clear to indicate that the reason for the success was not Joseph’s wisdom, but the Lord’s favor.
- Here, we see a picture of the promise that the Lord made to Abraham that, “in you, all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). Longman, 479.
39:3 – His master saw that the Lord was with him
- Perhaps Potiphar interpreted his own prosperity under Joseph’s care as Divine favor.
- Nevertheless, what would it take for people to “see” the presence of the Lord in our lives?
39:4 – Joseph became the overseer (Lit. “the one appointed over;” Hb. “paqad”) over Potiphar’s house.
- Because of the Lord’s favor, Joseph would be appointed over Potiphar’s house, the prison, and ultimately the kingdom of Egypt.
39:5 – Verse 5 repeats the emphases of vss 3 & 4.
39:6 – Joseph was so trustworthy that Potiphar’s only concern was what was for dinner.
- The implication of the verse is that Potiphar so trusted Joseph that he didn’t even know how much he had. Literally, Joseph took care of everything for him.
- But, there is trouble looming.
- Verse 6 ends the first section with a foreshadowing of trouble to come
- Joseph was handsome … and Potiphar’s wife noticed!
- Joseph was handsome in form and appearance
- The same description was said of Rachel (Gen. 29:17; Cf. 1 Sam. 16:18; 25:3)
- The same word for “form” will also come into play as Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream describing the “form” of the first cows Pharaoh saw.
39:7 – Potiphar’s wife noticed Joseph. Her temptation is not at all subtle. She proposes a sexual encounter with Joseph.
- Whereas previously, it was the beautiful Patriarch’s wife who was pursued by a foreign leader. Here it is the handsome young Patriarch who is being by the wife of a foreign leader. Sailhamer, 280.
- Though, here the focus is not on the pursuit, but on the refusal.
39:8-9 – But he refused
- Joseph is not negotiating or vacillating. He refused. He said, “no.”
- The only appropriate response to temptation is to refuse
- Joseph’s refusal of her seduction is based on 3 points:
- It would be a sin against my master. My master trusts me.
- It would be a sin against my conscience. I know it to be wrong. That’s not in my authority – it is not my right; my place
- It would be a sin against God.
- Joseph also attempts to remind his temptress of her position. She is Potiphar’s wife. Having sex with Joseph would violate her vow to him.
- Joseph refers to her suggestion as “evil” (Hb. “ra’ah”)
39:10 – The temptation kept coming, but Joseph persisted in his refusal
39:11-12 – No one was inside
- The fact that the text mentions that no one else was in the house is not an indication of the failure of Joseph, but of the fact that there was no one there to corroborate his story. It would be her word against his word.
- An accusation of rape could have led to the death penalty
- The fact that Potiphar only throws Joseph in prison could suggest that he wasn’t clear that Joseph was guilty
- Joseph “fled” the temptation (See 2 Tim. 2:22)
- The word “fled” (Hb. “nus”) occurs in 39:12, 13, 15, 18
39:13-18 – Holding Joseph’s cloak in her hand, Potiphar’s wife concocted a plan to get back at Joseph for his repeated refusals
- The text implies that this was not a premeditated plan, but a response to Joseph leaving his cloak with her and running away.
- Potiphar’s wife’s stories on the surface seems the same.
- Potiphar’s wife highlights the fact that Joseph was a “Hebrew”
- Her first account of the event (this one to the servants), she implies fault to Potiphar, “he brought him here … to mock us.” Her effort is to enlist sympathy from the servants and bias against the foreigner.
- In this account, Potiphar was the agent of the mocking and the recipients were all those in the house (including her).
- In her second account of her story (this one to Potiphar), she only implies that Joseph intended to “mock” her.
- In this account, Joseph was doing the mocking; and the audience was only her
- Here, again, she implies fault on the part of Potiphar by bringing Joseph to their house
- Potiphar’s wife held on to the cloak as “evidence” for her claim
39:19-20 – Potiphar was angry and threw Joseph in prison
- The narrator foreshadows a future event by informing the reader that the prison into which Joseph was thrown was the same prison into which the king’s prisoners were thrown.
- This will come into play in the next chapter.
39:20-23 – These verses parallel 39:1-6 (see above)
- As above (39:6) the significance of “all” that was placed under the authority of Joseph.
- The Lord’s favor was upon whatever Joseph did.
- Let the structure of the text drive the sermon
Exp. More than Joseph, God is the true hero of this story. God was working through Joseph’s circumstances to accomplish His purpose.
App. God still does that in our lives!
- God can accomplish His purpose in us and through us through “tests” in our lives
Ill. A test doesn’t mean you are being punished, it means you are being tested!
App. Consider it an opportunity for you to prove; to demonstrate the excellence of your faith
Ill. James 1:2-4 – consider it joy when you encounter various trials
Exp. Not if … when
Exp. God does not tempt us to sin
Ill. 1 Cor. 10:13 – God always give us a way out
- God can accomplish His purpose in us and through us through His presence in our lives
Exp. Do others see evidence of God in you?
- God can accomplish His purpose in us and through us through our faithful commitment to Him
Exp. Your faith is not proven only in the good times
Exp. Joseph had reason to be angry and could have responded to his imprisonment by being angry at God. But, instead, he showed integrity in his convictions.
- God can accomplish His purpose in us and through us through our Exemplary character
Exp. Saying “No” to temptation
Exp. Giving in to temptation with Potiphar’s wife would have been easy to justify
Exp. It would have been easy to rationalize giving him to her temptation. There was no one else around (so maybe no one else would ever know); given Potiphar’s position, she probably an attractive lady; and giving in to her request might have helped his status in the house.
- But, sin is sin whether anyone knows or will ever find out
Ill. William Penn: ‟Right is right, even if everyone is against it; and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.”