Genesis 39:1-39:23 Fare Well, Two Harms

down to Egypt… Yahweh with Joseph… parallels Jacob… reparent… marketplace transformation… prosper in blessing others… sexual restraint… nurturing bond… dreams… wrath… grossly unfair… Lord with… be a man

Genesis 39:1-39:23

And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither.

Well, if one must be a slave, there are certain advantages to being the slave of a wealthy house; he must’ve commanded a good price.

And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.

What a powerful statement: Yahweh was with Joseph. Funny how it parallels, yet contrasts, the story of Jacob. His father also found God on the road, but that time it was due to his own duplicity — though jealous brothers also played a part. Perhaps we always need to leave home to find God, and allow Him to reparent us. From that perspective, Joseph is “lucky” in that his necessary exile was the result of other’s sin, not his own.

Again like Jacob, Joseph prospers (tsalach); apparently he’s so good he gets to be a house (bayith) servant rather than a field hand.

And his master saw that the LORD [was] with him, and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand.

Wow! This verse could be — heck, probably is — the theme verse for marketplace transformation: to have an experience of God so powerful that our secular masters are in awe of God’s works, though they know Him not.

And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all [that] he had he put into his hand.

Even in exile, God is faithful to Joseph, enlarging his territory. And blessing his master for recognizing Joseph’s gifting:

And it came to pass from the time [that] he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field. And he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was [a] goodly [person], and well favoured.

It has occurred to me that the “health-and-wealth gospel” is a half-truth, or perhaps a third. God desires to prosper us in being a blessing to others. It is natural, and even noble, to want to be rewarded for doing well; it becomes destructive when we seek the blessing for itself, to feed our fleshly lusts. Plus, sometimes success is its own danger, and righteousness leads to poverty:

And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.

Given his family’s history with women, Joseph’s response is astounding:

But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what [is] with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;

But, it is not just fear, respect or gratitude toward his earthly master at stake:

[There is] none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou [art] his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

Joseph, for perhaps the first time we see in the patriarchs, exercises sexual restraint in the face of easy temptation. He sees the wickedness (ra`) and sin (chata’) that would corrupt the God-given gift of sex. And so he resists, not just once:

And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, [or] to be with her.

He resists her repeated pleading, and even goes out of his way to avoid her. As a child, this response seemed obvious to me; as a man, I find it mind-boggling. Here he is, rejected by his family, enslaved by a strange people: I’d have thought him depressed, vengeful, and easy prey for temptation. I’m sure most slaves would view this as a just recompense.

But not only was God with Joseph: he was with God. Somehow, through all these experiences God had established a nurturing emotional bond, and built integrity into the son of a deceiver. Perhaps it was the dreams that served as that integration point. As Joseph saw his territory expanding, he was encouraged to have faith in the God of his dreams. And that courage gave him — not just the willpower, but the joy to resist the foolish temptation of self-destruction masquerading as earthly pleasure.

Even though the price of obedience is to lose all those assurances:

And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.

He may not have shed blood, but he certainly resisted to the point of shedding his garment!

And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth, That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice:

Interesting how she blames her husband — “he brought this Hebrew” — as if to strip up racial strife, as well as employee dissent. I wonder how often that happens: casting blame to disguise one’s own wrongdoing.

Still, I can imagine the men rolling their eyes at this. They had to have known what was going on, as well as what kind of man Joseph was. A few might’ve been jealous, but most were probably grateful to have a man like Joseph in charge rather than this wild woman. Though I doubt any of them had the guts to share their perspective with the master of the house:

And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled.

I’ve heard two interpretations of this wrath (‘aph). The most obvious is that he was angry at Joseph; however, some commentators claim that if Potiphar really believed the charges, he would’ve done something much worse that throw Joseph in the royal prison:

And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners [were] bound: and he was there in the prison.

I don’t know; one would like to think Potiphar was smart enough to see through his wife’s lies, and be angry with her instead. But, any man whose only household concern is eating and drinking might be too negligent to care about the truth. For that matter, its even possible that high-status slaves at that time had enough rights that they couldn’t be summarily killed, and Potiphar’s only option was prison.

Regardless, the whole thing was grossly unfair. Yet somehow God is still there:

But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.

Déjà vu all over again. Wrongfully accused, sexually frustrated, enslaved in a foreign, godless land — many a man would’ve given up. But not Joseph:

And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that [were] in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer [of it]. The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing [that was] under his hand; because the LORD was with him, and [that] which he did, the LORD made [it] to prosper.

O God, to be a man like that!


God, thank you so much for Joseph. In a book full of cowardly, compliant, and deceitful men Joseph is like a breath of fresh air. Father, grant me the wholeness and centeredness of a man like Joseph. Draw near to me with your Holy Spirit, that I may find true peace and joy by being obedient to your will and walking in your ways. Grant me that lightness of being which is the surest guard against the temptations of the flesh. Give me eyes that see your overwhelming goodness to me, rather than focusing on the injury of circumstances or the insult of betrayals. Make me a man after Your own heart. Amen.