Potiphar’s Wife – When Temptation Calls

Introduction

The story of Joseph is well-known. It is an inspiring story – a young man with great dreams who, against all odds, sees the fulfilment of his dreams and rises to become second in command to Pharaoh. Joseph’s story has inspired many songs, musicals, plays and his “technicoloured coat” fascinates us. However, there is more to the story of Joseph than the idea of a man persevering through many trials to see the fulfilment of HIS dreams, an idea the world loves and has adapted to build heroes in history, movies and books.
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Joseph is a man whose story is a testimony of his journey with God. He is man loved by God, a man who encounters God and whose attitude and heart are changed as a result. God knows Joseph, and He knows the plans He has for Joseph’s life. God gave Joseph dreams of what was to come but Joseph, in his arrogance did not wait quietly for the fulfilment of these visions, choosing instead to declare his own greatness to his family. David was anointed as King over Israel while Saul was still ruling. However, David did not enter Saul’s service and tell him that God had rejected Saul as king over Israel and chosen a son of Jesse to be king instead [1 Samuel 16:1]. David respected Saul and served him well. He recognised Saul as the Lord’s anointed and though many opportunities arose, David never took God’s promise into his own hands. Despite Saul’s pursuit of him, David never killed Saul or arranged to usurp his throne. Indeed, when Saul and Jonathan died, David mourned for them, honoured them in their death and punished the man who returned and claimed he had killed Saul. David waited and allowed God to fulfil His word. Unlike David, Joseph immediately gives his pearls to dogs in telling his already jealous brothers that they would all bow to him one day. Through the events that follow, Joseph learns to let go of his plans and allow the Lord to determine his steps [Proverbs 16:9]. Eventually, he sees the fulfilment of the dreams GOD had given him. When he is confronted with his brothers in Egypt, Joseph sees that their lives have also been transformed. God restores this family as through his work in each brother. When Joseph speaks to his brothers in Egypt, he does not speak with pride and boasting as he did when he told them of his dreams, but speaks with love and humility, recognising God’s will above his own [Genesis 45:5-7].

On his journey from pride to humility before God, Joseph faces many challenges. In Genesis 39, we watch Joseph experience God’s blessing, then suffer as he resists temptation in Potiphar’s household. Yet, God’s presence never leaves him and even in prison, Joseph is abundantly blessed. “No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” [1 Corinthians 10:13] In the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, we can see the faithfulness of God and the consequence of having faith in God and standing firm in the face of temptation.

Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife (Genesis 39, NIV)

1 Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there.

2 The LORD was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. 5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. 6 So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.
Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!”

8 But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. 9 No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” 10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.

11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.

13 When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14 she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

16 She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

19 When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. 20 Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

God watches over the way of the Righteous

As we begin to explore the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, we remember the promises God gives in Psalm 1:

[PSALM 1:1-3]

1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

 [PSALM 1:4-6]

4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

God is faithful to Joseph in all his circumstances and God blesses the work of his hands in Potiphar’s house, in prison, and in Egypt. Why? Because Joseph does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers, but delights in the law of the Lord.

 [GENESIS 39:1-5]

 1 Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there.

Imagine yourself in Joseph’s place. You are greatly loved by your Father and this love is extravagantly lavished on you. You receive dreams that others would bow to you and in your excitement, you share them with your family. Your father sends you to check how your brothers and the flocks are going and you obey. Then, your very own brothers overpower you, throw you into a cistern, then they sell you for the price of a slave to some passing Ishmaelites.  From favourite son, to a slave – that’s a big adjustment of mindset to make. In such a situation, it would be easy fall into despair and hopelessness. Where is the greatness you saw in your dreams? In Colossians 3:22-24, Paul writes, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” This passage of scripture was written well after Joseph’s time, but God is the same yesterday, today and forever [Hebrew 13:8] so Joseph has a choice as a slave. Disobedience or challenging his status as a slave was an option that would certainly cost him his life. So, as a slave, he could work out of obligation and a need to survive, or he could work as if working for the Lord, knowing that God sees all, knows all and watches over him.

2 The LORD was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.

In Genesis 12, God gives Abram some promises which Joseph inherits, and which we, through Christ, are also given part in:

 2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

[Genesis 12:2-3]

Even as a slave in a foreign land, God is with Joseph and his master can see that God is with Joseph. God is not hindered by circumstance and he makes Joseph like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever Joseph does prospers [Psalm 1:3] and God grants him favour in the eyes of his master.

 5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. 6 So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.

Here we see the second part of the promise God gave to Abram bearing fruit in Joseph’s life. “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” [Genesis 12:3]  So because of Joseph, God blesses the household of Potiphar. Where God’s presence is, there his blessing is also. Another example of this is found in 2 Samuel 6:11 when David leaves the ark of the Lord to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite – “The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the Lord blessed him and his entire household.”

What does the blessing of the Lord look like? Proverbs 10:22 says, “The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it.” We see this blessing of wealth in Genesis 24:35 and Genesis 26:12 in relation to God’s blessing on the household of Isaac, and also in the wealth of the Western nations now who have a Christian heritage. Psalm 27:3 names children as a blessing from the Lord.  In Matthew 5:3-11, Jesus teaches the beatitudes –

3Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
8
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.
10
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The household of Potiphar may have been blessed with wealth, children and protection from pain and sorrow. Joseph, though a slave, was blessed with the favour of God and man as love and faithfulness never left him and he trusted in the Lord [Proverbs 3:3-6]. He was poor in spirit, and he mourned being taken from his home to a foreign land as a slave. He was merciful to his brothers when they were reunited in Egypt. He was persecuted by his brothers and was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife because of his faithfulness to God’s law. Yet for all his suffering, Joseph stood fast in the law of the Lord and God blessed him abundantly.

joseph_resist

Temptation in the Midst of God’s Blessing

Joseph has done well in the household of Potiphar, and he is a good and honest steward. John 10:10 says, “The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy…” What is the thief killing, stealing and destroying? The thief is Satan and he wants to deceive as many people as he can, stealing them away from the Lord and leading them to destruction in sin. “…woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” [Revelation 12:12]


[GENESIS 39:6-10]

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” 8 But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. 9 No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” 10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.

Satan’s methods are subtle and pleasing to the worldly eye. After talking with Satan, Eve “saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” so, she took some and ate it [Genesis 2:6] Joseph, however recognises the blessings God has given him and because of his gratitude, honour and love for God will not disobey his Lord. Joseph not only resists temptation, he flees from it. Matthew 18:7-9 says, 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” Joseph has his eyes set on eternal things, rather than the temporary pleasure of the earth. He does not compromise, but remains steadfast in the Lord. “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favour and a good name in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” [Proverbs 3:3-6] This is what Joseph does and God is faithful, he makes his paths straight.

Temptation Is Deceitful

The battle is not over for Joseph. Just as Satan increased his attack on Job, the attack against Joseph increases.

[GENESIS 39:11-20]

 11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.

To truly follow God and resist the Devil requires sacrifice. In Matthew 10:37-39, Jesus says, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever find his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The cloak was worn as an outer garment for warmth and appearance. Joseph left his cloak behind as he ran away from Potiphar’s wife. Upholding the law of the Lord was more important to Joseph than his appearance, reputation and own comfort. In Philippians 3:7-8, Paul says, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…”

13 When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14 she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.” 16 She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.” 19 When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. 20 Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.

After all that has happened, Joseph is falsely accused and once again, he is taken from a place of importance and this time, thrown into prison. All the while, Joseph keeps his faith in God. “1Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” [Matthew 5:11] Upholding the law of the Lord requires sacrifice from us, but we know it is worth doing if we believe God is faithful to those who earnestly seek him [Hebrew 11:6]. “As for the deeds of men – by the word of your lips I have kept myself from the ways of the violent. My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped. I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear and hear my prayer. Show me the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes.” [Psalm 17:4-7]

God is Still Good

[GENESIS 39:20-23]

But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

Once again, God blesses Joseph in the sight of his master, the warden, blesses the work of his hands and blesses the warden and the prison. What about the dreams God gave Joseph? Well, we know that God fulfilled what he promised, having changed Joseph’s heart to glorify the Lord above all else. After the death of Jacob, Joseph’s brothers become worried that Joseph might hold a grudge against them and pay them back for the wrongs they did to him [Genesis 50:15]. However, when they meet Joseph, he says, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” Joseph recognises the goodness of God, and how His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts [Isaiah 55: 8]. God is faithful and God is good! He works despite our iniquities and none can stand against the increase of his government [Isaiah 9:7].

56Praise be to the LORD, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses. 57 May the LORD our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may he never leave us nor forsake us. 58 May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands, decrees and laws he gave our ancestors. 59 And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day’s need, 60 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other. 61 And may your hearts be fully committed to the LORD our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.”  [1 Kings 56-61]


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